Monday, 7 March 2016

#8: Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos

I complained to Emily so much about ESWAT that she picked another game for me to beat; it's inserting itself in my queue just before, but it doesn't replace it, so I still have to play that shitshow again soon.

Thankfully, she picked a good game, Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos, a game I originally bought purely because of the awesome Tim Follin soundtrack. It's an isometric puzzle platformer with pretty well-known difficulty, so I wasn't really sure how long it would take me to beat it. About 12 hours, it turns out.

You're dumped straight into it after a brief introduction, with no idea where to go. The game controls quite well, but it offers few clues that help you to play it; Shadax (your homie) does not have a shadow and individual tiles can be of several different heights - there are no visual cues like shading or lighting to know this. Many rooms are only beatable with trial and error. The goal of the game is to reassemble the Staff of Demnos (six pieces) and confront some evil wizard.

Aside from walking, jumping, picking up and dropping blocks, there is one other action you can take - using a potion. The four potions make you invincible, destroy all moving objects, freeze all moving objects or reveal all invisible tiles respectively. All of these effects only count for the current room. There are refills for each colour, but only a limited amount, so knowing where these are is fairly important. However, if you plan your route carefully then you'll barely need to use them.

At first I played randomly, exploring the various rooms and working out where things were. Eventually I decided that the map was too big for me to memorise, so I started making some maps on graph paper... they aren't perfectly accurate, but I was still able to gradually fill them in as I explored more. There is a missing room that I forgot to correct, but it's not overly important.

There are many extra lives scattered through the game, which you will need. There are also credits, which have a rather irritating function. These credits are essentially one-use save points; they remember your keys, staff pieces and location. If you run out of lives, you'll be transported back to the last credit you used; so if you keep dying, you lose more and more progress. It may be in your interest to skip credits early on in the game to come back to them later, despite the time loss.

I started my finishing attempt a few hours ago; I had already seen maybe 85% of the game, but the last part was by far the most difficult, relying on everything learnt until that point. One set of rooms in particular took me maybe 20 minutes to get past, because of strict timing constraints. In fact, I had no lives left for the final stretch (though there is a nearby credit) so I was anxious. Finally I prevailed, though I no idea what to do after finally completing the Staff! As a small act of mercy, the game makes you permanently invincible at this point (spikes still kill you), so I wasn't too worried. There's no final boss; a cut-scene plays and you get to listen to more awesome music.

I recorded my playthrough should you wish to watch; the video is about 55 minutes long. Emily also scanned in my maps, so you can take a look! I had to stitch these together from five A5 pages...

The upper halls; starting location is near the middle of the keep-like structure on the right
The dungeons and path to the final area (last 10 rooms or so aren't drawn)
After fucking ESWAT I have Maximo to play through, choice courtesy of SwoodDude who is currently trying to raise funds for a new computer. You should take a look at his stream, where he and some friends are currently developing an indie game!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

#6-8: SEGA Arcade Classics(?)

Not too long ago, I acquired the PS3 version of SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for Americans). I mainly bought it to play the Shining Force and Phantasy Star series, but there are many other MD games I've never really cared about on there. Emily attempted to remedy this by picking three games in a row from the collection.

The first is Alien Storm, a simple brawler that I knew little about. Unusually for the genre, it also includes numerous shooting-gallery style sections, which are a neat break from the usual gameplay, if not particularly deep. The three characters seem extremely similar, so there's not much replay value there. Health packs are scarce, so reducing damage in every situation is important. Instead, there are plenty of Energy pickups; this allows you to use your full-screen attack but it also seems to have a passive strengthening effect on your normal attacks.

The game has 8 stages; on my first attempt I reached 6 but the gauntlet of bosses followed by an autoscroller finished me off. To compromise (the only brawler I'm any good at is Golden Axe) I changed the settings down to Easy and enabled a turbo-fire option which makes the shooting galleries trivial. I'm glad I did; while it was definitely a little too easy for me, the final boss took almost 2 minutes straight turbo-fire to destroy, which would have ruined my mashing finger. In summary, a decent brawler, but nothing special.

Next up was Tip Top (Congo Bongo to some). Technically Emily didn't pick this one, but I tried it out at random and guessed it would be very short, and I was right. Essentially, it's a lot like Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., except the perspective is isometric. One slightly different mechanic is that you can either climb onto blocks or jump; climbing is slower but consistent, whereas jumping is very difficult to judge correctly and will bounce you back if you hit the side of a ledge. There seem to be miscellaneous other ways to score points, like jumping off collapsing blocks, but the main way is to just keep progressing.

There are four boards with various hazards, and the gameplay loops after the fourth, though they add more enemies and so on. You've seen this set-up before. Again, it's not a particularly stand-out game (the home versions bombed horribly for some reason) but there's nothing really wrong with it other than the terrible sound. Play it if you're bored of Donkey Kong, I guess.

Third comes ESWAT: City Under Siege. This game is aggressively terrible and you should never play it. Nothing about it is fun. It's far too difficult, the graphics and music aren't any good, and it's too long for what it is. Bizarrely for a run and gun, it's also confusing in dull ways.

No, I haven't beaten it yet. I'll add another paragraph when I do.