Category Archives: Essentials

A collection of articles highlighting noteworthy or interesting games from the libraries of lesser-appreciated, rarer or retro systems, and in specific genres.

SNK Essentials: Athena

Sometimes there are games that aren’t the most fun to play today, but remain significant from a historical perspective nonetheless. SNK’s 1986 title Athena, in both its arcade and NES incarnations, definitely falls into that category.

Acting as a spiritual predecessor to Psycho Soldier but having pretty much nothing to do with it — the “Athena” in this game is supposedly a distant ancestor of the “Athena” in Psycho Soldier, so it’s not even the same character — Athena is a monstrously challenging platform action game that does a lot of interesting things… and a lot of frustrating things!

Let’s take a closer look.

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PS2 Essentials: Sky Odyssey

The PS2 was a delightful period of experimentation for a lot of developers. And the fact that the only option for distribution was on physical media helped these titles get both noticed at the time, and fondly remembered long after the fact.

2000’s Sky Odyssey isn’t a game I ever played back in the day, but having familiarised myself with it for the first time recently, I have discovered it to be one of those titles for which a simple, offhand mention tends to trigger a gushing torrent of effusive praise from anyone who was there first time around. This is a game that people loved back in the day — and yet it’s mostly unheard of today. The very definition of a hidden gem; a forgotten classic.

The advantage of its underappreciated status, of course, is that it means you can pick up a copy for 50p down your local CEX, enjoy a fine, fine addition to your PS2 collection and still have change for an overpriced cup of shopping centre coffee. Let’s take a closer look. At the game, not the coffee.

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PS2 Essentials: Fitness Fun

Ah, what could possibly be better than the charming jank of the Simple 2000 series on PlayStation 2? Why, the Simple 2000 Ultimate series, of course!

Yes, indeed, not content with 123 volumes of low-budget, experimental and weird titles, D3 Publisher decided to put out another range of 34 games under the “Ultimate” branding. Exactly what makes these particular 34 games “Ultimate” isn’t terribly clear, although they are prime examples of what the Simple Series has always been about.

And, just like the main Simple 2000 series, we got a random selection of Simple 2000 Ultimate games in Europe, once again mostly published by 505 GameStreet. Here’s a particularly fine specimen: Fitness Fun, also known as Love★Aerobi or Love★Aerobics in Japan.

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SNK Essentials: Psycho Soldier

Athena’s name is magic, mystery is what you see.

Her crystal is the answer, fighting fair, to keep us free. She’s just a little girl with power inside, burning bright. You’d better hide if you are bad, she’ll get you!

She’ll read your mind and find if you believe in right or wrong…

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Puzzler Essentials: Take It Easy

I don’t play a lot of games on my phone these days, because a lot of them are touchscreen-controlled garbage, bad knockoffs of games that I didn’t really want to play in the first place or microtransaction-infested pits of misery and despair.

However, once in a while a game comes along with none of those issues. A game where you can pay once and just play it; a game where you’ll never see an ad, never be asked to pay again and not be bugged every ten minutes to “rate 5 stars on the App Store”.

And sometimes that game is even good! Here’s Take It Easy, by Ravensburger.

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Shmup Essentials: Exzeal

Triangle Service is not exactly what you’d call a household name in the shoot ’em up sector, but over the years they’ve been quietly beavering away to produce some enjoyable, addictive games.

Probably their most well-known output is their Zeal series, which consists of XIIZeal (actually a port of a PS2-era shoot ’em up called XII Stag), ΔZeal (pronounced “Deltazeal”, not “Trianglezeal”, as I referred to it for a long time), Trizeal and Exzeal — but you may also have stumbled across their more unusual titles such as Shmups Skills Test and Minus Zero at some point in the past.

Today we’re going to take a look at Exzeal, released for Xbox 360 as part of the Shooting Love. 200X compilation (which, pro-tip, is not region-free in its physical incarnation, unlike many other Xbox 360 shmups — including its stablemate Shooting Love. 10-shuunen) and subsequently for PC via Steam.

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Racer Essentials: Split/Second

With my Sunday Driving playthrough of Black Rock Studio’s excellent Split/Second now at an end, it’s time to take a final, summative look back at one of my favourite racers of all time.

Split/Second, like its contemporary and rival Blur, was a victim of a combination of factors: poor marketing, arrogant publishers and an overall gaming landscape that was somewhat in flux. As such, while those who took a chance on it back in the day tend to look back on it rather fondly now, it doesn’t get nearly the recognition it deserves.

Let’s change all that, shall we?

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