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.

Helltaker: Hell is Sliding Block Puzzles

At the time of writing, a new independently developed game called “Helltaker” is all over social media, with all sorts of people sharing screenshots and fanart.

With that in mind, I decided to give it a look for myself. Turns out it’s a free download for PC, available via Steam. As such, there’s absolutely no risk involved in trying it out at the very least — and if you like it, you have a cool thing to add to your library; if, on the other hand, it’s not for you, you haven’t lost anything.

What did I think? Hmm, mixed feelings if I’m perfectly honest; let’s explore all that a little further, then.

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Sega Ages Phantasy Star – Classic Dungeon Crawling, Modern Conveniences

Although at the time of writing a lot of people are super-excited for the impending PC release of Phantasy Star Online 2, the series as a whole isn’t anywhere near as well-known as the heavy-hitting classics of the RPG genre.

Indeed, Phantasy Star as a whole has always been something of a niche interest series — perhaps in part due to the majority of its “golden age” being released on platforms that were not typically renowned for their role-playing games.

The first game in particular is very interesting to return to, especially when you consider its original release date as a contemporary of the first Final Fantasy and the second Dragon Quest. And the Sega Ages version for Nintendo Switch is the definitive way to experience it — so let’s explore that now!

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Streets of Rage 3: The Most Notorious Localisation

Ah, Streets of Rage 3. Probably the most notorious entry in the franchise due to how heavily it was altered between its original Japanese release as Bare Knuckle III and its Western incarnation.

Thankfully, modern compilations such as the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection make it very easy to access the Japanese version — though it’s worth taking a look at the Western release too for an extreme example of what unnecessary localisation due to external pressure looks like.

Let’s hit the streets once again!

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A Hat in Time: Hat the Nipper

Despite what anyone who has ever worked in the teaching profession (including myself) might tell you, children are not inherently evil.

They’re not inherently good either, mind you, and that’s what potentially makes them interesting as characters. Particularly characters in some form of interactive media where you get to explore the consequences of “good” and “bad” behaviour in various contexts.

Among other things, A Hat in Time is a joyful exploration of what it means to be a child. A child who has their own spaceship and is clearly a lot more 1) intelligent and 2) affluent than they might let on, but a child nonetheless. Let’s explore this strange and wonderful world through the eyes of the one and only Hat Kid.

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Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon – Enhanced Nostalgia

Part of my intention behind my Delving Into series focusing on Castlevania was to get a solid understanding of the classic franchise before jumping into Koji Igarashi’s Kickstarter-funded Bloodstained project.

While I’m not all the way through the classic games at the time of writing, I do feel like I’m at an adequate point where I can start looking at the two Bloodstained games and be able to analyse their similarities and differences from classic-formula Castlevania.

So let’s begin today with a look at Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, a spinoff title developed by Inti Creates, designed more in the mould of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse than the more recent, post-Symphony of the Night open-structure 2D platformer incarnations.

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Streets of Rage 2: Everyone’s Favourite

Speak to pretty much anyone familiar with the Streets of Rage series, and chances are their favourite installment is probably the second.

While the first game may have set the template for the series to follow by being a beat ’em up designed for the home rather than the arcade, the second is where it well and truly hit its stride. Streets of Rage 2 demonstrates what the humble Mega Drive is truly capable of in the hands of real masters of their craft.

And it’s a game that is still relevant, enormously playable and impressive to look at, even to this day. So let’s take a closer look.

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Streets of Rage: Dawn of a Phenomenon

The Streets of Rage series is an all-time great in gaming, and you could practically hear the collective sigh of relief from the entire community when the brand new fourth installment, released at the tail end of April 2020, turned out to be good.

How do the older installments hold up today, though? Having not played them for a few years, I figured “while I wait for my Limited Run copy of Streets of Rage 4 to arrive” would be the perfect time to revisit them all. So that’s exactly what I’m doing.

We begin, of course, with the first game in the series, which first hit the streets in 1991 with releases for the Mega Drive, Master System and Game Gear. We’ll be concentrating on the 16-bit Mega Drive release for today, since that’s still the most readily available version for modern audiences. Let’s dive in.

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