Puzzler Essentials: Puchi Carat

I’ve always had a soft spot for block-breakers, ever since Arkanoid on the Atari 8-bit, and Puchi Carat makes me happy in all the right ways.

Combining elements of traditional classic block-breakers with mechanics from puzzle games such as the Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move series, it’s an enormously addictive, highly unusual game that is simultaneously unique and absolutely representative of the time in which it came out.

In short, if you like adorable late ’90s anime style characters, coloured things going “pop” and gameplay that is as much about skill as it is about intelligence, Puchi Carat is definitely a game that you should check out.

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Fate/stay night: Struggling with Oneself

Unlimited Blade Works, the second of Fate/stay night’s three distinct narrative routes, concentrates on the concept of the struggle between oneself and an ideal.

It’s a story with an altogether different feeling to the Fate route, featuring a great deal more internal conflict.  And not just for the protagonist Shirou Emiya, either, but also for many of the people around him — most notably heroine Rin Tohsaka.

In fact, this time around, it’s only really Saber, who had plenty of her own struggles in Fate, who gets off relatively lightly. Everyone else has a lot of very serious and meaningful questions to try and answer before the two weeks in which the story unfolds come to a close.

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Taito Essentials: Zoo Keeper

The technological constraints of old video games often led to some highly creative experiences.

In logical or narrative terms, these games would often make very little sense whatsoever, but taken from a strictly abstract, mechanical perspective, they had the potential to provide extremely compelling, addictive experiences.

One such example was 1983’s Zoo Keeper, a game developed by Keith Egging and John Morgan from Taito’s American division. This game clearly drew influences from a number of popular Eastern and Western games such as Qix, Donkey Kong and Frogger, ultimately leaving it as a rather intriguing and underappreciated title with a strong sense of its own identity.

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Waifu Wednesday: Al Azif

Nitroplus’ Deus Machina Demonbane is an absolutely remarkable visual novel.

Combining elements of Lovecraftian horror and giant robot anime with a generous dash of noir, it is quite unlike any other piece of interactive entertainment I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

And a big part of that is due to one of its major characters: Al Azif, typically referred to just as Al.

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My Earliest Visual Novel Memories

Although it was quite a few years ago, I have some vivid and fond memories of my first experiences with what I now know to be visual novels.

I commonly attribute my present love of visual novels to 2012’s Katawa Shoujo, but in fact my earliest encounter with the medium was some years earlier. This was back when I first discovered an interest in Japanese popular media in general thanks to a combination of promotional Manga Video VHS cassettes my brother brought home on one occasion, and the discovery that I really liked JRPGs thanks to Final Fantasy VII.

Those early visual novels had a pretty strong impact on me, and I was delighted to discover that there are ways to play them once again on modern machines — more on that later.

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Puzzler Essentials: Magical Drop III

Magical Drop III, first released in 1997, is widely regarded as the best installment in Data East’s series of frantic puzzlers.

The series as a whole is noteworthy in that it provides a distinctly more fast-paced take on what is typically regarded as a relatively sedate genre, but Magical Drop III took the core mechanics established in its early incarnations, polished them to a fine sheen and created one of the most addictive puzzle games of all time… not to mention the origin of the “Fairy Bounce” meme.

Magical Drop III got released on all manner of platforms, but today we’re primarily concerned with the European PlayStation release, which includes a port of the Saturn version, itself somewhat rebalanced from the arcade and Neo Geo versions, as well as a port of Magical Drop Plus 1!, an enhanced version of the first game in the series that was originally released in the West as Chain Reaction.

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PS2 Essentials: Ace Combat: Distant Thunder

Better known by its other name Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, the fourth installment of Namco’s series of fighter jet games was released under a different name in Europe.

Ace Combat: Distant Thunder, as we shall refer to it from hereon because I am European so deal with it, is a game that, despite its age — and the fact it was the series’ first outing on PlayStation 2 — remains eminently worth playing today.

It’s also a relic of a different time, when flight simulators in general were a much more common sight on both computers and consoles than they are today… which in some ways makes it all the more noteworthy from a modern perspective.

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Oh, Japan!