Game Corner: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Xbox 360)

Released: 26 November 2008
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Also Available For: PlayStation 3

The Background:
In 1987, Capcom released Street Fighter onto the arcade scene; this oft-forgotten one-on-one brawler may have been criticised for its repetitive gameplay and dodgy controls but it certainly laid the groundwork for probably one of the most recognised fighting games ever created. Thanks to game’s special moves, pulled off using directional inputs in conjunction with button commands, and the introduction of a six-button cabinet, Street Fighter gained a modicum of intrigue on the growing arcade scene that exploded with the release of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). Expanding the playable roster to eight, Street Fighter II changed the genre forever through the accidental introduction of combo moves and gave Nintendo a much-needed edge in the “Console Wars“ of the nineties with its blockbuster release on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Street Fighter II was so universally popular that it revitalised the arcade scene and was bolstered by a number of revisions and expansions that increased the number of playable characters, special moves, and vastly sped up the gameplay. By 2008, there had been at least five of these revisions as Capcom desperately milked their popular title for all its worth, but the idea of giving the title a whole new gloss of HD paint came at the suggestion of Backbone producer David Sirlin, who spearheaded the game’s development, although sacrifices had to be made to keep the digital release small. In addition to a slick graphical aesthetic courtesy of artists at UDON Entertainment, the game also included an overhauled soundtrack by music tribute website OverClocked ReMix and even saw a limited physical release on the Xbox 360. In keeping with the success and popularity of Street Fighter II, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix was met with largely unanimous praise; reviews lauded the new graphical style and arcade-perfect controls, though the lack of additional options was noted as a downside. While it wouldn’t go down in history as the definitive version of Street Fighter II, this HD re-release ensured that Capcom’s influential fighter lived on through another console generation.

The Plot:
The malevolent M. Bison, ruler of the criminal organisation Shadaloo, is sponsoring a martial arts tournament for the world’s best fighters. Twelve such fighters join the fight, battling each other for the right to face M. Bison’s four Grand Masters, with each of them having their own motivations for personal vendetta against the dictator.

I should preface this review by pointing out a couple of things; the first is that I first played Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix on the PlayStation 3 after buying it on a whim (I think, or at least hope, it was on sale at the time), most likely because I realised that I didn’t currently only a version of Street Fighter II. The second thing to note is that there’s a very good reason for that and it’s simply that I’m not a fan of the series; I’m much more of a Mortal Kombat (Various, 1992 to present) kinda guy as I prefer the simplicity and brutal nature of that franchise to Street Fighter’s more intricate mechanics. I owned a cracked version of Street Fighter II for the Amiga as a kid, which fooled me into thinking I was somewhat competent at the game (infinite health will do that to you), but this didn’t translate when I played versions on the Mega Drive and PlayStation 2. Hell, I struggled with the later games in the series despite desperately wanting to get into it since they all look so appealing and everyone always raves about them, but for the life of me I just cannot seem to click with the franchise and always end up feeling frustrated and defeated as a result. I only say this because my enjoyment and opinion of this game, and the entire series, is thus inherently soured; I can’t be anything but biased against it despite my best efforts, but I went into this new playthrough of Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix hoping that maybe things would be different as I do have a lot of fondness for the franchise.

Be sure to press your attack with the game’s combo system and to be on your guard at all times.

As any gamer will be able to tell you, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is a 2D, one-on-one tournament fighter in which players pick from a roster of sixteen playable fighters and either take on either the computer in a series of battles in a bid to get to M. Bison and his four Grand Masters or go head-to-head with another player, either on or offline. The game’s controls are exactly as you might expect from a Street Fighter II title; you have three types of punch and kick, ranging from a weak, strong, and fierce attack, with each assigned to different buttons. X throws a jab, Y a strong punch, and the Left Bumper a fierce punch while A throws a shot kick, B a roundhouse kick, and the Right Button launches a fierce kick, though all of these controls can be fully customised to your liking. Combining these button inputs, and directional controls, will allow you to pull off various move combinations to dish out greater damage or pull off your character’s special moves, which are helpfully listed in the game’s pause menu. In Street Fighter II, you hold back to block incoming attacks and use up to jump; you can also throw and grab your opponents, sometimes in mid-air, to deal a ridiculous amount of damage. While you can hit buttons to recover from throws, getting stuck in an enemy’s grasp is basically a death sentence and will see your health whittled down in the blink of an eye; you can also be stunned if you take too much successful damage, which can be catastrophic. Fights are decided in rounds, with the default set to best two out of three, though you can change this to as little as one and as many as five (and rights may go to a sudden death final round in the rare instances of a double knock-out). You’re also battling a timer, though you can again disable this option, and can increase the game’s speed on a scale of one to five (with five being the fastest, which also seems to equate to attacks dealing more damage). Finally, you can set player handicaps for player-on-player fighters and choose from four difficult settings to challenge the game’s two arcade modes.

Stagger your foe with special moves or finish them off with a grandiose Super Finish.

For me, these difficulty settings are a joke; I played with the game speed set to five and on the ‘Easy’ difficulty and still struggled to get past even the first few fighters even with the timer disabled. The computer is an absolute unrelenting machine, making use of combos, frame damage, and cancels to land strings of attacks you have little hope of blocking or counterattacking. The computer is somehow able to hit through your moves at times, grab you in the middle of attacks, and even hit you out of mid-air with low attacks and projectiles, making for an uphill battle right off the bat. As mentioned, you can pull off special moves with each character, though I find these difficult to figure out even with the helpful move list as the require complicated half-turns, charging, and diagonal inputs on the control stick. I find even some of the easiest moves, like Ryu and Ken’s Hadoken, inconsistent to pull off, though projectiles such as this will cancel each other out, which is extremely useful when fighting against spam-artists like Sagat and his constant barrage of TIGER! TIGER! TIGER! shots. As you fight, you’ll build up a little Super meter and, when it’s full, you can try and pull off your character’s Super move, but these are even more complicated to execute and the computer is an expert at blocking and negating all incoming damage. I couldn’t tell you the difference between the ‘HD Remix’ and ‘Classic’ arcade modes as I was barely able to scrape through the ‘HD Remix’ arcade on the lowest difficulty; ‘Classic’ thus seems harder but that might also be because I changed the rounds to win to one, which seems to put the computer in a hyper-aggressive “pinch” mode. Consequently, I can’t say if the classic bonus stages are present in this mode; they weren’t in the ‘HD Remix’ arcade mode I played so, from my perspective, the entirety of the game was geared around tournament fighting, fighting with friends, or desperately trying to get to grips with your character in the game’s training mode.

Graphics and Sound:  
Graphically, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Street Fighter II looking better than it does here; the slick UDON aesthetic really makes all of the fighters and their stages pop out and makes the most of HD overhaul the game has received. Every character has their own eccentricities, loudly announcing their special moves and pulling off a couple of victory poses when the fight goes their way in addition to being followed by a shadowy double whenever they execute a Super move. Little touches such as every character’s unique fighting pose, being able to hit off Vega’s iconic claw, M. Bison tossing aside his cape, and characters like Chun-Li being able to spring off the sides of the screen help to make the game more immersive, and this carries over to the stages as well. Some stages have destructible elements such as crates and barrels to smash your opponent into, and all of them include some kind of animation in the background, from cheering crowds to roaring elephants to fighting cages being lowers and boats rising and falling. The remixed soundtrack is a joy to listen to; memorable tuns such as Ken and Guile’s themes sound great, though the fight announcer remains merely serviceable. Although the game lacks a memorable introductory sequence, each character has their own ending, which you’ll get to see even on the easiest difficulty; rendered using text and static artwork in the style of the UDON comic series, the only thing letting these down is that you can’t unlock them to view anywhere else in the game.

The UDON aesthetic is far more visually engaging than the distorted classic sprites.

If you’re a purist and prefer the classic look of the original games, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix has you covered; you can enable not just a classic option for the in-game sprites but the music as well. Unfortunately, the sprites really don’t benefit from this; they appear large, garbled messes against an otherwise pristine background and hearing the classic arcade-style move announcements and music doesn’t make this any better to look at. It would’ve been better if the game had the option to switch everything to an optimised pixel-art aesthetic but, as is, it’s a garish reskin that’s probably not going to appeal to fans of the original releases. One area where the game does get some credit, though, is in the inclusion of palette swaps for each character; each button corresponds to a different palette for each character on the character selection screen, which adds a touch of variety to the game as your opponent’s randomly pick different palettes for each bout, though you can’t switch between different styles of fighting like in other Street Fighter games. The game does run as smooth as butter, though; I noticed no input lag or slowdown, even on the highest speed setting, and I’m sure an accomplished Street Fighter II player would appreciate such a smooth presentation to the game’s action. Every bout also ends with with the victory taunting the loser, who’s left a battered mess, and I’ve always found these jabs entertaining; a helpful countdown gives you ten seconds to continue fighting, which will reinvigorate your fighter and return you to the character selection screen to challenge your opponent again.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being a one-on-one fighter with sixteen characters to pick from, every fighter in Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix will inevitably be your enemy at some point and each offers a slightly different, if also similar, level of challenge. It’s not uncommon to have to switch to a different fighter depending on your opponent as it’s some fighters are better geared towards dealing with certain opponents, though I find it better to stick to one fighter (Ken) and power through with an attack that favours fast-paced button mashing and aggression over any kind of actual strategy. Some fighters, like Zangief, E. Honda, and Balrog are slower, much heavier characters who rely more on grapples, powerful punches, and slams; you can sue faster characters, like Chun-Li and Cammy, to negate their power but this isn’t always a guarantee as they’re still able to close the distance despite lacking projectiles thanks to diving headbutts and screen-covering uppercuts, for example. Dhalsim is a pretty unique fighter in that he has super stretchy limbs to attack from afar, can teleport about the screen, and will set you ablaze with his Yoga Fire and Yoga Flame attacks, making him quite the slippery opponent. Similarly, Chun-Li is extremely quick on her feet, able to flip around behind you and send fireballs your way at a higher speed than Ken or Ryu, who are equally formidable thanks to their Shoryuken and throws. Other fighters, like T. Hawk and Fei Long, present their own challenges thanks to their bulk and lightning-fast speed so it’s recommended that you spend a bit of time playing as each fighter and seeing what they can do before you head into a fighter.

Surviving Sagat’s spam and M. Bison is one thing but challenging Akuma is a true test.

Some characters, like my favourite (but not to play as), Blanka, fall back on the unpredictable; not only can Blanka barrel across the screen in a cannonball roll but he can also fry you and chow down on your head if you get up close. Others, like Guile, require more patience to execute their special moves; you’ll need to hold back to charge up before pressing the attack button, for example, but they can catch you unawares because of it as they lure you in for the kill. None exemplify this more than M. Bison and his four Grand Masters, who act as the game’s bosses. Things start off pretty simple against Balrog; while he can deal tremendous damage with his charged-up punches, he’s slow and not too difficult to get around. Vega, on the other hand, is the exact opposite; he flips and whoops about the place, dancing around you and slashing with his claw and easily catching you in a German Suplex or a horrendous rolling throw. Vega can also scale the cage in the background to dive down at you and has a great aerial game, which can make him a tough opponent, but I’ve hit a brick wall with DeeJay just as often as Vega thanks to the former’s aggravating Capoeira style. Things really get serious when you face off against the walking mountain of muscle that is Sagat, the former Street Fighter champion; this absolute spam-artist of a bastard will relentlessly throw projectiles high and low, lure you in to knock you flying wit his TIGER!UPPER-CUT!! and flies across the screen with his TIGER!KNEEEE! attack, all of which make him easily the most formidable of the four Grand Masters on Easy. M. Bison represents the game’s final challenge but is nowhere near as spam-happy as his chief lieutenant, though he’s no less dangerous as a result. M. Bison likes to bounce off your head, land multiple hits with his bicycle kick, and send you careening through the stage statues with his Psycho Crusher attack. On higher difficulties, his challenge only increases with a heightened aggression, but you’ll need to get to M. Bison within twenty minutes if you want the honour of being absolutely obliterated by the game’s secret boss, Akuma, a psychotic variant of Ryu who fills the screen with fireballs and leaves you lying with his destructive Shun Goku Satsu Super move.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As it’s a one-on-one fighter, there’s nothing to help you out here except for the Super meter; land hits, blocks, and reversals and you’ll build it up and then it’s just a question of mastering the button inputs and landing the move through your opponent’s block to hopefully score an impressive finish to your fight.

Additional Features:
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix has twelve Achievements on offer, though I’m not holding out hope in earning any more than the paltry one I got for limping my way through the game’s arcade mode. You’ll snag an Achievement for earning five perfect rounds in a row (achieved by not taking a single hit, so well outside my skill), landing a Super Finish (possible, but most times when I tried it the computer obliterated me as I was trying to input the combo), winning a round in fifteen seconds (I was thoroughly slaughtered on every attempt), and landing ten throws in a single match (also not outside the realm of possibility, though I have trouble executing throws). In addition to a bunch of Achievements being dished out for online play, there’s also Achievements for beating Akuma in arcade mode and for landing Ryu’s Super Finish on Sagat, all of which is probably very doable and appealing for more accomplished Street Fighter II players. Other than that, there’s not much on offer here beyond some run of the mill online modes (including ranked matches and the like) and player-on-player play, though you can input a button code to play as Akuma if you fancy it.

The Summary:
Look, okay, I’m sorry I’m not a more accomplished Street Fighter II player. I’m sorry I haven’t master frame-perfect combos and move cancels and all that nonsense. I’m sorry that it was a constant fight against not only the computer but my desire to rage-quit the game and just relegate this to a Bite-Size review, but I’ve just never got on with Street Fighter II. Having said that, I don’t think I’m wrong to say that the difficulty curve here is pretty unforgiving; you can’t just pick up and play Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and expect to be good at it; button mashing works, to be sure, but only on occasion and some rounds will fly by in the blink of an eye without you even landing a single hit if you’re not using a bit of skill. Consequently, as always, I struggled with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix; I was able to make it through the ‘HD Remix’ arcade with Ken after numerous losses, but I couldn’t make a dent in the ‘Classic’ mode and the experience is so draining that I’m not sure when or even if I’ll go back to try and get at least one more Achievement. The fact of the matter is that no game should every require you to go into it as a master, or even a high-intermediate, player; that’s what difficulty settings are supposed to be there for, to incentivise replay and the building of confidence and skill. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix opts instead to whack you over the head with its unforgiving arcade-style difficulty and force you to earn every win, no matter how cheap. On the plus side, the game looks, sounds, and plays great; I might suck with the combos and special moves, but everything runs super smooth here, it’s just a pity that it’s such a barebones release. It can’t be denied that there are better versions of Street Fighter II out there, and compilations that allow you to sample the length of the series, but this is still a pretty decent conversion and representation of one of gaming’s most successful and influential fighters…I’m just hopelessly bad at it and that apparently will never change.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever played Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix? If so, what did you think to it and how do you think it holds up against other versions of Street Fighter II? Which version of the game is your favourite, or which one did you play the most back in the day? What did you think to the game’s graphical overhaul and lack of additional features? Which fighter was your favourite, or least favourite? Have you ever beaten this game on the hardest difficulty? Are you an accomplished Street Fighter II player and, if so, how much of a noob do you think I am? Which fighting game franchise is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, your memories of Street Fighter II, and your opinions on the franchise in general, feel free to share them below or on my social media.

Game Corner [Batman Month]: Batman: Arkham Origins (Xbox 360)

In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.

Released: 25 October 2013
Developer: WB Games Montréal
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (via PlayStation Now) Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
Batman’s, shall we say “difficult” relationship with videogames was forever turned around when Eidos Interactive, Rocksteady Studios, and celebrated Batman scribe Paul Dini collaborated on the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady Studios, 2009). They followed this success with the bigger and better sequel, Batman: Arkham City (ibid, 2011), that was even more well-received than its predecessor, ranking as one of the best videogames ever released. Arkham City’s monumental success meant that the bar was raised and expectations were even higher for another sequel after the developers left so many loose threads dangling in the game’s side missions. However, Rocksteady Studios required a lot of time to craft the sequel they had in mind and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment were in no mood to wait that long. So, they turned to WB Games Montréal to develop a prequel set during Batman’s early days and placed more emphasis on vertical movement and Batman’s detective skills. The result was a game that was met with mixed reviews; although the plot and certain mechanics drew praise, the game was seen as largely derivative thanks to copying and replicating, rather than properly expanding upon, Arkham City’s mechanics. Still, Arkham Origins was expanded upon with a fair amount of downloadable content (DLC) and I remember it being more of a good thing when I first played it on PlayStation 3 and particularly enjoying the new Christmas aesthetic and the game’s more challenging boss battles.

The Plot:
It’s Christmas Eve, some two years into Bruce Wayne’s crimefighting career as Batman. The city police, particularly Captain James Gordon, and public view Batman with scepticism and fear, feelings only exacerbated when Roman Sionis/Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on the Batman’s head! These eight assassins spread terror, death, and destruction throughout Gotham City but they’re nothing compared to the appearance of a new, sadistic villain known as “The Joker” who begins a campaign of unrelenting, psychotic terror.

Just like the last two games, Batman: Arkham Origins is a third-person, action/adventure game. This time around, rather than change the formula too much, the new developers simply took the gameplay mechanics and game world of Arkham City and tweaked them, expanding on a few areas here and there and basically coating the previous game with a slightly different coat of paint. The result is a game that is immediately (and, perhaps for some, disconcertingly) similar to the last Arkham title in numerous ways but still different enough, in my opinion, to stand alongside its predecessors and, as I always say, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Batman’s abilities and skills are almost unchanged from Arkham City.

In terms of controls, they remain exactly the same as before (which is interesting as I could have sworn that they were a little different when I first played it on PlayStation 3…). You still select one of Batman’s many gadgets and weapons (the majority of which return from Arkham City in some way, shape, or form even when they don’t make narrative sense) using the directional pad, ready a gadget or quick-fire with the Left Trigger and press the Right Trigger to use the gadget or crouch, and you can still use Batman’s cape to stun enemies, glide around the city, and dive bomb onto enemies or to gain extra height and distance. Similarly, the “freeflow combat” remains virtually identical to that seen in Arkham City; you strike with X, counter incoming attacks with Y, and build up combos by directing Batman towards different enemies, mixing up your attacks, and performing takedowns to disarm and/or knock out foes one at a time as gangs of thugs swarm over you. Stealth remains an important aspect of the game and, just like in the last game, Batman can crouch around undetected, grapple to vantage points (usually stone gargoyles) to observe groups of enemies, and perform double or even triple takedowns in certain situations. Batman can venture through vents to avoid detection and take down enemies, interact with his environment using his gadgets to take enemies down or disorientate them, smash enemies into walls and floors and other parts of the environment when he’s near them, interrogate certain enemies for information and to uncover secrets, and deliver a “Knockout Smash” when choking thugs out (though this will attract nearby enemies).

Batman’s detective skills get much more focus this time and allow him to reconstruct crime scenes.

As always, these tactics are best utilised during the “Predator” sections of the game and using Batman’s patented “Detective Vision”; tapping the Left Bumper allows Batman to see an x-ray-like layout of the game world and highlight nearby enemies, secrets, and points of interest, all of which are invaluable when going up against armed thugs. Detective Vision is greatly expanded upon in Arkham Origins, though, and the game goes to great lengths to emphasise the “detective” aspects of Batman’s character at numerous points and during side missions. When discovering a dead body or the scene of a crime, Batman can set up a crime scene with LB and you must hold the A button to scan in various pieces of evidence. As you do, Batman will piece together the crime not only through his monologue but also through the use of a holographic recreation, which you must advance and rewind to solve the crime or locate objects in order to progress. At the same time, though, the Detective Vision often feels a little neutered in some situations; like, I found myself stuck in rooms and locations with no real idea of where I was supposed to be going, which was very confusing. Although the map and onscreen compass return just as in Arkham City and it’s great for directing you to where you need to go in the overworld, it falters a bit inside buildings and locations at times, which can get annoying.

The game world is bigger than ever but, luckily, Batman can fast travel by using the Batwing.

As for the game world, while it contains the same locations and areas seen in Arkham City, it’s actually far bigger thanks to the addition of a (super long) bridge connecting the recognisable parts of the city to a new area down South. You’ll notice that the recognisable areas are in much better shape than in Arkham City since the area hasn’t been condemned or turned into a prison and some buildings that were only background elements or Easter Eggs in the last game can now be entered to complete story or side missions. The game world is so much bigger that the developers saw fit to include a fast travel mechanic; after hacking into various control towers across the city and liberating them from the control of Edward Nashton/Enigma, Batman can freely fast travel to every prominent area of the map via the Batwing. While this does result in more loading times than in the previous two games, and you cannot control the Batwing or fast exit areas, it is really handy for quickly getting from one end of the city to the other. Also included for the first time is the ability to visit the Batcave; from here, you can converse with Batman’s loyal butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, progress the story, acquire new gadgets and upgrades, switch to a different costume, or engage in some training by taking on various combat and stealth challenges. It’s not an especially big or well-implemented area, to be fair, and you’re only really forced to go there a handful of times in the main story but it’s a nice addition, at least.

Arkham Origins has some odd difficulty spikes that aren’t present in the previous two games.

There are, however, far less destructible elements dotted around the city this time around but you can still earn experience points (XP) and level-up to upgrade Batman’s suit and gadgets and stuff by taking out thugs, scanning points of interest with your Detective Vision, or finding Engima’s informants and Data Packs (which replace the usual Riddler Trophies). Batman: Arkham Origins is probably the hardest of the Arkham games so far; perhaps because of the developers assuming players would be familiar with the franchise and the gameplay, you quickly encounter armoured thugs, goons with knives, batons, and shields, and bigger, more formidable enemies during the opening part of the game. The city is, again, awash with thugs from different gangs (mostly Black Mask’s but also Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin’s) and you’ll even have to fight against the Gotham City police, specifically their S.W.A.T. division, given that Batman is seen as a disruptive vigilante in this game. The game’s difficulty can, again, be set by the player to increase the challenge offered to you but the two hardest modes, “New Game Plus” and “I Am The Night”, will remove the counter indicators, increase enemy aggressiveness and mix up their placement, and give you only one try to finish the game in the latter mode. This can be extremely challenging when facing off with the game’s bosses, the majority of which will tear through you like paper or have you ripping your hair out trying to figure out how to beat them and counter their attacks as the counter indicators are basically useless.

While the menus can be difficult to navigate, the increased puzzles adds a new dimension to the game.

Although Arkham Origins is bigger than its predecessor and instantly familiar, there are some things that let it down in terms of its presentation. For one thing, the menus (particularly the upgrade trees) are much more cluttered and far less intuitive to navigate. It seems like the developers were running out of ideas for things for you to unlock and view from these menus, though you’ll get all the usuals (biographies, side stories, story synopses and the like) and be able to chart the progress of your side missions, set waypoints to travel to, and see secrets or points of interest on the comprehensive map but, again, I found it stupidly easy to get trapped in a room and unable to figure out where I was supposed to go. There are also far more quick-time event-like moments in this game where you must counter an attack during a cutscene or mash A to open a door or break free of an enemy’s grip or avoid an attack, which can actually be more laborious than fun. Finally, you’ll find that there is a far greater emphasis on vertical traversal and puzzle solving this time around; you’ll have to activate a lot more consoles to break through walls or open doors, for example, and when navigating through the Joker’s funhouse in the Gotham Royal Hotel you need to use Batman’s Batarangs and gadgets to free hostages from timed traps and scale up the outside of the buildings using his grapnel gun. Entering an area or hacking a device is also generally made much more annoying thanks to the inclusion of jamming devices that you’ll need to disable with the new Disruptor gadget, meaning that a lot of your traversal is hindered by “busy work” at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Fittingly, given that its basically just slapping some additions onto Arkham City, Arkham Origins continues to be an impressive feat in terms of rendering the gothic, crime-ridden, anachronistic streets of Gotham City. Yes, many of the areas will be familiar to you but they’re far less rundown and have been recontextualised thanks to the Christmas time setting. Snow falls constantly, covering the ground, and Christmas decorations, trees, lights, and presents are in abundance; some enemies even wear Father Christmas hats and even the score is punctuated by Christmassy bells and all of the dialogue you overhear makes constant reference to the Yuletide season. It’s just enough of an aesthetic reskin to make the game world look and feel new and different and it’s great seeing ice in the water, the Penguin’s ship, the Final Offer, moored up at the docks, and buildings like the police station and steel mill in full, working order rather than abandoned like in the last game.

Gotham is expanded to include new areas and territories alongside familiar regions.

All of the regions from Arkham City return but you’ll enter different buildings and explore different areas this time, such as the haberdashery in the Bowery and the courthouse, but you’ll also be traversing (or fast travelling) the Gotham Pioneers Bridge down to the new areas in the South of the game map. Here, you’ll explore a high-end apartment building to solve Black Mask’s apparent murder, battle and scale up the aforementioned Gotham Royal Hotel, and fight and sneak your way through the hallways of the Gotham City Police Department. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Arkham game without a load of dank sewers and catacombs to explore and it seems you venture down into these depths a bit more often this time around but they’re a little easier to navigate through. You’ll also fly over to Blackgate Prison to quell a riot there, where the game’s visual presentation closely emulates that of the penitentiary on Arkham Island thanks to its large, automated doors and prison aesthetic.

Nightmarish renditions of Wonderland and Batman’s worst fears twist the game world.

As is a tradition with the Arkham games, things also take a turn to the bizarre when you hunt down Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, who drugs Batman and forces him to navigate through a twisted version of wonderland in sections very closely modelled after the nightmarish sequences that pitted him against Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow in the first game. Here, you’ll need to dodge electrified floors while using Batman’s gadgets to progress through sidescrolling sections, battle thugs in his mind-controlling rabbit masks who pour through a mirrored doorway, and scale up a twisted clock tower. It’s only one section, unlike the Scarecrow’s three, but it lasts quite a while and can get a bit annoying, especially the part where your vision is reduced to seeing through a keyhole and you must guide Batman through the correct doors to progress. Another standout moment comes late into the game and sees you taking control of the Joker as he recounts a version of his origin story to Doctor Harleen Quinzel; similar to how he played in the DLC for the first game, the Joker is a wild and crazed character who attacks in manic bursts, tosses razor sharp playing cards, and electrocutes enemies with his joy buzzer and you also get to guide him in his Red Hood persona past bursts of flames in a nightmarish funhouse of sorts. There’s also another opportunity to revisit the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents and suffer a bunch of unnerving hallucinations after Batman is poisoned by Copperhead, which distorts the screen and your controls at various points throughout the fight, and a pretty cool (if all-too-brief) moment where you must fight some thugs on a rooftop from the perspective of Vicki Vale’s helicopter.

Some shifts in perspective help to keep things interesting and add some variety.

The in-game graphics are just as impressive as the last two games; the game engine is tighter than ever, allowing for the biggest game world yet that is full of thugs and Easter Eggs and things to see and do, and character models still look really good. Batman’s suit, especially, is much better in this game, resembling military/riot armour and, in many ways, actually looks more durable and plausible than his suits from the previous games (which take place after this one). He still accumulates battle damage as the game progresses, which is always a nice touch and even though Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill aren’t present, their replacements (Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker) do an excellent job of filling in (even if they do seem emulating their predecessors a little too closely, which I guess is natural but keeps them from doing their own take on the characters). However, the game kind of drops the ball a little with its pre-rendered cutscenes, which look…a little more out of place compared to the in-game graphics and the previous Arkham games. Everything in these cinematics seems a little too plasticy and hyper-realised; it’s not a game-breaker, though, just something I happened to notice.

Enemies and Bosses:
All of the standard thugs and enemies you encountered in Arkham City are back this time around, but with a new coat of paint in many cases. Gangs of thugs roam the streets or patrol rooftops, often with sniper rifles; enemies will grab broken bottles or slash at you with knives, swing metal bars and baseball bats at your head, and even lay mines and booby-trap vantage points to reduce your manoeuvrability in Predator sections. The sword-wielding assassin enemies return from the last game, as do the bigger, more armoured enemies who require you to cape stun them and beat them down by mashing X, but there are a bunch of brand new enemies in this game, too. One of the most prominent are the martial artists you’ll encounter, who will test your countering ability with their quick kicks and shoves; another are the muscle-bound thugs juiced up on Venom who you must beat down and use takedowns to pull out the tubes feeding them the substance. Larger, more powerful enemies will rush at you and grab you or hold you in place so other enemies can beat on you and you’ll have to battle variations of these as the game progresses, which forces you to adapt your combat strategies on the fly.

While Killer Croc is similar to battles you’ve fought before, the Electrocutioner is a complete joke.

Of course, the main thrust of the story is that the Joker (under the guise of Black Mask) has hired eight assassins to take out Batman on Christmas Eve so, of course, that means you’ll encounter these assassins throughout the course of the game. The first of these is Waylon Jones/Killer Croc, which is a fight you should be well familiar with at this point as it’s the standard fare of stunning him three times with your cape and putting a beatdown on him. Things do get spiced up a little but when he grabs a gas canister to throw at you; at this point, you have to quick-fire a Batarang to explode it and whittle his health down. in a recurring theme, you’ll need to mash A to fend him off when he tries to bite you and also have to battle waves of thugs who jump into support him and distract you but, as first boss battles go, it’s pretty simple and basically the same as fighting the TITAN enemies and even Bane from the previous games. The next assassin you’ll battle is Lester Buchinsky/The Electrocutioner but this is played more for laughs as you take him out in one hit and then have to battle a gauntlet of the Penguin’s goons before he’s unceremoniously killed off by the Joker later on.

Deathstroke will truly test your mettle in one of the more frustrating boss battles.

The battle against Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, however, more than makes up for this. This is a complex and multi-stage fight that really comes out of left field and suddenly spikes the game’s difficulty in frustrating ways. Deathstroke has a counter for all of your attacks, many of which are nigh-impossible to defend or counterattack as the counter indicator window is next to useless in this fight. Without it, it’s damn near impossible but, by staying on the move, dodging over him, and utilising the quick-fire Batclaw, you can slowly (and I mean slowly) whittle his health down enough to trigger the next phase. Deathstroke tosses a smoke grenade to sneak attack you with his bo staff, forcing you to mash Y to counter his attacks and then mash X to beat him down, similar to the fight against Rā’s al Ghūl in Arkham City, but he also fires his Remote Claw at your chest to send an explosive barrel flying at you. You need to quickly counter this and throw it at him to keep him from shooting you and, eventually, you’ll snap his bo staff and the fight continues with Deathstroke now attacking with a sword! This doesn’t make things any easier as it’s hard to build up your combos and strikes or get a rhythm going since he counters you so quickly and hits so hard that you can only afford to make a couple of mistakes throughout the fight (which has no checkpoints). This fight is easily the most challenging in the series so far and it would be fun if the counter window wasn’t so damn small but, as it is, it can be one of the most aggravating boss battles in any of the Arkham games because of how brutally unfair it gets.

Lady Shiva and Copperhead recall previous battles against Rā’s al Ghūl and his assassins.

One of the other assassins is Lady Shiva, who is relegated more to a side mission and who challenges you to rescue an innocent man from a death trap. In doing so, you have to battle her sword-wielding ninjas and, similar to when you tracked the assassin’s blood in Arkham City, track her down by following a blood trail to the bottom of Wonder Tower using your Detective Vision. This leads to a fight against her, her ninjas, some martial artists, and a bigger martial artist variant in what is, essentially, a scaled down version of the sword fight with Rā’s al Ghūl (or, alternatively, a more troublesome version of the fights against the assassins in Arkham City). Basically, your standard striking, counter, and combat skills are more than enough to win the day here but watch out for Shiva’s random attacks in the city as you’ll need to be quick to counter these. The fight against Copperhead also recalls the Rā’s al Ghūl fight; she poisons Batman and causes him to hallucinate being attacked by multiple versions of herself, dashing at him from the darkness much like Rā’s al Ghūl but attacking with agility and claws similar to Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She also leaps onto you, requiring you to mash A to throw her off, and it can be quite a headache dealing with the distorted camera and trying to land a decisive hit on the real Copperhead (though, once Batman is cured, she goes down in one hit).

Bane is your most recurring foe and requires both agility, brute force, and stealth to defeat.

One of the more recurring antagonists in the game is Bane, who you’ll battle multiple times throughout the story. In the first instance, he charges at you very much like a TITAN enemy and will deal massive damage if he hits you or grabs a hold of you. Simply cape stun him three times and beat him down and then perform a takedown, however, and he’s not too difficult to overcome. However, he then overdoses on Venom and takes the fight out onto the rooftop; when full of Venom, he charges at you like a rhino and is very hard to dodge out of the way of, and he also leaps at you, causes shockwaves to ripple across the ground, and can easily spam-charge you to death if you’re not careful. You also have to be wary of the never-ending supply of goons who join the fight to distract you but, again, your cape stun and beatdown will do the trick, as will the Shock Gloves, but it can get very aggravating trying to avoid his charges. Later, in the finale, you have to go through it all again but this time, Bane also powers himself up with TN-01 and becomes a hulking, mindless brute who rips you out of floor grates and stomps around a small enclosed area looking for you. Similar to the fight against Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze in Arkham City, you must sneak around behind Bane and use the vents to your advantage to surprise him from behind and then ram him into electrified walls before finally subduing him in a QTE with your Remote Claw.

While Firefly requires your projectile-based gadgets, the Joker fight is basically a QTE.

Another of the game’s more troublesome and complex boss battles is the encounter with Garfield Lynns/Firefly, who is raining destruction down on the bridge. Before you can even reach him, you need to take out his goons and disarm three bombs while forging a practical relationship with Gordon and then battle Firefly amidst the wreckage on the bridge. Firefly hovers out of reach of your strikes, blasting at you with his flamethrower, so you need to dive out of harm’s way and toss Batarangs, Concussion Detonators, and Glue Grenades at him until he’s stunned. Then you can quick-fire your Batclaw, mash A to haul him down, and put a beating on him and damage one of his wings. In the second phase, after chasing you around the twisted underside of the bridge, you have even less opportunities for cover and Firefly now tosses grenades at you but the tactic remains the same. It can be tricky to dodge and quick-fire your gadgets at him but by far the hardest part is firing your Batclaw and countering his final attack when he flies off with you attached to him via your line so be sure to keep your wits about you. The final moments of the game finally see you track down and get your hands on the Joker, the mysterious anarchist who has been causing death and destruction across the city and who causes a full-blown riot at Blackgate Prison that more than recalls the tense, claustrophobic moments of the first game where the Joker would taunt you constantly. This fight is little more than a QTE, really, requiring you to hit Y to counter the Joker’s attacks and then pummel him into submission with presses of X. It’s a satisfying conclusion given all the chaos the Joker has wrought and how quickly the animosity between him and Batman escalates and, fittingly, is in no way a physical challenge for Batman (there’s enough of that with the likes of Deathstroke and Bane).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessors, Arkham Origins features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, pick up Data Packs, scan parts of the environment, and such, you’ll gain XP and, eventually, level-up. This allows you to upgrade Batman’s armour (again, into two blocks to improve damage from melee attacks and gunfire, respectively), add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (all of which return from Arkham City), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Upgrading can be tricky this time around, though, as the menus aren’t as easy to navigate; you can still view tutorials and such and you’ll actually receive a grade and additional XP depending on how dangerous a combat or Predator scenario was and how versatile you were in beating it, which will net you more XP if you happen to meet certain criteria in movement, combat, or Predator scenarios and you can get more by talking to Alfred in the Batcave and hearing his wisdom. All of Batman’s gadgets from Arkham City make a return, with many looking and acting a little differently or being expanded upon in new ways. The main exception to this is the Line Launcher, which is entirely absent and replaced with the Remote Claw; this fires a line between two specific points that you can grapple up to, crouch-walk across, or speed along on a zip wire to effectively fulfil the same function but in a way that ties into the game’s more vertical layout.

Batman has a few new gadgets, most of them repurposed variants of those from Arkham City.

There are some other new gadgets here, too. The Disruptor is now a gun-like device that disables enemy weapons, speakers, and jamming devices from a distance (which is super useful when facing armed goons), and the Freeze Blast is eventually evoked in Batman’s Glue Grenades, which can trap enemies in glue and allow him to form rafts. The Remote Electrical Charge gun is gone but Batman acquires the Electrocutioner’s Shock Gloves, which charge up as he deals damage and can dish out extra hurt to enemies (even punching through shields and negating the need to cape stun) once activated by pressing in the analogue sticks (they also come in handy for charging electrical panels and opening doors and for resuscitating characters). The Concussion Detonator is a bit like the R.E.C. blast in that it goes of and disorientates and confuses enemies after a short time and, if you purchase the ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ DLC, you’ll gain access to a new Batsuit and thermal gloves to dethaw Mr. Freeze’s victims and heat up your Batarangs.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Origins has fifty Achievements to earn, the vast majority of which will pop as you play through the story, taking down the assassins, and completing side missions. There are specific Achievements for taking out thugs in certain ways (such as not being seen), stopping twenty random assaults in the city as they pop up on your radar, gliding a certain distance, and fast travelling to every point on the map but you’ll also get them for collecting all of Enigma’s Data Packs and finishing the game on New Game Plus. Doing this unlocks the one-life, “I Am The Night” mode that sounds gruelling, at best, though all of your XP and upgrades do carry over to each of these save files.

Batman encounters some of his most infamous rouges for the first time in side missions.

As in Arkham City, there are numerous side missions to fill up your time with: Enigma’s data collectors need to be interrogated and his Data Packs found to bring him to justice, Black Mask’s drug stashes need to be destroyed (similar to the Bane side mission in Arkham City), and Barbara Gordon tasks you with destroying the Penguin’s weapons caches across the city. You’ll also have to find and deactivate three bombs placed around the city by Lonnie Machin/Anarky (and you’ll find his tags spray painted all over, too) before confronting him at the courthouse (where you’ll have to fight a wave of goons and Anarky himself, who is armed with stun batons). One of Bane’s henchmen, Bird, is also at large and inspiring gang fights all over the city, as is Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, and the chaos doesn’t end after the main story is cleared as Gordon tasks you with hunting down a number of escapees from Blackgate. Challenge Mode appears once again, now accessible from the main menu and from the Batcave in the main game world. Just like in Arkham City, you can take on self-contained combat and stealth challenges based on encounters in the game that see you battling waves of increasingly difficult enemies and racking up points by sustaining and varying your combos, or picking off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as enemies having access to gun racks and weapons or Batman’s gadgets or combos being disabled).

Replayability is bolstered by a variety of DLC and a team-based multiplayer mode.

There is also a series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. As before, all of this can be further expanded by purchasing a range of DLC. This includes a whole bunch of new skins for Batman (including Jean-Paul Valley’s “AzBats” armour), additional challenge packs that see you playing as Bruce Wayne during his training years, and even the ability to play as Deathstroke in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty cool. The “Cold, Cold Heart” story pack adds a whole extra story-based mission that takes place after the main campaign and features an encounter with Mr. Freeze; it even includes additional Achievements, gadgets, and things to scan and find (though they are limited only to this story mode). The biggest additional mode to Arkham Origin, though, was the inclusion of an online multiplayer that sees players battling as a member of the Joker’s gang, Bane’s gang, or Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin. Unfortunately, though, I never experienced this mode even when I played on the PlayStation 3 so I can’t really comment too much on it but it sounds like a standard, team-based deathmatch kind of mode; my only real grip is that the developers didn’t incorporate Robin into the main game or even as a playable character in the Challenge Mode this time around, and that the DLC can no longer be purchased.

The Summary:
Even now, Batman: Arkham City remains one of my favourite videogames and a standout in the Arkham series; it expanded upon all of the mechanics and features of the first game and truly defined the standard for Batman videogames. For me, then, Batman: Arkham Origins is a lot of fun; it’s (literally) everything Arkham City was but more; it’s not like they just slapped on a reskin or opened up the map a little bit either like some glorified DLC, there is a lot of story and additional features at work here that expand the game world considerably. The Christmas setting is inspired and seeing Batman nearer to the beginning of his career and encountering some of his famous villains for the first time is a blast, as is the intricate development of Batman’s character from a wanted vigilante to a trusted ally of the city and, especially, Jim Gordon. The Batwing, additional gadgets, bigger emphasis on Batman’s detective skills, and the unique, challenging boss battles are all really solid additions and help to make the game very unique. What lets Arkham Origins down a bit, especially compared to its predecessor, is undoubtedly how derivative it can be and how needlessly frustrating many of these boss fights can be. The lack of inspiration in the game’s Enigma puzzles, simple reuse of many of Batman’s gadgets (when this would have been a great opportunity to strip him of many of them to really evoke the gritty feel of the first game), and reskinning of areas we’d explored to death in the last game do take it down a notch but I still maintain that there’s plenty to like about Arkham Origins. I’m not sure if it was worth developing the multiplayer component and it would have been nice to see some of these elements incorporated into the single player story but, overall, I feel if you enjoyed Arkham City then you kind of have to enjoy Arkham Origins as it’s the same game but with a new coat of paint.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Origins? How do you feel it compares to the other Arkham games, particularly Arkham City? Did you think the game was too derivative or did you enjoy the additions it made to the gameplay mechanics and revisiting the world in a new, expanded way? Which of the game’s assassins was your your favourite, and how did you fare against the likes of Deathstroke and Bane? Did you ever play the online multiplayer mode and, if so, what did you think to it? Did you enjoy the game’s DLC and the side missions? How are you celebrating Batman Day and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham Origins, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for one more Arkham review!

Game Corner [Knuckles Day & Knuckles]: Knuckles’ Chaotix (SEGA 32X)

With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), gamers were introduced to Knuckles the Echidna. This mischievous, dreadlocked antagonist was created by Takashi Yuda and his debut was made all the more impressive by virtue of the fact that Sonic 3 was too big to fit on one cartridge, which meant that Knuckles was the first of Sonic’s supporting characters to co-star in a main series videogame when Sonic & Knuckles (ibid) was released on this very day in 1994.

Released: April 1995
Developer: SEGA

The Background:
Following the release of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, SEGA looked to be unstoppable with their Sonic franchise; the latter title was a huge game for SEGA, backed by an impressive marketing campaign, and the franchise had sold over $1 billion in total revenue by 1994. With the Mega Drive nearing the end of its life cycle, and the videogame industry on the cusp of entering a new generation of 3D gaming, SEGA attempted to prolong the Mega Drive’s lifespan and appeal with a series of expensive add-ons like the Mega-CD and the Mega Drive 32X. Like the Mega-CD, however, the 32X was doomed to failure primarily because SEGA were planning on releasing an entirely new console, the SEGA Saturn, just a few months later and gamers just couldn’t afford the clunky peripheral.

Expensive peripherals like the Mega-CD and 32X contributed to SEGA’s eventual decline.

With the benefit of hindsight, I truly believe that SEGA would have fared much better had they simply continued with the Mega-CD, producing a combination Mega Drive/CD console and releasing all 32X and Saturn games on this platform rather than wasting time, effort, and money on expensive add-ons. Regardless, one title that sticks out to me from the 32X library is Knuckles’ Chaotix; initially designed as Sonic Crackers, the game’s big mechanic was that players controlled two characters simultaneously and were joined by a special, elastic “Combi Ring”. The game, which was Knuckles’ one and only solo title, also saw the return and redesign of obscure Sonic character Mighty the Armadillo and Vector the Crocodile into fully playable characters. However, thanks primarily to the failure of the 32X, the title has largely been doomed to obscurity and SEGA’s continued refusal to port or re-release the game to modern consoles means that the only way to play the game is by using emulators or spending extortionate prices.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman has discovered the existence of seven Chaos Rings on Carnival Island and, true to form, begun transforming the island and its inhabitants into robotic slaves with the aid of Metal Sonic. When Knuckles arrives to investigate, he finds Espio the Chameleon being held captive in Dr. Eggman’s Combi Confiner and, after freeing the chameleon, joins forces with Espio’s cohorts Mighty, Vector, and Charmy Bee (the titular Chaotix) to put a stop to Dr. Eggman’s schemes using the power of the Combi Ring.

As is to be expected of a classic Sonic the Hedgehog title, Knuckles’ Chaotix is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer that is heavily geared towards speed but, in a change of pace, actually has far more emphasis on vertical platforming and progression that any of its predecessors. The game takes place in Newtronic High Zone and is comprised of six stages referred to as “Attractions”; each Attraction is made up of five levels (called “Acts”) rather than the usual two or three, and each of these pushes you to run up loops and walls or jump to higher areas in order to reach the end goal. In another change of pace, the game immediately begins with a practice area, in which you play as Knuckles. After scaring away Dr. Eggman, Knuckles rescues Espio from the mad scientist and players can choose to play through a quick tutorial to familiarise themselves with Knuckles’ Chaotix’s new mechanics.

Knuckles and his new friends are inexplicably tethered together for some clunky gameplay.

All of the basic controls of a classic Sonic remain intact and as you’d expect; players can run, jump, and perform a Spin Dash to speed ahead with all but three of the available characters, and you’ll find that each playable character has their own unique qualities. Knuckles, for example, can glide and climb walls as in his previous appearances; Espio spins like a top instead of Spin Dashing and can cling to walls but cannot climb them; Vector is the biggest character and so has a greater chance of hitting Badniks or taking damage but he can also perform a double jump or mid-air dash; Mighty is basically a thinly veiled stand-in for Sonic and can perform a wall jump; and Charmy is the smallest and fastest character and constantly flies about but at the cost of severely reduced visibility. Players can also be impeded by Heavy and Bomb, two Badniks who cannot Spin Dash or climb walls, explode on contact or severely weigh you down, and you’ll have to leave it up to a mixture of fate and luck as to which character you get as your partner as the main Scenario Quest forces you to pick one at random using the “Combi-Catcher”, a mechanical claw game like you see at seaside amusements. Of course, the unique selling point of Knuckles’ Chaotix is the frankly bizarre decision to tether two characters together using the Combi-Ring. This means that there are always two characters on screen at once, and you can choose to play either with a computer-controlled partner or with a human friend. Players can call their partner to them at any time with the A button or hold down B to “hold” their partner in place to activate switches; when they stand in place, you can also build up a head of steam to blast ahead, which is honestly more beneficial than the Spin Dash in this game. This also allows you to grab your partner and fling them at switches, Badniks, bosses, or up to higher areas; however, it can be extremely clunky trying to slingshot your way up to where your partner is, and more often than not you end up hanging in place or ricocheting about like a pinball just trying to progress upwards. Furthermore, calling your partner back costs you Golden Rings, the lifeforce of the series, and you can even drop the Ring counter into negative numbers as a result of this.

You’ll need to master (or bungle) the Combi-Ring and make use of gimmicks to progress ever upwards.

While each character is very visually interesting in their own right and the idea of working together to progress is an interesting one, tethering the characters together is extremely restrictive in practise; the majority of the time, your biggest struggle won’t be with the game’s Badniks or the tedious nature of the gameplay, it’ll be with trying to navigate the environment using this clunky, awkward mechanic and getting frustrated when you finally get where you need to be only to drop down a second later. Indeed, the level of difficulty in Knuckles’ Chaotix is extremely low compared to the games that came before it; the life system and checkpoints are now gone, there are no bottomless pits or bodies of water to worry about falling or drowning in, and you don’t even need to worry too much about being hit without any Rings as you’ll either lose your partner for a short time or be booted out to the main hub world to try again. Like Sonic 3, the game comes with a save system that allows you to have three saved games, though the only way you can replay the game’s Attractions is to play through the Training Mode. This mode also allows you to set your playable character and partner, which is more freedom than the main Scenario Quest offers, but the most tedious aspects of Knuckles’ Chaotix come from how unnecessarily long and annoying some of its gameplay elements are. While the Attractions are a visual eye fest there’s not much to distinguish each Act from the other within a set stage (I swear some of them have exactly the same layouts bar some very minor changes), there’s next to no hazards or Badniks to worry about, and you don’t even really need to worry all that much about the time limit.

Most stages are painfully barren and linear, but there are some instances of variety.

Instead, the game is built around randomness; it’s pot luck that you’ll pick a decent partner (I recommend a Knuckles/Espio team, personally) and as to which Attraction you’ll play. Between each stage, you’re returned to the hub world and must hit a bumper to randomly select your next area, meaning that you’re literally bouncing all over the place and will most likely play the game’s Attractions out of order. This may go a long way to explaining the uniformity and ease of the game’s stages, however, as it wouldn’t be fair to be randomly dropped into a tough stage before you’re ready, but it does make playing through the Scenario Quest quite a long old slog. While the basics of the gameplay are very much familiar to anyone who’s played a Sonic game before, Knuckles’ Chaotix feels very slow and sluggish at times and you won’t really find much here you haven’t seen both. Sure, there’s a few more switches and a bit of variety in the likes of Marina Madness and Amazing Arena (you can hop on a rising/falling ship in the background in the former and must light up each Act to get a successful clear in the latter) but, for the most part, you’re just running up walls, hopping over spiked balls, bouncing off springs and bumpers, and scaling upwards (always upwards) on platforms and elevators. The Acts do eventually appear to become more dangerous as you progress, but by then it’s too little too late and I can’t help but feel that things would have been much better if there had just been three Acts per Attraction and then a final area to play through before battling the final boss.

Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one area where Knuckles’ Chaotix excels, it’s the presentation; the game is undeniably gorgeous to look at, and easily the most vibrant and colourful Sonic title of its era. Each of the playable characters (with the exception of Heavy and Bomb) has an idle animation unique to them (Knuckles twirls his Combi-Ring in boredom, Espio cycles through different colours, Vector jams to his music, Mighty impatiently taps his foot like Sonic, and Charmy looks at you incredulously) and are some of the finest sprite work in the series. It’s such a shame, then, that Charmy is so goddamn small; obviously, he’s a bee and is supposed to be tiny but half the time you can barely see him, which is almost as disappointing as Mighty being a simple sprite swap of Sonic. Still, Espio and Vector look fantastic; each has unique and quirky running and jumping animations, and Knuckles’ sprites have been completely overhauled to make him more detailed and expressive than ever.

Sprites and environments are extremely colourful and detailed, sometimes to a fault.

Sadly, the game is let down by how bland and uninteresting its level design is. Knuckles’ Chaotix is very similar to Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993) in a lot of ways but primarily in how confusing and clumsy its stages are laid out; when Badniks do appear, it seems completely at random, and the few hazards you come across are so oddly placed that it’s easy to run head-first into them. Stages are also extremely cluttered at times; there’s often too much colour, too much sensory overload, and it makes everything blend together or difficult to look at, which really doesn’t help when you’re trying to figure out where the hell you’re supposed to be going. The game’s Attractions play things extremely safe with the likes of Botanic Base being a lush forest, Speed Slider being an amusement park, and Techno Tower being Dr. Eggman’s industrial blemish on the natural environment, much like the classic Green Hill, Star Light, and Scrap Brain Zones. The aforementioned Marina Madness and Amazing Arena thus stand out even more thanks to the their unique gameplay mechanics and presentation, and the game does get extra points for featuring different colour palettes for each Act to indicate a different time of day (morning, noon, evening, and night), though this really doesn’t help to stave off the recycled nature of each Act.

Sprite manipulation, isometric graphics, and some funky effects hint to the 32X’s potential.

Also like Sonic CD, Knuckles’ Chaotix makes an impact with one of the best of the classic Sonic’s soundtracks; there are so many jaunty, catchy tunes peppered throughout this game that it really helps to take your mind off how empty the stages are and how monotonous the gameplay can be. Since it’s running on 32-bit hardware, the game also features a great deal of isometric 3D graphics; Dr. Eggman shields himself being a polygonal diamond, some lifts and bosses are built out of the same graphics, and you’ll find the bonus and Special Stages also contain a fair bit of this technique (and suffer from jerkiness, slowdown, and perspective issues as a result). There’s also a big emphasis on sprite manipulation; characters can grow or shrink with monitors, and bosses, Badniks, and sprites will fill up or fly into the screen. Unlike Sonic CD, however, the game doesn’t feature any anime cutscenes; in fact, even sprite-based cutscenes are few and far between here, relegated to the opening and before the final boss, and although the bosses are proceeded by a short cutscene, the game prefers to just show a partially animated image of the main cast for the title screen and credits. This is a bit of a shame, really; I wasn’t expecting full blown animated sequences but both Sonic 3 and Sonic CD featured more sprite-based cutscenes than Knuckles’ Chaotix, so the game ends up feel quite rushed and a bit of a step back.

Enemies and Bosses:
Dr. Eggman hasn’t really tried to reinvent the wheel in Knuckles’ Chaotix and is still using his tried-and-tested robotic creations, the Badniks, to hinder your progress. Unlike in the majority of other 2D Sonic titles, destroying Badniks doesn’t free a cute little woodland critter; instead, an uncollectible Dark Ring will drop out and disappear soon after, meaning that the few times Badniks do appear you’re robbed of any sense of satisfaction from destroying them. These Badniks are some of the oddest in the classic series, resembling a mish-mash of insects, tanks, and other creatures and mostly just floating around here and there. The only real standouts for me were Burboom and Blitz; Burboom can catch your partner and hold them captive and Blitz target you with homing missiles that fly across the immediate area to hurt you. While in Amazing Arena, you’ll also have battle a sub-boss, which is a massive mechanical version of Dr. Eggman that stretches its fists at you. The only way to damage it is to toss your partner into the head, which routinely floats back and forth at the top of the screen; although you can simply wait it out and the boss will deactivate, you won’t get the benefit of the Ring Monitors defeating it bestows upon you.

Bosses can be either stupidly simply or needlessly frustrating thanks to the Combi-Ring mechanic.

Since you’ll play the game’s Attractions at random, the main five bosses can be fought in any order, and you’ll probably tackle them at different times each time you play through the game. It’s also worth noting that you must play each Attraction’s entire fifth Act to reach the boss, and if you fail you’ll be kicked back to the hub world and have to play through the whole Act all over again, which can make these battles very tedious. I fought the Botanic Base boss first; in this fight, Dr. Eggman holds your partner in a mechanical claw and shields his craft with electrical currents, meaning you’re left frantically trying to figure out how to bounce around using the bumper and ram into the craft. After that, I took on the Amazing Arena boss, which sees Dr. Eggman spawn in Badniks using a projector screen and protecting himself with a sphere. Simply fend off the Badniks, avoid his mace-like arms, and toss your partner up into him to take him out. I then fought the Marina Madness boss, which sees Dr. Eggman hide behind a polygonal shield and then protect his craft with slivers of it, not unlike the Metropolis Zone boss, forcing you to time your attacks to avoid damage. The Speed Slider boss is one of the trickiest in the game as Dr. Eggman essentially commands a huge, dangerous carousel; the floor constantly moves you towards the spiked cups that rotate around the main machine, so you have to fight against the inertia, avoid the spikes, and ram the blue spherical weak spot of his machine. Contrasting this is the Techno Tower boss, which is easily the game’s simplest boss by far; despite the lasers and the swinging arms of Dr. Eggman’s rotund mech, I was able to batter the red sphere that is its weak spot in no time at all thanks to simply taking advantage of invincibility frames.

Metal Sonic transforms into a massive mechanical monstrosity for the finale.

Once you have defeated all five of the main bosses, you’re returned to the hub world, where Metal Sonic takes over the stage select machine. Just as you need to hit a bumper to select a stage, so to do you have to hit the bumper to try and deal damage to Metal Sonic; if the indicator lands on the X, one of the other numbered panels will be destroyed and the hub world will become more and more damaged. However, if you land on one of the numbered panels, you’ll have to dodge one of four different attacks as Metal Sonic tries to force you into spiked walls, rains missiles down on you, sends buzzsaws across the floor, and tries to hit you with bouncing tentacles. You’ll need to avoid these as you can only take two hits in this boss battle due to the lack of Rings; the first hit will cost you your partner, and you’ll need to wait for him to respawn or you’ll be kicked back to the hub world and have to start over. With Metal Sonic heavily damaged, Dr. Eggman repairs and powers it up with a huge Dark Ring, transforming it into the massive, monstrous “Metal Sonic Kai”. This is a three-stage boss battle in an enclosed, cyberspace-like arena, where you’re afforded ten Rings and must avoid its huge claw arm to strike its chest, then Spin Dash into its remaining arm while it hovers in the background, and then avoid its massive near-screen-filling chest beam to finish it off in a pretty simple, but surprisingly impressive, final battle.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Pretty much all of the classic Sonic power-ups are available to you in Knuckles Chaotix; while there are no Elemental Shields or extra life monitors, you can grab ten Rings, a speed up, a one-hit shield, and an invincibility from the different monitors you can find in each Act. There are some new power-ups here as well, though: you can briefly switch your playable character (or switch your partner to a different one depending on whose face is on the monitor when you smash it) and either grow to plough through the few enemies onscreen or shrink to find your jump and abilities painfully stunted for a short time. Perhaps the most useful item is the Combi-Ring Monitor, which stays with you until you’re hit; then, when you are hit, one large Ring is thrown from you rather than all of them scattering around and collecting that one Ring restores all of your Rings. Another interesting twist is that your partner can also collect and be affected by the monitors, meaning they could be invincible, big, small, or protected by a shield while you are not.

Additional Features:
As you might expect, finishing any Act except the ones containing a boss while holding fifty Rings or more spawns a Big Ring. Entering it takes you (or your partner, if they enter or are thrown into it) to an isometric Special Stage where you continuously lap the environment until you have collected enough Blue Spheres to proceed. Collecting Rings will afford you more time to do this, and you must dodge buzzsaws and spiked balls and the myriad of gaps in the floor in order to reach your goal. While these aren’t necessarily the worst Special Stages I’ve ever played, they can be extremely difficult; it’s very hard to see what’s coming ahead of you or to anticipate which “lane” you need to be in to find a Blue Sphere, and all too easy to slip to failure. On the plus side, there are only six Special Stages; you’ll be awarded one of the six coloured Chaos Rings upon completion and will be treated to a slightly different end credits screen that adds Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower to the cast and avoids Metal Sonic Kai wrecking havoc.

Snag the six Chaos Rings for the good ending, or mess about with the game’s debug mode.

Unfortunately, there are no Super transformations or additional bonuses; however, if you enter a Special Stage after collecting all the Chaos Rings, you’ll simply challenge them again in an even more headache-inducing wireframe mode. If you’re holding twenty Rings or more, you may encounter Big Rings hidden within the Acts; these transport you to a bonus stage that sees you constantly falling and trying to hit blocks for points and Rings. However, your Rings are constantly being drained in this stage, making it more of a hinderance than a benefit. Outside of the regular game, you’ll find a sound select and “colour test” in the main menu; messing around with this allows you to activate a debug mode, have Amy Rose appear in the sound test, activate a stage and character select, and even play as a glitched version of Knuckles. Since the only way you can play Knuckles’ Chaotix is to emulate it, you can obviously also make liberal use of the save state features included in most emulators to make the game a bit less annoying to play through.

The Summary:
Knuckles’ Chaotix is such an oddity to me. The entire game feels like a barely finished proof of concept, with empty environments and clunky mechanics that all needed to be addressed before the game was completed, and yet it’s such a lush and stunningly well-presented package that I find it all the more disappointing how lacklustre the actual gameplay and content are. Rather than trying to emulate the size, scope, and variety of Sonic 3, Knuckles’ Chaotix takes a step backwards for a far more linear and mundane experience and hedges all its bets on the unique Combi-Ring mechanic and the random, amusement park-like structure of the main campaign. Sadly, neither are all that much fun to play; five Acts per stage would be a lot to get through even in a traditionally paced Sonic title but the lack of enemies and variety are a real issue, despite how pretty the game looks. It’s a shame as the character designs are really unique and it could have been a really good continuation of the classic Sonic series, but it’s just lacking in a lot of ways that make it inferior to Sonic 3. The bosses aren’t too bad, especially the final battle, but the Special Stages are extremely disorientating and I can’t imagine the game is very enjoyable in two-player. At the same time, though, I’d love to see this get a remaster or a port to modern consoles with a few quality-of-life fixes, and it boggles my mind that we haven’t seen it re-released in all this time, but I can decisively say that you’re really not missing out on much by skipping over this one.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Knuckles’ Chaotix? If so, did you play it on the original hardware or, like me, did you discover it through emulation? What did you think to the Combi-Ring mechanic, and which combination of characters was your favourite? Were you a fan of the random aspects of the game and the five-Act structure? Did you ever collect all the Chaos Rings and what did you think to the Special Stages? How are you celebrating Knuckles’ big day today? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Knuckles’ Chaotix down below or drop a comment on my social media, and check back in for more Sonic content a little later in the year.

Game Corner [Batman Month]: Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360)

In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday of September to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.

Released: 18 October 2011
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Batman quickly became a successful and dynamic character after his 1939 debut in DC Comics; over the years, the character’s world and mythos has grown considerably to include numerous spin-off comics and adaptations into not just cartoons and movies but also videogames. While Batman has fared rather well in that department, it can’t be denied that there were a few stinkers as well before Eidos Interactive acquired the rights to make a Batman game and brought in both Rocksteady Studios and celebrated Batman scribe writer Paul Dini to create the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) at a time when the character was hot off a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a celebrated triumph that perfectly captured Batman’s essence.

Development of a sequel began work before Arkham Asylum had even been completed; despite apprehensions about system limitations, Rocksteady had big ideas for the sequel, which would move away from the claustrophobic trappings of Arkham Island and into more open world territory. Having learned from their mistakes and feedback from the first game, the developers greatly expanded Batman’s arsenal, animations, and gadgets to make him a more capable character and significantly expanded the range of exploration and side missions available to players in the much-larger game world. All of that hard work paid off as Arkham City became one of the fastest selling videogames in history. Critically, the response was universally positive; critics lauded the voice acting and additional features and the high quality of the game’s mechanics and content. The game was so successful that it was released in multiple editions with access to different downloadable content (DLC) and won numerous awards for the sheer expansiveness of its included, and additional, content.

The Plot:
Some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, the city’s criminals and maniacs have been locked up inside a walled off section of Gotham City known as Arkham City, from which there is no escape and both supervillains and TYGER mercenaries under the command of Doctor Hugo Strange enforce martial law. Infiltrating the prison to investigate Strange’s unlawful incarceration of those who spoke out against him, the odds against Batman increase when the Joker shows up, apparently dying from TITAN poisoning, and infects Batman with his blood, forcing him to delve into the city’s underworld to find a cure.

Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is a third-person, action/adventure game but, this time, you’re prowling the streets and rooftops of “Old Gotham”, a dilapidated and rundown area of Gotham that has been encased in high perimeter walls sporting gun turrets to house the city’s undesirables. Arkham City’s game world is five times the size of the one seen in Arkham Asylum and features even more recognisable landmarks from Batman’s famous city and areas to explore, as well as an endless supply of inmates and lowlifes to get your fists on. One of the best things about Arkham City is how the control scheme and core mechanics remain exactly as in the first game, just expanded considerably. Once again, Batman’s main method of traversal is his operatic cape and grapnel gun, which can now be used in conjunction and upgraded to allow him to effortlessly zip across the city. You can also dive bomb while gliding to take out enemies or pull up and gain additional height and length on your glide, allowing you to traverse the city prison in no time at all.

Combat and stealth are more fluid and satisfying than ever thanks to additional animations and options.

This more than makes up for Batman’s continued inability to jump and allows him to easily dart out of danger when spotted; Batman can still crouch with the Right Trigger and toss a quick Batarang with the Left Trigger, but now he can also quick-fire other gadgets, which is incredibly useful in combat and for solving the myriad of brain-teasing puzzles scattered around the city by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler. The “freeflow combat” mechanic of the previous game returns intact but greatly expanded thanks to the addition of more attack animations and combos; X allows you to strike in quick succession while a well-timed press of Y (indicated when the “counter” indicator appears) will allow you to block and counter incoming attacks and rack up a bigger and more fluid combo. The higher your combo, the more damage you’ll deal and the more dynamic the perfectly-placed fight camera will move to allow you to lunge at other enemies before they can land a blow. Since the streets are crawling with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of thugs this time around, there are far more opportunities to sneak up on them and perform a “Silent Takedown”, but this time you can perform a “Knockout Smash” (though this will attract nearby enemies) and you can even perform takedowns from floor grates, double or even triple counters and takedowns when in combat, attack parts of the environment (like fire extinguishers and electrical boxes) to disorientate or disarm opponents, and even slam inmates into walls or dangle them over ledges during combat or interrogations.

New additions to the Predator sections increase the threat to Batman and his takedown options.

Also returning is the stealth-based “Predator” mechanic; in addition to sneaking up on enemies, Batman can grapple up to stone gargoyles and other high ledges to review rooms of armed thugs using the x-ray and thermal vision offered by his “Detective Mode”. A simple press of the Left Bumper and you’ll be able to see enemies by their body heat, their current condition, and any interactable parts of the environment. Batman’s new array of gadgets (easily accessed using the directional pad) can also be used in new ways to lure enemies into traps or take them down and, while traversing the city, you’ll need to make liberal use of these (and Batman’s new smoke pellets) to dart away from gunfire and dispatch gun-toting enemies. Again, Batman is tough but can’t take sustained gunfire or explosions; however, his health will replenish after you clear out all nearby enemies, solve riddles, or find the many Riddler Trophies. These same criteria will earn you experience points (XP) to improve Batman’s armour, abilities, and weaponry once more but the game definitely mixes things up by having enemies be able to jam your Detective Vision and electronics and lay traps of their own.

Navigation is easier than ever thanks to a comprehensive map, waypoint, and compass system.

If you thought Arkham Asylum had a lot of riddles and Riddler Trophies, then Arkham City will blow your mind! The Riddler has placed his trophies not just out in the open but hidden behind walls, in cages, and a myriad of pressure pads and context-sensitive puzzles that will require all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to acquire. Similarly, there are riddles to find across the city and you can solve them by tapped LB to scan the environment when you spot glowing green question marks or the answer to the riddle. This time, there are also far more destructible elements to snag you some XP; the chattering Joker teeth return but you’ll also be destroying TYGER security cameras, balloons, and massive bobbleheads of Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, which all adds to the fun, as well as more opportunities to use your gadgets to open vents or shut off steam from pipes. The map screen returns, far more expansive and user friendly (as are all of the menus) than before; you can now set waypoints to your next mission or any other location on the map and a very useful onscreen compass and Bat-Signal will direct you towards your location with a minimum of fuss. Take note, though, that these features are suppressed when you have Detective Mode activated but, again, there are some opportunities to track targets using this vision mode.

The streets are crawling with more baddies than ever and they’ll repopulate areas as you progress.

Like the first game, Batman: Arkham City gets progressively difficult as you play but this is expanded upon greatly. You might come across a gang of Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s minions and engage them in combat, only for more and more nearby inmates to hear the fight and join in, for one thing. These enemies will, eventually, repopulate areas after you’ve cleared them out so you constantly have to be aware of enemies on the streets and rooftops and, like in the last game, enemies will increase in their aggressiveness and capabilities as you progress through the story. Also, like before, you can select different difficulty levels to play the game on from the start, with “Hard” mode including counter indicators this time but increasing the damage enemies will put out, but there are no Achievements tied to playing on Hard mode so you may as well play on “Easy” or “Normal” since “New Game Plus” offers an even tougher challenge than the game’s Hard mode. Where Arkham City excels, though, is in its sheer size; Arkham City is full of buildings to enter, Easter Eggs and references, riddles to solve, and side quests to keep you busy. For a returning player like me, it’s really easy to get distracted with side quests on your way to the main story objective and you can keep track of all outstanding missions from the main menu. From here, you can also view stories and character biographies, review Batman’s moves and abilities (and even view a tutorial if you need a refresher), and check up on any outstanding riddles and such. In fact, the only real downside to Arkham City is, again, the inability to quickly exit an area, which can be particularly bothersome when deep in the bowels of the city subway or the forgotten steampunk city, Wonder City, as it can still be a tad laborious to find your way back out sometimes.

Graphics and Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to hold up impressively well over time and Arkham City holds up even better; it was already a big step up in terms of graphical quality and visual presentation so it’s only natural that it’s aged even better. As before, it’s a very dark game and takes place in one night so you might be relying on your Detective Vision or brightness settings to navigate in some areas but, thanks to many of the game’s locations taking place in indoor, more suburban (if equally dilapidated) areas, there are far more opportunities to bask in the impressive art direction of the game. Arkham City is split into different regions, with each one being primarily controlled by gangs of thugs affiliated with a different supervillain (Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker) and having a distinctive feel to them.

Each region of Arkham City is controlled by a different villain and has a different look to it.

Because the game takes place within a walled off cityscape, it must be said that it’s not immediately as visually distinctive compared to its predecessor as you’re surrounded by skyscrapers but I can forgive this as there are far more opportunities to see and explore the wider mythos of Batman’s world. You’ll stumble across Crime Alley, explore the remains of the old Gotham City Police Department (complete with Bat-Signal on the roof), fight through the museum and into the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and take on the Joker’s gang at the dilapidated remains of the Sionis steel mill over on Amusement Mile. Similar to Arkham Island (which you can still see lingering in the misty distance), the city prison is a rundown, desolate place full of graffiti, burned out cars, litter, and chaos and there’s a real sense that the dogs have been literally let loose within its high walls and have turned the city into a veritable war zone. As you might expect, there are some more intricate and elaborate areas of the city, too. You can venture down into the abandoned subway and, of course, navigate through some stony catacombs and sewers beneath the city but, luckily, the game is far bigger and makes much better use of these environments when it comes to utilising Batman’s abilities so there’s far less awkward jumping and climbing and much more emphasis on the Line Launcher and grapnel boost, though you will need to get used to the new dive bomb mechanic in order to swoop in through some tight areas and get 100% completion.

Some nightmarish sequences, jump scares, and chilling encounters add to the world’s mythos.

Things definitely start to take a more visually interesting turn once you venture into the abandoned Wonder City, a town populated by deactivated robots and lost to the midst of times, and scale Wonder Tower to confront Hugo Strange. Sadly, there aren’t the same dynamic sections as those involving Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the last game but Arkham City does go to some lengths to recreate these sections when the plot demands that Batman suffer the effects of his poisoning. Later, during a side quest involving Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, you’ll experience a much more similar, twisted nightmare world but the game does include far more elaborate and layered areas to explore that change as the story progresses. The GCPD will freeze over because of Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze, the steel mill needs to be cooled down and then you have to enter through a different entrance that involves navigating past giant machinery and drills, Julian Day/Calendar Man is imprisoned beneath the courthouse, and the museum contains a gigantic frozen pool with a very large and unfriendly denizen awaiting you.

The attention to detail, new villains, and cameos are even better than ever this time around.

Thanks to the diversity in the game’s inmates, enemies have a lot more visual variety this time around as they wear different colourings and outfits. There is also a lot more chatter as Batman picks up on his enemy’s radio signals and broadcasts, with both Joker and villains like Penguin taunting you and issuing commands to their underlings. Batman’s suit, while visually very similar to the last one, still takes on battle damage as the story progresses and, as you’d expect, both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill knock it out of the park with their stellar work as Batman and Joker, respectively. Like before, Batman stops to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle but he also talks with his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, who sends additional equipment and offers council. The game also features far more references to Batman’s cast of characters and the wider DC universe and there’s even a much-appreciated cameo from a really well-designed version of Tim Drake/Robin for good measure. Cutscenes still make liberal use of the in-game graphics, which are even closer to the higher quality cinematics, and you’ll now see a helpful little recap of the story and your current outstanding missions when reloading a save.

Enemies and Bosses:
With Arkham Asylum gone, its inmates and the rest of Gotham’s criminals have been tossed into Arkham City instead; for the most part, the bulk of the game’s enemies are the same scumbags you fought in the last game but in different clothing and with more jeers to throw your way. Inmates will throw punches, grab weapons, toss items at you, and attack with both knives, guns, grenades (in a new twist), electrical batons, and will even pick up car doors to use as shields and ram you. Eventually, you’ll also have to contend with snipers, enemies wearing collars that will attract their allies when they’re downed, enemies that can jam your technology, ones that take hostages, and thugs will even use thermal vision to spot you and start destroying the ledges you’re hiding on if you linger too long or fail to stay hidden. While the crazed lunatics from the last game are gone, the TITAN monsters make a return and some inmates with be decked out in protective armour. A simple Batarang to the face is no longer enough to dispatch these goons; this time, you must use three cape swipes to stun them and mash X to beat them into submission while also countering incoming attacks. You’ll also have to contend with the one-armed Abramovici twins a number of times; these big bastards swing huge sledgehammers or scythes and must be blasted with a bolt from Batman’s Remote Electrical Charge gun to inflict damage on nearby enemies and pummelled with your attacks as they can’t be stunned so you have to strike, hop over to avoid their swings, and strike again to defeat them.

Solomon Grundy more than makes up for Two-Face and Penguin’s lack of physical challenge.

Arkham City is populated by a number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, basically all of them being new additions to the roster of bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Two-Face, who has taken over the courthouse and held Selina Kyle/Catwoman hostage. This is more of a tutorial for the basics of combat and Dent is dispatched by Catwoman in a cutscene rather than in an actual boss fight, and the following encounter with the Penguin is quite similar. This is basically the culmination of a side mission that sees you rescuing frozen police officers, freeing Mr. Freeze, and acquiring tech from his suit to deactivate his freezing gun (which the Penguin is using to keep you at bay). In fact, the first real physical challenge you have (aside from gladiatorial bouts against swarms of inmates or fights against one of the Abramovici twins) follows this encounter with the Penguin, which sees you facing off against the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy. You fight Grundy in a kind of gothic laboratory and must use your quick-fire explosive gel to close up three holes on the floor that regenerate Grundy’s health with lightning (while dodging said lightning) and allow you to put a beating on Grundy. This continues into the next phase, where Grundy tries to crush you with leaping attacks and two giant wrecking balls and sends weird little mice-things scuttling towards you. The third phase is more of the same but Grundy has one arm trapped in a machine; this time, the floor holes open sporadically for even shorter bursts and you need to avoid the shockwaves Grundy produces. Once he’s finally defeated, you have to dodge out of the way of the Penguin’s missile to punch him out once and for all, all of which is more interesting and engaging than the final boss of the last game.

While Rā’s tests your reflexes, you’ll need to use all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to bring down Mr. Freeze.

The next main story boss you’ll battle is Rā’s al Ghūl but, before this, you must first track down one of his ninja assassins by her blood trail, get past more of them in Wonder City (they can dodge your strikes and teleport in puffs of smoke before attacking with sword swipes), and endure the “Demon Trials” (gliding sections through a twisted hellscape where you can’t touch anything but the highlighted areas). You’ll face Rā’s in a desert that is part delusion, part reality, and have to take out hoards of sand men while he dashes at you from out of nowhere. Once you get past them, you must dodge the shurikens and blades he sends your way while blasting at him through his human shield with your Disruptor, and then mash Y to counter his attacks. The speed and aggressiveness of his attacks increases as the fight goes on but the final blow comes down to a well-timed toss of the reverse Batarang and Rā’ later meets a very gruesome end for his part in the game’s events. Next, you’ll have to take on easily the most intricate and complex boss of the game (or most games, for that matter) as Mr. Freeze betrays you and forces you into a confrontation. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, you may be forced to use every single one of Batman’s gadgets and abilities to deal damage and leave him vulnerable for a beatdown as Mr. Freeze learns and adapts his strategy as the fight progresses. Mr. Freeze will plod around the laboratory searching for you and sending heat-seeking globes to seek you out; you can use Batman’s glide attack, takedowns, and gadgets (like the explosive gel and Remote Electrical Charge gun) to deal damage but he’ll take action to ensure that you can’t do this twice (he freezes the ledges, grapple points, and vents, destroys parts of the environment, erects a shield, among other defensive measures), which forces you to think on your feet and explore options you might not normally use.

After stopping Strange and defeating Clayface, you’ll find some other villains to take down.

In the game’s finale, Strange activates the mysterious “Protocol 10” and commences a strategic bombardment of Arkham City; this briefly forces you to hack into circling helicopters in order to get inside of Wonder Tower and shut Strange down but, after you do, you’re forced into a confrontation with the Joker, who seems revitalised and has taken Talia al Ghūl hostage. Earlier in the game, you actually fight the Joker in his base form while his goons and out of control dodgem cars fill the arena but, when you confront him at the end, it’s revealed to have been Basil Karlo/Clayface in disguise; thus, the finale is, again, a battle against a hulking enemy. This time, you have to dodge Clayface’s cannonball attack and swinging arms while repeatedly spamming Freeze Blasts to whittle his health down. In the second phase, you grab a sword and slice up the mud men he spawns while repeating these tactics and avoiding his big sledgehammer shot in order to take him down. In between each of these main mission boss fights, you’ll come across a number of side missions that will draw you into confrontations with more of Batman’s rogues gallery: Floyd Lawton/Deadshot has been killing targets all over the city but Batman eventually tracks him down and must sneak past his one-shot rifle-arm to take him down; Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz has been killing people by luring them to ringing phones so Batman has to listen to his macabre life story to triangulate his location and then sneak around him in a partially flooded area to rescue his hostages; the Mad Hatter abducts you and forces you to battle waves of demonic rabbits; and the Riddler has also taken five hostages and placed them in Saw (Wan, 2004)-like traps. These hostages can only be saved by finding the Riddler’s Trophies, solving riddles, and interrogating his informants (highlighted in green) to gain access to his “Enigma Device” and locate each one in turn using the Cryptographic Sequencer.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Arkham City features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and destroy cameras and such, you’ll gain XP. Upon levelling-up, you can again upgrade Batman’s armour (now separated into one that improves damage from melee attacks and one from gunfire) to gain additional health, add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (including a swarm of disorientating bats, bone-breaking takedowns, and weapon disarmaments), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Again, it’s pretty easy to fully upgrade all of Batman’s abilities if you engage with enemies and search out riddles on a regular basis, and it’s best to mix and match your upgrades for a balanced playthrough but you can choose to focus on making Batman more durable if you so wish.

Batman’s new toys let him charge power points and create temporary platforms, among other things.

Batman begins the game with many of the gadgets he had at the end of the last one, making him far more equipped for the rigours of Arkham City; many of his weapons, such as the grapnel gun and explosive gel, can now be used as quick-fire attacks to mix up your combos to allow for more diverse combat. Although Batman can no longer rip down walls with his grapnel gun, the Line Launcher can be upgraded to fire a second line and allow Batman to walk along it like a tightrope and he also has access to some new toys. The smoke pellets allow him to disorientate enemies and make an escape if needed, the Remote Electrical Charge gun allows him to power up electrical appliances, the Disruptor deactivates mines and renders up to two enemy guns useless, and the Freeze Blast (and upgraded Freeze Cluster) can plug up steam pipes and form ice floats on bodies or water to allow Batman to float around by grappling onto conveniently-placed hooks around the environment.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham City has fifty Achievements to earn, with the bulk of these popping simply by playing through the story, meeting certain objectives, and defeating bosses. One has you fiddling with the Xbox’s internal date and time in order to hear Calendar Man ’s chilling acts while most of the others are tied specifically towards starting or completing the game’s many side missions rather than solving or finding riddles (although this is a factor since you need to do this to rescue the Riddler’s hostages). No matter what difficulty you complete the game on, you’ll unlock a New Game Plus mode that offers and additional difficult challenge, mixes up the enemy placements, allows you to play the story with any additional DLC costumes, and carries over all of your gadgets and upgrades to a new game file. You’ll also be able to return to your original save file in a post-game world where the inmates will comment on the dramatic conclusion of the game and be freely able to switch to Catwoman at certain points on the map.

Alongside the Riddler challenges, there are a number of additional side quests to occupy your time.

This is super useful if you have any outstanding side missions to complete; not only are there some diving simulations to complete and a bunch of Riddler challenges tied to performing combat and gameplay manoeuvres, there are many other mysteries and villains out there to confront, such as tracking down Thomas Elliot/Hush (who has been mutilating victims to impersonate Bruce Wayne), figuring out the motives of the mysterious Michael Lane/Azrael, saving a number of political prisoners from random acts of violence, locating and reunited Nora Fries’ cryogenically frozen body with Mr. Freeze, and destroying TITAN containers in a fragile alliance with Bane. Additionally, there are way more Riddler Trophies hidden throughout Arkham City, many of which require precision gliding, pressing pressure pads, and using a variety of Batman’s gadgets to pick them up. Catwoman also has her own Riddler Trophies to pick up and, while there are no audio tapes to find this time, you can still unlock biographies, news stories, and audio clips by solving and finding riddles. As before, the game features a Challenge Mode, now rebranded as “Riddler’s Revenge”, which allows you to take on self-contained combat and predator challenges based on encounters in the game. You’ll battle a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rack up points by sustaining and varying your combos and pick off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as disabling your Detective Mode, shielding enemies from damage, or having reduced health).

Arkham City makes up for the last game with a whole bunch DLC skins, characters, and challenge maps.

There is also a new series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. These challenge maps, and the main game itself, can be expanded by purchasing the many different DLC packs for the game. As mentioned, Catwoman was a big selling point of the game and those who pre-ordered Arkham City or purchased her DLC can switch to playing as Catwoman during the story to follow a side mission involving Poison Ivy and stealing from Hugo Strange. The DLC for Arkham City is such a massive step up compared to the last game, adding twenty Achievements to collect and numerous costumes for Batman to use in New Game Plus and on challenge maps, and, best of all, the ability to play as Robin and Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the challenge maps. Each of the four playable characters plays a little differently (Catwoman is faster but weaker, slashes with her claws and tosses bolas; Robin uses his bo staff, riot shield, and faster (but shorter) version of the Batclaw; and Nightwing batters thugs with batons and utilises his acrobatic skill to take out enemies) and has their own gadgets but, sadly, only Catwoman is available to play as in the main game. Robin does take centre stage in a post-game DLC story, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, that sees him infiltrating the steel mill to rescue Batman; I had all of this DLC on the PlayStation 3 and greatly enjoyed the variety offered by the skins and each character but I do wish that the studio had allowed these additional characters to be used in the actual main game.

The Summary:
I was massively impressed with Batman: Arkham City when I first played it on the PlayStation 3; the game was just so much bigger and better than the original thanks to expanding the scope of the game world and the range of Batman’s abilities and gadgets. Everything that worked in the original game is back and improved upon, making combat even more fluid and diverse and truly defining the essence of Batman to set the standard for the remainder of the series. Rather than being confined to a claustrophobic, gothic prison, Batman is freely able to roam and fight around a dilapidated, walled off section of the city full of Easter Eggs, references, inmates to fight, secrets to find, and side missions to keep you busy for far longer than the first game. Best of all, the game is packed full of post-game and additional content thanks to these side missions, the New Game Plus mode, the expanded Challenge Mode, and the impressive abundance of DLC. Including additional skins, a short post-game story, and two of my favourite Batman characters in Robin and Nightwing really helps to expand the lore of this interpretation of Batman’s world and offers far more replay value. For me, Arkham City is still the gold standard for the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) and, while Arkham Asylum finally offered all of Batman’s abilities in a fun and engaging way, Arkham City expanded on them to the nth degree and truly defined what it means to play as Batman in an open world environment and it definitely deserves all of the praise it earned upon release and even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What did you think about Batman: Arkham City? How do you feel it holds up compared to the original games and its sequels? Did you enjoy that the game world was expanded into a city-sized open world or did you prefer to more claustrophobic aesthetic of the first game? Which of Batman’s new gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever track down all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Which of the side missions was your favourite to complete? What did you think to the game’s DLC and would you have liked to see Robin and Nightwing playable in the main game? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham City, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the next Arkham videogame!

Game Corner [Batman Month]: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’ll be dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.

Released: 25 August 2009
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Ever since his debut in the pages of Detective Comics back in 1939, the Batman has been a popular staple of DC Comics and has appeared in numerous comic books, cartoons, live-action films and, of course, videogames. The first videogame adaptation of Batman was an isometric adventure game released in 1986 and, over the years, Batman has been placed into numerous different videogame genres, from beat-‘em-ups, sidescrolling brawlers, and adventure games, but it’s safe to say that there have been more than a few duds during that time. By 2009, Batman’s videogames had been very hit and miss but the character’s popularity had received a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman has starred in many videogames over the years but not all of them have been well-recieved.

After Eidos Interactive bought the rights to make a Batman game, they turned to developers Rocksteady Studios after being impressed with their prototype for the title. Noted writer Paul Dini, who had spearheaded the popular DC Animated Universe (DCAU), was brought on to develop the game’s story and characterisations, which drew inspiration from some of Batman’s grittier and more grounded tales and included the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to capitalise on their success in the DCAU. Rocksteady spent their time not only meticulously crafting a unique world that drew from Batman’s vast comic history to create a dark, claustrophobic game world, but also building an intuitive combat system and perfecting the depiction of Batman’s cape and gadgets to really encapsulate the feeling of being the Batman for the first time. The result was a game released to widespread critical acclaim; critics praised the game’s story and mechanics, and intricate marriage of combat and stealth and the game was later bolstered by some downloadable content (DLC), various re-releases and remasters, and kicked off one of the most celebrated and successful superhero videogame franchises ever seen.

The Plot:
After apprehending the Joker and bringing him to Arkham Asylum, Batman finds himself trapped on Arkham Island when the Clown Prince of Crime causes a mass breakout. With guards, doctors, and other innocents at risk, and hoards of his rogues and other rabid criminal thugs freely roaming the asylum, Batman has no choice but to use his skills and gadgets to fight back and uncover the true nature of the Joker’s plot.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person, action/adventure game that takes place in a quasi-open world; though not as large as other open world videogames, such as those seen in the subsequent sequels, Arkham Asylum still presents Batman with a number of different locations and areas to explore on the grim, gothic island that houses Gotham City’s most depraved and dangerous criminal maniacs. While other Batman videogames often focused purely on mindless combat or poorly implemented his gadgets and skills, Arkham Asylum featured the most diverse and intuitive range of movement for the Caped Crusader that players had ever seen at that point. Although players cannot make Batman jump, they can hold down the A button to sprint and vault up/over walls and Batman will automatically hop across gaps and spread his elaborate cap to glide through the night air. Pressing the Right Bumper will see Batman grapple to nearby ledges and higher areas (usually stone gargoyles) to avoid enemies or reach new sections of the asylum. Holding the Right Trigger sees Batman drop into a crouch to stay hidden and sneak up on thugs while tapping the Left Trigger will see him tossing a quick Batarang to stun foes or activate switches (holding LT will allow you to better aim and direct this projectile) and you can select any of Batman’s gadgets using the directional pad (D-pad) to access his gadget wheel.

Combat is fast and fluid, allowing Batman to strike and counter with a deft swiftness.

Of course, one of the most prominent aspects of Arkham Asylum is the game’s unique combat system.; rather than simply mashing buttons, combat is a fluid and slick affair somewhat akin to a rhythm game. Pressing X will see Batman strike the enemy nearest to him; repeated presses begin a combo and you can stun enemies with Batman’s cape by pressing B or hop over them by tapping A. During combat, the camera automatically pans to show you the best view of your immediate area and any enemies around you and, when enemies try to strike at you, a “Counter” indicator will appear. When it does, tap Y and Batman will automatically counter the oncoming attack and, by successfully stringing together strikes and counters, you can build up bigger and more elaborate combos and fluidly take down multiple enemies at once. Once an enemy has been knocked down, or when sneaking up on them, you can press RT and Y to perform a takedown that will knock them out cold and, as you defeat enemies and uncover secrets, you’ll earn experience points (XP) which can be spent purchasing new takedowns and combat options when you level up.

Batman’s Detective Mode is perfect for striking fear into armed thugs and taking them out silently.

Another important aspect of the game is stealth; utilising the “Predator” mechanic, Batman can sneak up on enemies and make use of high ledges to stalk rooms full of armed thugs and pick them off one at a time by utilising the infrared filter offered by his “Detective Mode”. This is activated by pressing the Left Bumper and will wash the environment in a grainy, black and white filter that highlights enemies by their body heat and shows their current condition. Using the shadows and your gadgets, you can drop down on enemies from above, sneak through grates, and set up traps to take them down and pick them off and their cohorts will react accordingly, becoming increasingly agitated and trigger happy as the section progresses. Batman is extremely vulnerable to sustained gunfire so it’s better to be patient and take down each enemy one at a time but you can grapple away to safety if you’re spotted and are even able to take down enemies while hanging from ledges or from afar with Batman’s many toys. Detective Mode also allows you to scan your environment; for the most part, this will be to solve riddles placed all over Arkham Asylum by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler but, at various times during the game’s story, you’ll have to set up a crime scene to scan evidence and filter out aromas and other elements that will lead you to your next objective as long as you have Detective Mode activated. Although there is no onscreen map, you can view a comprehensive blueprint of Arkham Island by pressing the “Back” button. From here, you’ll see all of the unsolved riddles in the game and where your next objective is, as well as being able to enter any of the game’s environments to review the layout and any remaining secrets to be discovered.

The game world is constantly changing and you always need to find new ways to progress.

You can’t set up a waypoint and there’s only a few sections where you’re literally shown the way but, thankfully, Arkham Asylum isn’t too difficult to explore or navigate for the most part (though there some areas that are quite frustrating or mired in overly dark lighting). Batman: Arkham Asylum features not only a level-up system but also a progressively increasing difficulty curve; while the game’s “Hard” mode will obviously offer the most challenging experience (enemies are more aggressive and counter indicators are omitted entirely), the game world will constantly change as you progress through the story. New areas become accessible as you acquire and upgrade Batman’s many gadgets and areas that you’ve previously visited will become populated by snipers, maniacs, or over-run by Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy’s monstrous plants to keep the game feeling fresh and allowing your actions to actually have an impact on the environment. Backtracking is a prominent feature of the game as some areas will be locked off until you get a new gadget; other areas are locked off entirely, forcing you to use vents, grapples, or explode walls in order to progress and you’ll definitely need to explore every nook and cranny to solve all of the game’s riddles and collect all of the pickups. Although there is no manual save option, the game is extremely generous with checkpoints (which, thankfully, also appear mid-way through certain boss battles) and Batman’s health bar is replenished after successfully defeating enemies in combat, solves riddles, or finds secrets.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, some fifteen years after its original release, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a visually impressive game. The entire game takes places in a single night, meaning the gothic, decrepit asylum is constantly bathed in an ominous, murky darkness that goes a long way to adding to the game’s claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. At times, the game is a little too dark and you’ll either be relying too much on Detective Mode or adjusting the brightness settings to get around but I can forgive this as the dark, moody aesthetic really encapsulates the nature of what it means to be Batman. Arkham Asylum is quite an elaborate environment for what amounts to a glorified sandbox; the prison/facility has been depicted in many different ways over the years but, here, it’s a gloomy, gothic prison confined to an island separated from the greater city. The island itself adds as the hub world, of sorts, and you can travel to different areas by passing through large, automated doors (that are clearly masking loading zones) or using Batman’s various gadgets and skills, and at each compass point you’ll find a different area to explore.

Environments are seeped in a dark, ominous aesthetic that adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

The island is home to a high-tech penitentiary, a dilapidated mansion, a dock, a hospital/morgue, a cemetery, and even has a large botanical garden to visit. Each area is suitable foreboding and shows signs of wear and tear (to say nothing of death and anarchy from the breakout of the inmates) and, despite the overwhelming use of blacks, greys, and darkness, stands out from each other through their unique layouts and gameplay mechanics. The island is also home to a vast network of sewers and caves; Batman has even set up a small Batcave on the island, where you’ll travel a few times to acquire upgrades, but these stone catacombs are by far the worst areas to explore in the game. The sewer system that Waylon Jones/Killer Croc has taken as his home isn’t too bad but the caves are dark and crumbling, meaning that your grapnel gun is all but useless and you’re forced to rely on Batman’s jumping skills. For the most part, these are serviceable, but the game’s focus is not on precision platforming so it can sometimes be a pain to get Batman (and the camera) pointed in the direction you need to go. When you later revisit these areas to mop up any unsolved riddles, it’s easy to get lost and confused and it’s a shame that the game doesn’t give you the option to fast exit an area or building from the map screen as there’s nothing worse than venturing deep into the catacombs and then struggling to find your way out.

Your encounters with the Scarecrow will have you questioning the stability of the game!

While the game is tight as a drum in terms of its stability, there are noticeable times where you’ll have to sit and wait as the next section loads and it can sometimes be a little too easy to get caught on the environment or botch a ledge grab but these moments are few and far between. By far the game’s most impressive sections, though, are the nightmarish illusions and hallucinations brought about by exposure to Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow’s fear gas and toxins; these cause the game to warp, restricting your moment, perception, and controls, and transform the environment into a chilling recreation of Crime Alley or show Batman visions of his dead parents and allies. This leads to a series of really unique, 2.5D sections where you must navigate a disparate hellscape, avoiding the Scarecrow’s gaze and trying not to get too freaked out by his Freddy Krueger-like appearance or Batman’s character model briefly flashing to that of Scarecrow’s. Easily the most memorable moment of all of these sequences is the moment the game abruptly appears to crash and resets on you, only to restart with a recreation of the game’s opening cutscene with the Joker delivering a manic Batman to Arkham while his villains taunt and jeer at him.

In-game graphics are top notch, with Batman’s suit progressively taking damage over time.

In terms of character models, Arkham Asylum also still holds up really well. While generic thugs and goons quickly get a bit repetitive, the game’s interpretations of Batman’s different rogues is very unique and compelling and the influence of the legendary artist Jim Lee is readily apparent in the appearance of Killer Croc, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, and Batman himself. Fittingly, Batman benefits the most from the game’s graphics; not only does Kevin Conroy deliver sterling work as always as the character but Batman’s suit will accrue damage as the story progresses, with rips, tears, bullet holes, and other bits of wear and tear showing up as you progress through the story. So strong are Arkham Asylum’s in-game graphics that they are generally the default for the game’s cutscenes; many times throughout the story, Batman will stop to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle to comment on and progress the plot and his current investigation but there are instances of higher quality cutscenes as well, which aren’t too far off from what is seen during gameplay. The game’s music is suitably brooding and gothic, picking up when enemies spot you or you’re in combat and being used very effectively to establish a foreboding mood to the game’s events. Finally, not only do the thugs and inmates constantly chat, banter, and taunt you but the game is frequently punctuated by announcements from the Joker. Like Conroy, Hamill excels in the role and adds a glorious entertaining dark humour to the events, stealing the show every time his voice is heard and, overall, music, sound effects, and visuals are all married perfectly to encapsulate the dark, moody atmosphere of the game and really add to the experience of being the Batman.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being that it’s home to the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum is populated by all kinds of maniacal inmates; however, as part of his elaborate plan, the Joker also struck when a number of Blackgate Penitentiary’s prisoners were on the island, and these are the thugs you’ll encounter the most. Generally, goons are spread across the hub world or waiting in corridors or large, open rooms and can either be engaged head-on or from the shadows if they have firearms. Enemies will attack as a group, meaning you’ll have to be constantly aware of incoming attacks, and will even grab items and objects to throw at you or use as makeshift weapons.

Eventually, more dangerous and monstrous enemies spread across the asylum.

As the story progresses, you’ll encounter more formidable enemies: snipers will take up positions above and must be taken out before they can put a bullet in you; inmates with knives must be stunned with your cape before you can attack them; those with electrical batons must by jumped over and attacked from behind; and crazed lunatics will leap at you and must be countered at the right time to stop them from pinning you down. You’ll also have to contend with those exposed to the Joker’s “TITAN” serum, which transforms them into monstrous, hulking beasts; these guys will charge at you, necessitating a quick toss of a Batarang and a dive out of the way to stun them so you can land a few shots and, eventually, hop on their back to whittle their health down and batter about any nearby enemies. Sometimes you’ll have to fight two of these at once, alongside a variety of other thugs, and you’ll also have to dispatch Ivy’s TITAN-infused plants, which spit out homing spores and must be slowly approached in order to destroy them.

Battles with Mr. Zsasz and Bane will teach you fundamental, life-saving tactics for later in the game.

The Joker’s plan also requires him to unleash a very specific number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, who you must take down in a series of encounters as boss battles. The first of these you’ll go up against is Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz in what is, essentially, a glorified tutorial to teach you about grappling from cover to cover to sneak up on an enemy. You’ll also encounter him later in the game in a similar situation designed to teach you how to use the reverse Batarang feature and, in both cases, you can easily take him down with no trouble at all as long as you’re not spotted. Similarly, though she’s a constant thorn in your side throughout the game, you can easily apprehend Harley Quinn after battling a short gauntlet of goons, which is only fitting considering that neither villain is much of a physical match for Batman. Bane, however, is. Like the TITAN goons, he must be stunned with a Batarang when he charges at you and battered with a quick combo to yank out the Venom pipes supplying his superhuman strength. However, as the fight progresses, goons will drop into the arena to distract you; again, like the TITANs, Bane can grab downed enemies and launch them at you as projectiles but he’ll also toss parts of the environment your way as well so it have to constantly be thinking on your feet and ready to dodge out of the way. As long as you can deal with the annoying goons, avoid Bane’s wild strikes and ground pound, and dodge out of his charges, he’s not especially difficult and battling him (and the TITANs) serves as great practise for the game’s final boss.

You’ll need patience, skill, and gadgets to conquer Killer Croc and the Scarecrow.

Before that, though, you’ll have to contend with Killer Croc in the sewers. Down here, you must slowly walk across wooden platforms to avoid attracting Croc’s attention; when he lunges out of the water, you must quickly toss a Batarang to subdue him and make a run for it when he starts smashing up the platforms. Eventually, you’ll avoid him and collect the samples Batman needs to synthesise an anti-virus for the TITAN formula and Croc will chase you down. This forces you to run towards the camera as quickly as possible and then detonate explosive charges before Croc can reach you to send him plummeting down a deep chasm. As mentioned before, you’ll also have to contend with the Scarecrow on no less than three occasions. Each time, you must navigate his hellscape using your stealth, gadgets, and jumping/shimmying skills to avoid being spotted but, as the encounters progress, you’ll also have to fend off waves of skeletons. In the final encounter, Scarecrow summons more of these enemies, including a TITAN variant, in three waves; after defeating each one, Batman activates a Bat-Signal and will eventually dispel and break free of the Scarecrow’s harrowing nightmares once and for all.

Sadly (or thankfully), the final boss isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the one with Poison Ivy.

By far the most frustrating boss battle of the game, though, is the one against Poison Ivy; encased in a monstrous man-eating plant, she sends out a bunch of tentacles that will choke the life out of you in seconds, commands besotted thugs and guards to attack you, and fires super-fast and painful bolts your way. To defeat her, you must avoid her attacks, defeat her goons, and toss a quick Batarang at her when she exposes herself while firing at you. When she collapses, you can use your explosive gel to damage the pod but this battle can get very harrowing on the game’s Hard difficulty. When you finally confront the Joker for the final showdown, he arranges a gaggle of thugs to greet you at the door, tries to kill you with an exploding television, forces you to fight a whole bunch of enemies and two TITANs at once, and then transforms himself into a TITAN monster for the finale. In this fight, you must avoid his claw swipes and then dispatch the goons that come into the arena, destroying exploding teeth and avoiding the electrified walls until it’s safe to pull the Joker down from his ledge and put a beating on him. Sadly, it’s not a very compelling final boss battle as it’s fundamentally the same as battling the TITANs and Bane, and it’s a bit of a missed opportunity to not have Batman undergo a similar transformation, but it’s decent enough for what it is and not too surprising that you wouldn’t fight the Joker one-on-one.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Batman: Arkham Asylum features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and other items (like audio tapes and so forth), you’ll gain XP. When you level-up, you can spend the Skill Points you earn on improving Batman’s armour to give him more health, adding additional takedowns and combat moves to his repertoire, or upgrading his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. I recommend pacing these upgrades out (armour once, then a new takedown, armour again, maybe upgrade a gadget, and so forth) and fighting every enemy you see in order to upgrade Batman as fast as possibly. It’s very easy to fully upgrade Batman on even a casual playthrough on Hard mode, though, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get there.

Use XP to upgrade Batman’s abilities and gadget, and acquire new toys to progress further.

Along the way, Batman will acquire or construct new gadgets to help him progress. Explosive gel will allow him to knock enemies off balance or break through certain walls, the Line Launcher will allow him to cross chasms and gaps too wide to jump or glide across as long as there’s a solid wall behind and in front of him, the Sonic Batarang can be used to lure enemies away from each other or into a trap, the Ultra Batclaw allows Batman to tear down certain walls by tapping A after firing, and the Cryptographic Sequencer allows him to hack security panels by matching radiowaves with the analogue sticks to access Riddler Trophies, secret rooms, or open previously-inaccessible areas. The Batmobile and Batwing also make an appearance but you cannot utilise these in the game, unfortunately, but you can upgrade the Batarang to throw up to three at separate targets or be remote controlled (though this is also quite limited in its application).

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Asylum has forty-seven Achievements for you to earn, the majority of which are acquired simply by progressing through the story and clearing certain missions or defeating bosses. Some require you to defeat enemies in certain ways or rack up a certain combo score, others are tied to gliding consecutively or completing the game on each difficulty setting, but the majority are tied towards finding the Riddler Trophies, solving his riddles, and completing combat and predator challenges in the game’s “Challenge Mode”. To elaborate, the Riddler has hidden numerous glowing green trophies all across Arkham Island; some are hidden in plain view, others require your gadgets or a bit of exploration to find. Pretty much every single room or area of the island also has a number of riddles associated with it that you must solve by scanning parts of the environment; these are generally linked to Batman’s history or rogues and will unlock character biographies of guys like Harvey Dent/Two-Face and Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist. Every time you solve or find these, you’ll gain XP and get one step closer to 100% collection so it’s worth taking time to look for a small tea set or a plague dedicated to Martha and Tomas Wayne.

Riddles and secrets are scattered all over the damn place.

Additionally, there are stone monuments to Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the island and its facility, to be found and scanned to learn more about Arkham’s morbid history as well as audio tapes and maps to further flesh out the characters’ backstories and reveal the Riddler’s secrets. From the main menu, you’ll also see the option to take on Challenge Mode. These are specific, self-contained combat and predator sections based on encounters in the game and pit you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rooms full of thugs, respectively, and are unlocked by finding Riddler Trophies and solving riddles. When you take on a Challenge, you’ll either have to face a number of rounds against different enemies in different environments or pick off thugs from the shadows according to a number of requirements (such as using explosive gel or a vertical takedown). Each time you successfully meet these criteria, or rack up enough points, you’ll earn up to three medals, and eventually some Achievements, and can compete against friends and others using the online leaderboards. Sadly, though, unlike subsequent games in the series, there is no “New Game+” option, you only unlock one alternative outfit for completing the game and it’s restricted to the Challenge Mode, and the only DLC available is for additional Challenge maps. Those who have the PlayStation 3 or Return to Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Virtuos Studios, 2016) versions (which I also do), though, can choose to play as the Joker in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty entertaining as he comes with his own unique and madcap fighting style and gadgets that separate him from the Batman.

The Summary:
I remember the first time I played Batman: Arkham Asylum when I first got it for the PlayStation 3 and being just blown away by how intricate, smooth, and impressive its controls, mechanics, and presentation were. Never before had a videogame offered such a range of versatility for Batman; rather than simply focusing on combat or one aspect of the character, Arkham Asylum really delved into what it means to be Batman and gave players the chance to experience each of those elements in a new, dynamic, and incredibly entertaining way. Combat is fluid and easy to master, stealth sections are exhilarating even when it can take a while to pick enemies off, and even the game’s more frustrating enemies or bosses are fun to encounter thanks to the overall aesthetic and top-notch presentation given to the game. It truly feels like a legitimate, authentic, heartfelt attempt to capture the “spirit” of being Batman and some of his most notorious villains. Restricting the action to Arkham Island may make the game much smaller and quaint compared to its successors but it adds to the claustrophobic tension that permeates the narrative and the desperate situation Batman finds himself in as he’s trapped on an island with no means of escape and duty-bound to hunt these criminals down. While the sequels may have expanded and improved upon literally aspect featured in this first game, as well as adding much more fan service and additional features, Batman: Arkham Asylum is still a really enjoyable experience and I had a blast playing through it again for this long-overdue review.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Asylum? How do you feel it holds up compared to its sequels and other, similar videogames? Did you enjoy being restricted to the titular asylum or do you prefer the bigger, more open worlds of the later games? Which of Batman’s gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever find all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Were you a fan of the game’s freeflowing combat system and the various gameplay options available to you? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever your thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the sequel!

Game Corner: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Arcade)

Released: 31 October 1991
Developer: Midway
Also Available For: Commodore Amiga, Game Boy, Game Gear, Master System, Mega Drive, PC, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Background:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991) was a blockbuster critical and commercial success; the film made over $520 million at the box office against a $94 to 102 million budget and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, and one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. As is the case with most of the Terminator movies (Various, 1984 to 2019), the film was accompanied by a number of videogame adaptations. The most prominent of these, for me, was T2: The Arcade Game (Probe Software, 1991), which was one of the first games I ever owned for the SEGA Mega Drive back in the day. The game was the home console port of a light gun arcade cabinet developed by Midway, which I did play as a kid but more recently got the chance to play all the way through at an arcade near where I live. While I have fond memories of the Mega Drive game, the home console ports received mostly average reviews and it’s gratifying to see how successful the arcade cabinet was at the time.

The Plot:
In the nuclear wasteland of 2029, the human race has been driven to near extinction by Skynet, a malevolent artificial intelligence that relentlessly hunts humankind using cybernetic killers, the most prominent of which is their T-880 Terminator infiltrator. In an effort to preserve their victory, Skynet sends an advanced prototype T-1000 composed of liquid metal (or “mimetic polyalloy”) to kill young John Connor before he can grow up to lead the human resistance to victory and only a reprogrammed T-800 (or two, if you have a friend to play with) can protect him…and the future.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a first-person light gun game in which you take on the role of a reprogrammed T-800, just like in the film it is based on, and work to safeguard the future of humanity by blasting everything you see onscreen before it can hit you. In the arcades, you do this by manipulating a big light gun that has two very simple functions: a trigger to shoot and a red button to launch either missiles or blast enemies with shotgun shells depending on the stage (or “Mission”) you’re playing. With your onscreen presence limited to a blue or red crosshair, you’ll have to keep a keen eye on the game’s heads-up display (HUD). Your character’s health is measured in the form of an energy bar running down the left (or right) side of the screen, your supply of missiles or shells is at the top alongside your current score and remaining credits, but the main bar to watch out for is the “Gunpower” meter.

Keep an eye on your Gunpower meter as it’ll drain pretty quick if you’re too trigger happy.

Unlike other light gun games, which have you shooting outside of the screen or pressing a pedal to reload your gun, there is no reload function in Terminator 2 and, instead, you can blast enemies for as long as your Gunpower meter stays full. Thus, if you’re too trigger happy and drain the meter, you’ll fire less and less shots at a far slower and less powerful rate until you give the meter a chance to refill or grab a power-up. Enemies are in high abundance in Terminator 2, way more than I remember from the Mega Drive version; the screen automatically scrolls to the right to pan across the stage but will lock into place quite often and force you to fend off waves of Terminators, Hunter-Killers (HKs), and other enemies, all of whom constantly fire missiles, plasma shots, and bullets at you. Sometimes, they’ll pop up in the foreground and try to fill you full of holes; others, they’ll toss pipe bombs or other such items at you which must be shot out of the air. In a lot of areas, you’ll find members of the human Resistance exchanging fire with Skynet’s forces, usually behind a destructible barricade. Take care when spraying the area with you fire, though, as this can cost you points and destroying barricades will only mean more shots come your way.

Gameplay gets very repetitive, and frustrating, very quickly.

Gameplay is extremely simple and full of intense, arcade shooting action but quickly becomes very monotonous as wave upon wave of enemies fills the screen. Things are shaken up a bit in certain missions, though; two missions see you having to protect John Connor while he’s in a vehicle. These vehicles take up a large portion of the screen and can be damaged by your fire, meaning it’s extremely easy to destroy the vehicle completely by accident and, if this happens, you’ll lose a massive chunk of health and have to restart from the very beginning, which is extremely annoying. When in the Cyberdyne Systems office building, you’ll be tasked with destroying everything you see to erase all evidence of their research into Skynet; thankfully, you can complete the mission without literally destroying very single piece of the environment but it pays to shoot at anything and everything you see to snag a hefty bonus score and beat out your partner.

Graphics and Sound:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day recreates the look and feel of the movie’s biggest action scenes through the use of digitised environments, graphics, and sprites. While they do appear quite pixelated and blurry at times, when playing the actual arcade cabinet you never need to worry about the graphical fidelity as there’s way too much happening onscreen at any one time to really nitpick. While the game’s use of still images and text for cutscenes isn’t really all that much to write home about, the game makes great use of the iconic Terminator theme and sound effects and is full of voice clips from the film (mainly from Arnold Schwarzenegger) and features digitised versions of the film’s key characters, all of whom lend their likenesses to the game with the exception of Linda Hamilton (though you’d never be able to tell).

The game faithfully recreates enemies and locations from the film and creates fitting new ones, too.

Despite being quite a short and repetitive title, Terminator 2 artificially extends its length by having you battle seemingly endless waves of enemies at any one time. Nowhere is this more apparent and monotonous than in the very first stage, which is set during the Future War seen in the opening of the film. The game faithfully recreates the desolate, bleak, post-apocalyptic future and even pulls from the flashbacks seen in the first film for its rendition of the Resistance base and the third mission, which sees your protecting John Connor from an aerial HK. The dark, desolate future soon gives way to the sleek, mechanical construct of Skynet’s main base and the glass-and-steel office building of Cyberdyne Systems as the game veers towards recreating notable action sequences from the film. This all culminates in a lovingly recreated version of the steel mill for the finale and every stage in the game is punctuated by destructible objects (which generally yield various power-ups) and big digitised renditions of enemies as they pop up in the foreground to attack you.

Enemies and Bosses:
Each mission of the game features a variety of enemies; in the first few missions, you’ll exclusively battle against Skynet’s forces, most commonly represented by the T-800 endoskeletons that wander around the war-torn future and blast at you with plasma rifles. T-800 infiltrator units (who are, oddly, dressed exactly like Arnold’s character in the film) can be found in the Resistance base and will take a few more hits to put down as you blast away their living tissue exteriors, and tougher gold variants of the endoskeletons will also appear near the end of this mission.

Enemies will be relentlessly filling the screen and bombarding you with shots to take your money.

You’ll also have to blow aerial HKs out of the sky and contend with snake-like Terminators and little floating orbs that crack open from egg-like shells and buzz around the screen. When you time travel to the past, though, you’ll mainly be met with armed SWAT teams and human scientists in haz-mat suits. These guys are all weaker than the Terminators you’ve fought but no less dangerous; they’ll hang on the outside of buildings firing at you, toss caustic acid in your face, and pop up in the foreground to try and end your mission as good as any machine and there’s a constant, inexhaustible supply of them at all times.

Skynet busts out their biggest and most powerful defences to sap your pocket money.

Each Mission of Terminator 2 culminates in some kind of big finale, generally against a boss but often having you protect John while he’s in a vehicle. At the end of the first Mission, you’ll have to battle a HK Tank which rolls along firing heavy weapons at you from its turret-like arms, “eyes”, and a little opening in its treadmill. Take note of these areas as this is where you should concentrate your fire to keep incoming attacks to a minimum and then put it down quickly; even after you blast off each appendage, though, the battle rages on as a slew of gold endoskeletons pours out so don’t let your guard down for a second. If you manage to defend John Connor from aerial HKs, you’ll battle another HK Tank before storming Skynet’s defence grid, which is a massive wall-like super computer that spits missiles and snake-Terminators from numerous different openings that you’ll need to destroy one by one to access the time displacement chamber.

The T-1000 is a gruelling battle that’ll physically wear you out with its longevity.

Surprisingly, there is no boss battle at the end of the Cyberdyne mission; instead, you simply dispatch wave upon wave of scientists and SWAT police while John steals the CPU and severed arm of the first Terminator. However, the game makes up for it with its most gruelling stages yet; first, you have to fend off the T-1000’s helicopter as it tries to ram into the van John and Sarah are escaping in. This is very tricky without another player as it’s far easier to have one person cover the left-side of the screen and another to cover the top but you only have a few seconds to blast the helicopter and the van is extremely fragile. Once you’re in the steel mill, the difficulty and frustration really ramp up as simply shooting the T-1000 isn’t enough; instead, you have to blast the liquid nitrogen tuck behind it in order to lower its temperature. This is much harder than I remember it being on the Mega Drive as the T-100 is super quick, rolling and “teleporting” around the screen with its liquid metal ability, and its temperate bar refills so fast that I can see kids wasting loads of their pocket money on this boss alone. When you finally get through this bit, you must fend the T-1000 off before it gets close enough to kill John; land enough shots and it’ll back up towards the molten steel, where you must grab a grenade launcher and bombard it with shots to eventually finish it off for good. Fail, and you have to restart all the way from the liquid nitrogen truck, which is more frustrating than you can possibly imagine.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you strafe fire across the game’s various locations, you’ll notice a few little boxes appearing at the bottom of the screen. Be sure to shoot these as they contain all sorts of power-ups that will grant you a temporary shield, full power-up your Gunpower meter or your health (or both), a screen-clearing smart bomb, or even you additional missiles and shots to deal greater damage. When enemies pop up in front of you, try to aim for their heads as Terminators will sometimes spit out their CPU upon defeat, which will grant one of these random power-ups, and try to avoid hitting John and Sarah as they’ll often drop mini guns that will let you blast away at your enemies without fear of losing power.

Additional Features:
As an arcade title, there really isn’t much more on offer here than beating your high score and playing alongside a friend. I highly recommend having another player with you as this game is a long old slog and, if you’re playing with money or on home consoles, you can except to burn through a lot of credits very quickly as just beating the first Mission takes quite a bit of time and energy.

The Summary:
I remember having a blast with Terminator 2’s Mega Drive port. It was clunky to play with the Mega Drive’s controller (I had a Menacer, once, but it was pretty uncomfortable and unwieldy) but I remember being able to play through it without any real issues. When I saw it in my local arcade, it was a must-play title as I had fond memories of playing it as a kid but, while the original arcade cabinet does deliver (especially since the one I played was set to free play), it is a very monotonous and draining game to play. Even with a friend, this is no walk in the park as stages drag on and on and enemies are absolutely relentless; bosses are fine, they’re nice and big and should be a bullet-hell experience, but even regular stages can drag on for a long time thanks to the waves of enemies. The sections where you have to protect John’s vehicles are easily the worst and forcing you to repeat the entire final boss if you die is needlessly frustrating but, at the same time, Terminator 2 is an incredibly enjoyable experience and a faithful recreation of the film’s more action-packed moments. Just be sure to bring some water and settle in for a long-old haul with this one!

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you every played the arcade version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? How did you find it and where would you rate it against other, similar light gun games? How does it compare to other Terminator videogames? Did you ever own one of the many home consoles ports? If so, which was your favourite? How are you panning on celebrating Judgment Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and check back in next Monday for more Terminator content!

Game Corner [Bite-Size]: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 7 March 2012
Originally Released: 4 December October 1997
Developer: Konami
Original Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment
Also Available For: Game Boy

A Brief Background:
In the hierarchy of videogame characters, you would be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Goemon, the spiky-haired protagonist of Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series of adventure games. Loosely based on the legendary Robin Hood figure of Ishikawa Goemon, Goemon was first introduced to gamers back in 1986 as “Mr. Goemon” and was best known outside of Japan for his critically acclaimed Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) title, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami, 1991). While the world was waiting with baited breath for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998), 3D adventure fans were treated to Goemon’s bizarre Nintendo 64 jaunt, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, 1997), my first exposure to the character and the franchise and still one of my favourite N64 games of all time. Mystical Ninja was accompanied by this release for the original Game Boy, a divisive adventure title that was criticised for its high difficulty and for being a poor knock-off of The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo R&D4, 1986). Regardless, Mystical Ninja made its was to the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 and, based on my enjoyment with the N64 title and desire to play something akin to the SNES game, I snapped it up before the service was shut down.

First Impressions:
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a top-down action/adventure game far more in the style of The Legend of Zelda than its sidescrolling SNES predecessor and third-person N64 jaunt. The game’s story is split into chapters, with story text, dialogue boxes, and map screens depicting the efforts of Goemon, Ebisumaru, and Sasuke to rescue their friend Yae from the malevolent Black Ship Gang. Before each chapter, you can pick from one of the three protagonists, who all essentially control the same way and have the same abilities; each character has a weapon to attack with by pressing B and can jump by pressing A, though each has slightly different attributes. Goemon is an all-rounder, for example, while Ebisumaru’s jump isn’t quite as good as Sasuke’s. Like Link, you character will fire a projectile from their weapon when at full health, though you still have access to a projectile in the form of a limited supply of shurikens, which you can switch to by pressing ‘Select’ and each character has a different range to their shot. The pause screen brings up a rudimentary grid-like map that gives you some idea of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you need to go, though the game is pretty linear and it’s not especially difficult to find your way around. Each chapter starts you out in a town of some sort, one either ruined by enemies or that’s a port for the Black Ship Gang, and you can explore, chat to non-playable characters (NPCs) for some vague hints and lore, and visit shops and inns to replenish your health and ammo. This is the only way to refill your strength gauge outside of collecting Crystal of Life items from chests, which add an extra hit point to your bar and, as you only get one life and the game’s passwords make you start from the beginning of the chapter, this can make for an incredibly difficult gameplay experience.

Limited graphics and gameplay options make this a disappointing Game Boy title.

You’ll wander through the town, taking out enemies (who don’t drop anything useful and respawn when you return, making backtracking a chore), and finding stairs down to underground passages, ant hills, castles, and through the Black Ship Gang’s ship. Exploration generally amounts to finding chests that contain a life or weapon power-up, extra shurikens, and coins to spend, but you’ll occasionally find shops and inns in here too and you’ll pretty much always be tasked with finding an NPC with a story-specific item (bamboo, a bomb, the symbol of the Black Ship Gang) that you need to progress further.  Graphically, the game really isn’t anything to shout about; considering we were seven years into the Game Boy’s life span by this point and we’d seen an incredibly detailed and layered adventure game in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo EAD, 1993) about four years prior, it’s hard to not judge Mystical Ninja, which more resembles Super Mario Land (Nintendo R&D1, 1989) than Link’s Awakening. The sound is pretty good, but the sprites are small, lacking in detail, and the environments all become very samey very quickly. Add in the fact that some locations are veritable mazes and include hazards like pits, water, and lava that take a whole chunk off your health and send you back to the beginning and you have a game that just looks dated and lacks all of the visual charm I associate with the Mystical Ninja franchise. By taking advantage of the 3DS’s save state system, you don’t really need to explore all that much as you can just reload if you make a mistake, but that won’t help you when you come across the various mini games that accompany the game’s bosses!

My Progression:
Mystical Ninja’s enemies aren’t really all the difficult to get past; you’ve got samurais, ghosts, giant ants, bats, and pirates scattered throughout but also some trickier enemies, like teleporting ninjas, ink-spitting squids, and these weird…I dunno…golems? Walking tree-things? Most enemies can be defeated in one hit, but some take more, and it can be tricky lining up your shot or blow because of the game’s rigid grid system and the character’s weapons not having a wide arc like Link’s sword. The hardest thing about the enemies, though, is that they all respawn when you return to where they were meaning that it’s usually easier and faster to just jump around and avoid them, especially as you don’t get any health or coins or anything for beating them. Some areas include mini bosses, like a sumo, a flying queen ant, a hook-handed pirate captain, and a large octopus, but most of these are pretty easy to pummel into defeat from afar. When you explore Skeleton Island, defeating the club-wielding ogre-things opens up a new part of the area to explore and brings you one step closer to the final boss, but it’s actually highly unlikely you’ll even get past the first boss without using the password system. My playthrough was going pretty well; I was disappointed by the graphics, lack of power-ups, and the inability to switch characters on the fly, but the game wasn’t too much of a challenge to figure out. I beat the sumo, got the bamboo, and used it to cross the water to a castle, where I eventually reached this rocket boss…thing.

Sadly, while bosses are easy to beat, the mini games that accompany them are hard as balls!

It was a little sporadic but I managed to defeat it but Baron Skull, leader of the Black Ship Gang, challenges you to a 100-meter race afterwards that is, frankly, impossible. You need to tap A as fast as possible to beat him but, no matter how fast I was, I couldn’t even get close so, technically, my run ended there. I used the password to jump to the next chapter, though, to see what else was on offer; here, you battle this big stone boss in a cave that constantly throws boulders and its extending arms at you and, when you beat it, you have another impossible tapping game to complete, this time a tug of war! I couldn’t beat that either, so I jumped to chapter three; here, you need to answer five out of ten questions right in a timed quiz to board the Black Ship Gang’s ship, which isn’t too hard, and the big octopus has you quickly select which lantern doesn’t match to finish the chapter, so I was actually able to beat this one! Things properly broke down in chapter four, where you cross a bridge to another ship and are challenged to a number of mini games; the first isn’t too bad (especially with save states) and simply has you matching pairs of cards, but the second was, again, impossible as no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get all of the images to match the main picture. I skipped ahead to the final chapter, where you easily defeat Baron Skull’s ogres and rescue Yae, then hop over some lava and battle him to the finish in a first-person mech fight. This sees you summoning the giant robot Impact (though you only see him from inside his cockpit) and punching Baron Skull when he pops up, following the helpful arrows to prepare your attack. Unfortunately, you can’t block or fire projectiles and I couldn’t even see what or when Baron Skull was firing at me, and this is a multi-stage fight, with Baron Skull getting faster and harder to hit, so this was where I officially gave up.

To say I was disappointed by Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon would be a massive understatement. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything like the Nintendo 64 game of the same name that’d so massively captured my attention and imagination, but something more akin to the SNES game or even more in line with Link’s Awakening would’ve been fine. I was expecting the game to be hard because it was a long and involved role-playing adventure game that had you going from town to town, exploring dungeons and castles, and acquiring new weapons and items…not because of nigh-impossible button mashing mini games with absolutely no margin for error! The game is stupidly simple 99% of the time, coming across as a kiddified version of the original Legend of Zelda and barely presenting much of a challenge as long as you remember where you’ve gone in the maze-like areas. The bosses are pretty simple to beat as well, but those mini games, while quirky and in keeping with the series’ bizarre sense of humour, are such a brick wall that I honestly have no idea how you’d get past even the first one! Add to that the dated the graphics, the lack of variety between the playable characters, and the disappointingly bland locations and you are basically left with a forgettable Game Boy experience that I can’t say I’ll be motivated to try and finish any time soon. But maybe you think I’m being too harsh? Maybe you’ve beaten this game without issue? If so, I’d love to hear about it, and your thoughts on the Ganbare Goemon series, down in the comments or on my social media.

Game Corner: Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Xbox One)

Released: December 2019
Originally Released: 26 June 2014
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Also Available For: Amazon Fire TV, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U, OS X Linux, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox Series X/S

The Background:
Shovel Knight began life as a lunch time joke between the development team that soon grew into a serious videogame concept. Inspired by the bright, colourful 8-bit platformers from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) days, the game sought to combine ludicrous concepts with backtracking, exploration, and simple pick-up-and-play mechanics to make it as accessible as possible. Following a wealth of interest and support, the game easily surpassed and exceeded its Kickstarter goals and released to widespread critical acclaim and sold over 700,000 copies. Shovel Knight quickly became an influential indie title; the character cameoed in a number of other titles and the game was accompanied by a bunch of equally-lauded downloadable content (DLC) that was eventually collected in this Treasure Trove edition of the game.

The Plot:
During a fateful adventure up the Tower of Fate, Shovel Knight’s partner and lover, Shield Knight, is cursed by a mysterious amulet. Grief stricken, Shovel Knight goes into exile but takes up arms once more to rescue his beloved when the malevolent Enchantress rises to power and unseals the Tower of Fate, though he’ll have to travel far and combat the Enchantress’s “Order of No Quarter” in order to triumph.

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is a collection of 8-bit-style platformers that are heavily inspired by the platforming titles that populated the NES back in the day, and these are comprised of four sidescrolling, story-based campaigns and a multiplayer battle mode. I’ll cover these other modes later in the review but the main story, Shovel of Hope, puts players in control of the titular armoured knight, a cute little figure who travels across a fantasy land smacking enemies with his trusty shovel, collecting gems and gold, defeating the Order of No Quarter, and acquiring powerful relics to aid his righteous quest. Shovel Knight’s controls and options are fully customisable; players are given ten save slots and can name, copy, and delete each one, can adjust the volume and sound effects, the screen shake and flash, and can customise the game’s controls to their liking. I was happy with the standard setup, though, which sees Shovel Knight jumping with A, attacking with X or B, and switching relics with the Left- and Right Bumper but I did map the relics to the Y button for faster use. Shovel Knight moves at a brisk pace and has a generous jump; he’s never too slippery or unwieldy and can reach most platforms with no problem, though carelessness will see you tumble into a bottomless pits or a bed (or ceiling) of instant-death spikes and lava.

Use Shovel Knight’s pogo attack to traverse levels and be sure to recover your lost gold!

While Shovel Knight can dispatch most enemies with a few swipes of his trusty shovel, one of his most useful attacks is a pogo stick-like manoeuvre that allows him to bounce off enemies, break blocks, and hop around to reach higher areas by holding down as you jump in the air. This quickly becomes the most versatile move in your arsenal and absolutely essential to traversing the game’s levels even right from the off as you use it to bounce off bubbles to cross chasms. Bottomless pits and instant death spikes and lava are peppered all throughout Shovel Knight, alongside a variety of enemies who will respawn when you leave the screen or fall from an upper area. Shovel Knight begins the game with four hearts, and can take eight hits before dying, though these (and your maximum item total) can be increased at the village hub world. Although you are blessed with infinite lives, and a number of generous checkpoints are littered throughout the game’s levels (though be wary as these can be destroyed, which can set you back a bit), you’ll lose some of your accumulated gold upon death. After respawning, you can try to reclaim your lost gold, but often this can simply result in another death as they float around near hazardous areas and, if you die before reclaiming your loot, it’ll disappear and be replaced with your next set of lost gold. Thankfully, enemies will drop gold and gems upon defeat, you can dig up mounds of dirt and fish in sparkling areas to grab more coins and ammo, and you’ll find apples and roast chickens sporadically spawning after defeating certain enemies or opening certain chests (though again, be wary as these often contain bombs, too!)

Each DLC character is similar but has unique differences, like King Knight being hampered by a card game.

The other characters in the DLC modes control similarly, but also very differently: Plague Knight tosses bombs with X, and holding X will charge up his “bomb burst” to allow him to reach higher, further areas. He has no equivalent to the pogo attack but has a double jump and can stay airborne by rapidly tossing bombs while in mid-air, and can alter his bombs and his burst to attack in more diverse ways. Specter Knight can run up walls and attacks with his deadly scythe; he also breaks blocks just by jumping on them and absorbs magic (or “Darkness”) from enemies, but lacks a double jump. Of the four playable characters, King Knight provides the most startlingly different gameplay; his platforming levels are much shorter and occasionally have secret exits, bosses are fought in special areas on the overworld, and he must barge into enemies and walls to progress with a little tornado twirl, but the main focus of his story is on Joustus. This is an aggravating card game that you must play to complete his story and sees you placing cards to fill a small grid (usually 2×2), shoving your opponent’s cards away and claiming gems at the same time. Sadly, I absolutely suck at card games and had no patience for this; your opponents use better, more powerful cards as you progress, meaning you need to shuffle your deck accordingly but risk losing your better cards as a result. Personally, I found it easier to limp my way through and use the “Card Thief” cheat to steal a victory when needed.

Levels are soon peppered with a variety of tricky sections and hazards to keep you on your toes.

Shovel Knight starts off pretty simply but you’ll soon find your platforming skills tested by bigger chasms and more elaborate onscreen hazards and enemy placements. Very soon, you’ll have to contend with temporary platforms, explosive enemies, burning lava falling from above, and tricky bouncing trips across floating enemies to reach higher paths and find bigger and better gems and loot out of the way. It’s also worth swiping at walls here and there as they often contain treasure chests and can help provide an extra platform for you to get your bearings, and you can occasionally reflect enemy’s fireballs back at them with your shovel, which is a nice touch. Soon, you have to cross chasms on moving or temporary platforms, use your shovel to bounce along on small and large cannonballs or enemies, and jump from ladder to ladder across smaller and smaller platforms. In Pridemoor Keep, you’ll have to hit a magical book to spawn platforms for a short time, while you’ll have to cross deadly waters in the Lich Yard using carefully weighting red skeletal platforms. Both enemies and platforms will explode in the aptly-named Explodatorium and flames will burst from the ground to knock you to your death, and you’ll need to make carefully-timed jumps in the Iron Whale’s underwater sections, where the water makes you extra floaty.

Levels are accessed from an overworld map and feature a number of mechanics to test your skills.

Stages are accessed via an overworld map that’s clearly inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo R&D4, 1988), with paths and areas unlocking as you progress; from here, you can also enter the village and other safe areas where you can interact with non-playable characters (NPCs) very much like in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (ibid, 1987) to learn hints and flesh out the game’s story and upgrade Shovel Knight’s abilities. NPCs are full of life and character and will often ask for payment of some sort, or have you watch a little dance or indulge their whims before they’ll help you. You can also access shortcuts to literally catapult you across the map and challenge a number of additional bosses on the overworld; between stages you’ll be occasionally be asked to catch Shield Knight as she falls from the sky (often after fending off a hoard of enemies) and you can even uncover smaller bonus areas where you can farm a few extra gems and gold for your troubles. Levels eventually get much more difficult and feature staples such as vertical and horizontally autoscroller sections, slippery ice platforms, winds that will propel you over gaps or up towards a dreaded spike ceiling, and a weird floating platform you have to hit to spawn temporary rainbow platforms that allow you to cross a dangerous chasm. All of your skills will be tested when you reach the three-stage final area, the Tower of Fate, which brings back some of the trickiest stage hazards from the levels prior and remixes them with tougher enemies, intangible platforms, and light tricks to really test your mettle.

Graphics and Sound:
Shovel Knight is presented exactly like an 8-bit title from the glory days of the NES, and looks absolutely fantastic as a result; everything from the levels to the sprite work not only looks exactly akin to the likes of DuckTales (Capcom, 1989) and Castlevania (Konami, 1986) but also sounds just like those old school titles, as well. Levels are punctuated by some incredibly catchy, 8-bit-style chip tunes that, like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates, 2018), perfectly captures the look and feel of the bygone area of videogaming while bringing in modern gameplay tweaks and quality of life improvements, especially when it comes to the controls and presentation. While Shovel Knight doesn’t have much in the way of an idle animation (his armour simply glints when he stands still), levels are packed full of colour and detail, including background elements and all kinds of different objects to interact with or explore; the drapes in Pridemoor Keep, for example, hide gems and the chandeliers will fall from the ceiling and there’s even a beautiful aurora borealis in the background of the Stranded Ship stage.

The game’s environments are full of life and colour and perfectly capture the 8-bit aesthetic.

Speaking of which, this level, like many in the game, features a variety of areas to keep each level visual interesting; it starts off as an ice and snow world before you venture on to a Viking ship. Similarly, the Iron Whale features underwater sections but also sees you fighting through a submerged submarine. Areas are generally as cliché as you might expect from a platformer of this kind (forest-like plains, a castle, the aforementioned ice and water stages, and a lava stage) but are made all the more visually appealing and interesting thanks to this variety. The Lich Yard is both a haunted town and a spooky graveyard, for example; Mole City is an underground cavern filled with different types of dirt and rock and lava, and the Tower of Fate is a suitably ominous, gothic castle. In some stages, you’ll encounter a near-total absence of light as the environments and sprites are cast in silhouettes, or lit only by brief flashes of lighting; rain will beat down, revealing tangible platforms, and you’ll be hard pressed to stay on safe, solid ground as you desperately hop around on the Flying Machine. The entire game as a charming, fantasy aesthetic that is perfectly evoked in every area, from the overworld map to the safe areas, to the varied stages and it was genuinely impressive to see how much detail was crammed into the game considering the 8-bit graphical aesthetic.

NES style graphics, sprites, and text do a wonderfully charming job of telling the story.

The game’s story is told through the use of classic NES-style text and larger sprite work for certain cutscenes; there’s no voice acting here at all beyond a few chuckles and such, but text scrolls by at a decent speed to keep you invested. Encounters with bosses and rivals is proceeded by using text boxes over the in-game graphics, and you can freely skip any of the game’s cutscenes whenever you like. After clearing the game, you’ll view a nice little coda that shows you how the kingdom repaired following the Enchantress’s defeat, and the additional story missions take this all one step further since each of these takes place either before or before and during the main story to flesh out some of the game’s bosses. This allows you to see the tragic backstory and downfall of the Specter Knight and the events that led to him serving the Enchantress, King Knight’s lust for power and riches causing him to sell out his friends and family, and Plague Knight’s unsuccessful attempt to usurp the Enchantress’s power for himself. All of this presents the game’s levels in different ways, with layouts switched up, music remixed, NPCs presented differently (enemies will act as NPCs in many of these stories, which is fun), and even an altered overworld map and presentation of levels (taking place at night or at dusk, for example), which really helps to add extra variety to the game and expand the story even though you are, essentially, replaying the same levels.

Enemies and Bosses:
There are a variety of enemies populating Shovel Knight’s world, ranging from little bugs and rats (which either explode or float around on propellers), to sword-wielding skeletons, a number of wizards (who throw out fireballs, gears, bombs, or snowflakes), to ghosts who either turn intangible or fly towards you to take a bite out of you and charging lance-wielding horses! As you progress, more elaborate enemies will appear, such as a range of knights (who can both shield against your attacks and toss projectiles in an arch, alongside their sword attacks), the liquid samurai (who rushes at you with a sword or fires arrows at you), pharaoh-like skeletons who try to submerge you in water, electrified frogs, and a barrage of needle-like enemies, erratic birds, and electric eels and jellyfish who try to knock you into pits or spikes. You’ll also have to be mindful of crushing hazards, bombs dropping from overhead, and other onscreen dangers that can send you to your death, though you can also turn these against your enemies if you attack them just right.

In addition to recurring mini bosses like Black Knight, you’ll also fight Shovel Knight in the DLC!

Some larger enemies will also appear in levels and act as mini bosses, of sorts. The first these you’ll encounter is a large, bubble-spitting dragon who can only be attacked by bouncing on his bubbles and his head; next, you’ll comes across a stationary griffin who tries to swipe at you when you’re up close and spits wavy fireballs at you (and, again, is vulnerable only on its head). A massive skeleton haunts the Lich Yard and will bounce around trying to crush you or drop you to the deadly waters below, and collapses into a pile of bones when attacked; a giant angler fish chases you through the watery caverns of the Iron Whale stage and can only be damaged by hitting the treasure chest dangling from its head; and a giant, spear-wielding, armoured grunt dogs your progress in Mole City. There’s a mad scientist in the Explodetorium who frantically tosses vials at you and transforms into a rampaging beast, spear-throwing Vikings in the Stranded Ship whose helmets protect them from aerial attacks, gear-tossing brutes in the Clockwork Tower, and a bomb-throwing airship in the Flying Machine stage, and remixed versions of these mini bosses are peppered throughout the Tower of Fate and the other stories (the dragon spits snowflakes, for example, and the angler fish attacks from above as well as from the side). Before you can even battle the Order of No Quarter, you’ll have to contend with the Black Knight, Shovel Knight’s rival who acts as the first boss and a recurring boss throughout the game. In the first battle, the Black Knight attacks very similar to Shovel Knight (shovel swings and a pogo-like attack) while also tossing out purple fireballs that you can reflect back, but he later gets a big power-up and sprouts swings! Flying around the entrance to the Tower of Fate, he dashes around faster than you can see and launches numerous fireballs at you, and conjures meteors and rocks to rain down on you. He’s also noticeably more challenging when playing Specter of Torment as he hops onto a rhino-like creature to charge at you, and you’ll also battle against Shovel Knight himself in this mode, in the Explodatorium, who attacks very similar to the Black Knight (only using Shovel Knight’s relics).

You’ll encounter altered versions of bosses depending on which character you choose.

At the end of Pridemoor Keep, you’ll battle King Knight, who hops around his throne room occasionally dropping down for a stunning attack and dashes towards you for a quick attack, and causes confetti to rain down in the arena while posing. When battling him as Specter Knight, King Knight will cause holes to appear in the floor and also floats overheard dropping blocks and cards. In the King of Cards story, when playing as King Knight, you’ll battle his father, King Pridemoor, instead: King Pridemoor hops into a mech-like armour and wields a mace, a devastating charge attack, and even calls on a griffin to fly overhead and spit fireballs at you. Specter Knight awaits you in the Lich Yard; this Grim Reaper-like figure hovers around, tossing his scythe like a buzzsaw and rushing at you, conjuring skeletons and causing lightning flashes to limit your visibility, forcing you to hop around on the platforms and toss projectiles or swing at him as he passes. This is actually a bit easier as Plague Knight thanks to his different bomb casings, and is entirely absent in Specter of Torment, where it’s supplanted by the otherwise optional bout against the Phantom Striker. Plague Knight himself guards the end of the Explodatorium, bouncing and teleporting all over the arena, tossing bombs, and conjuring jars of chemicals and doubles of himself. While Plague Knight battles Shovel Knight in this area, he does have to battle a dark mirror of himself later in Plague of Shadows, while King Knight must first battle Plague Knight’s underling, Percy, and then Plague Knight and Percy at the same time in King of Cards, both of whom feature similar bomb/projectile-based attacks and destructible blocks beneath your feet.

Later bosses will use their environment to attack, defend, and endanger you.

Treasure Knight, who greatly resembles one of Mega Man’s (Capcom, 1987) Robot Masters, waits at the end of the Iron Whale and attacks using a retractable, claw-like anchor on a chain; he also floats overhead, grappling down at you or landing with a shockwave that kips up sand or causes mines to float around the arena in bubbles. When facing him as Specter Knight and King Knight, you’ll find the arena slightly changed up and that Treasure Knight also drains the water and attacks by kicking up gold. Mole Knight opts to charge at you through the dirt walls of his boss arena, sending sparks flying at you as he skids along the floor, and also burrows into the ground, causes lava to form a protective shield over himself while also spitting embers out at you, and drops blocks into the arena to damage or entrap you. In the DLC stories, he spawns in bouncy green gel that actually helps you to fight him since the new characters have different moves and abilities. Similarly, Polar Knight drops in extra pillars to aid your progress in the DLC stories, while still sending giant snowballs towards you with his snow shovel, dropping down from above, and digging up snow to uncover deadly spikes in the arena. You can also pay 5000 gold to enter the Hall of Champions, where a massive ghost awaits; you can actually damage him, however, thanks to the lanterns in the area that you can hit to spit off light blasts to damage him or dispel his little minions. This boss also reappears in the Eerie Manor in King of Cards, and you can do the reverse of the Hall of Champions in Plague of Shadows (i.e.: slaughtering a bunch of knights and turning the hall dark rather than brightening it up by defeating ghosts).

Bosses become much trickier and you’ll need to conquer a boss rush before taking on the Enchantress.

After besting the spiral pillars and turning gears of Clockwork Tower, you’ll face off with Tinker Knight, a tiny little welder guy who frantically runs around tossing spanners at you. Once you defeat him, he hops into a giant mech, which fires small missiles and larger ones that you can use to hop up to his head and land some good hits. In the DLC stories, this latter stage is repurposed as an autoscrolling chase, with Tinker Knight hovering just overhead to the right and the mech endlessly pursuing you while churning up the ground. Propeller Knight was probably the trickiest boss in my first run; this guy darts at you with a rapier, blows you towards the gaps in the arena, and tries to skewer you before destroying parts of the platform with cannonballs from his airship. In the DLC stories, a new, much easier second phase is added to this where you’re in freefall, jumping from debris and platforms and avoiding the bombs he drops across the screen. As if battling these knights wasn’t enough, you’ll have to fight them all again in a boss rush in the Tower of Fate; each one attacks you in turn, though you are given health and magic power-ups between each fight to tip the odds in your favour, and you’ll even have to fight Shovel Knight again when playing the Plague of Shadow story. Once you get past this, though, you’ll reach the final area; after avoiding and crossing some floating blocks intent on killing you, you’ll battle the Enchantress, who rapidly fires energy blasts at you that you can reflect back at her, floats around, dashes at you diagonally, and conjures flames to destroy the blocks of the arena. You’ll also have to be careful of using your pogo attack as that’ll destroy the blocks beneath you, which makes this quite tricky but it’s even harder as Plague Knight as your bombs (your primary attack) frequently destroy these same blocks (though I found the battle easier as Specter Knight and King Knight since the blocks disappeared less frequently and there were more opportunities to attack her, and she spawns temporary blocks that you can use to your advantage).

Each story ends with a massive, increasingly difficult and frustrating boss battle.

Once she’s defeated, she transforms into her ultimate form and begins showering the arena with energy balls and wrecking the ground; luckily, you’re joined by Shield Knight, who shields you from these attacks and creates a platform you can pogo off to hit the Enchantress’s head (which can be tough to pull off until you get the timing down) and, even better, you won’t have to battle the Enchantress’s first phase if you die on her second phase. When playing Plague of Shadow, Specter of Torment, and King of Cards, you’ll be treated to a unique second phase to this boss battle. Plague Knight battles a gigantic, corrupted version of himself that spits orbs from its mouth, fires dual laser beams, and jumps all over the arena and will need a very specific weapon combination (the lob casing, cluster powder, and big bomb arcane) to actually attack the weak spot in its mouth, which took me a while to figure out. Specter Knight battles an empowered version of Reize, one of the wandering travellers you’ll encounter on the overworld, which sees you dashing along and attacking from a series of rails while avoiding Reize’s fireballs and attacks (though I actually found this far easier than the last two final bosses). King Knight has to battle a giant mechanical king, which proved to be the most annoying final boss by far. This mech fires homing orbs at you, lasers that ricochet all over the arena, and tries to crush you and destroy the ground with its hands. You need to hop onto its hands (carefully, as touching them can hurt you) to shoulder barge into the jewels on the side of its head until the outer casing is destroyed. Then, you have to stay on its hands in a vast void, avoiding homing shots and spiralling into its exposed brain, which can be very frustrating even though it spits out hearts after a few hits.

Some familiar faces, allies, and NPCS show up as optional and surprise bosses!

In addition to this, as mentioned, you’ll encounter a few additional bosses on the overworld; these wandering travellers appear on the map (or in certain stages for some DLC stories) and challenge you to a fight, and include the would-be-swordsman Reize, the lighting-conjuring Phantom Striker, and a beefy version of Simon Belmont, Baz, complete with Vampire Killer whip. After being fleeced by the customers in the armor outpost shop, you’ll have a fight against the proprietor, Mister Hat, and you’ll even face off against the Battletoads at one point in a three-stage boss battle that sees you descending down a shaft, challenging the damnable Turbo Tunnel, and fighting all three at once to prove your worth. The DLC stories not only include the chance to battle Shovel Knight, but also Shield Knight in Specter of Torment and a handful of entirely new bosses in King of Cards, such as the Troupple King (who surrounds himself with Troupple Fish while you battle on a precarious little boat being careful not to fall in the deadly water) and the King Birder (who floats around a steadily claustrophobic arena shooting lasers as you desperately bash and twirl off the blocks that circle the walls). King Knight also has the added headache of having to challenge the Joustus Judges to Joustus, a card game that saps Shovel Knight of all its action and fun.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle through the game’s stages, you’ll pick-up health and pots to refill your item count (similar to the Hearts in Castlevania), and gold and jewels to add to your currency. The bigger the gem, the more money you’ll get, so it literally pays to explore all around, attacking walls to uncover jewels or treasure chests as you’ll find caches of sparkly gems or even a hidden musical scroll that you can sell to the bard in the village. You can buy (and find) meal tickets to increase your health, and also pay more money to increase the amount of ammo you have and purchase additional relics, such as the chalices that the Troupple King and his allies will fill with one-use power-ups to grant you invincibility or full health.

Shovel Knight can gain new abilities from relics, which Plague Knight can trade for better gear.

You can also acquire relics in the levels, usually by defeating mini bosses but also by buying them from Chester, who’s hidden in special treasure chests; these increase your versatility and allow you to access new areas in stages, encouraging replayability. At the cost of some ammo, you can fish in sparkly areas for bonus items, fire a projectile with the Flame Torch, render yourself briefly intangible to all harm (except lava) with the Phase Locket, attack airborne enemies with the Throwing Anchor, bash through dirt blocks with the Dust Knuckles, destroy all onscreen enemies with the War Horn, ride the Mobile Gear to reach higher areas, and dash through the air with the Propeller Dagger. In the armor outpost, you can also upgrade Shovel Knight’s shovel to make digging instantaneous, charge a more powerful swing, or send out a spark when at full health, and your armour to reduce the gold you lose, sacrifice ammo for more durability, or just look cool. All of these relics reappear in Plague of Shadows, but Plague Knight must trade them with Chester for his own weapons; Plague Knight has a magic meter that depletes as he uses stuff like the big bomb, smoke bomb, and the Staff of Surging but it will automatically refill over time. You can also increase his maximum health and magic meter, upgrade his outfit in the same way as Shovel Knight’s armour, and also acquire additional casings and powders for his bombs, and elements to his bomb burst jump. This allows you to toss bombs that leave a trail of fire or swirl around in a protective circle, toss them in an arch, or float through the air after a charged jump or even spin through enemies in a blaze, and you can also find (and buy) tonics to increase your health even further. While Plague Knight can also find his own set of musical scrolls, you’ll also need to find green Cipher Coins hidden in new areas of levels to fully upgrade Plague Knight’s repertoire.

Both Specter and King Knight have to earn their upgrades but only the king has to worry about Joustus.

Similarly, Specter Knight needs to find Red Skulls to access all of his “Curios”; after trading in for these, though, Specter Knight has to complete a short stage where he can only use the Curio to get past the enemies and obstacles (something that is repeated in King of Cards). These Curios allow him to throw a small scythe projectile, attack enemies up close with a swipe, regain health, or even target the nearest onscreen enemy regardless of hazards or the environment. Specter Knight can also find (or buy) “wilful wisps” to increase his health and Darkness meter, and can pay to upgrade his cloak to reduce the gold he loses from death, grind across all surfaces, or charge up his scythe attack, amongst other bonuses. Much of this is the same for King Knight, though he is somewhat handicapped as his upgrades and “Heirlooms” are at a much higher cost; you’ll need to spend both gold and Merit Medals to fully upgrade his health, magic, and armour, and these are earned not just from defeating enemies and finding chests but also winning games of Joustus. Chests, Chester, and victory in these card games will also net you additional Joustus cards (ranging from weak level one cards to more powerful, rarer level four cards) and I’d heavily advise buying Chester’s cheat cards to make the game easier on yourself. For an absolutely extortionate amount (30,0000 in total), you can also pay for some aesthetic paintjobs on the game’s presentation and environments in this mode, too.

Additional Features:
There are forty-five Achievements (known in-game as “Feats”) on offer in the main Shovel of Hope game, which range from finishing levels without taking damage, eating food, or collecting gold, defeating certain bosses without taking a hit or in certain ways, or full upgrading Shovel Knight and acquiring all of his relics and musical scrolls. An additional sixty Achievements are included in the three DLC packs, bringing the total up to 105, with many of these being repeats of those in Shovel of Hope (don’t take damage, finish the game, get all upgrades and such). Disappointingly, there are a great deal of 0G and 5G Achievements in the game, which is frustrating as things like beating all of the wandering travellers or uncovering hidden rooms should really net you more than nothing. Some of the hardest Achievements are best acquired in the New Game+ modes that you unlock for each story after completing the main game as you are charged with finishing the game without spending any money or acquiring any upgrades, but by far the hardest will ask you to finish the game without falling into bottomless pits or by destroying every checkpoint.

In addition to New Game+, you can battle head-to-head in Showdown or tackle extra challenges.

Shovel Knight also has a “body swap” feature that I think is to further customise the game for male and female players, and also comes with a co-op mode, though there are no Achievements and few benefits to playing with a friend; although you both share gold and have your own health bar, if one of you dies, it’ll cost health from the remaining player to respawn your partner. The game does warp the player who is lagging behind to the next area, which is good, but, similar to Contra (Konami, 1986), Shovel Knight is much harder with two players. After clearing each story, you unlock the aforementioned New Game+ (which lets you keep all the health, magic, gold, and upgrades you’ve acquired but delivers a tougher overall gaming experience), additional challenges for the Challenge Mode (where you must survive waves of enemies, perform tricky platforming tasks, collect gold, and many other varied tasks though, again, there are no Achievements linked to this mode), and extra music for the game’s sound test. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove includes the Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment, and King of Cards DLC packs, all of which remix and repurpose the existing game’s levels to accommodate the new character’s abilities. The story, cutscenes, and dialogue are all changed as well, with many of the stories being prequels to the main game, and new areas, collectibles, and gameplay modes are accessible. Specter Knight, for example, doesn’t get an overworld map and must warp to each level from the Tower of Fate; King Knight gains a completely different overworld map, and an airship to ride around in. Beyond all the various story modes, there’s also a battle mode, Shovel Knight Showdown, a competitive fighting mode very much like Super Smash Bros. (HAL Laboratory, 1999) that sees you battle through a series of story-based fights on one of three difficulties (Easy, Medium, and Hard), with the story and opponents differing depending on which character you pick. You can also fight up to three computer-controlled opponents (or friends) in battles that range from stock, time, and gem-based fights in a variety of arenas with intractable hazards, elements, and items. Shovel Knight’s basic three-button gameplay doesn’t really translate that well into a 2D fighter but it’s a fun little distraction; though there aren’t any Achievements tied to this mode either, it’s probably quite fun with a few friends. There are also a huge number of cheat codes available for the game that will change it in bizarre ways, though they also disable Achievements, and numerous little side quests to keep you busy. For example, you need to hunt down all the collectibles, defeat every Joustus player (which includes a super tough final, final boss), and purchase every item to get full, 100% completion so there’s definitely a lot to keep you coming back for more.

The Summary:
I didn’t grow up playing the NES titles that Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove owes its existence to; I was playing the MSX, Spectrum, and Master System around that time instead, so I’m much more a fan of the 16-bit era of gaming, but I do enjoy a good retro throwback and Shovel Knight may very well be the best retro throwback out there. I went into it concerned that it would be “NES Hard” like games like the aforementioned Mega Man and Contra but, thankfully, it was much more in the same style as DuckTales and Castlevania in terms of difficulty, challenge, and presentation. Shovel Knight was a really good time, with loads to see, do, and collect across its many worlds and different gameplay modes; the titular knight is a fantastic modern icon and his 8-bit world is both familiar and incredibly unique in its presentation. His gameplay is tight as a drum; there are some frustrating moments and deaths but they’re all down to poor luck or skill on your part rather than dodgy mechanics or unfair difficulty spikes, and it’s extremely gratifying mastering his pogo skill to conquer tricky areas. The additional story modes are a fantastic addition as well; remixing and redressing the music, levels, and mechanics was a novel idea and each character plays in similar, but different, ways so you can easily get to grips with them and adapt to the new layouts and gameplay styles. They expand upon both the gameplay and the story by fleshing out the lore and characters of this world, repurposing enemies into NPCs and presenting levels in ways that challenge your familiarity with the game. The only blight against the game are the numerous 0G Achievements, which just seem like a complete waste of time to me; why even bother programming them in if you get nothing for your efforts? Also, I could have done without the Joustus gameplay of King of Cards; I dislike card-based games at the best of times and it was easily the least fun part of the game. These issues are minor, though, and the package is more than worth it for the other characters and the sheer amount of gameplay, content, and variety on offer in the remainder of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Fans of the NES-era of gaming should be well at home with this little package and I was extremely pleased with the overall game, and all of the replayability on offer here, so I would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of retrogames.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove? Did you enjoy Shovel Knight’s NES-style mechanics and abilities or did you struggle to get to grips with his pogo-like attack? Which of the Order of No Quarter was your favourite and why, and which boss did you struggle against? Did you enjoy the DLC story modes? Which of the three was your favourite? Were you a fan of Joustus or, like me, did you struggle to adapt to the card-based gameplay? Did you ever get all of the Achievements in the game and were you also annoyed at the amount of 0G Achievements on offer here? What are your favourite games from the 8-bit era, or your favourite retro throwback titles, and would you like to see another Shovel Knight game in the future? Whatever your thoughts on Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media post.

Game Corner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Xbox Series X)


Released: 16 June 2022
Developer: Tribute Games
Also Available For: Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
Like many kids back in the eighties or nineties, I was super into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT, known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the United Kingdom), which dominated playgrounds years before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) with the popular cartoon, toys, and, of course, videogames. Although a toned down version of the original Mirage Comics characters, the TMNT were unbelievably popular at the time and this was reflected in their videogames; Konami’s original arcade title was one of the defining titles of the beat-‘em-up genre (despite being a bit limited in terms of its content and combat), the first TMNT title on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was one of the quintessential games that defined what it meant to be “NES Hard”, and the Heroes in a Half-Shell have seen quite a bit of success in a variety of genres, though beat-‘em-ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (Konami, 1991) were regarded as some of the team’s best. Considering their track record with beat-‘em-up, it’s fitting that Tribute Games and Dotemu were behind this loving throwback to the TMNT’s heyday; inspired by these titles and the popular cartoon, the game saw the return of many of the original voice cast to the franchise, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was met with universal critical acclaim upon launch as reviews gushed over the visual presentation, the references to the TMNT’s rich history, and the arcade-style beat-‘em-up gameplay.

The Plot:
With Bebop and Rocksteady assaulting Channel 6 and stealing pieces of Krang’s robotic body as part of Oroku Saki/The Shredder’s latest twisted plan, the TMNT and their allies must take on some of their most memorable enemies in a journey that will take them from the streets of Manhattan to the dank sewers and all the way to Dimension X!

Like the classic TMNT videogames from the arcade era, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which you and up to five other plays take control of one of the four titular mutant turtles or one of their allies and battle through wave upon wave of Foot Soldiers and other enemies across sixteen stages. If you’ve ever played the original arcade release of Turtles in Time (or even more modern releases, like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (Ubisoft Montreal, 2010) and Streets of Rage 4 (Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games, 2020)) then you’ll be more than familiar with the criteria and the controls: simply move from the left side of the screen to the right, tapping the control stick or directional pad to run and using A to jump and X to attack, repeatedly tapping the button to string together simple combos. The controls are fully customisable so you can set them to whatever works best for you, but I found the default settings to be more than adequate, and the game includes an optional ‘How to Play’ mode that runs you through what the characters are capable of. I mentioned Scott Pilgrim just now and that’s an appropriate comparison as the characters in Shredder’s Revenge will level up to a maximum level of ten the more you fight and play, increasing their gauges and unlocking additional moves to use.

Bust some shell with the TMNT and their allies’ versatile combat options.

Streets of Rage 4 is also an appropriate comparison considering Dotemu developed both that and Shredder’s Revenge, and there are some similar mechanics here: B allows you to perform a backflip (or a hop with some characters) to avoid attacks or launch into a reverse attack with X, you’ll grab enemies automatically when standing close to them and can toss them, fling them at the screen, or slam them, pressing A when running performs a sliding attack, and you can press A or B to do a quick wakeup roll or get up faster when knocking down. You can also hold X to charge up a heavy attack and smack enemies upwards for a juggle and, as you pummel enemies, you’ll build up your “Ninja Power” gauge; when full, you can press Y to pull off a special attack that drains this meter rather than your health and sees your character explode in a whirlwind of sais, swords, or nunchakus to take out groups of enemies. When you level-up, this gauge will increase up to three levels, allowing you to perform subsequent special attacks and, eventually, enter “Radical Mode” with the Right Bumper to temporarily increase your speed and attack power at the cost of being able to perform a special attack. Eventually, you’ll be able to press Y in mid-air or out of a backflip to perform different special attacks, and you can also press RB to perform a taunt that leaves you vulnerable but will instantly fill your Ninja Power gauge. When playing with friends, you can perform team attacks simply by attacking the same enemies at the same time; the Left Bumper allows you to high five them to grant them two hit points from your own health meter, and you’ll have ten seconds to revive them when they’re defeated by holding LB (and a slice of pizza) before their downed form.

Speed along on rocket boards and watch for stage hazards!

While all the controls and even the special moves aren’t that different between characters, they do have different attributes; you’ll need to consider their range, speed, and power when selecting a character as guys like Raphael have a short reach, Casey Jones is quite slow and lumbering, and April O’Neil is fast but not particularly powerful. You’ll also want to consider the game’s difficulty settings, with “Chill” offering a very casual experience but “Gnarly” increasing the number and aggression of your enemies, and the additional challenge offered by the “Arcade” mode, which limits your lives and continues and features no save progression for a more authentic arcade experience. The main story mode sees you travelling to and from stages (referred to as “Episodes”) using a world map, which is easy to navigate and allows you to replay previous missions to level-up further or find any collectibles you missed. In stages, you’ll find plenty of things to smash to uncover power-ups and collectibles, but these can also help fend off enemies, such as fire hydrants to blast them back, explosive barrels, and smacking cameras, shopping trolleys, or traffic cones. Enemies can also toss things at you, though, and will often burst up from manholes or behind billboards and such, which then act as pits for you to fall down and other stage hazards, like electrical wires, spikes, freeze blasts, and subway trains are also present. The enjoyable mindless beat-‘em-up action is somewhat broken up by a handful of Episodes that see you rocketing along the streets or through the skies on a skate/hoverboard, taking out similarly-equipped and flying enemies with the full range of your attacks still available to you. Jump-kicking flying enemies can be a little tricky to judge, however, even with their shadows being on screen and, in the event that you do exhaust all your lives, you’ll need to restart the Episode from the very beginning.

Graphics and Sound:  
Shredder’s Revenge opts for absolutely gorgeous sprite work for its in-game graphics to make it seem like a modern version or update of the classic TMNT arcade titles. All of the sprites are big, colourful, and packed full of character; all of the playable characters have different idle and movement animations, so Splinter hobbles along on his cane, Michelangelo flails about when running, and characters swing about their weapons and comment when left standing still. Many of the voices from the original cartoon return to voice their respective characters, though this is limited to in-game outbursts and comments rather than full-on voice acting. Even the enemies have a great deal of personality; you’ll see Foot Soldiers chilling out, blending in in the background, playing Game Boys, eating ice cream, and many other amusing sight gags that encourage multiple playthroughs and all the moves, combos, and controls are so slick thanks to how well done the sprite work and animation is. There’s loads of Easter Eggs packed into Shredder’s Revenge, from enemies using some of the toy vehicles to graffiti or recognisable elements dotted all over the place, and references to the original arcade release, Turtles in Time, the live-action movies, and, of course, the original cartoon frequently cropping up so you’ll probably spot something new each time you play.

The whole game is a visual homage to the TMNT cartoons and videogames of old.

If you’ve played the original arcade game or Turtles in Time, many of Shredder’s Revenge’s locations will be immediately familiar; you’ve got the streets of New York, the rat-infested sewers and subway tunnels, the Channel 6 building (including the kitchen, a cooking show, and the office where you’ll find the likes of Irma, Burne Thompson, and Vernon Fenwick), the dingy alleys and high-speed skies of the city (where you’ll see the TMNT blimp in the background and the Foot attacking the Statue of Liberty), and eventually the jungles, wilds, and technological nightmares of Dimension X. There are also more colourful locations, like the fairground and attractions of Coney Island (where you’ll briefly battle across a beach and find the Punk Frogs), the cages and animals of the Central Park Zoo (where monkeys toss bananas at you and rhinos and warthogs stampede across the stage), and the creature comforts of the Crystal Palace Mall (where you’ll smash through barriers, ride escalators, and destroy arcade machines). There are, of course, a couple of instances where you’re trapped on an elevator and must fend off waves of goons and, while there’s not much focus on vertical traversal, stages often have multiple areas to help keep things visually interesting. The music is pretty much standard TMNT fare but there’s some fun inclusions from the likes of Lee Topes and (surprisingly) Raekwon and Ghostface Killah; even Mike Patton of Faith No More does a rocking cover version of the classic TMNT theme song. Speaking of which, this iconic intro is lovingly recreated and expanded upon through a slick animated sequence, while the remainder of the game’s cutscenes are rendered using either the in-game graphics or larger sprite work with text boxes just like in the old games.

Enemies and Bosses:
As is pretty much always the case for a TMNT videogame, you’ll primarily be battling through the seemingly endless hordes of the robotic Foot Clan; these multi-coloured ninjas come in a variety of forms, from the standard purple variant to blue, yellow, pink, and black, with each one wielding a different weapon. Some fire arrows or plungers, others can tangle you up in their whips, while others have katanas, axes, lances, or shields and can block your attacks. Some will be able to disappear in a puff of ninja smoke and toss daggers at you, while others drive motorcycles or the Foot Cruiser or pilot a spider-like mech that can only be damaged when the pilot is dizzy from missing a big axe handle smash. You’ll also encounter smaller robotic enemies, such as Roadkill Rodneys they grab you with their tentacles or spit out bombs, and Mousers, which can clamp onto you and be spawned by their larger variants. Hulking Triceratons and Stone Warriors can take quite a beating, charge at you, and even protect themselves with forcefields to take pot shots at you. Easily one of the most annoying enemies in the game, however, are the mud-like beasts that resemble the Pizza Monsters; these bastards leap up from the ground, clamping themselves to your face, and can be difficult to get a hit on since they pop up so quickly.

Some of the TMNT’s most memorable foes return as action-packed boss battles.

Naturally, you’ll also have to contend with some bigger, tougher bosses; many of these will appear mid-way through the Episode to take hostages, cause havoc, or head off with a piece of Krang’s robotic body, forcing you to pursue them across the stage. Two bosses you’ll encounter on numerous occasions are series staples Bebop and Rocksteady; both are fought alone in the first two episodes, with Bebop blasting laser bolts from his pistol and stunning himself when you avoid his shoulder barge and Rocksteady stomping around while hurling grenades at you. You’ll chase the two down through tunnels and across a bridge in Episode 3, where they attack from the Turtle Tenderiser, a large armoured jeep that erratically veers across the stage while they shoot and toss grenades at you. Later on, after clearing the rooftop stage, you’ll battle both on the ground and at the same time. This is definitely much tougher than the previous fights as their projectiles and physical attacks become much more erratic and aggressive, but it’s not too difficult to isolate one of them or even pummel them both when they’re on the same side of the screen. I was happy to see a number of familiar faces return as bosses throughout the game as well; the Rat King awaits in the sewers, charming a stampede of rats from atop a wrecked Footski with this flute and tossing you about with a whirling-like throw, and Leatherhead is fought at the end of the Coney Island episode, where he randomly hops out from grates to snap at you with his powerful jaws while the Punk Frogs toss barrels and pizzas to help you.

Some familiar, and obscure, TMNT enemies also show up for some fun boss encounters.

Baxter Stockman attacks (in his human fly form) at the end of the Secret Laboratory episode, hovering just out of reach and blasting at you, firing a gooey fist from his gun, and retreating to the background to blast massive laser cannons across the arena. Recognisable enemies like Tokka and Rahzar also make an appearance courtesy of Tempestra, a villain I’m not actually familiar with but who spawns them in to burp debilitating gas and roll around in a spiked shell and to distract you from attacking her when she’s not protecting herself with a burst of electricity. Shredder reprograms Metalhead to fight you in an electronics shop in the Silicon Alley episode, where he attacks with extendable arms and is accompanied by a bunch of Mousers, General Traag awaits in Balamphon after a descending elevator sequence, shielding himself with a piece of wall panel and blasting at you with a huge bazooka, and one of my favourite TMNT enemies, Slash, stalks you from the jungles of Dimension X and attacks you outside the ruins of the Technodrome, flying in a bladed whirlwind, causing boulders to rain down (and even throwing one at you), and spinning about in a shell attack. There are also a few other somewhat more obscure (at least they were to me) bosses to battle: Groundchuck and Dirtbag attack together, shooting spiked projectiles and digging under the ground to attack with a shovel, respectively; Wingnut battles you in the skies above New York, dashing about at high speeds and firing missiles at you while Foot Soldiers come hovering in (though you can just focus on him for a relatively easy win); Captain Zorax of the Triceratons fights you in the Natural History Museum, blasting at you and ordering a herd of Triceratons to try and flatten you like a pancake; and Chrome Dome confronts you in Balamphon, proving completely invulnerable to conventional attacks and requiring you to fling Foot Soldiers at him when the screen shifts to his first-person perspective in a call-back to the final battle against the Shredder from the original arcade game.

Besting Krang leads to you clashing swords with the Shredder and a true test of your skills.

Speaking of the Shredder, he crops up here and there in cutscenes and to sic enemies and bosses after you but won’t actually be fought until the final Episodes of the game. Each time, you must get through Krang first, who also appears (in pieces, in his little walker, or as a floating brain) throughout the story mode as Shredder’s henchmen try and reassemble his disparate parts. After fighting through pretty much every single previous enemy in the Outworld Hideout episode, you’ll fight against Krang in his robotic body. This isn’t too bad as long as you avoid his kick when up close and it’s pretty easy to dodge his mace-like punch from across the screen, but it gets a bit tricky when Krang splits into two parts; his feet stomping and kicking and his torso hovering around and firing lasers. You’ll have to face the Shredder immediately afterwards as well, with the armoured ninja slashing at you up close, flinging you away with a burst of electricity, and duplicating himself for three times the danger and with only one of his doubles being the right one. Once they’re defeated, Krang takes control of the Statue of Liberty and you face his gargantuan form atop a ruined rooftop, not unlike similar massive battles from other beat-‘em-ups and fighting games; your attack range is limited here as Krang smashes his fists and sends you flying with a shockwave, fires a devastating mouth laser, and turns Lady Liberty’s head into a cannon that targets you with an explosive bolt. Foot Soldiers will also swarm into the small platform you’re on, but it’s not massively difficult to pummel Krang up close and avoid his shots to take him out once and for all. Back on the city streets, the Shredder will once again transform into his ultimate form, the hulking Super Shredder, for the final battle of the game; Super Shredder is completely invulnerable and dashes about leaving a trail of flames in his wake. He can also teleport, grab and slam you, and send out waves of flames that you can somewhat easily avoid by staying in the corner furthest from him. He then unleashes an electrical sphere attack that also shields him as his shadowy doubles fire projectiles from the four corners of the screen, but he will eventually succumb to the mutagen’s debilitating effects and be rendered vulnerable for a very short period of time, allowing you to land a quick combo (but be sure to backflip away before he slashes you with a shadowy duplicate).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Each character comes equipped with their own signature weapons, from Leonardo’s double katana to Casey’s array of sporting paraphernalia, all of which can be utilised with your combos and other attacks, though this does mean that there are no opportunities to pick up and throw weapons so you’ll have to settle for attacking parts of the environment to help you out in a pinch. Onscreen hazards like spikes, electrical bolts, falling lights, and laser turrets can often damage enemies as well, so it’s worth manoeuvring them to be damaged by these, but there are a couple of pick-ups you can find throughout the game, too. Pizza will replenish your health (and you won’t pick it up if you’re at full health, meaning it’s harder to screw over your friends) so be sure to grab that but there are two other pizzas you can get, too; one will grant you an endless Ninja Power gauge for about ten seconds and another sends you into a frenzy, devastating all onscreen enemies with a super special attack. It’s worth playing through as each character as well as they’ll level-up and gain better meters and additional moves, increasing your chances of success on other modes and difficulties.

Additional Features:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge has thirty Achievements on offer, with six awarded simply for playing through the story mode. You’ll get Achievements for playing with friends, too, including reviving and high fiving them, and for performing a number of combo attacks. Achievements can also be earned for clearing the “Arcade” mode on higher difficulties and without continues, for defeating the Rat King as Splinter, and for clearing the game as every character, as well as powering each character up to the max and flinging enemies at the screen. Each Episode also comes with three challenges for players to aim for; these range from finishing the stage without taking damage, performing certain moves, or not doing certain things and will add to the points you earn upon completion to aid with your levelling-up. Once complete, you don’t need to worry about redoing these challenges on each playthrough, but it would’ve been nice to see new challenges loaded in each time to help level-up other characters on subsequent playthroughs. Once you clear the game’s story mode, you’ll unlock Casey Jones as a playable character, and you can replay your completed file at any time. Most of the game’s Episodes are also hiding a recognisable TMNT side character, such as the four Punk Frogs or the Neutinos, who’ll then appear on the world map and task you with finding certain items in each Episode (newspapers, bugs, VHS tapes, and crystals); finding all of these will award you extra points to level-up and some Achievements, though they’re pretty easy to find on a casual playthrough. The game allows for local and online co-operative play and is at its most challenging on “Arcade” mode, but sadly doesn’t have too much in the way of unlockables; there are no extra skins or colour palettes (which is a shame as I would’ve liked to see a black and white mode akin to the Mirage Comics or Slash included as a playable character), no versus mode, no boss rush, no gallery or concept art, and the only way you can currently get a physical copy of the game is to get one of the extremely limited and expensive copies offered by Limited Run.

The Summary:
I’ve always been a massive fan of sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups and have long lamented how so many of the classic titles are denied to us on modern consoles due to being discontinued or licensing right and such, and this is true of a great many of the TMNT videogames (at least, for now…) so to see the Heroes in a Half-Shell make such a spectacular, unexpected, and welcome return to form is truly a delight to see and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was a no-brainer purchase for me. Everything about the game is a love letter not just to the beat-‘em-up titles of the past but to the cartoon and the franchise as a whole; there are enemies, vehicles, bosses, and references to the movies, the comics, and the vast toy line all over the game, but the decision to bring back the cartoon’s voice cast and stick closely to the aesthetic and lore of the popular animated show just adds to the charm and nostalgia of this title. Even better, the added combat options and variety offered by the characters and stages really helps to keep things from getting repetitive; the sheer personality, allure, and cartoony humour etched into Shredder’s Revenge helps to keep the game fast-paced and action-packed from start to finish. The added extras like finding items for some of the TMNT’s supporting characters and offering an extra level of challenge in the “Arcade” mode are welcome additions to help keep you coming back for more, though it’s a shame that more of the additional modes and features from Streets of Rage 4 weren’t included (though I wouldn’t rule out some downloadable content in the future). Ultimately, Shredder’s Revenge proved to be a wonderfully enjoyable throwback to the bygone era of beat-‘em-up TMNT videogames; the presentation, combat, and gameplay was all top notch, offering a fun-filled, action-packed experience that lovingly pays homage to one of the greatest cartoon and toy franchises of the eighties.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Did you enjoy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge? Which of the playable characters was your go-to and what did you think to the original voice cast returning? Did you enjoy the many references and homages to the cartoons and videogames? Which of the stages or bosses was your favourite? Would you like to see more characters and modes added to the game in the future? What are some beat-‘em-ups you’d like to see make a comeback? Whatever your thoughts on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, feel free to sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [DK’s Day]: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

In 1981, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo R&D1 created Donkey Kong, an arcade title that was not only one of the earliest examples of the platform genre but also introduced gamers everywhere to two of Nintendo’s most recognisable characters: Mario and Donkey Kong. Mario, of course, shot to super stardom but today’s a day to celebrate everyone’s favourite King Kong knock-off and to say: Happy birthday, Donkey Kong!

Released: 24 May 2013
Originally Released: 21 November 2010
Developer: Monster Games
Original Developer: Retro Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, and Nvidia Shield (Original Version)

The Background:
After establishing a foothold in the United States with Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D1, 1981), which was a financial and critical success, Nintendo quickly went on to capture the home console market with the Nintendo Entertainment System. While their moustachioed mascot, Super Mario, was at the forefront of this, Donkey Kong wasn’t completely forgotten as the character continued to be featured in sequels and spin-offs during the NES’s life. However, legendary British developers Rare breathed new life into the cantankerous ape with the Donkey Kong Country series (Rare, 1994 to 1996), a series of sidescrolling platformers released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) that expanded upon Donkey Kong’s cast of characters and pushed the SNES hardware to its limits with their revolutionary pre-rendered graphics. After years of being relegated to guest appearances and spin-offs, Donkey and Diddy Kong returned to prominence at the specific request of DK’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, with Retro Studios brought in to create a nostalgic throwback title for the Nintendo Wii. Donkey Kong Country Returns was met with generally favourable reviews and sold nearly five million copies by the end of March 2011. This, potentially, led to Nintendo commissioning a revamp of the title for their new 3DS console, which included additional game modes and levels alongside the 3D feature, and saw equally strong reviews and sales.

The Plot:
The evil Tiki Tak Tribe emerge from an erupting volcano and immediately set about hypnotising the inhabitants of Donkey Kong Island to steal Donkey Kong’s beloved bananas. Enraged at the loss of his coveted banana hoard, DK once again teams up with Diddy Kong to travel across the length and breadth of the island to retrieve his bananas and defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe’s leaders.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a 2.5D action/platformer in which players take control of the titular ape Donkey Kong and travel across nine worlds to collect his beloved bananas and defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe. As with all Nintendo 3DS titles, players have the option of adjusting the game’s 3D effects, which pop out at players during certain situations and provide a great deal of depth to the game’s vibrant stages but, also as with all 3DS games, I chose to keep the 3D option turned down because I find it distracting. Fans of the original Donkey Kong Country might be disappointed to discover that they can only play as Donkey Kong this time around; rather than using a tag team mechanic and switching between Donkey and Diddy Kong at any time to make use of their unique abilities, players are stuck as Donkey Kong and Diddy is relegated to merely a supporting role, buffing your health and forward roll and providing a very limited hover boost with his jetpack. The only way you can play as Diddy (who is apparently faster and can stun enemies with his Popcorn Gun) is if you happen to have a friend to play with in two player mode; otherwise, you’re stuck with Donkey Kong.

Pound, cling, and swing your way over endless bottomless pits and death traps.

Donkey Kong is a bit of a lumbering beast; as he moves, he gains momentum which allows him to go faster and jump higher (he also jumps higher the longer you press the A or B button) but he’s also quite large and cumbersome, which not only makes his hit box quite big but also means it can be pretty difficult to pull off the tight platforming and jumps the game requires. DK can attack enemies by rolling into a ball with L or R when running, pounding the ground or other objects when standing still with L or R, and grabbing and throwing barrels with Y or X. By pressing down and L or R, he’ll also blow out a puff of air which can be used to blow out fires, flaming enemies, or stir up parts of the environment to find secrets and you’ll also be asked to mash L and R at certain points in mini quick-time events to earn extra rewards. Your main aim in every stage is to travel from the left side of the screen to the right and reach the Slot Machine Barrel that awaits you at the end of each stage. This is easier said than done, however; Donkey Kong is tasked with pulling off some tricky jumps and platforming in order to clear each stage and you’ll have to search high and low, passing through hidden areas and smashing through blocks, to uncover every collectible, often at the risk (or cost) of a life. Each stage except for at least one contains a couple of checkpoints, where you’ll respawn after dying. If you die while partnered with Diddy, you’ll respawn without him; however, while you’ll also have to reacquire any KONG letters you collected before you died, your total banana and Banana Coin count carries over and both of these can also be collected again so you can stock up on each and replenish your lives a little faster.

Once again, the Kongs blast across stages using barrels and runaway mine carts.

You’ll definitely need to take advantage of this as the game is very demanding and incredibly frustrating at times, requiring you to bounce off enemies, swing from vines, and cling to ceilings, walls, and rotating platforms in order to progress. Two of Donkey Kong Country’s principal gameplay mechanics also make a return here: Barrel blasting and mine carts. You’ll find two types of barrel cannons in the game, one which launches you when you choose and one which launches you automatically. While barrels often blast you into the background and towards secret areas, they’re just as likely to be moving, requiring you to time your shot to reach other stationary or moving barrels, which becomes harder and harder as you’re faced with collapsing platforms, pillars, and other obstacles that will cause instant death. The mine carts are even worse, though; these will race ahead uncontrollably and unceasingly, requiring split second jumps on your behalf to reach collectibles, clear gaps and obstacles, or reach vines and grassy verges. These sections become incredibly frustrating and unfair when you’re required to jump at precisely the right moment with the exact amount of control and timing to avoid instant death spikes, duck under low ceilings, or hop over enemies; hit anything in these stages and it’s instant death, regardless of how much health you have, which I find to be incredibly unreasonable considering Diddy can boost your maximum health up six hearts.

The Rocket Barrel is just one of the many clunky mechanics you’ll struggle with in the game.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re also required to jump on to a Rocket Barrel for similarly frustrating and difficult chase sequences that see you flying horizontally (and, eventually, vertically) through a stage while stalactites and rocks fall from above, obstacles rise from below, and enemies and projectiles fly at you. While you have more control over the Rocket Barrel compared to the mine cart, it’s extremely imprecise and slippery; you must tap or hold A to maintain just the right amount of height, which can be extremely difficult when you’re forced to pass through narrow, often collapsing and winding, passageways, and it’s far too easy to lose a life because your hit box is so big and enemy explosions tend to linger onscreen just long enough to knock you from your precarious perch. It’s no wonder the game constantly encourages you to take a break with sections such as these, which only exacerbate the abundance of temporary platforms, bottomless pits, and instant death traps that fill every single stage of the game.

Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one area that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D excels, its in its presentation; a far cry from the digitised graphics of its original incarnation, the game is a colourful, vivid 2.5D adventure that pops out even without the 3D effect. Donkey and Diddy Kong are pretty big and lively protagonists full of little quirks and characteristics, if a bit stilted at times, and their enemies are quite varied and zany. The game’s worlds and stages are pretty varied but nothing that hasn’t really been seen before in previous and similar titles: you’ll swing through a jungle, blast across a beach, smash your way through some ancient ruins, race through a crumbling cave, clamber through a forest, avoid the murky mud of the bone yard that is the cliff, barrel through a factory, and dodge rising lava inside of an active volcano.

Very occasionally, gameplay and stages are varied by unique lighting and effects,

The game is pretty good, whoever, at mixing and matching gameplay mechanics from each world into another; so, you might have to dodge past collapsing pillars in the jungle but you’ll also find collapsible hazards in the cliff stage. Similarly, mine carts and Rocket Barrels appear invariably throughout each world and you’ll be asked to swing from vines and cling to grassy verges across the entire game. While each world has a unique theme and varies up the gameplay quite a bit, the emphasis is always on platforming and various methods of jumping and traversing the environment. This means that you won’t find any underwater stages in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, which would be a good thing but it results in water being an instant death hazard and replaces such mechanics with tiny, crumbling platforms, chase sequences, high speed jaunts on runaway mine carts or rocket-powered barrels, and precarious jumps over bottomless pits, beds of spikes, or bubbling lava as you hop from one tiny platform to another or ride a slowly deteriorating egg shell across a dangerous landscape. Other times, you’ll rush down water slides or have to outrun a giant Squeekly or stages are rendered entirely in silhouette or filled with a thick fog that limits your field of view and helps to mix up the presentation, though these instances were few and far between in hindsight.

The cinematics hold up really well but, for the most part, cutscenes use the in-game engine.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D tells its incredibly simple story through the employment of pantomime-like cutscenes that are beautifully brought to life through some sadly underused high quality cinematics. When entering a stage or approaching a boss, the in-game graphics take over to show the Kongs encountering the next leader of the Tiki Tak Tribe and each of these can be skipped at any time, which is useful. When you visit Cranky Kong’s shop, the wizened Kong will offer tips and instructions on his wares through the use of speech bubbles and the game also features numerous remixes of classic Donkey Kong Country tunes, such as “DK Island Swing”, which help lend a sense of legitimacy to the title as a continuation of those 16-bit games.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being that the Kongs are going up against an entirely new antagonist force this time around, they are fittingly faced with a slew of new enemies that replace the Kremlings of the classic games with such bizarre foes as sentient bongo-bongo drums that also resemble owls or are engulfed in flames that they toss your way. You’ll also have to hop or, or roll into, crab-like Snaps and Pinchly, Frogoons, bat-like Squeeklys, the parrot-like Awk and Rawk, and the voracious Toothberrys. When in the mines, you’ll have to contend with a variety of moles (who race at you in mine carts of their own or toss bombs your way), jump over massive sharks that leap out of the water in the ruins, avoid being splattered by indestructible octopus tentacles, and bop on the heads of a number of skeletal or wacky robotic enemies when exploring the quagmire of the cliff stage or the mechanical mayhem of the factory, respectively.

Patience is the key to defeating Mugly and the Scurvy Crew.

Of course, eight worlds means eight different bosses to face; before you tackle each one, you’ll get to smash open a DK Barrel and I highly recommend that you take advantage of this as Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D’s boss battles can be quite laborious. The first boss you face, Mugly, is a giant toad-like creature that likes to charge or jump at you from one side of the arena to the other, producing shockwaves in the process. He also protects himself from attack with a row of spikes on his back, meaning your window of opportunity to jump on his back is limited to when the spikes are retracted or the times when he knocks him self silly. The second boss, the Scurvy Crew, is comprised of three crabs that you must jump on when their claws are down or roll into when they’re up. Though they also form a three-tiered totem, you’ll continue using this tactic but they move much faster as the fight progresses and it just seems never-ending at times, which can lead to you making stupid mistakes.

Stu is a walk in the park compared to getting to, and fighting, Mole Miner Max.

To clear the ruins stage, you’ll have to battle Stu (no relation…), a massive, cracked out bird that protects itself with a cauldron. Stu alternates between trying to dive bomb you and tossing bombs into the arena, which you must grab and throw back at him while watching out for the shockwaves caused when he drops a big missile into the arena and the fire that spreads from his incendiary bombs. The big boss of the cave stage is Mole Miner Max but, to reach him, you must first survive his gruelling mole train, jumping over or ducking under axe projectiles (without moving forward or backwards or else you’ll die because of the train’s momentum and physics), and tossing bombs away before they can hurt you. Max himself isn’t too difficult (it’s reaching him that’s the tricky part!) as you can pre-empt where he will appear to bop him on the head, just be sure to avoid standing on the mine carts when they sparkle or else you’ll be thrown to your death!

Bosses will test your wits, reaction times, and require both patience and strategy to defeat.

One of the more frustrating boss battles is against the Mangoruby; this boss requires a far less direct approach as you must cling to the circular platforms dotted around the arena and pound the five triangular switches on each one to get past the Mangoruby’s electrical field. You must then frantically chase it down (preferably without falling to your death) and jump on its back (not its horned head) before the switches reactivate and while avoiding the bombs it eventually drops into the arena. Afterwards, you’ll battle Thugly, who is very similar to Mugly and charges and jumps at you. This time, you need to jump over him at the last possible second and then quickly roll under his jump attack, avoiding the shockwaves he produces upon landing while also dodging rocks that rain down from above, his flame breath, and his fireball projectiles. Thugly gets faster and more aggressive as the battle progresses down the arena and can only be damaged when his protective plates slide back (but, again, watch out as these also glow red hot!)

Before you can even reach the final bosses, you’ll endure a tough Rocjet Barrel section.

Before you can even reach the Stompybot 3000 (and the final boss), you first have to beat a Rocket Barrel section, which requires split second timing on your behalf to avoid the obstacles and moving hazards that appear just off-screen for maximum annoyance. The Stompybot 3000 is another of the game’s more frustrating bosses because of how random it is; you need to stay away from it as it clomps around the arena and roll under it when it leaps into the air (but only when the little flap opens up, otherwise you’ll get hurt), then cling to the bottom of it to deal some damage. Once its legs are broken off, it’ll start dropping BuckBots into the arena that you can attack to try and get some health back. You’ll have to grab on to the green chains to deal further damage to the machine, though, which will also spit flames into the arena if you take too long and try to crush you if you hold on for too long.

The game’s final boss, Tiki Tong, is the most challenging boss battle of the entire game.

Easily the toughest boss of the game, though, is the final boss, Tiki Tong; as mentioned, you must endure a gruelling Rocket Barrel section to even reach this boss, which will most likely leave you with few lives or exhaust your inventory so you lose the much needed edge of Cranky’s items in the battle. Additionally, if you die while fighting Tiki Tong, you respawn right before the final fight but without Diddy, making it even tougher! Tiki Tong first tries to slap and crush you with its hands, which must be ducked under, rolled away from, or jumped over (when they’re at the far side of the arena) to avoid damage. When you dodge its downward slam, quickly jump on the jewel to damage and, eventually, destroy each hand (grabbing any wayward hearts you see in the process) and Tiki Tong will start attacking with its big, stupid head by spitting out Flaming Tiki Buzzes that will home in on you and basically blanket the arena, giving you the smallest window to avoid being hurt (the rare hearts that appear during this time are also on fire and you have very little time to wait or blow them out). Tiki Tong also crashes to the ground, producing a shockwave that you must jump over in a desperate attempt to bop the big red button on its head; miss-time your jump, though, and you’ll simply bounce harmlessly off the button for maximum frustration and the boss also increases in speed and aggressiveness as the fight drags on, giving you less and less time to hit that weak spot and crush it with the Moon when you finally do defeat it.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore each of the game’s stages, you’ll find a multitude of collectibles that will aid your quest: hearts will restore one unit of your health, red balloons will award you with an extra life, and DK Barrels will see Diddy join your side. Of course, you’ll also find a number of bananas in each stage; collect one hundred of these and you’ll also be awarded with an extra life but you can also find Banana Coins to spend in Cranky Kong’s shop, Puzzle Pieces to unlock artwork in the game’s Gallery, and KONG letters that must be collected in every stage to unlock a hidden temple for each of the game’s worlds. It pays to explore and experiment with your surrounds, too, as you can find more bananas and Banana Coins by blowing flowers or windmills or by smashing blocks and chests. KONG letters, deposits of bananas and Banana Coins, and Puzzle Pieces can often be found hidden behind parts of the environment, too, as can hidden bonus stages that see you hopping across moving platforms or using barrels to collect everything in the enclosed arena within a time limit to earn extra lives and Puzzle Pieces.

Use Cranky’s items or hop on Rambi to help you out, or just sit back and activate Super Kong.

The Banana Coins you find can be spent in Cranky’s Shop; the elderly Kong has a range of items for sale that can be added to your inventory before the start of each stage. You can equip up to three different items at a time (though some are locked out of certain stages) and these can be incredibly useful, especially in the game’s more frustrating sections. You can purchase an extra heart piece, make yourself temporarily invincible (which actually gives you three extra hit points), spawn in a DK Barrel, and/or protect your mine cart or Rocket Barrel from one hit. You can also purchase green balloons, which will save you when you fall down bottomless pits, hire out Squawks the Parrot to alert you to nearby secrets, or buy a Map Key to unlock an extra stage in each world that can provide a shortcut to the boss. Since the game lacks any underwater sections, the only one of DK’s animal friends to make a return is Rambi, who can charge through special blocks, beds of spikes, and through enemies without fear. You can mount and dismount Rambi at any time and even use Diddy’s jetpack boost to help you plough through stages but he does make the already finicky platforming sections even more troublesome. If you die repeatedly in a stage, you’ll also be given the option (from your last checkpoint), to activate “Super Kong”; in this mode, a white version of Donkey and Diddy Kong will play through the stage or tackle the boss on your behalf. While this allows you to clear any areas that are causing you to rage quit and progress to new stages and worlds, you won’t get to keep any of the collectibles Super Kong picks up and the level won’t appear as completed on the main map screen so you’ll always know that the game bested you.

Additional Features:
Being an expanded version of Donkey Kong County Returns, Donkey Kong County Returns 3D contains everything that was available in the original Wii game plus a few extras. You’re given three save slots to play around with and are asked to pick between two game modes right from the start: “Original”, which plays exactly the same as the Wii version, and “New”, which grants players an additional heart, reduces the cost of items in Cranky’s shop, and allows you to purchase (for the low, low price of fifty Banana Coins each) eight Rare Orbs to enter the Golden Temple rather than forcing you to collect every KONG letter to access this stage. The Golden Temple transports players to the new world, Cloud, where you can take on eight additional stages, each one modelled after the game’s existing levels, before tackling the ninth and final stage, which is, without question, the game’s toughest and most frustrating challenge yet.

Take on the Golden Temple and try to not rage quit when playing the final level.

This stage takes place high in the clouds and, thus, entirely over a bottomless pit and sees you hopping from precarious fruit-based platforms without the aid of any checkpoints. Green balloons and Diddy Kong are a must to clear this stage, which had me tearing my hair out on more than one occasion thanks to DK’s lumbering jump, awkward controls, and the minuscule or slippery platforms that comprise the arena. Clear this final stage, though, and you’ll unlock the delights of the game’s Mirror Mode. However, only a madman would put themselves through the demanding torture of tackling every single stage all over again…but in reverse and with only one heart and no help from Diddy or Cranky’s items. You can also tackle a time attack after clearing each stage and are pushed to find every single KONG letter and Puzzle Piece to not only unlock all the artwork in the Gallery but also achieve 200% completion (because, yes, you need to find everything in Mirror Mode, too) but, if you can do all that, then you’re much more skilled and patient than I am as I tapped out after clearing the Cloud world.

The Summary:
I had high hopes for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D; being a SEGA kid growing up, I’ve only had partial exposure to a lot of Nintendo’s best titles from the 8- and 16-bit era but I’ve always had a fondness for Donkey Kong Country and tried on numerous occasions to give at least the first game a full playthrough. There’s no denying that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D looks and sounds fantastic; the 3D is implemented quite well and the game is very vibrant and full of quirky, cartoony appeal that is decidedly at odds with the game’s absolutely horrendous difficulty curve. Donkey Kong is just so slow, clunky, and clumsy; when forced to outrun instant death traps or jump to small, temporary platforms, he struggles to get his big ass in gear and you’ll be fighting with the game’s awkward, slippery controls and frame-perfect demands as often as the split second timing and trial and error of the gameplay. Not being able to freely switch to Diddy was a massive disappointment as it takes away a lot of the appeal of the game for us single players and, ultimately, despite some fun visuals and moments sprinkled throughout, I found the game to be more of a chore to get through than anything that simply required me to throw myself at its toughest sections over and over to barely squeeze past rather than actually enjoying the whole experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D? If you played the original, how do you think this enhanced/portable version holds up? Did you also struggle with the game’s finicky controls and demanding difficulty or were you able to overcome the challenge without much trouble? Were you disappointed that the tag team mechanic and other recognisable elements of Donkey Kong Country were dropped? Which of the Donkey Kong Country games is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Donkey Kong’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Donkey Kong, sign up to leave them below or share them on my social media.