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December 1, 2023

Gaming Memories: Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country
Super Nintendo
November 21st, 1994 (NA)

I never owned a lot of Super Nintendo titles; if I recall, I've had maybe 10 total, and most came with the console, which had been gifted to me by cousins. I may have bought only one game for it. And as is normal for a kid given multiple new playthings at once, I eventually settled on a couple of favorites. This was one of them.

Donkey Kong's first major platform game on the SNES (and, ironically, the only "Donkey Kong Country" game of the era to feature him, as he has to be rescued in both sequels) felt like a game-changer in several ways. The 3D look given to all of the sprites made it groundbreaking as one of the first "2.5D" titles to exist. It featured not only the famous ape who famously had a beef with Mario in the earliest days of the plumber's career, but also Diddy Kong, a younger chimp clad in red, as well as a handful of additional Kongs serving as varied stops throughout this adventure.

The story? Oh, it's as simple as it gets, really; a group of villainous reptiles known as the Kremlings, led by the ruthless and kooky King K. Rool, has stolen the Kongs' banana hoard. Go kick their asses and get it back. The Kongs will help you, be it Funky Kong allowing you to travel to different areas (worlds) of Donkey Kong Island, Candy Kong saving your progress, and Cranky Kong providing tips, comedy and head-canings, grumpy old ape that he is.

I remember having such a good time with this game. A couple of stages had interesting gimmicks (not a fan of the mine carts, but the stage with the On/Off switches and the zombie-like reptiles was cool). The inclusion of animal helpers was great (Rambi, Enguarde and Expresso have a dear place in my heart; Squawk and Winky, not so much). And there were so many secrets to uncover and ways to earn extra lives - enough hidden areas that the game actually goers beyond 100% and is properly "completed" at 103%, and there's balloon lives, the KONG letters and even animal tokens to collect. The last battle against K. Rool is especially noteworthy with its famous fake-out ending, where credits start rolling too early - then the crocodile gets back up and things get serious.

It's such a great game and I have a huge nostalgic connection to it. With the gift of hindsight, I can see how it set the tone for the Donkey Kong franchise as a whole - its comedic edge, a staple of Rare, would be a part of the following entries, up to and including Donkey Kong 64 and most of the studio's other projects. It's a classic, for good reason, and definitely a must-play.

November 24, 2023

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii)

Dude never catches a break. (Note: My screenshots in this
article come from LongplayArchive's video of the
game. Go check it out!)
Jumping from a Prince of Persia game to the next, and in fact, jumping into the... uh... This is weird. The Sands of Time trilogy continues in two entries, Warrior Within released in 2004 and The Two Thrones released in 2005. However, things got meddled in this continuity with the addition of two interquels taking place between Sands of Time and Warrior Within: The first is a DS game titled Battles of Prince of Persia, while the other is today’s game, released for the Wii and other platforms on May 18th, 2010 in North America.

We know how messy Ubisoft gets with its multi-platform releases... well, The Forgotten Sands is an even stranger beast as, though it was released on many consoles and for PC, most versions follow a different story. The Wii version is no exception – so it’s possible you might have played another version and never heard this tale. Let's dig in right away and see which adventures the Prince got into before the actual sequel to his story.

A Kingdom to Call My Own

We open in the heat of action as the Prince is parkour-ing his way out of another crumbling castle. Though this time he is followed by a speaking light revealed to be a djann (a female djinn) named Zahra. Fleeing as the place falls apart, our hero must use his physical skills to make it out alive. Now that’s a great feel for a tutorial!

I swear this guy is so good at crawling up walls he
puts the Spider-Men to shame.
This is where we learn our new moves. The Prince has gotten better since his last adventure! For starters, he can climb walls from a horizontal crack (not just ledges) to another and can even climb up and down vertical cracks without any issue. Whereas back in Sand of Time when he ran up a wall he had to jump off backwards, this time he slides down the wall, preventing him jumping to his death. Not a lot of differences overall, but the additions make him even more versatile platforming-wise than he was before – no small feat. Extra abilities gained later down the line will add even more.

Flash back to the actual beginning of this story. Our protagonist has found Zahra at a mysterious market. His wish? A kingdom all to himself, to come back to his father with something to show for his efforts. It’s a commendable goal for certain. (Shouldn't he be running from time-paradox monsters according to Warrior Within, though?)

November 17, 2023

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I once again realized I haven’t reviewed enough non-Steam games this year – or, more specifically, I covered only one Wii game and only one Ubisoft game. Here’s my chance to remedy to that.

King and prince, ready for attack.
Things are about to go horribly wrong.
Prince of Persia has been on my radar perhaps since before I began writing this blog. There’s the movie, of course, and I’ve covered it. However, I remember trying the very first game in the series, or rather a port of it for the Super Nintendo, long ago... and failing quickly because I couldn’t figure out the combat mechanics and fend off the enemy swordsmen. Which takes us to a more recent time. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which the movie is based on, was one of the first games I obtained for free on Ubisoft Connect, formerly UPlay, through special events on the platform. Some time later, I found another game in the series, a port for the Nintendo Wii.

Why not cover both? They’ve been waiting long enough. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a Ubisoft game whose ports were released mainly in November 2003, with the Windows version out in December. I wasn’t planning on reviewing this game almost exactly 20 years after its release. Fun coincidence there. So, how's it like?

The Dagger of Time

This story begins as the army of Persia, King Sharaman and his son the Prince at the head, invades an Indian kingdom belonging to the Maharajah. They got word from that kingdom’s Vizier, betraying his leader, of a treasure held at the Palace, with the King intent on taking it. The Prince (no name given) is prepared for such a quest, having been trained his whole life. This is where we discover the controls to this game.

No wonder this guy made a plaything out of
time itself, he already mocks the very concept
of gravity. (Apologies for French text, I never
figured out how to change the game to English.)
One of the most praised aspects of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the parkour-based platform gameplay. The Prince has a wide array of skills: Running upwards and sideways on walls, wall-jumping, moving up and down ledges, climbing and jumping betwen pillars, swinging from horizontal bars... The list goes on. You can tell that every area of the game was designed with all those skills in mind. It’s not rare to find rooms with nary a solid floor, forcing you to figure out an alternate path. The Prince regains health by drinking water. However, he can get hurt or die instantly if he falls from too high. You’ll only really figure out the right height to fall from through trial and error, of which there is a lot in this game. Controlling this hero is a little tricky at first, but very rewarding once you’ve got all the mechanics down.

November 3, 2023

Team Indie

Imagine, if you will, your favorite characters in a single game – but it’s not a mascot fighter à la Smash Bros. or any other in the genre. They’re not here to duke it out. Instead, all were pulled from different games, all bring their own skills to the table, and they have a common goal to work towards. But just what genre could that be? An FPS? A platformer with branching storylines? Something that uses each character’s genre of predilection in a gameplay roulette?

Well, today’s game provides one answer. A creation of Brightside Games released on October 8th, 2014, Team Indie sees multiple heroes of indie gaming coming to the rescue of a powerless kitten. True to the scene, the genre is... a puzzle platformer. Can’t say I haven’t played my fair share of those by now. The other notable detail here is that today’s title was delisted from Steam, at the publisher’s request. You can’t buy it, and it won’t come up on searches on the platform. I only have access to the page because I had this game patiently waiting in my collection ever since I obtained it in the Humble Freedom Bundle, purchased in February 2017. It’s also not the first delisted title I cover; in fact, it’s the third this year.

Games get delisted for all kinds of reasons ranging from being too large a source of stress for their creator(s) to basic issues pertaining to rights. I scoured the Internet to find the reason as to why Team Indie was delisted, but I’ve come empty-handed. For now, at least, the mystery remains. My guess is that it boils down to a rights issue, owing to the crossover nature of this title.

Don’t see this review as an article on something you might want to purchase, since it’s not possible. Today, I feel more like a museum curator, observing something that used to be accessible, but now can only be discussed in the past tense. And in an age where digital products get pulled at their owners' whims, preservation of that kind can be very important - so I feel a duty to at least talk about this one, "can't buy it" be damned.

Green-eyed monster cat

Jealous cat much?
A gamer with some hacking skills lives with her old cat Oskar. One day, she receives a mysterious package, which turns out to be a kitten named Marvin! The kitty has a strange gear-shaped pendant around his neck. Oskar, angered by the younger feline’s presence, swipes and snaps the pendant. This happened as Marvin stood close to the computer, and... inexplicably, the kitty was teleported into a video game.

October 31, 2023

Movie Review: Five Nights at Freddy's

Happy Halloween!

Yeah, I stilll have that mask. As for the film, how could I not see this on opening weekend? I acknowledge the games for the important gaming and cultural phenomenon they've become as well as the indie horror milestones they represent. But I always felt more attracted to the franchise's lore than to its gameplay, so while I did review the first six games, I can't say I played them all for very long. A movie based on this universe was always going to appeal to me more in terms of presentation.

I understand Scott Cawthon wanting this product to be as close to how he views his creation as possible, hence his status as producer and his name repeatedly appearing in the intro credits. We also have Emma Tammi as director and Jason Blum (of Blumhouse) also as producer. This film spent long enough in development Hell that knockoffs had time to be greenlit, filmed and released before this one did. (Speaking of, doing a compare/contrast with one of those, Willy's Wonderland, would be wild.) Cawthon can safely say the bet paid off, because the end result, story-wise, is exactly what we could expect, yet throws enough curveballs to keep things interesting to those familiar with the franchise. When it comes to horror, however? It's a little light. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story

Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) is a young adult down on his luck. Goes from a job to the next, without much success. He is taking care of his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio) after their mother died and their father up and left. He is plagued by traumatic memories of the time when he was a child and his brother Garrett was kidnapped while the Schmidts were having a picnic. He has been reliving the scene in his dreams to catch any details that could let him recognize the kidnapper, without luck.

Threatened with eviction, struggling with his role as caretaker, dealing with an aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) who wants to take Abby away not out of love and worry but for the government funding it would lend her, and losing yet another job, Mike sees a counselor who makes the dreadful suggestion. The pay will suck, the hours will suck, but it's not like he has any other options. Mike ends up taking the job as security nightguard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, a joint once home to bustling arcades and state-of-the-art animatronic performers, now an old and decrepit building that should have been torn down years ago. Really, all he has to do is hold this job down long enough to prove that he can be steady, and that'll be it.