I don’t have time to play so many games, I’m only one person. Maybe, since I’m a Games Journalist, I can review a game without completing it or knowing too much backstory about it. So here’s a few games which didn’t make the cut due to my inability to focus and play one game at a time.
Ninja – Shadow of Darkness
Ninja is a 1998 Playstation 1 game by Core Design, of Tomb Raider fame. A mediocre 3D brawler, like Streets of Rage but isometric and with some platforming. The lack of analog movement is more annoying that anything else about it, but the shallow combat mechanics come pretty close. It’s not fun enough to make me want to keep playing, so I just turn on invincibility mode and-
HOLY FUCK YES I AM THE SKELETON KING
NO BONES ABOUT IT THIS IS A BONE-A FIDE MASTERPIECE
GOT A BONE TO PICK WITH THESE FUCKERS
THINK I’LL THROW YOU A BONE
CRUSTACEANS! YOU ARE SO BONED
The game is actually still fairly difficult, since you can die from falling off ledges and enemies will knock you down (despite not taking damage). I don’t recommend Ninja – Shadow of Darkness at all. There are better games to play.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Survival horror was at its peak in the 90s, and interest for the genre was waning by the early 00s, but that didn’t stop Silicon Knights from making Eternal Darkness. Exploration is key in survival horror games, which is usually the key to finding keys. In ED, you explore a mansion, solve puzzles, and look at spooky things, but all combat is missing. That’s because every once in a while you’ll find a book that transports you to an event in a past life. This is where the real combat and survival horror is, for most of the game. Each of these chapters make up a family tree of past encounters with the plot of the game, bookended by the exploration and puzzle bits in the present day. The chapters are short enough to keep you from getting lost in the story, but long enough to be distinct and memorable. Each chapter is like its own self-contained story, complete with good old fashioned survival horror gameplay. Backtracking is almost completely reserved for the intermissions, which, even then, is very mild.
Another cool feature of ED is its sanity meter: let it fall too low, and you’ll start seeing weird shit. The meter can be recovered by finishing off enemies, or by using spells. Spells are also an interesting inclusion, since it works congruent to adventure game interaction. Most survival horror games require you to investigate items, combining them or using them in creative ways. Magic in ED can also be combined, to form “sentences” based off an alignment, verb, and noun. It feels kind of guess-and-check, but the spells aren’t always used as keys, since you can craft combat and restorative spells.
It may not be on the same level as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but Eternal Darkness is a neat game that any fan of survival horror should check out. Sadly, there was only ever one released on Gamecube, and all hope for a sequel were recently snuffed out. The developers still want to make a sequel or spiritual successor, so something could happen, but probably not.
Tecmo’s Deception – Invitation to Darkness
Tecmo’s Deception is a 1996 Playstation 1 game about traps. It’s a game I want to enjoy but is loaded with so many flaws that I can do nothing but complain. Even writing this review made me cringe thinking that I’ll have to play this game in order to get screenshots.
Right when you start the game, it tells you that it requires 9 blocks of space on the memory card. This doesn’t sound too bad, surely that’s not a lot for the time, right? Wrong. Some of the biggest games on the system, like Gran Turismo 2 require 4 blocks, and that’s the high end of the scale. The vast majority of Playstation 1 games only used 1 block, MAYBE two. 9 blocks make up more than half of a 15-block memory card, so you’re already being asked to make a sacrifice just to be able to play this game. Such a large save file means it’s no surprise that, when you go to save or load your file, there’s a painfully long wait. Loading from the disc for parts of the game is also frequent, but it’s accessing the memory card which is unacceptably painful. Full disclosure, I played this on an emulator, so I’m not sure exactly what the save/load times are on real hardware, but I can’t imagine it’s any faster with the technical limitations.
This game is kind of a first person tactical RPG, if that makes any sense. As the story goes, you are sentenced to death for some crime you didn’t do, so in order to get out and get revenge, you strike a deal with the devil. You become the owner of a castle, and are given free reign over anything inside of it. Since the old abandoned castle is the subject to rumors of treasure, lots of adventurers show up looking for sweet booty. Once they’re inside, it’s your job to torture, and either kill or capture them. But you can’t fight with your body, so you need to rely on more creative means: traps.
This is an awesome premise, but the execution is far from that. Triggering traps is a bit of a hassle, since you have to look at the trap and then press a button, and sometimes the game doesn’t want you to select that trap. Once you trigger it, there’s a windup which always feels too long, before the trap deals its damage. The enemy must be exactly on the tile where the trap is while it’s dealing damage, otherwise the trap misses. Again, a seemingly good mechanic, but there’s no good way to predict where the enemy will be after that windup time. If all the traps triggered immediately, it would be a much more satisfying and effective form of combat, that could be developed upon with further mechanics. But it’s not satisfying, so the mechanics don’t really develop any more than that. This is a good example for why more quality-of-life improvements are always good. If Resident Evil 4 didn’t give the player the ability to aim freely, like the RE games before it, about 90% of the game would have to be removed. Just adding that one improvement (and changing the camera angle) completely changed the tone and direction of the series. But that’s another article for another time.
Oh, and if you miss a trap, you won’t be able to trigger it again. Sounds pretty balanced, punishing the player for being careless, all that good stuff. But then you have to set another trap, which is done by going to a specific room in the castle and looking at a loading screen. The interface isn’t too bad, but setting traps is not enjoyable. You set a trap on a grid, and then a big green box appears around it. You can’t set traps too close to other traps; God forbid you might have fun with this game. So you spread all of these traps across the map, with the assumption that maybe they’ll be useful, and the hope that you’ll be able to complete the mission without having to set these traps again.
And in those menus you’ll find the one redeeming aspect of this game: editing the layout of the castle. You can edit the game map, to change how enemies move through the castle, adding shortcuts or winding hallways. Since the entire game takes place in the same place, you make it your own, familiar dungeon of death.
I have a few proposals to Tecmo of 1996. If anyone reading this has a time machine, please use it for good and deliver this message. First, let the player place traps while the game is progressing, don’t de-emphasize strategy by making tweaking the traps obtuse. Second, allow traps to be placed next to each other, and allow them to be triggered automatically. Automation would be a great improvement, since the game is already about refining your tactics to efficiently kill off invaders. There are some mechanics in place to manipulate how the enemy AI moves around the map, but they don’t do much to help your traps do their thing. So third, implement guiding the AI into the automation, and now the planning feels more like a complex flow chart than a clunky grid. Also building the castle is a good concept that should be explored further: let the player build more freely with more 3D level designs like pits, stairways, or branching paths. Finally, you should spend one year fixing the engine and those save file problems. And then since it’s 1997 play Dungeon Keeper and take inspiration from that. Got it? Good. Also tell Omega Force their first game sucks but keep giving them money.
If you’re reading this, that means the guy with the time machine is an asshole and didn’t tell Tecmo, so I’m stuck with these Deception sequels. They threw out the baby with the bathwater but at least made the next games playable. Except now you can only set 3 traps at a time, one for the floor, one for a wall, and one for the ceiling. This is incredibly limiting gameplay, but it helps you to build combo machines that deal damage without letting the guy breathe. But you shouldn’t play these games, since Deception IV makes a lot of improvements. It still doesn’t have the single castle, or the absolute freedom of the original, but you can place more traps for cooler and larger chains. There’s more strategy in Deception IV than ever, so if you have a Playstation 3, 4, or Vita, I recommend it.
I haven’t played The Darkness but if I had, it would probably be on this list
Also published on Medium.