Game Review: The Skylia Prophecy

Some side-scrolling, action-platforming now as I take a look at The Skylia Prophecy. From developer ERMedia and publisher 7 Raven Studios comes this very old school looking game. Seriously, just from looking at a single screenshot, I got a SNES, Super Castlevania IV vibe. And perhaps the Castlevania games are the best comparison to make here too.

SKYLIA SCREEN

Skeleton enemies, dark and foreboding graphics, energy bar and item HUD. Yup, definitely some deep Castlevania vibes here. The influence behind The Skylia Prophecy is pretty clear to see. But the big question is, is it on par with Konami’s classic action-platformer franchise? Well, let’s check it out.

Playing as Mirenia, armed with a shield-sword. You have to kill demonic enemies that you accidentally let out, or something. There is a story, but I have no idea what it is. See, the game starts with a heavy text-scroll at the start… And then there’s nothing about a story after that. It seems that the game sets up a plot, but very quickly ignores it once the action begins. So if the plot isn’t up to much, then the gameplay really needs to be tip-top to keep you entertained. Sadly, it’s not.

The gameplay of The Skylia Prophecy is ‘strange’ to say the least. It’s not terrible, but strange. Yes, it is yer basic hit enemies with your weapon and jump on platforms malarkey, but everything just feels ‘off’. Take the combat, for instance, you can hit directly in front of you… And that’s it. You can’t duck and attack, which is really ‘effing annoying as there are plenty of snakes, spiders and the like that are low on the ground that you need to duck and hit. Instead, you have this shield thing that you just hold out in front of you and have to wait for the enemies to walk into it, cos you can’t move while you use it. Yeah, there’s a jump attack, but you can’t block while jumping, which is a real pain when an enemy shoots a projectile at you mid-jump and there’s nothing you can do other than take a hit. There are no other moves, no upgrades for your weapon, no different weapons either.

SKYLIA SCREEN 2

Now, there are magic attacks and you will unlock other ones as you play. But they eat away at your mana reserves so much that you will only get two or three uses before you have no mana left. Yes, you can refill the mana bar, but you have to buy potions from a shop to do that… And then, you can only carry one potion at a time. That also goes for health potions, one at a time. You also buy keys from the shops in the game… Again, you can only carry one at a time (seriously, give Mirenia some pockets). This is partially annoying as you’ll come across many locked doors, so you’ll have to keep going back to the shop to buy a key (singular) every time you want to open a door. However, there is a character that appears next to lock doors if you don’t have a key and offers to give you one for a ‘favour’. No idea what that is as you just know it can’t be a good thing, it’s better to just backtrack to the shop and buy a key… One at a time. Oh, and the enemies don’t drop anything, no potions, no keys, etc. The only place you can get them is the shop, and remember, you can only carry one at a time too.

Platforming wise, you can’t jump through or down from a platform. So (for instance) if you need to get to a higher point, you can’t just jump up though to the higher level, you have to navigate to the end of the platform, then jump up. As for not being able to jump down, that just gets really infuriating as you can actually get stuck in places and have to traverse a very long way around just to go back down. Yeah, I get that The Skylia Prophecy is trying to emulate that ‘old school’ gameplay, but there are times when that’s a good idea and times when it’s not. And when you have some awkward level design, not being allowed to jump up or down through platforms is just annoying.

In terms of the level design, things get very ‘messy; with infuriating maze-like shenanigans and often long treks between the action. r the bane of lazy level design, doors that take you back to the start with no warning. You’ll stop off at villages between the dungeons, but it’s all very samey after the first two. You talk to the same people who will tell you largely the same things. Even the graphics of the villages look pretty much identical, just that the buildings get moved about a bit. It never feels like you are going anywhere in the game even when you are. 

SKYLIA VILLAGE

You only have one life, once your health reaches zero, you’re brown bread. Thankfully, you don’t start the game from the beginning as there are checkpoints. But pretty much all of the checkpoints are put in such maddening palaces that you may as well start from the beginning most of the time. In fact, as the game doesn’t have enemies that drop goodies, you can get stuck if you don’t have any mana left. Honestly, it happened to me a few times where I needed to use a magic attack to progress, but I had no mana. No potions to top up my mana either as you can only carry one, and I already used it. So I had to restart and load up my game to try again.

In terms of price, The Skylia Prophecy will only set you back £5.79 and there’s no denying that’s a decent price point. But that low cost does reflect the quality of the game. Now, The Skylia Prophecy isn’t a terrible game at all, but it certainly won’t leave you claiming it to be ‘game of the year’ either. As far as I can tell, this is the work of one person working alone and you really have to respect that. But, that doesn’t mean the game gets a free pass for being so ‘awkward’. It’s a very clunky title that seems to be lacking in any real depth or truly rewarding gameplay. It feels more like an unfinished demo than a complete title. It really is a shame too, as you can definitely feel the love for the Castlevania franchise and other games of its ilk… But it just never quite comes together as it should.

SKYLIA SCREEN 3

I really, really wanted to love this game, as I am a big fan of the genre. But some rather poor and lacking combat ideas, very questionable level design and a really annoying/limiting inventory system really lets this one down. The Skylia Prophecy could’ve done with some feedback/QA and another few weeks of development. Overall, it’s a very average game that is too restrictive to be any real fun and it just does not seem to get anything right. It’s just ‘okay’.

Game Review: King Of Seas

Shiver me timbers, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, I be in search of booty, avast ye landlubbers, I’ll crush ye barnacles and send you to Davy Jones’s locker… And other piratical phrases. For me, there haven’t really been a great many good pirate games. The pirate life is a fantastic setting, yet very few developers use it for their games. Yeah sure, there have been a few really good games that have a piratical theme like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag… But that never was a pirate game, just an Assassin’s Creed game wearing a pirate hat. My all-time favourite pirate game was Sid Meier’s Pirates! It just gave you an open world and the chance to forge your own career as a pirate. There was a story, but it was bare minimal as the focus was on creating a legacy as a pirate over following a plot. For years, I’ve been waiting for someone to take the idea behind Pirates! and just update it. Developer 3DClouds and publisher Team 17 throw their pirate hat into the ring with King of Seas, but is it worth a play?

Right, let’s get the plot out of the way first. You play as one of two (selectable) offspring of a king. starting out as a new captain, you are sent on your first ever mission. On your return, you find your father, the king, has been murdered and you are suspect number one. Your ship is attacked and sinks, while you are left for dead. Fortunately for you, some pirates are passing by and save your life. They take you to their island and teach you the ways of being a pirate. It is then up to you to clear your name and find the real killer… All while being a pirate. The plot here is thinner than an anorexic supermodel’s waistline, but to be honest, the plot is not why you play a game like this.

King of Seas takes place in a procedurally generated pirate world that is crammed full of things to see and do. After a fairly standard tutorial to get you used to the controls, you are then left to your own devices to do as you wish. Yes, you can stick to the story and just sail your way to the end credits… Or you could completely ignore the plot and just enjoy being a pirate. All of the action of King of Seas takes place on the waves and you never set foot on dry land. Well okay, you can visit various ports and when there, you can visit taverns to hire more crew, keep abreast of the least news and even pick up randomly generated missions. There’s also a carpenter you can visit to repair and buy new ships. Plus each port has a market where you can buy and sell goods. Everything in the ports is done via a menu system too, so you never get to walk the towns around or anything.

KING OF SEAS SHIP

There is a trading system in King of Seas and it works really well too. A port may be proficient in producing wood (as an example), so the buying price is low. Fill your storage with cheap wood and set sail to find a port where wood is harder to find and sell for a nice profit. With a constantly fluctuating trading mechanic and trade routes which are ever-changing as the game continues. There are many different commodities to trade in too so you’ll always be able to bring in some coinage. And what do you use that coinage for? Upgrades… Lots and lots of upgrades. Pretty much everything on your ship can be upgraded, the figurehead, the sails, the hull, even the crew and more. Each of the upgrades have that RPG colour coding thing depending on rarity and each will affect the stats of your ship too. You know the one where white-labelled items are common, up to purple and orange being rare and very rare. Different items have different stats and even special abilities. And about those special abilities.

King of Seas is not a serious game at all, it had a decent sense of humour and knows that it is meant to be fun. You are given four special attacks, triggered using each of the four main face buttons on the controller. These can range from having a flamethrower shoot out of the front of your ship to giant tentacles that will slap nearby enemies and even magical attacks. Yup, this is far from being a serious game based on actual pirate history. Then, even your cannons can have modifiers on them such as poison and elemental attacks. While I don’t think I would describe King of Seas as being a deep RPG, but it definitely has RPG elements to it, including a experience/leveling/skills system. 

KING OF SEAS SKILLS

Battling on the high seas is pretty basic stuff. Your ship can fire its cannons from either side with the press of a button. You’ll often find yourself circling your opponent and doing your best to hit them while trying not to get hit yourself. If you have ever played any piratical themed game with seafaring combat before, then you’ll know what to expect here. In terms of sea combat, King of Seas doesn’t do anything new, but the many upgrades and variables do mean you can mix things up quite a bit. Your ship has three health bars, one is your basic hull heath and when it’s gone, you sink. There’s another for your sails and the more damage they get, the slower you can move. The final one is your crew and as that lowers, so does how fast your cannons can be reloaded. Those three health bars also transfer to your enemies and you have three different ammo types to deal the three different types of damage. When you start, your ship (a sloop) will be pretty basic, but earn some coin, get some upgrades and you’ll soon have a ship that can hold its own in the battles.

It’s not all about sinking ships though as you can also go fishing, seek out cartographers to help with the game’s map, find treasure, capture settlements and more. Outside of the main story, there really is a lot here to do. All of which will help you build and upgrade your ship to give you a much better fighting chance. The seas are also full of other ships, from allies to enemies and even neutrals. Of course, you being a pirate means you can turn your hand to pretty much anything you like. Attack and sink fellow pirate ships, take on larger treasure-laden ships and more. You are free to pretty much do as you wish and become the respected or feared pirate you want to be.

KING OF SEAS BATTLE

Now, King of Seas can be a very slow game. You get around via sailing the seas and you’ll have to put up with varying weather and wind direction, both of which can impede your progress. The randomly generated maps are pretty damn big too with multiple ports to visit and getting from one end to the other takes a good while. The ships in the game are hardly speedy either, so this is just a pre-warning that progress through the game will be a bit of a slog. Still for me personally, I quite enjoyed the much slower pace and almost serene and calming nature of the game. It’s all rather relaxing… Unless you’re being chased by pirate hunters and the like. The action in King of Seas can also get a bit samey after a few hours of play, plus many of the missions are the same basic types too. I can not deny that King of Seas does get a tad repetitive and it is probably best enjoyed in smaller two to three hour sessions over prolonged gaming periods as the game can begin to feel a bit too grindy after a while if I’m being honest.

Looks wise, King of Seas is fine. Neither outstanding nor plain. There’s slight cartoony slant to the graphics and when you zoom the camera in, they do show signs of being a bit rough. But from the default, zoomed out view, everything looks good. Theres a day/night cycle that honestly looks pretty damn nice. But all the towns you visit all end up looking the same, and you’ll soon realise there’s a lot of reusing assets, with the maps being as big as they are, King of Seas really could’ve done with more variation with its visuals.

KING OF SEAS IMAGE

Truth be told, I never actually finished this game before I wrote this review. I just never saw the story out to its end. Not because the game bored me or anything, quite the opposite actually, as I’ve spent the last week with King of Seas just exploring and enjoying the game outside of the story. I’ve been taking on secondary missions, upgrading my ship, treasure hunting and just generally enjoying myself being a pirate. I mentioned how Sid Meier’s Pirates! is one of my favourite games, and most certainly my favourite pirate game ever. King of Seas is very clearly inspired by the classic Pirates!, it may not quite have the same level of depth and variety of gameplay (no sword fighting, wooing women, etc), but King of Seas really is a fantastic piratical themed title and one that I’ve gotten a lot of fun gameplay out of… All without even finishing the story. With a £19.99 price tag, I can definitely recommend King of Seas as there really is a lot of game here, you just need to know that it is not all fast-paced action and thrills. This is a much slower and steady game. Making progress and upgrading your ship, while getting around the map is more of a leisurely walk than a sprint. But a very enjoyable leisurely walk nonetheless. 

If only Sid Meier would make a new pirate game himself.

Game Review: Song Of Horror

Phew, I’m getting loads of games coming my way for review at the moment. Right here, I have a survival horror game from developer Protocol Games, and publisher Raiser Games. Song of Horror tells the story of an ex-publisher, Daniel Noyer, who begins to investigate the disappearance of a famed horror writer called Sebastian P. Husher. Husher was researching a story about a piece of music (a Song of Horror you could say) that is said to cause people who listen to it to witness horrific hallucinations. Playing as Noyer, you get dragged into a world of nightmares featuring an entity known as The Presence. 

Right from the off, from the second you play Song of Horror, you’ll get instant Resident Evil and Silent Hill vibes. The game uses fixed camera angles like those classic survival horror games of the nineties. Sadly, the game also suffers from some of the same issues as those older games. Navigating the areas in the game does get a bit annoying when the camera suddenly flips, the perspective suddenly changes, causing you to get a bit confused. This is especially annoying in tight corridors, even more so if you’re in a rush and being chased. If you’ve ever played one of these fixed camera horror games then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Then there are the controls, which for the most part, are perfectly fine. But when you’re trying to get your character into position to pick up or use an item, it can get a bit too ‘fiddly’. There were times when (as an example) there was an item on a table I needed to pick up, but my character was just a degree or two facing the wrong direction, I couldn’t grab it, even when the character’s hand was right next to the item. There is a look option to help highlight and collect items, but that is just as fiddly and stubborn to use. 

The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag too. Generally speaking, the graphics are perfectly fine for an indie title, even pretty damn impressive and thoroughly atmospheric too. The locations that the game takes place in are wonderfully detailed and (quite often) downright creepy. However, it’s the character models and animations that fall short. This is very much a stand out when it comes to facial animations, seriously, the faces of the characters in this are (unintentionally) scarier than some of the scares. Still, fiddly controls and slightly scary face animations are only minor niggles and the reason I started this review off bringing them up is that I just wanted to get the minor negatives out of the way. Because minor niggles aside, Song of Horror is a really effective and very enjoyable survival horror game.

SONG OF HORROR 1

So let’s talk about the good stuff. One of my favourite features of the game is that it has a permadeath mechanic. Yup, if your character dies in the game, then they are dead for good. There are no checkpoints to fall back on, no saves to load up. Dead means dead. Thankfully, there are other characters to play as other than the previously mentioned Daniel Noyer, he’s just the central character. Think of these other characters as ‘extra lives’ and you do only have a limited amount. If all of your characters die, then you have to start the entire episode from the beginning. Now, I did say that if a character dies, then they stay dead and that is true, but it doesn’t mean they are out of the game completely. I kind of don’t want to say anymore as this is one of the best parts of the game and it is so much more ‘fun’ to experience it yourself. This permadeath mechanic really gets you caring about your character, knowing they could be gone, you end up wanting to ensure they survive. Now, you can turn the permadeath off, but you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice if you do. 

The game is split into five different episodes, and each episode is set in a different location. Such as the classic spooky house, an abandoned mental hospital, a disused abbey and more. All five locations really are great and offer plenty of variety as the game progresses. Your eyes will be busy as they dart around trying to take everything in, with each location offering plenty to take in. Plus there are more than enough references and little Easter eggs to the genre in general that will keep you busy in each of the five episodes. Also, depending on which of the characters you use (they all have various strengths and weaknesses), the episode you play will alter as some characters will have a direct connection to the location. This encourages you to play each chapter multiple times if you want to see everything the game has to offer. Different characters even have different reactions to different scenarios and the five different environments. It’s not just a case of a basic model swap, each character is just that, a character.

SONG OF HORROR CHARACTERS

The main evil you will face in the game is the previously mentioned The Presence. A black entity that chases you through all five episodes. There is no combat in Song of Horror, so all you can do when The Presence comes after you is run and hide. The Presence changes forms and can spring itself on you with little to no warning, this very much keeps you on your toes and very much on edge. When The Presence does chase, you’ll have to find somewhere to hide, this leads to a mini-game where you have to hold your breath and calm your heart rate. This itself can get a bit tense as the game does it’s very best to throw your timing off as you try to steady your heartbeat. Another mini-game will see you trying to stop The Presence from bursting in through a door. These mini-games really are nothing more than QTEs, but they work well enough and can often get quite anxiety-inducing.

The thing about Song of Horror is that death can come fast and often without pre-warning. There are a few instant deaths that will occur just for examining an item or part of the environment as an example, and these really are not very fair. Given the fact the game does have that permadeath mechanic, a few of the deaths that you will have (and you will), Song of Horror can occasionally feel a tad unjust. But there are also times when it is your own hastiness that will kill you off. There’s a mechanic in the game where you can listen at doors before you open them, if you hear something behind the door… Don’t open it. So don’t go running around just opening doors.

SONG OF HORROR DOOR

I very recently reviewed another survival horror game called Maid of Sker. In that review, I said how the game was perfectly fine, but didn’t really do anything to stand out from the crowd of survival horror type games. Thankfully, Song of Horror does stand out. Yeah, it is certainly inspired by Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but there is another game that has clearly been an influence. Back in 2002, a brilliant (and overlooked) survival horror game called Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. In Eternal Darkness, there was something called a sanity meter and when this emptied, the more inane your character became and the more crazy things would happen. Here’s a video that shows all of these ‘sanity effects’. Anyway, Song of Horror doesn’t have a sanity meter… But it does have a random scare thing where little things will happen through the game from big jump scares to much smaller and more subtle effects. These effects really do add to the scare factor of the game and I got creeped out many, many times and often from little details that I just caught out of the corner of my eye.

SONG OF HORROR FACE

Overall, Song of Horror is a very playable and effective horror game. The permadeath mechanic really adds a layer to the title and gets you caring about the characters. The scares are great and often random, so you’ll never get the exact game twice. Add to the fact that the different characters also make playing each chapter alter in their own subtle ways too, there’s plenty here to encourage you to play more than once, and you really should too. Quite clearly, a huge love letter to classic survival horror titles from the past, but Song of Horror still manages to do its own thing and really gets under the skin. A few niggles aside, Song of Horror is a wonderful survival horror game that may not be wholly unique, but it is certainly very, very effective with some brilliant scary moments that are truly refreshing. Priced at £34.99 for all five chapters, very much recommended. 

 

Game Review: Capcom Arcade Stadium

Well, this is going to be a big one. I’ve been given a review code for Capcom Arcade Stadium, a collection of classic Capcom games from the arcades… A total of thirty-two Capcom arcade titles in one amazing package. And I’m going to go through all thirty-two games to review this pretty impressive collection, as well as take a look at the overall bundle and see just how well put together it all is. There’s a lot to cover here and I’ll be going through all the games in chronological order (which I’ve not previously looked at, so doing this blind) and as there are so many, I’ll just gloss over each one. With thirty-two games to cover, I had better crack on.

CAPCOM ARCADE CABINETS

The Games

Vulgus (1984). A top-down, vertical shooter. This one is really rather simple compared to other similar shoot ’em ups. There’s no ending and you just keep going for a high score until your lives run out. No actual weapon upgrades or anything like that. For an early shooter, it’s pretty average.

Pirate Ship Higemaru (1984). A top-down maze game. Imagine if Pac-Man and Bomberman had a baby, you’d get Pirate Ship Higemaru. Playing as a deckhand, you pick up and throw barrels at attacking pirates. Clear the screen of all the pirates, move onto the next stage. Simple stuff, but pretty good, simple fun.

1942 (1984). One of the all-time classic shooters. The first in the long-running `194X games, and there are more to come in this collection too. It doesn’t have most of the features and refinements of later games in the franchise, but 1942 is still a very playable shoot ’em up regardless.

Commando (1985). I think this may have been the first-ever Capcom game I ever played in the arcade. It’s another classic shooter and one that was always a very tough challenge. Great shooter even if it is bloody hard.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985). Speaking of hard, this is often described as being our generation’s Dark Souls. A fairly apt descriptive I guess… Even if Dark Souls was much easier than Ghosts ‘n Goblins. This really is some tip-top platforming-shooter action. And yes, it really is ‘effing difficult, even on the easiest setting. Utterly brilliant though.

CAPCOM ARCADE GHOSTS N GOBLINS

Section Z (1985). A really interesting multi-directional shooter where enemies come from all sides. With a nice gimmick where, at the touch of a button, you can change the direction that you are facing. Really handy when the screen starts to fill with enemies. I don’t recall playing this back in the day, but it’s a pretty decent shooter.

Tatakai no Banka (1986). This one was Japanese only, no English version. I assumed it was only ever released in Japan, but a quick check says it was released as Trojan in the west. Not sure where there is no English version here then? A side-scrolling beat ’em up kind of thing that was just a bit too dull. I played as if Double Dragon had raped Ghosts ‘n Goblins and neither was happy with the end result, very okay-ish.

Legendary Wings (1986). Another game I think I missed originally. This is a vertical-shooter with a twist, as at certain points, the game changes to a side-scrolling platform-shooter. Basic power-up stuff here, but it plays pretty well and does get extra points for mixing up the gameplay styles.

Bionic Commando (1987). This was one of my favourites growing up, I spent so much coinage on this bad boy as a kid. A multi-directional scrolling platform-shooter with a brilliant gameplay mechanic… A grappling hook. Well, a grappling arm to be more accurate. Shoot bad guys, get power-ups and swing from platform to platform using your grappling arm. I don’t think I ever played this ‘properly’ back then, I just used to love swinging about the levels.

1943: The Battle of Midway (1987). The next entry in the 194X franchise and this one is so much better than the original 1942. One of my all-time favourite shooters as it took what was great about the previous 1942 and sprinkled it with just the right amount of spice to heat things up.

Forgotten Worlds (1988). Another side-scrolling shooter, but with some great bells and whistles. It plays a bit like the previously covered, Section Z with its multi-directional shooting, only if it had swallowed the kind of steroids WWE wrestlers use (allegedly). Wonderful bold late-eighties graphics, top shooting action and a nice weapons upgrade shop too. Oh and some awesome, huge boss battles.

CAPCOM ARCADE FORGOTTEN WORLDS

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1988). Okay, this collection is seriously spoiling me now. One of my favourite sequels, only bettered by the sublime SNES version. This is what happens when a dev team gets together and says ‘that Ghosts ‘n Goblins really need to be harder’. More rock-solid platforming-shooter action with some of the toughest stages in any arcade game ever… And I love it.

Strider (1989). When it comes to iconic Capcom games, I think that Strider is high on the list. Hack ‘n slash, platforming action with a ninja-type bloke who has a plasma sword. Strider really is one of Capcom’s finest arcade titles. Fast and frantic gameplay with some really creative level design.

Dynasty Wars (1989). Get ready for some side-scrolling horseback riding. This is a scrolling beat ’em up, kind of thing with some light RPG elements. Smack people in the face with a large weapon as you scroll through each stage, pick up orb for experience and level up. I was never really a fan of this one back then, not a real Capcom classic for me. An okay game I guess.

Final Fight (1989). Now we’re talking! One of the finest scrolling beat ’em ups ever made. Big chunky graphics, a lot of punching people in the face, an all-time classic and a real coin muncher. This is what arcade gaming was all about. Best to play the Japanese version of this due to ‘reasons’.

CAPCOM ARCADE FINAL FIGHT

1941: Counter Attack (1990). More 194X action and what I love about these shooters is how they evolved over the years. Yes, it is more scrolling shooty action, but these game get better with every instalment to the franchise. Loads of enemies, loads of bullets to dodge and some pretty epic boss fights.

Senjo no Okami II (1990). No English version of this one, which is strange as it was released in the west as Mercs. Plays pretty much like the classic Commando, but with multi-directional scrolling and weapon power-ups. A rather tough shooter but great fun to play.

Mega Twins (1990). Another game I’ve not been familiar with before. A platforming, hack ‘n slash thing with some very cute graphics. Not a great title, not my cup of tea at all.

Carrier Air Wing (1990). This is the follow up to U.N. Squadron (missing from this collection). A classic bit of side-scrolling shooter, using fighter jets. Pick one of three jets, and go shoot some bad guys out of the sky. There’s a weapon upgrade shop between levels. This is a damn good shooter.

Street Fighter II (1991). Does this game even need an introduction? One of the greatest beat ’em up and greatest games ever made. This is the standard, vanilla version of the game, great for purists. No frills, just great Street Fighter and iconic action.

CAPCOM ARCADE STREET FIGHTER I

Captain Commando (1991). Capcom made some great scrolling beat ’em ups and this was one of their best. Crazy characters and bold graphics. Plays very much like Final Fight, but for me, I always thought this was the better game.

Varth: Operation Thunderstorm (1992). A vertical shooter that really wouldn’t be out of place in the 194X franchise. Nothing remarkable about this one and it plays a good shooter regardless. Scroll up the screen, shoot enemies, grab power-ups, kill end of level bosses. Standard stuff, but still very playable.

Warriors of Fate (1992). The follow up to Dynasty Wars, and for me, the better of the two games. Still yer standard scrolling beat ’em up stuff. But this one feels much more robust and playable all round. A decent and a very satisfying brawler, with that familiar Capcom feel.

Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (1992). More Street Fighter II and this one offers some tweaks over the original. Different colour costumes, slightly altered special moves and the ability to play as any of the four bosses. It’s Street Fighter II with some minor bells and whistles.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo (1994). Of all the different versions of this game, this is probably the best. The original eight characters, the four bosses and four new characters too, with new stages. More costume choices, variable speeds, the addition of the super meter to pull off awesome super combos. Plus, this was the game that introduced Akuma to the franchise. If you’re going to play some SF II, then this really is the best version.

Powered Gear (1994). Another Japanese only rom here, which once more is strange as it did have a western release where it was called Armored Warriors. Anyway, this is another scrolling beat ’em up… Only in mech-suits. A really good game that feels very ‘chunky’ as you stomp around in your mech. Some nice little touches, like being able to walk over little peeps before they can get in their own mechs. A lot of crunching metal as mech fights mech and everything plays and feels great. Proper arcade action.

Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness (1995). This is actually a spin-off from the previous Powered Gear (Armored Warriors) game. Whereas that was a scrolling beat ’em up, this is a one on one fighter. This really wasn’t too bad. Chose a pilot and then select a mech, the combo of which actually affects how the story and even gameplay pans out. Some great destructible scenery and the fighting feels really ‘meaty’. Perhaps not as great as Street Fighter II as a beat ’em up, but still very much worth playing.

19XX: The War Against Destiny (1995). Yup, another in the long-running 194X franchise… Only this is 19XX. You already know the score by now. Vertical scrolling shooty-shoot action. This one really is a marvel and is rock solid hard, goes from pretty tricky to serious bullet hell within a couple of levels. Seriously great shoot ’em up and one not for the faint of heart.

CAPCOM ARCADE 19XX

Battle Circuit (1997). More scrolling beat ’em up action, and this one is beautifully crazy. With a very cartoony-like art style and featuring some pretty insane characters and enemies. Really OTT action with a penchant for the WTF… You fight an Elvis impersonator. Cracking good fun

Giga Wing (1999). If there was one thing that Capcom were fantastic at, that wasn’t the beat ’em up, then the shoot ’em up was that thing. This is another vertically scrolling shooter, kind of like the 1944 series… Only not actually part of it. Rather unusual for a vertical scroller, this uses a horizontal screen. Different planes to fly, each with different weapons sets and power ups. Plenty of action and some really great level designs.

1944: The Loop Master (2000). How many of these 194X games are there? Like the previous Giga Wing, this is another vertical shooter that uses a horizontal screen. Lots of shooting, power ups and big bosses to take out. Pretty standard stuff, but a good shooter nonetheless.

Progear (2001). The last game in this collection… And it’s another shoot ’em up featuring planes. Capcom really liked that motif eh? At least this is a side-scroller just to be a bit different. This is a serious bullet hell of a game, really great to play too. A steampunk-esque slant to the graphics and the best shooter in this whole collection.


Overall

As a gamer in his mid-forties now, I grew up in and around the arcades of the eighties and nineties, so this collection is right up my street. Presentation-wise, Capcom Arcade Stadium is a sheer delight. Each of the games in this collection are represented via their own 3D rendered cabinets and all of the games are loaded with plenty of options. Multiple display settings with scanlines and more, screen sizes (full screen, arcade cabinet view and more), screen orientation (great for those with a rotatable monitor to play vertical shooters in the correct aspect ratio). Then there’s the game settings, where you can change the difficulty, time limits, speed (if your reactions are not as great as they once were), extra lives frequency and more. Plus, you can fully customise the controls and even use a rapid-fire mode for all those shooters. With different games having multiple different settings. So you can really tailor each game to suit your very own playstyle.

There are things like score and special challenges, with scores being uploaded to the interwebs and the global leaderboards. You can read each of the game’s manuals for a quick lesson on how to play. There’s even a save/load games states feature too… Pretty handy for some of the harder titles, or if you just want to take a break for a while. Plus, a rewind feature, so if you mess up, just rewind and try again. You can even choose to play the original Japanese or English ports, seeing as some of the western releases were censored over the original Japanese ones, this is a nice feature to have. And there’s local multiplayer options, depending on the game. Honestly, in terms of options and variables, you really are spoiled here. You can tweak and refine each game to suit just how you want to play. Perhaps you can finally get to the end of some of those arcade classics that have eluded you for many years now? I mean, I actually finally finished Ghosts ‘n Goblins after thirty-six years.

CAPCOM ARCADE GAMES

Now, Capcom Arcade Stadium is actually free to download, but you only get two games with it (as of writing anyway). 1943: The Battle of Midway and Ghosts ‘n Goblins (I believe that G ‘n G is a promotional offer and is normally paid for). Two classics for sure and both worth it for nothing. But you do have to pay for the other games in this collection, and they come in pre-set packs. The three packs that you can download for all thirty-two games, Dawn of the Arcade (1984–1988), Arcade Revolution (1989–1992), and Arcade Evolution (1992–2001), come in at £11.99 each. So, for the whole game with all thirty-two titles, you’re looking at spending £35.97 (though that is just over £1.20 a game). Still, that is a pretty big chunk of cash for a lot of decades-old games… Some better than others. Then there’s the fact that Capcom have said they may add even more games in the future, so more money to spend? And as far as I can tell, you have to buy the packs for the games, you can’t pay for games individually, which I think is a mistake. I mean, there are three versions of Street Fighter II in this. Do you really need three versions of the same game? I feel it would be better if there was an option to just buy the individual games that you want, then you could tailor create your very own arcade. On the surface, forking out £36 on two and over three decades old games does seem a bit steep.

Emulation wise (cos that is how these games run), everything played fine and dandy. I didn’t come across any graphical or audio glitches in any of the thirty-two games. The controls felt responsive using a standard Xbox pad, but Capcom Arcade Stadium does support arcade joysticks too, in fact, there’s a specific option for arcade sticks. So if you have one, I’m sure these games will feel far more authentic using a ‘proper’ controller. Oh and the more you play, the more you earn Capcom Arcade Stadium POints (CASPO), this is basically experience points. The more you play, the more CASPO you earn, you level (class) up and unlock some cosmetics such as background wallpapers, etc.

CAPCOM ARCADE CASPO

So I guess the big question is, is it worth paying for? This is a bit tricky to answer, given the fact that there have already been several Capcom arcade bundles in the past. The likes of Capcom Arcade Cabinet or Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle does mean that several of these games have previously been released over the years and you probably own a few of the titles already (I know I do). So it may not seem worth paying again for games that you already own. The fact you have to buy the packs and can’t buy games individually is a definite downside too, as seperate games would make perfect sense for those that have previously bought similar collections and already have some of the games. Still, for everything, all the games, all three packs, £35.97 isn’t a bad price. Or you can buy a bundle of all three packs in one, which is slightly cheaper at £31.99 (around £1.07 per game). Then you have to add all the extra features, options and variables for all the titles too. You do get a lot for your money, even if £35 (or £32) seems a big price tag for 30-year-old games, I think it is worth it in all honesty. I’ve spent more than that on recent AAA games and not got as much gameplay out of them as I have here. Seriously just buy the triple bundle collection for £32 and enjoy some awesome Capcom arcade greatness.

CAPCOM ARCADE PRICE

I do have a few niggles. Personally, I’d like to have seen some history on the games. Some background info on who made them, original release dates. Maybe a gallery, concept art, a jukebox to listen to some of the amazing Capcom music. I’m a big fan of gaming history and to see a lack of actual history about the games here is a tad disappointing. They could have even put it all behind unlockables, complete certain challenges in the game to unlock artwork, music, etc. Would’ve added some extra gameplay value. As great as the games in this collection are, there is a real lack of celebrating their history in gaming. There are some glaring omissions from this collection of games (Black Tiger, Gun.Smoke, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors), but as I already mentioned, Capcom will be adding new titles in the future. I doubt we’ll see any of Capcom’s licensed games, The Punisher, Alien vs. Predator, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, etc. There is local multiplayer, but no online multiplayer, which is also a bit of a disappointment.

For me, I think as far as these arcade collections go, that Capcom Arcade Stadium is one of the very best (if not the best) on offer right now. The sheer amount of options for each game is amazing, and you really can find the perfect difficulty for each and every game to suit your own style. It’s clear this collection has been put together with a lot of love and not just a quick cash-grab (shame about the lack of histories though). Of the thirty-two games here, there really isn’t a bad one in the lot. Sure there are few average ones, but there are many more brilliant titles. Plus there are a few only released in Japan ones or titles I didn’t know about and were fun to discover for the first time. I’m not sold on three versions of Street Fighter II though, I’d rather they just had one of the later versions (Super Street Fighter II Turbo) and then two other games instead, perhaps even one of the Street Fighter Alpha titles?  Still, if you have the cash and really want some classic Capcom arcade hits, then you really can’t go wrong with Capcom Arcade Stadium. It’s a wonderful collection with plenty to keep you coming back for more. Highly recommended, buy it now with all three game packs. Just need Konami to put a collection together and as well made as this now…

Game Review: Maid of Sker

I must admit to actually not knowing of this game before the review code was sent to me. Technically, it was originally released in July 2020. However, it’s recently been given a bit of an upgrade for the newer consoles and I’m playing the Xbox Series X version for this review.

Maid of Sker is a survival-horror game, based on Welsh folklore. Coming from actual Welsh developer/publisher that is Wales Interactive, I guess they know what they are talking about. Anyway, the game draws inspiration from an old ballad called Y Ferch O’r Scer (The Lady of Sker), The Maid of Sker novel by R. D. Blackmore and the real-life Sker House. The game is set in 1898 and tells the story of Thomas Evans (you), who arrives at Sker Hotel after receiving a letter from his lover, Elisabeth Williams. Elisabeth’s letter tells Thomas that she has locked herself in the hotel’s attic because someone or thing is after her. Upon arriving at Sker Hotel, Thomas begins to unravel the many mysteries of the hotel and Elisabeth’s family too. 

MAID OF SKER HOTEL

Okay, so, if you’ve ever played any kind of first-person, survival-horror game before, then you’ll know what to expect here. Walk around a big, scary building, solve puzzles and unravel the truth. Starting out, Maid of Sker is actually pretty good. It’s very atmospheric and really draws you into the world in which the game takes place. Starting out on a train heading towards the Sker Hotel, you leave the train and find yourself in a lush, green forest. You then make your way along a path to the hotel and that lush scenery changes to a much more dark, gothic and macabre setting when you finally make it to Sker Hotel. The pacing is great as you make your way through the hotel and the game’s mechanics are fed to you. Soon, you’re introduced to the main enemies, lumbering and hefty human figures that can’t see due to the fact they have sacks on their heads. This lack of vision means they rely on sound to find their way around, and to find you.

SACK FACE

You’re soon introduced to a hold your breath mechanic, as walking through dust particles, or getting too close to fires and their smoke will cause you to cough. Coughing will attract those hulking enemies and they will quite gladly beat you to death. This use of sound really is effective and you have to be careful of where you walk and even how you walk too. Being too heavy-footed and one of those Lurch-like bad guys will soon be punching you in the face until you’re dead. You can get really close to these guys, literally stand inches next to them and as long as you don’t make a sound, they will not harm you. This can create some tense scenes quite early on in the game. 

However, after a couple of hours or so, Maid of Sker just becomes very ‘meh’. Do you walk along a corridor with glass on one side, setting up for a cheap jumpscare where something or someone smashes the glass? Yup. Is there a cutscene where you are hiding from one of the main enemies and keep popping your head out to see where they are, then they get closer so you hide until it’s all clear…Only to pop your head out and the enemy is standing right in front of you? Yup. Is there a part where you are watching the torture/death of another person from afar, through a small gap, only for an enemy to pop into frame for a scare? Yup. It’s all been done before and Maid of Sker just feels very cookie-cutter. It goes from a very intriguing and strong opening, to a very bog-standard survival game that’s just all too familiar. The scares become predictable, the hotel itself (while graphically very nice indeed) is just a bit bland as a setting and the gameplay is nothing to really shout about. It does have a pretty interesting story though, and I have to admit to really enjoying reading all the notes and memos that you find that fill you in on what’s been going on.

MAID OF SKER FIRE

Really, Maid of Sker doesn’t do anything ‘wrong’ and that makes it a very difficult game to review. If a game is outright bad, I can very easily explain why. Same for when a game is outstanding, it’s easier to put into words what makes the game stand out. When a game is as distinctly average as Maid of Sker is, it really is tricky to get across why. This is not an outright bad game, it is not a great game either, it just kind of is what it is. Maid of Sker doesn’t do anything that other games haven’t already done plenty of times before it. Even more so, it doesn’t do those things badly either, nor does it bring anything to the table that really makes it a talking point. The puzzles are not exactly taxing on the brain and I guarantee you’ve solved the same/similar puzzles in other similar games. It’s all too frustratingly mediocre.

For a small indie studio, Maid of Sker is just fine. As I previously mentioned, it looks good, the graphics are well designed and very moody. It certainly is an atmospheric game too… But we’ve seen all the jumpscares before, we’ve seen this set up before, to the point where Maid of Sker feels like a copy of other titles instead of it being its own thing. It is nice to see a bit of British talent, I’ll always champion for some decent British gaming, I have a major soft spot for British gaming (I did write a book on the subject). I also believe that indie games offer far more rich, textured and original games over most AAA titles and that indie talent really can outdo some of the bigger studios. But when that talent is just copying what has come before it so many times already, it’s just not going to stand out. 

If you’re a fan of these Layers of Fear, walk around a scary house, jumpscare centric games, then you might get more out of this than I did. For me, this is just a very ‘seen it all before’ type of game that really is just perfectly okay. And that is what Maid of Sker is, it’s okay. A perfectly serviceable and playable game, it’s just all been done before so many times now.