Cotton Reboot Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s 100% cotton! The classic cute ’em up is back for a new generation of players.

When referring to videogames, the term “cult classic” gets thrown around a lot. This phrase is often used to represent a game that was largely unsuccessful but managed to gain a dedicated and passionate following. Few genres achieve cult status quite as frequently as the humble shoot ’em up, a simple style of game that cemented itself as an arcade and home console staple throughout the 80s and 90s, and continues to remain relevant decades on thanks to committed fans and developers. Within the library of shmups is a sub-genre commonly referred to the “cute-em-up” – these feature the typical bullet-blasting gameplay but instead with adorable characters and enemies, colourful visuals, and often eccentric and unusual designs.

The perfect example of a cult classic cute ’em up is none other than the classic, Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, released originally in 1991 for Japanese arcades. The game shot to popularity after its port to the X68000, a home computer released by Sharp and sold exclusively in Japan. Since this release it has remained an iconic shoot-em-up and is frequently praised by fans of the genre. Now available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, Cotton Reboot! brings this classic game into the modern age. Are updated visuals and new game modes enough to revive Cotton for a new generation of gamers? Grab your broom and let’s find out!

Story

Shmups aren’t particularly known for their deep stories, and Cotton is no exception. The story is paper thin and the game definitely knows it! The player is introduced to a brilliant young witch by the name of Nata de Cotton, who just so happens to have quite a sweet tooth. Every witch needs a familiar, and to accompany her on the adventure is a fairy called Silk, who’s as sassy as she is adorable.

Cotton has an addiction to sugar and the only cure is more sugar.

So what’s Cotton’s motivation for heading out on an epic quest? To track down delicious candy of course! She’s on a mission to find “Willows“, delicious sugary spheres to satisfy her cravings. Silk though has other ideas, as collecting them instead of eating them will lead to a legendary confectionary far greater than any others! And so the magical pair set off, with each level rewarding them with a tasty new Willow for their efforts.

Gameplay

You’ve played one shmup, you’ve played them all. Well, almost. Cotton is a pretty typical side-scrolling cute ’em up with simple yet addictive gameplay. The game takes place over several side-scrolling (and occasionally vertical-scrolling) levels, each with a mid-boss and final boss at the end of the levels. Enemies come in waves, launch a plethora of projectiles, and can be easily dispatched by Cotton’s onslaught of magical bullets. It’s very straightforward gameplay and is mostly very forgiving, allowing the game to be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

Fighting Death itself. That’s cute, right?

Upgrades can be obtained throughout each level in one of three ways: collecting fairies that fight alongside you, destroying enemies to gain experience and level up, or collecting coloured crystals that are occasionally dropped by enemies. Once a crystal appears, the player can choose to continuously attack it, which changes the crystal’s colour and its elemental attack. Those aiming for the top of the scoreboards will need to keep firing at the crystals until they turn black, giving the most points especially when chained together.

Once fully upgraded, you’re going to feel ridiculously overpowered. It’s great!

Each level is fast-paced and frantic, lasting only 5 – 10 minutes. The same goes for the bosses, as these can be defeated quickly especially when learning their attack patterns. Though the speed at which the game can be completed seems almost to be a perk of Cotton, as it’s the ideal game to pick up and smash out when you’re not in the mood to commit hours to a time-consuming ordeal. I found myself regularly playing this on lunch breaks, taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode, which suits the game perfectly.

Visuals

Whether playing in handheld or docked mode, the colourful and detailed updated visuals of Cotton Reboot look excellent against its dynamic backgrounds. Players can choose between faithful X68000 mode, which replicates the visuals from the original game to pixel perfection, or the brand new Arrange mode, with its redesigned graphics, 3D backgrounds, and 16:9 widescreen resolution. So if you’re a series veteran who prefers retro design, or more recently delving into the shmup genre and enjoying the sleek visuals of modern titles, there’s something in the Reboot to please every player.

The retro pixel art feels so ’90s but still looks excellent.

Admittedly there is a downside to playing with the game’s updated visuals. While the game runs smoothly and undeniably looks excellent, the “bonus multipliers” that regularly appear on-screen are massive and will frequently obscure the player’s view. When faced with a tight situation surrounded by hundreds of projectiles, being able to know your exact position is imperative, which becomes near impossible when the screen is covered in multipliers. It looks neat, but is mostly a hinderance.

The screen becomes absurdly crowded when activating the multiplier bonus.

Audio

No shmup would be complete without a banging soundtrack, often as frantic and fast-paced as the gameplay itself. Having been released almost 30 years ago, the music of Cotton is well and truly rooted in retro synth and early PC music, with the original composer Kenichi Hirata once again returning to oversee the music for the Reboot. Original songs have been rearranged with live instruments, face-melting guitar riffs, and funky bass riffs to create a more modern feel for these retro tracks.

Even the main menu theme is a banger.
Many of the game’s songs are super high tempo and have a magical vibe.

If you’re a fan of the Touhou series, other classic shmups, or just retro game music in general, chances are you’re going to thoroughly enjoy the music in Cotton. The game also includes all the tracks from the original release when playing in X68000 mode, which is quite interesting to hear the songs that the arranged versions have been based off.

Extras

Once the main story mode has been finished to completion, players will unlock new main characters and also a “time-attack” mode. Between the Arrange mode, X68000 mode, and time-attack, there’s a decent amount of replayability and reason enough to play through the game a few times. Though the game caters primarily to those who are proficient enough to rack up massive scores, as these are uploaded automatically to a global leaderboard. Let’s just say I’d be scrolling for a couple hours to try find mine…

Aside from these additions, there’s not much extra content to keep you coming back for more Cotton. Optional unlockables or an art gallery would have been a nice touch, but sadly nothing of the sort is available, as it overall feels like it’s lacking incentive for players who aren’t obsessed with high scores.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Cotton has truly cemented itself as one of the most beloved cult shmups of the ’90s and is revered by fans of the genre. Thankfully, Cotton Reboot is not only the best way to experience this classic cute ’em up, but also happens to be the most accessible and affordable! With fresh, detailed graphics, easily approachable gameplay, and a stellar arranged soundtrack, this is certainly a good place to start for players wanting to experience a historic piece of the genre. Although extra content is lacking, the game remains true to the original and offers an updated experience that will please both series veterans and newcomers alike.

So, why should you play it?

  • Consider yourself a shmup fan? This one’s a no brainer.
  • Vibrant updated visuals with optional classic mode.
  • Forgiving and easy for newcomers.
  • Can easily be finished in a single sitting.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • New visuals can be distracting and obscure gameplay.
  • Short gameplay might not appeal for those wanting a more in-depth shooter.
  • Don’t like silly? You probably won’t like Cotton.
  • Story about as deep as a wading pool.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Review (Nintendo Switch)

The cult classic SEGA platformer is back and isn’t kidding around.

It’s the year 1985 and videogame consoles have begun to infiltrate living rooms across the globe, marking the beginning of what many now refer to as the “Console Wars“. Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry and Super Mario was quickly becoming a common household name thanks to its simple yet addictive platforming gameplay. So what was rival SEGA to do? Give up entirely, or create an iconic platforming game of their own as competition? It wasn’t until 1991 when the Blue Blur first raced onto our screens, so who was responsible for keeping SEGA and their Master System relevant during this highly competitive period?

It was just some Kidd.
But not just any Kidd, Alex Kidd.

Whoever did the box art really must have a passion for graphic design.

His debut was in 1986 with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a side-scrolling 2D platformer featuring an expansive world, brutal difficulty, and neat upgrades like motorbikes and helicopters. Did Mario have a motorbike? No? Didn’t think so. Thanks to the popularity of this initial game, 5 further Alex Kidd games were released for SEGA systems during the following 5 years. However, 1991 marked the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog and thus the death of Alex Kidd. SEGA had essentially killed off their own character by turning their focus to another.

Alex Kidd briefly appeared in a Sonic comic

Alex Kidd had sadly faded into obscurity. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Gaming history became legend. Legend became myth. And for 30 years, Alex Kidd passed out of all knowledge…

…until, when chance came, the Kidd ensnared a new developer.

Thanks to Merge Games and JanKenTeam, this classic platformer has been revived, revitalised, and re-released on almost every console currently available! But how does a 35 year old platformer hold up by today’s standards? Is it as thrilling as it was decades ago, or has your fondness for the game been clouded by nostalgia? I’ve never played the original, no kidding, so it’s about time I get stuck into Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the very first time!

Plot

Many centuries ago, on the planet Aries, there lived a boy named Alex Kidd. For seven years he lived on Mt. Eternal studying Shellcore, an ancient art that makes one strong enough to break rocks into pieces. Kidd would even put Mike Tyson to shame with his punches! One day, as he was leaving the mountain for his spiritual homeland, he encountered a dying man who told him that the peaceful city of Radaxian was in grave danger. Before taking his last breath, the man gave Alex a piece of a map and a medallion made of Sun Stone.

What is it about old men in caves sending little kids on quests?

Alex soon learns of an evil villain by the name of Janken the Great who has overthrown the king and captured the king’s son, Egle, and his fiancé, Princess Lora. The task of rescuing the kingdom from the wrath of Janken rests upon Alex’s fists, and so he ventures toward Radaxian to defeat the three Generals and overthrow Janken to end his tirade on the Kingdom.

There are plenty of interesting characters throughout Alex’s journey, and for an 80s platforming game, Alex Kidd has far more plot than I would expect – even more than most modern games in the genre!

Gameplay

You’ve played a platforming game, right? Surely you have by now, it’s been like 40 years. Well, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is quintessential retro platforming almost unchanged, and those who have played the original game will feel as if they’ve travelled through time.

The game is split into 17 separate levels, each with a distinct theme, environmental hazards, plenty of enemies, and even some puzzles to help keep Alex’s brain as big as his fists. Each level will see Alex running, jumping, and pummelling his way towards a delicious item of food at the end of the level (you can choose between Onigiri, Burger, Fish & Chips, or a Spanish Omelette). Alex is armed with a deadly punch, numerous upgrades, and added abilities which can be purchased along the way. He’s gonna need all the upgrades you can get too, because Alex can only take a single hit!

Scissors paper rock is the only way to settle a score.

Certain levels also feature special vehicles like a helicopter, motorbike, and plane, during which the game briefly turns into a basic side-scrolling shooter. Most levels also feature a traditional boss fight at the end, and others instead end in a best-of-3 match of Jan Ken Pon (that’s scissors paper rock for all you non-weebs out there). It’s simple and fun platforming gameplay for the most part, but with a major criticism…

Alex moves like he’s been coated in detergent.
He’s slippery, floaty, and just all around awkward to control.
Like a well-oiled machine that’s been oiled just a bit too much.

I’ve played many platformers in my time, hundreds even, from the most iconic like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country to the difficult and obscure like VVVVVV or Syobon Action. Never before have I encountered a platformer whose controls I loathed quite like Alex Kidd. When trying to make precise jumps over a chasm, or even just walk up to an enemy so you can wail on it, the sheer slipperiness of the controls can make this an unnecessarily frustrating ordeal. It’s just blatantly unenjoyable at times, and I couldn’t help but blame the game for many of my failed attempts.

You’re going to make Alex die. A lot.

But I did persist through the controls, and eventually became slightly accustomed to their awkwardness. Inevitably the game became more enjoyable, and by the very end I found myself overall happy and satisfied with the experience despite these drawbacks. However, many players who do not persist through the first few levels may find themselves quitting entirely out of sheer frustration.

Visuals

While I found myself at war with the gameplay on numerous occasions, it was the visuals that kept me coming back time and time again. Some players might fondly remember the basic 8-bit graphics of the original some 35 years ago. Well guess what? They look like complete trash now. So what have Merge Games done instead? Created a brand new, gorgeous, highly-detailed pixel art style that perfectly captures the charm of every single level, character, and detail throughout the entire game. It’s without a doubt one of the most attractive platformers you’ll ever encounter. This becomes even more apparent when swapping back and forth between the DX and original visuals, which can be done as easily as pressing a single button!

Hmm, I’m not sure I can see the difference…

Having played both in handheld mode and on a big ol’ 4K OLED TV, I can confidently say every single aspect of the game looks brilliant on either. Even the simple, vibrant cartoony design of the characters really pops and seems to suit the rest of the visuals perfectly. Honestly, I would recommend playing this simply based on visuals alone.

Audio

Like 8-bit visuals, chiptunes too are a thing of the past. While Alex Kidd DX has not done away with them entirely, the majority of the iconic tunes have been rearranged, recomposed, and performed acoustically by a freelance composer and sound designer by the name of Bibiki Garcia. His arrangements of the old chiptunes sound refreshing, vibrant, and incredibly upbeat. Using mostly acoustic instruments like guitar, ukelele and mandolin, as well as melodica and simple vocals to convey a pleasant, childish and carefree style, the soundtrack has been completely modernised and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

The music for the first level, Mt. Eternal.

Interestingly, some parts of the game retain the chiptune audio aesthetic. Most boss fights and intense moments revert to traditional chiptunes with a modern touch of drum and bass added. It’s a nice homage to the original music, and contrasts with the lighter, more upbeat sound of the overworld.

So what’s new?

Of course some quality of life changes are needed for a 35 year old game – we’ve all become accustomed to things like save files, extra options, and accessibility over the last few decades. Thankfully there have been a number of changes in DX to bring Alex Kidd into the modern era.

Firstly, the option of infinite lives is available from the very beginning, a necessary feature for the vast majority of those wanting to complete the game. I tried several times to play without this turned on, but found myself needing to resort to it in order to progress through many difficult areas. It’s a lifeline that makes the game overall much more enjoyable. Each level also has numerous checkpoints and a save system whereby you can easily drop back in to the level where you’d left off, a luxury that was not available in the original for obvious reasons.

As mentioned above, the graphics can be reverted back to the original at any time with the press of a button, and though there’s no real gameplay advantage to this, it’s a nice touch for those who might have grown up playing the original. Once completing the game in full too, you’ll also unlock Classic Mode which is as close to playing the game on a Master System as you’ll get without blowing the dust off an old cartridge. Though strangely I feel like the controls in classic mode are more precise than DX.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that Merge Games have done a truly brilliant job in modernising this classic SEGA game and bringing it into the hands of a new generation of gamers. While those who played it all those years ago are bound to get a nostalgia kick out of DX, the decades I’ve spent playing polished platformers have spoiled me and as such there were many aspects of Alex Kidd’s gameplay that felt imprecise and tedious. Luckily, other aspects of the game such as its beautiful pixel art visuals and upbeat, rearranged soundtrack kept me hooked until the very end. While it’s not a perfect game, it’s a passion project that’s clearly been made with love for a game that is near and dear to those who grew up playing it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve played the original and have nostalgia for it.
  • Gorgeous pixel art makes your eyes happy.
  • You’re always up for a challenge.
  • Need some upbeat music? Kidd’s got you covered.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Slippery, imprecise controls often become frustrating.
  • Feels unfairly difficult at times.
  • Many other better side-scrolling platformers available.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Speed Running and Summer Games Done Quick 2021 – Primer

I’d like to take some time here to talk about something a little different today…But don’t worry, the Qualbert team will be back to review the latest games very, very soon.

If you are like me, you have a tendency to love a lot of different things relating to this pastime/hobby/way-of-life that we call gaming.

We all get a kick from the experience of sitting in front of your TV or PC and firing up a game to spend hours in the shoes of a hero exploring some far-off fantastical land, kicking a goal to with the Championship for your team or even just getting the rush of adrenaline from solving that puzzle that has been bugging you for hours.

There is a reason that gaming is now the largest and most profitable arm of the entertainment industry and it isn’t just due to Covid-19 locking many people around the world out of theatres. Even before the virus the advent of high powered devices that fit in our pockets has made gaming accessible to almost everybody. Developers have adapted and nowadays there is a game for literally everybody. Sport, first-person-shooters, puzzle games, RPGs, visual novels…yes even Candy Crush.

But, sometimes you don’t quite feel like playing a game…

Maybe you just finished that 100 hour RPG and need to let the pain of a sad ending wash over you.

Maybe you hit a road-block and just need to take your mind of that puzzle, level or boss fight.

Maybe you just don’t have anything to play right this minute.

Fortunately, due to the importance of gaming to the lives of so many people, and with the sheer abundance of content producers, there are many things available that you can do to still be doing something related to gaming without actually having a controller in your hand.

You could take a few minutes to read a review of the latest release on your favourite website (hopefully that is why you are here). If you are musically inclined, perhaps you might simply go for a walk and listen to a classic game soundtrack or two (we’ll have some articles on this topic in the near future). Or perhaps you will join the masses on Twitch and YouTube and watch other people playing a game.

I’m sure all of us have dabbled with watching gaming streamers here or there. But today I’m here to tell you about a specific subset of streamers. Indeed, a whole section of the gaming world that you may not be aware of… Speed Runners.

What is a Speed Runner?

Quite simply, a speed runner is trying to finish a game as quickly as possible.

75+ Gotta Go Fast Memes Are About Sonic The Hedgehog - GEEKS ON COFFEE

We all want to be the best at something right? Well these speed runners often spend literally thousands of hours playing the same game over and over again to shave off just a few seconds from their personal best and claim that record.

We aren’t just talking about racing games here either (though these are obviously speed run as well). Games considered the ‘most popular’ or ‘best’ games usually have a strong community – examples being Super Mario 64, Super Metroid, various games in the Zelda series and Portal 1 and 2.

There are also a batch of indie games that are extremely popular in speed running, sometimes even developed with speed running in mind – examples in this group include Super Meat Boy, Celeste, VVVVVV and Undertale.

Are there rules to speed running?

Well, maybe…it depends on the game that the speed runner is playing. Indeed, within the speed running community of any one particular game there might be multiple different rule-sets and different ‘leader boards’ of times for each type of game. Taking the example of Super Mario 64, there are the following main categories that can be run:

  • Best time 70 stars = 46 minutes and 59 seconds
  • Best 100% time (120 stars) = 1 hour, 38 minutes and 21 seconds
  • Best ‘any%’ time (0 stars) = 6 minutes and 31 seconds

The first type listed here, and the main type of speed run for most games, is the quickest run through a game without any significant glitches being used. An execution-based run using level planning and pure skill (and prayers to RNGesus) to simply beat the game as quickly as possible.

100% times typically require completing all of the elements of the game. In the case of Mario 64, collecting all 120 stars will meet the 100% requirement. Some games such as Donkey Kong Country 3 on the SNES use an internal method to calculate completion of the game which reads as ‘103%’ when all tasks are done. In that case, getting the ‘103%’ would be required.

Often an ‘any%’ name signifies an ‘anything goes’ variant of speed running. Major game-breaking glitches can be used to knock literally hours off of a standard run. In the Mario 64 example above, you can see that the standard 47 minute time is literally smashed down to only 6 and a half minutes!

Interested in watching some videos of speed runs?
Well you can simply go to speedrun.com where there are vast amounts of videos you can watch.

Want to know what happens when a game is run literally as fast as possible? Faster than human hands are capable of even playing the game?

Then maybe ‘Tool Assisted Speedruns’, or TAS for short, are what you are after.

Using emulators and software that captures inputs on a frame-by-frame basis, TAS runners are able to break a game down into chunks as short as 1/60th of a second to complete input commands into a game. TAS runners are also able to do things that would be otherwise impossible for human hands, such as pressing ‘left’ and ‘right’ on a controller at the same time. TAS runs are insane and can also be hilarious to watch.

Check out TASVideos / Front Page

But what if a speed running community gets almost ‘bored’ of the usual game. Knowing where literally every single item is and playing the best path through the game over and over again must be tiring eventually right?

Well, fear not – because Randomizers are here (and you can even play them yourself).

Randomizers are, as you probably suspect from the name, a method of randomization of items within a game. They can be very difficult to construct because ‘logic’ is required to ensure that whilst all items are placed ‘randomly’ there is still the ability to collect what you need to actually progress through the game.

In Super Metroid, for example, the morph ball is always going to be found in the first handful of items as further progression through the game without it is impossible.

Games with a ‘Metroidvania’ or Zelda style progression system are generally the best for randomizers as the pathway through the game itself will change every time. There is even an insane variant known as SMZ3 – or Super Metroid and Link to the Past Crossover Randomizer. Here there are four portals between specific places on the map in the two games, and the items from both games are randomly shuffled around both titles…craziness

For more information around SMZ3 specifically, you can go to Super Metroid and A Link to the Past Randomizer

Obviously there is a massive speed running community out there, all across the globe. Furthermore, even in the early days of YouTube and streaming, many of these runners were able to eke out a life and earn income by streaming their adventures on Twitch.

Making money from speed running? Yes.

So how can this community actually give back to the world?

Well, about 10 years ago (January 2010) a small group of runners in the US decided to set up an event to raise money for charity. Various speed runners would run their games live in a ‘marathon’ format (back to back) over multiple days without a break. Watchers were able to donate to the chosen charity through Twitch – this Annual event became known as ‘Games Done Quick‘.

The first event was relatively small and run over 3 days, but was able to raise  $10,532 (USD) for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. In 2011 the event was pushed to 5 days, and this time a total of $52,520 (USD) was again raised for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

Awesome Games Done Quick‘ as it is now known (or AGDQ for short) has continued to run every year in January over 7 or 8 days. By 2020 the event was so huge a massive $3,164,002 over the 8 days of the event alone!

Due to the success of the event by just its 2nd year, a second event was started in 2011 and has become known as ‘Summer Games Done Quick‘. This event happens in either July or August each year, with donations from ‘SGDQ’ going to Doctors Without Borders.

The wide reach of gaming has allowed the Games Done Quick team to rack up a whopping 31 million dollars (US) for the two charities since January 2010.

20190927-NGO-05110.jpg
Great work boys, that’s a big donation!

Usually the events are completed live in a function centre, and if you live in the US (or want to travel there) you can attend yourself. Obviously with COVID impacting everyone, the event has changed to an online event with each streamer presenting from their own home – though one could argue this is in fact better as more international streamers can get involved.

The time is upon us again for Summer Games Done Quick. The event will be happening from July 4th to July 11th this year. In 2021 we will get a massive 146 games, run back to back to back, over the 8 days of the event.

It isn’t just the classics here either. Yes we have the usual suspects in Super Metroid, Mario 64, and at least 3 different Zelda games. But you can also find things here that you probably haven’t ever heard of before – what is ‘Manifold Garden‘ and can I eat a ‘Jelly Drift‘??

Pokemon Emerald‘…never heard of it. Must be some niche kiddie game.

Highlights for me at each event include the ‘races’ where multiple runners will play simultaneously for victory and bragging rights. This year some of the races include Mega Man X (SNES), Castlevania 1 (NES), Resident Evil 7 (PC), and Pokemon Black/White (DS).

I’ll definitely be tuning in for the Super Metroid race on the final day – always the most hotly contested part of the event. Other games I’m looking forward to seeing include Outer Wilds, Dead Space, Shadow of the Colossus and the finale game – Kingdom Hearts 2.

You can watch the 2021 SGDQ stream live at GamesDoneQuick – Twitch

Or get more information about the event, including the full game schedule at https://gamesdonequick.com/

Gotta go fast!

Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection Review – Nintendo Switch

You’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.” – Ronald Weasley on Ghosts n’ Goblins: Resurrection (probably)

If you grew up playing video games in the ’80s or ’90s, chances are you had some exposure to the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series: a side-scrolling platformer known for its notoriously brutal difficulty, unforgiving gameplay, and protagonist Arthur who strips down to his boxers to rescue his beloved princess. What started as an arcade game (no doubt designed to chew through unsuspecting children’s quarters) eventually gained enough popularity to garner entries on almost every gaming platform ever made, as well as numerous spin-off games (including the much-beloved Gargoyle’s Quest/Demon’s Crest).

Above: the original arcade release, Ghosts ‘n Goblins on NES, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on SNES, and Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins on PSP.

Well, for those masochists out there that played the previous games and didn’t drown in a pool of their own tears, or crumble under the sheer weight of their own shame, the series has been Resurrected and finds its way onto Nintendo Switch with a brand new entry: Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection.

PLOT/PREMISE

Do you play a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for the plot? Of course not. Though they still added one anyway. Like a storybook, the game quite literally unfolds in a scroll to reveal Arthur and Princess Guinevere enjoying stroll on a grassy knoll (as royalty are oft to do), when the helpless Princess is picked up and carried away by demonic forces. Princesses have a tendency to get into situations like this, because why else would our heroic protagonist venture through so many treacherous circumstances if not for love? It’s cliché, and almost identical to all the previous games, but this doesn’t really detract from the game in any way.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox
Don’t you hate when demons steal your princess before you can even put some clothes on?

In order to save the Princess, you’re required to navigate through numerous hazard-filled levels, scattered with demonic forces who will stop at nothing to break Arthur’s armour and see him humiliated in his boxer shorts. It’s a simple premise that newcomers will find easily approachable and does not stray far from the original formula, which will please series veterans.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Map
The first few levels in the game, which kindly allow you to choose how you’re going to die.

GAMEPLAY

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And Capcom has done just that: changed very little in Resurrection. Gameplay is what you would expect from the series, with multiple challenging levels combining tricky platforming with punishing enemy placement, and massive boss fights that will have you almost throwing your controllers in frustration. Arthur can take multiple hits as his armour dismantles, however powerups are plentiful and seem strategically-placed alongside checkpoints to help you with some of the more difficult segments.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Red Arremer
Yep, the infamous Red Arremer is back too, and still as annoying as ever.

Combat is a crucial aspect of Ghosts ‘n Goblins – you are given access to 8 different weapons which are dropped at random by enemies or found in chests throughout the level. Some have significant reach like the lance, while others hit closer but deal heavy damage like the hammer, as a result you will have to choose the best weapon for your situation. You’re also locked into attacking in only four directions adding to the retro feel of the game. Though this combat might feel archaic in any other brand new game, it seems fitting for Resurrection, as the gameplay feels just as it did decades ago.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Lance
Arthur’s signature lance attack, the starting weapon in the game.

Some neat additions have been included in Resurrection, most notably its adjustable difficulty. The player can choose difficulty (Page -> Squire -> Knight -> Legend) at the beginning of a level and on the fly. After dying you’ll be prompted whether you’d like to swap to an easier difficulty. It’s nice to have the option, even if I ignored it the entire time for risk of damaging my own pride.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Fire Fox
Seriously considered turning down the difficulty for this area. But I powered on!

Levels are now scattered with Umbral Bees, which appear like floating spirits that can be collected on contact. Some of these are in very precarious locations, or require quite a bit of skill to collect. These can be spent on a literal skill tree, which will unlock attacks, passive and active abilities that can be used during gameplay. Equipping these to your Magic Waistband will unleash devastating attacks to decimate enemies on-screen, or my personal favourite which duplicates Arthur and any of his attacks.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Lightning Skill
One of the first special abilities, which launches lightning across the screen.

If you’d rather not suffer alone, you can now die alongside a friend! The addition of a co-op mode lets player two join in as one of spirits, each of which have unique abilities that can aid Arthur in his quest. It’s a simple addition, but if you’ve got somebody willing to assist, it might just give you that extra leg-up you need to overcome a tricky level.

VISUALS/DESIGN

Without a doubt the most unique aspects of the game are its visuals and artistic direction. The entire game, menus, environments, enemies and bosses are all designed as if they belong in a picture book. It can be a bit jarring for those who have played previous Ghouls ‘n Ghosts games and will likely polarise many players. While I found it to be a bit odd at first, the aesthetic soon grew on me and I eventually found it to be not only quite attractive on the small Switch screen, but very fitting considering the level design moves across like an animated scroll.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Headless Boss
The picture book-style visuals are especially noticeable during the game’s boss fights.

Where the previous games in the series have been either pixel art or quite simplistic 3D designs, the new art style of Resurrection seems to offer a refreshing take on existing characters/enemies and adds a level of detail not seen in the series.

SOUNDTRACK

If you’ve played the previous games, you’re probably more than familiar with many other songs you’ll hear in Resurrection. You’ll probably also have slight PTSD hearing them too. What’s brilliant about the soundtrack to Resurrection is how it incorporates the original chiptunes. In paying homage to many of the original songs, the actual chiptunes play at the same time alongside orchestral rearrangements of the songs. It’s almost as if you took a medieval band and a baroque orchestra and you gave them a Gameboy and said, “play this futuristic instrument.”

Most of the themes loop regularly, and you’ll hear them repeat constantly with each death, but I never found them to be grating. The composers have made music for some notable Capcom titles, including Marvel vs. Capcom, Devil May Cry and Monster Hunter. Overall it’s a short but sweet soundtrack coming in at 35 minutes, but cleverly blends chiptunes into vastly-different musical styles.

CONCLUSION

Visuals and minor changes aside, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection brings back classic retro gameplay that feels just as if it could have been released 20 – 30 years ago. Though this may not appeal to some, it’s a game that is fuelled by nostalgia and will certainly please existing fans of the series. In introducing difficulty levels that can be changed on the fly, Resurrection makes the series more approachable for those who aren’t skilled at platformers or become easily frustrated by failure.

So why should you play it?

  • You like challenging games (or are a masochist).
  • Looking for a game that can be enjoyed in short bursts.
  • You’d prefer simple, arcade-style gameplay over complex games.
  • You’ve previously played and enjoyed any of the other Ghosts ‘n Goblins titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • If you become easily-frustrated by failure.
  • You’re not a fan of retro games.
  • Not good at platformers? This is not the game for you.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition Review (PC)

A pilgrimage back to an iconic modern beat ’em up.

The year is 2010. A simpler time.

Books are overrated and don’t have enough pictures, so you’re flipping through a graphic novel:
…it’s Scott Pilgrim.
You’re at the cinema, purchasing overpriced popcorn to eat during a new movie starring an awkward Michael Cera:
…it’s Scott Pilgrim.
You get home and turn on your Xbox 360 and log onto Xbox Live, and what’s on the home screen?
…it’s Scott Pilgrim.

It was the series of graphic novels that for a brief moment in time seemed to spawn a phenomenon, and then after a year or so in the limelight almost vanished completely. The series is less about teenager Scott Pilgrim and more about his struggles against his newfound love’s Seven Evil Exes, who he must defeat in order to date her. It’s a quirky plot packed full of silly humour and pop-culture references, and became popular enough not only to justify a movie, but a tie-in videogame, and now 10 years later an enhanced version of that same game! But is it worth revisiting?

One ex to rule them all.

If you’ve played the original game, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Complete Edition, as not much has changed. It’s a port of the original game with all added DLC, along with some minor additions and quality-of-life changes, available on PS4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch/PC and… Google Stadia (I feel dirty typing that). For those that haven’t played it, it’s a retro-style beat ’em with simple controls, gorgeous pixel art, and a banger of a soundtrack. But is it worth playing considering it’s pretty much the same game?

Gameplay

In typical beat ’em up style, the gameplay is very simple: choose from a roster of characters from the series, fight swarms of enemies through seven distinct levels, and defeat one of the evil exes at the end of each level. It’s a game that’s easy to pick up and play, either through single player, local co-op, or now in Complete Edition through online co-op (which is how I played majority of the game). There’s not really much that stands out about its gameplay – characters have slightly different play styles, can be levelled up to unlock new attacks and abilities, and by spending in-game currency you can purchase food and other items to improve the characters’ stats.

Can’t put your feet up on the train seats, but fighting is perfectly fine.

Combat initially can be quite a challenge (especially if you’re a rookie to the genre like myself), as enemies easily stun-lock and swarm you without giving you a chance to fight back. Bosses are the same, but follow more of a pattern that allows you to predict and dodge their attacks. Thankfully over the course of the game you’ll have access to shops, weapons and abilities that allow you to dispatch enemies more efficiently, but it took me the majority of the game before I truly had a hang of the combat. If you have the option, I’d recommend playing the game with a friend. Not only is it significantly more fun and less gruelling than single player mode, but you also have the ability to revive allies on screen by mashing a button over their lifeless corpse.

Oh, and on the topic of lifeless corpses, at the end of every level you’re rewarded with a scene of Scott and Ramona making out (much to the disgust of their friends). And sometimes on the top of a pile of lifeless corpses is just the most romantic place.

Gross. The kissing, not the corpses.

Visuals and Style

Its style is hands down the best aspect of the game. The pixel art is vibrant and detailed, with heavy character outlines and intricate backgrounds. In reflecting the style of art from the graphic novels, the game achieves an eye-catching visual aesthetic that works incredibly well and makes the characters, enemies, and environments all stand out against each other. Although sometimes the screen can become quite busy, you’ll rarely lose track of your character thanks to this design.

Each level also has a distinct design themed around the evil ex and their hideout, with matching enemies many of which have very amusing outfits and attacks. You’ll fight through the snowy streets of downtown Toronto, defend against katana-wielding ninjas in a flaming teppanyaki restaurant, and of course fight a giant robot boss on top of a skyscraper. Many times throughout the game I found myself stopping to admire the designs of not only the levels, but some of the animations which are incredibly detailed and impressive (see below).

There are also many visual homages to other series/games, and plenty of pop culture references. For example in one of the later stages a boss battle starts with a Guitar Hero sequence. You can also purchase an Energy Tank to restore your health, and the logo looks like it’s directly ripped from Mega Man. The overworld too is a nice touch, as its retro design is clearly a throwback to the SNES classic, Super Mario World.

The overworld, or should I say, Super Mario Overworld.

Audio and Soundtrack

There’s no way I could write this review without mentioning the killer soundtrack that features in the Scott Pilgrim game. As you fight through the game’s levels and boss battles you’ll notice an intense, fast-paced blend of chiptunes and pop/rock with heaps of catchy licks. That’s thanks to New York-based chiptune rock band: Anamanaguchi. Like other bands in the Nintendcore genre of music (yep, that’s a thing) they use hardware like a Gameboy and NES to play alongside guitar, bass and drums. It’s a sound that seems to fit perfectly in the setting of the Scott Pilgrim game, and a creative way to modernise chiptunes.

To celebrate the launch of Complete Edition, the band even played the entire soundtrack live!
You can find it here: Anamanaguchi – Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game Soundtrack

What else?

In addition to the main gameplay which can be completed by yourself or with a friend, there are four other game modes. First is a boss rush mode in which you face off against every single boss in a row to challenge yourself – I found this was an easy way to revisit some of the cool moments from each boss. There are also three minigames that were introduced as part of the original game’s DLC:

Survival Horror – an endless fight against constantly-spawning zombie enemies.
Battle Royale – no, it’s not 1 v 100. It’s basically PvP and has you fighting against each other in a small arena.
Dodgeball – no weapons this time, your only attack is throwing a small ball at your opponents. Just like real life.

The DLC characters, Knives and Wallace, from the original game are also made available from the start, and there’s an added secret character that unlocks once you beat the game with the four main characters. Though unless you’re a completionist I probably wouldn’t bother with this.

So why should I play it?

  • You haven’t played the original game.
  • Cool pixel art always catches your eye.
  • You’re wanting a simple game to play with friends.
  • Chiptunes and game soundtracks are your jam.

But why shouldn’t I play it?

  • There’s nobody else for you to play the game with. 😦
  • You’ve already played the original game to completion.
  • Lengthy games are more your thing, as this can be finished in a couple hours.
  • You don’t want to download the Ubisoft PC client (if playing on PC).

A download code was provided for the purpose of this review, which was played on PC.

The Legend of Zelda Turns 35

On February 21st 1986, a brand new game called The Legend of Zelda was released in Japan for the Family Computer Disk System. More than a year later, the game was released outside of Japan for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and became the first home console game to include an internal battery for saving data directly to the cartridge. The game’s directors Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, both relatively new to creating games, unlikely realised at the time the lasting impact they would leave on the videogame industry.

Two budding young game developers: Shigeru Miyamoto (left) and Takashi Tezuka (right). (Source: Super Mario World interview, 1990)

Now thirty-five years on, the series truly has become a legend. With 19 main entries to the series spanning decades of home and portable consoles, multiple spin-off games, an animated TV series, novels and manga, and even a live-action Netflix series (which has reportedly been cancelled). Certainly Zelda has become one of the most widely-celebrated video game series of all time, and more recently the legend continues with the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD for Nintendo Switch, and the continuing development of Breath of the Wild 2.

It’s a series that has definitely had a profound impact on me; the first game I ever played and completed was Link’s Awakening for the Gameboy. Without this series I don’t think I ever would have been quite so passionate about games, and I’m sure the same goes for many of you reading this.

So what are some of your favourite memories of The Legend of Zelda? I’d love to hear from you!

Here are some of mine:

Please leave some of your favourite Zelda memories below, or reach out to me on social media.