In many cases the games that are part of D3 Publisher’s sprawling budget-price Simple Series are enjoyably experimental, while in others they simply represent traditional gaming genres brought up to date with modern (for the time) visuals and sound.
Bust-a-Bloc, or The Block Kuzushi Hyper as it was known in Japan, occupies a space somewhere between these two approaches: it’s an adaptation of one of the oldest types of game around, but it adds some interesting and experimental twists on the formula to make it surprisingly distinct from its peers in an incredibly crowded genre.
As you can probably determine from its title, Bust-a-Bloc is a Breakout-type game in which you hit a ball with a paddle in order to destroy blocks — indeed, this genre of game is simply known as “block kuzushi” (block destruction) in Japan, so the title is another example of the Simple Series’ charmingly literal title scheme — but it’s the game’s few additions to the formula that make it noteworthy, and well worth spending some time with.
Continue reading PS2 Essentials: Bust-a-Bloc
Have you heard the tale of FromSoftware, dear reader? Legend has it that long ago, in the dim and distant past, these renowned scribes were more than just “the people who made Souls games”.
Joking aside, the company’s past output is quite a bit more diverse than you might expect if you only became aware of it in the last couple of console generations. In particular, the first two PlayStation eras represented FromSoftware at its most experimental, with its games running the gamut from Souls’ spiritual predecessor King’s Field to mech sim series Armored Core.
Perhaps the most surprising of FromSoftware’s games from this era, though, given their present reputation for “dark and moody”, is a rather peculiar PlayStation 2 game released in Japan and Europe as Kuri Kuri Mix, and The Adventures of Cookie and Cream in the States.
Continue reading PS2 Essentials: Kuri Kuri Mix
One of the most charming things about D3 Publisher’s Simple Series is its straightforward naming convention, which brings to mind the good old days of Atari 2600 games called imaginative things like “Combat”, “Golf” and “Dodge ‘Em”.
As such, with a game called The Helicopter — or the even more literal Radio Helicopter, as it was known in Europe — you pretty much know what you’re getting into before you start.
What you might not know, however, is that this simplistic-sounding, low-budget game is actually a ton of fun.
Continue reading PS2 Essentials: Radio Helicopter
Shoot ’em ups, being one of the oldest genres of gaming there is, have been a pretty constant presence in every major generation of gaming hardware.
The early years of the 21st century were no exception, offering us a wide variety of top-notch shoot ’em ups of all types, including bullet hell, traditional side-scrollers, vertical scrollers and full 3D efforts.
Psyvariar by Success Corporation, a company today primarily known for its Cotton series and puzzle game Zoo Keeper, is a particularly solid example with some interesting mechanics, and a game that remains eminently playable today.
Continue reading Shmup Essentials: Psyvariar
One of the most interesting phenomena of the early PlayStation eras was D3 Publisher’s “Simple Series”, a range of low-budget — and budget-priced — titles produced by a wide variety of external developers.
The series began on PS1 with some pretty straightforward interpretations of concepts such as mahjong, tennis or racing, but over time gradually expanded to take in role-playing games, dating sims and even enhanced ports of arcade games.
By the time the PlayStation 2 rolled around and the Simple 2000 subseries launched — so named because each game cost 2,000 yen (a little under £14 today) in its native Japan — the range had become a great place to find fascinating (but often flawed) games that, by virtue of their low budgets, could afford to be a bit experimental. Essentially, they fulfilled the function that the digital-only indie scene does today, only you had to buy them on disc because digital games weren’t yet a thing on consoles.
And so it was that we found ourselves face to face (or, well, face to ankle) with Tamsoft’s The Daibijin (The Gigantic Beauty), localised for Europe as Demolition Girl.
Continue reading PS2 Essentials: Demolition Girl/The Daibijin
Ah, OutRun. The quintessential “Sega blue sky” series… and one that has kind of fallen by the wayside a bit since the expiry of Sega’s license with Ferrari.
After listening to a bit of the soundtrack to the upcoming Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash and thinking “gosh, this sounds a bit like early 2000s Sega music, I feel like playing some OutRun” I decided to… well, play some OutRun.
Specifically, I decided to play some OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. And yep, it’s still a great game.
Continue reading Outrun 2006: Gone, But Not Forgotten
One interesting contrast between Western and Eastern role-playing games is the way they each handle their core “rulesets.”
Western RPGs tend to follow a model that is somewhat closer to tabletop role-playing, whereby all the rules are set out clearly in front of you from the outset. You generally spend the entire game applying these rules in different ways, gradually growing in effectiveness (usually through increased likelihood to succeed at various challenges) as you proceed.
This is perhaps a side-effect of the fact that Western RPGs have their roots very much in Dungeons & Dragons — in fact, many early Western RPGs quite simply were Dungeons & Dragons games — but even today with franchises like The Elder Scrolls, we see what are often some relatively straightforward rules being applied consistently throughout the entirety of a game.
Japanese role-playing games, on the other hand, play things a little bit differently.
This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.
Continue reading From the Archives: Layers Upon Layers
Back in the PS1 and PS2 eras we were very much enjoying a Golden Age across a variety of different game genres, but many people regard this as a very special time for the JRPG in particular.
This period in gaming history gave birth to some truly “timeless” and gloriously experimental titles which remain immensely entertaining today, despite their obvious technical limitations.
Several such examples can be found in the Shadow Hearts series, a collection of games that sound completely batshit crazy on paper, but which actually turn out to be some of the finest role-playing games I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy.
This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.
Continue reading From the Archives: Shadow Hearts – A Classic Series from the PS2 Era
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Nier: Automata is a fascinating game in its own right, but it becomes even more of an interesting story when you take it in context of everything that led to its creation.
In order to understand Nier: Automata and its predecessors, it is particularly important to understand creator Taro Yoko, one of the most distinctive “auteurs” in all of video game making — albeit one who, until the release of Automata, had largely flown under the radar in stark contrast to his contemporaries such as Hideo Kojima.
Yoko is a creator who, it’s fair to say, has consistently pushed back against the boundaries of what is “accepted practice” in video game development — both in terms of subject matter and mechanical considerations. And the results of his resistance to conventions and norms are some of the most distinctive and interesting — albeit sometimes flawed — creations in all of gaming.
Continue reading Nier Automata: Introduction and History
Every avid gamer out there has at least one series — or perhaps even just one game — that they latch onto and will defend to the death.
For my friend Alex, it was the Ar Tonelico series, a generation-spanning series of role-playing games from Gust, the team best-known for the Atelier series. And, once I’d played through all three games in the series, I became a true believer, too.
I came to Ar Tonelico and its two sequels quite a while after their initial release, but they’re not as old as you might think — or as their dated graphics might suggest. In fact, the initial games’ release on the PlayStation 2 just as the PlayStation 3 was starting to wind up and capture the attention of everyone probably contributed to the fact that, although rather wonderful, these three games are somewhat underappreciated by many, and even unknown to some.
So let’s rectify that, shall we?
Continue reading I Shall Give You Endless Earth