Category Archives: Essentials

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

Mega Drive Essentials: Fatal Labyrinth

Roguelikes have been around for many years now, but in recent years we’ve seen an explosion in popularity of more accessible games that present a friendlier face to this notoriously obtuse genre.

Well-received Western indie titles such as Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Dungeons of Dredmor, FTL and numerous others helped popularise (and, some may argue, dilute) the roguelike genre. At the same time, games such as One Way Heroics and the Mystery Dungeon series helped develop the genre in a distinctively Japanese direction.

But this development isn’t quite as recent as you might think. In fact, we’ve had accessible console-style roguelikes since the 16-bit era, though many may not have been aware of “roguelike” as a genre at the time. And a great — if particularly punishing — example can be found in the form of Sega’s Fatal Labyrinth (aka Shi no Meikyuu: Labyrinth of Death, no relation to Compile Heart’s MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death) for Mega Drive.

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Mega Drive Essentials: Burning Force

One of the best things about the Mega Drive — and one of the aspects that makes it a system so enjoyable to revisit — is the prevalence of unabashedly arcade-style games — and indeed arcade ports — in its catalogue.

Namco’s Burning Force is a particularly fun example that offers something a little different from the norm; while received with fairly mediocre reviews on its original release thanks to a superficial resemblance to Sega classic Space Harrier, looking back on it from a modern perspective reveals a pleasingly distinctive shoot ’em up that both looks and plays great even today.

Also it features a pretty girl in a neon pink leotard riding a transforming hoverbike. What’s not to like about that?

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Shmup Essentials: Deep Space Waifu

It may seem faintly sacrilegious to include a game like Deep Space Waifu in the same column as legends such as Thunder Force II, Raiden IV and Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours. But the fact is, this rough-around-the-edges, budget-price affair is actually well worth your time and attention.

Developed by the mysterious “Neko Climax Studios”, whose only online presence appears to be a Facebook page under the ID “@nekohentaiking” and whose credits consist entirely of initials, Deep Space Waifu describes itself as a “casual strip ’em up action game, full of colours and girls”. And, really, that’s pretty much the perfect description.

At first glance, this appears to be a game that does not take itself at all seriously. But beneath the neon colours, chaotic visual effects and questionable artwork, there’s a surprisingly solid shoot ’em up that has clearly been designed with some care and attention.

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Mega Drive Essentials: Alisia Dragoon

Sega’s Mega Drive console — or the Genesis to those of you in the States — was a wonderful machine.

In many ways, it started the process of making gaming “cool”, and laid the groundwork for Sony’s solid efforts to make our whole form of entertainment a lot more mainstream with the first PlayStation. But more importantly, it played host to a wide variety of absolutely fantastic games.

One such title was Game Arts’ Alisia Dragoon, an unusual action game that combines elements of disparate genres to produce an extremely memorable, enjoyable and addictive game that still holds up well today.

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Shmup Essentials: Thunder Force II

We’re going retro this time around, with a classic from the early days of Sega’s 16-bit console, the Mega Drive.

The heyday of Techno Soft’s Thunder Force series was arguably around its visually spectacular third and fourth installments, both of which were often used by many proud Mega Drive owners as showcases of their system’s audio-visual capabilities, but the second installment — a launch title for the Genesis in the States — is an interesting game in its own right, mostly because it’s quite different from its better-known successors.

We may not have seen a new Thunder Force game since 2008’s PlayStation 2 release of Thunder Force VI, but the series as a whole remains extremely solid to this day, and one well worth checking out if you’re a dedicated shmup fan.

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Shmup Essentials: Cardinal Sins

As we’ve already established, Qute’s Eschatos is an absolutely fabulous shoot ’em up that every fan of the genre should have in their collection.

Its predecessors are still very worthwhile games in their own right, too; while technologically rather more primitive than the 60fps cinematic polygonal action of Eschatos, their 2D pixel art and chiptune soundtracks have a great deal of charm to them — and, most importantly, they’re damn fun to play.

Today I wanted to particularly look at Cardinal Sins, one of the two games that eventually begat Eschatos. Technically a freeware spinoff of Eschatos’ true predecessor Judgement SilverswordCardinal Sins is arguably the most interesting of the two games, for reasons that will become apparent.

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Wii U Essentials: Wii Party U

Nintendo’s Wii gained something of a reputation as a “party game machine”, for better or worse.

The Wii U never quite captured the same success as its predecessor in this regard due to its considerably smaller audience — not to mention the rise of other types of games filling a similar niche — but that didn’t stop Nintendo in particular from producing a number of different games intended to be played socially. With other people. In the same room! Imagine that.

One such example was Wii Party U, a successor to its similarly named predecessor on the older platform. Designed to be accessible and understandable to all ages, it’s neither the most complex nor technically impressive game on the platform — but it is noteworthy for being very successful at what it does.

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