Category: Reviews

Budget Hell: PRISM: Guard Shield

Happy after-Thanksgiving, everybody. Hope you had your fill of fattening birds, parade floats and talking to your very religious grandparents. I was gonna write this on Thanksgiving Day itself, but stuff came up. However, it has been a while since we dabbled into the wonders of Budget Hell, and this one is gonna be a doozy. Consider this the Thanksgiving special.

You’ve probably heard of America’s Army. Sponsored by the U.S. Army, the game was a significant hit in its day. Known for being an accurate simulation of Army activities — at least, for a military video game, anyway — as well as the constant “JOIN THE ARMY” overtones, it was a decent little game for its time. At one point, the U.S. Navy sponsored Sony’s SOCOM series of video games. Realizing the “big boys” were getting video game deals, the U.S. National Guard decided to have their own sponsored game. A free, sponsored game, just like the U.S. Army. Problem is, it’s one of the worst free games out there.

This looks totally appealing.

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Review: Mountain Dew Game Fuel, Halo 4 Edition.

Yeah, you read that right. I’m going to review a soda on this blog. Why, you may ask?

A. Because I can.

2. Halo 4 fever is slowly dying and being replaced by Call of Duty: Black Ops II fever, so I gotta squeeze this in now while it’s still relevant. No one’s gonna care about this in a month’s time.

I like to exaggerate the name of this stuff. Imagine if it was said by some obnoxious 90s announcer. Now you know how I call this stuff.

So, this is the fourth time that Mountain Dew has done the limited “Game Fuel” thing to advertise whatever hot new video game was on the market. The first time Game Fuel was introduced was in 2007 for Halo 3, then re-released in 2009 for a World of Warcraft expansion — I’m guessing Cataclysm but I don’t play those so I’m not certain — and most recently, last year for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I honestly expected them to skip this year, judging by the “every other year” cycle, but since Halo started the unique limited flavor/marketing tie-in for Mountain Dew, they might as well do it again for the newest installment involving a Master Chief and some Halos.

I’ll bite: I was never a big Halo guy. I played a leaked prototype of Gearbox Software’s PC port back in 2003, and eventually bought the game the following year. I thought it was interesting and kinda fun, but hardly the mind-blowing revelation that gamers were making it out to be. Halo 2 was a dull, monotonous corridor shooter I’d rather forget, and all I remember of Halo 3 was me and my friend Tina co-oping it in two long sessions one time. Still, I can’t say I hate Halo, it just never really grabbed me outside of the soundtrack and occasionally its multiplayer. Maybe it’s because I was anti-Xbox ’til about 2006. Forgive me, I was an oblivious teenager.

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From the Rising Sun: Yakiniku Bugyou

As you probably noticed on this site, I’ve covered almost nothing but American and/or European video games. Some of you may think I’m xenophobic, or just plain biased against Japanese video games. Well, the truth is I haven’t had much to write about Japanese video games, plus that’s become such a common thing for gamers to cover on the internet that I don’t have anything to write about that’s particularly unique. Well, that’s gonna change today.

I am was a member of Raptr, which is basically a social networking site for gamers where you can track achievements and keep up with friends and stuff. I keep forgetting I have it, but then I get emails from Raptr saying I have fulfilled a requirement for Raptr Rewards, where if you track a certain amount of time on a certain game, system or genre, you can redeem some reward. They were doing one in collaboration with Monkey Paw Games, a noted publisher of import games for PlayStation systems. So I decided to throw my hat in the ring and hope I get something good. I get some game I’ve never heard of: Yakiniku Bugyou. I was hoping for something cool like Arc the Lad, Alundra or even Tomba!, but I guess I got the short end of the stick. I’ve been on a weird train of getting free stuff lately, I even got Darksiders thanks to a Game Informer contest around the same time I got this.

Now, there is a slight problem to this particular game: It’s entirely in Japanese, this isn’t something that’s been translated by the publisher. I know a total of about three words in Japanese, so forgive me if I’m stumbling through this game and make it look crappier than it actually is.

A screenshot of the game in action.

From what I gathered very briefly from playing the first option on the menu, the game works like this: You have three customers, each with specific requirements. Yakiniku refers to the grilling method, from what I glanced on Wikipedia anyhow. You place meat, fruit and (presumably) tofu on the plate and try to cook them without burning them, and serve them to the respective customer for points. If you don’t fulfill their requirements enough or run out of time, it’s game over. You also have to flip the items for even grilling and chip them off the grill if they get too burnt. That’s the gist of the game, with later levels introducing different characters and new items to work with. Since the language barrier coupled with the frantic gameplay hindered me, I couldn’t get past stage one, so I may never get to experience this game properly. From what I did play, it’s a fun arcade game, but me not knowing a lick of Japanese makes it really hard to play for more than five minutes.

Oh well, I can’t complain too much. It’s $6 on the PlayStation Store, and it’s probably an enjoyable little game for the price if you’re into Japanese culture. Still wish I got something else from Monkey Paw Games instead, like Cho Aniki. That would’ve been a hoot to cover.

I messed with Lo Wang, and got my ass beat: A retrospective of Shadow Warrior.

Man, remember when Apogee and 3D Realms were considered one of the coolest PC publishers? Then Duke Nukem Forever happened and now they’re just a shell of their former glory only to be laughed at. Where did it start going all wrong? Probably when they thought they could make a Duke Nukem 3D ripoff of their own. Ladies and germs, this is Shadow Warrior.

The cover even mimics Duke Nukem 3D’s where Duke’s standing on top of a dead baddie.


Released in early 1997 only on PC, it was an amazing flop. It didn’t sell as well as Duke 3D did. There were going to be three expansions, which only one — Twin Dragons — got a commercial release; the other two — Deadly Kiss and Wanton Destruction — would be cancelled after the poor sales of the original game. (Wanton Destruction did get released many years later as freeware, though.) Shadow Warrior is considered to be part of the “Holy Trinity” of shooters that used Ken Silverman’s Build engine: The others being Duke Nukem 3D and either Redneck Rampage or Blood, depending on who you talk to. (Some people consider all four to be important, making this a “Holy Quadrinity.” Which is totally not a word.)
I had already bought DukeRedneck Rampage and Blood through GOG.com, but bizarrely Shadow Warrior was nowhere to be found on that service (as of the time I write this). The only ways to buy it were through 3D Realms’ online store at a ridiculous-for-an-old-game price of $10, or hunt down a copy on eBay or local shops. Well, luck was on my side when I finally found a copy at a Goodwill recently. After a little cajoling with DOSBox to get it to work properly, I was ready to play Shadow Warrior, told by the man himself that “You no mess with the Lo Wang.” I had heard from friends that this game wasn’t very good. Was this gonna be a repeat of the Blood II debacle, where I found enjoyment in a game everybody else hated? No, because where I can find some enjoyment and goofiness in Blood II, it is almost nowhere to be found in Shadow Warrior.
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Vietnam: Black Ops: Not the Black Ops you’re thinking of.

Way back in January of 2012, I had written a post about a bargain bin shooter I had grabbed called Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima. That wasn’t a fun game to play. But there are several other bargain bin shooters out there, some of which that are actually alright.

Granted, I wouldn’t say it’s good, but I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima. It’s yet another game based on a war, this time a little more recent. So let’s play Black Ops.

Sadly, Woods did not learn time travel and appear in a budget game from 2000. Though anything’s possible these days.

No, no, silly, not that Black Ops. Though I wouldn’t mind talking about probably one of the better games in the Call of Duty franchise, we’re actually talking about a game called Vietnam: Black Ops, and it was made way back in the year 2000. Insert your “In the year 2000” joke here.

With that font, I wonder if I’m playing Black Ops or Postal…

Made by a podunk little studio called Fused Software, this would end up being their only published game. Most of the people would work on this game and a handful of other projects around the late 90s to early 2000s, though one art designer for this is still in the biz working on art for stuff like Dragon Age: Origins, so good on him.

Oh, and this is another Valusoft joint. I had mentioned them in the previous post, and I wasn’t expecting to be playing two war games published by the same company. It shows how ubiquitous they were during this period. While I can’t say I remember this era fondly, it was certainly more interesting than seeing copies of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 on my PC budget aisles.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuyN8Njt5c4]

You play as some unknown marine during the Vietnam War. Captured by Vietcong, your goal is to kill General Phan, and get out of there safely. Occasionally you’ll see text giving your character some personality, but that’s about it. Honestly, I’ll take Alex Mason and him babbling about “hearing the fucking numbers” over this bare-bones plot.

So, it’s another first-person shooter on the Lithtech engine. Which is weird, because I thought it was the Quake engine at first, until I dug into the files and realized it used the REZ file format that Lithtech uses.

In every level, you just get to kill a bunch of Vietcong, do some slightly obnoxious platforming, and get to the end of the level each time.

You start with a useless knife, then get an AK47, M16, a M60, a Sniper Rifle, and two explosive launchers during your travels. Most of the weapons will be in your collection not long after you start, and unlike Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima, there’s actually ammo for these guns this time!

Never thought the Vietnamese would have some hidden temple like this.

However, that doesn’t excuse the game’s punishing difficulty. You have 100 health and no armor, and it doesn’t take much for you to die. Get used to seeing the Purple Heart and “Taps” playing repeatedly every time you die, because you will likely see it a lot. Expect to be hitting the quick save key a lot.

Now I can give this game credit for something: The levels are pretty large, which is impressive for a 2000-era game. Problem is the the levels look blocky and simplistic, with the later levels being “my first FPS level” in some spots. They look like they belong in an action-adventure Tomb Raider knockoff rather than a Vietnam War FPS, but I’m not expecting realism here.

On the bright side, a handful of the levels feel somewhat non-linear, allowing you to take one of two different paths which probably take you to the same place anyway. At least, it felt that way, I didn’t replay the game to be sure if I was right.

Besides the ugly graphics and very banal gameplay of shooting dudes and getting to the exit, there really isn’t much else to this game. Thankfully it’s ridiculously short: I beat it in an hour and a half over two separate sessions. Honestly I was hoping for something longer, but then I flashback to WWII Iwo Jima and realized how much the game padded its levels with ridiculous difficulty spikes, so I’ll take the short length.

I found this in a thrift store for $2. For the time I got with it, $2 is the right price. It’s not mindblowing, but it’s not awful. Hence, Vietnam: Black Ops is just a passable, but ultimately forgettable game.

Surprisingly, there was a sequel: Vietnam 2: Special Assignment. Some of the developers from Black Ops return for the sequel, which surprised me. I haven’t found a copy of this anywhere, but I’m not expecting anything mind-blowing. Maybe I’ll find it and get around to writing about it some day…

Call of Duty: Black Ops promo picture taken from the Call of Duty Wiki. Vietnam: Black Ops video courtesy of YouTube user Marphy Black.

Facebook Games: The Price is Right Slots and Zynga Slingo

Okay, I confess: I play Facebook social games. For a long time I vowed against these kind of games, because of a long-standing view to not play games meant for the “casual crowd” like my mother. Eventually once I got a Wii a few years ago, I caved in and enjoyed the goofy stuff like Wii Sports Resort. This “relaxing” of playing casual games extended to Facebook and the social games there, thus my really stupid stigma of not playing “casual games” had disappeared, and for a while, was my thing.

Anyway, onto the Facebook games. My first taste of Facebook games was Wheel of Fortune. I have a bunch of big game show fans on my Facebook friends list, many of whom I’ve known for years, and it makes sense they’d jump on board to the game show games. After getting hounded for requests on Wheel of Fortune, I hopped on and started doing the daily puzzle thing like the rest of my friends.

After a while we all kinda got burnt out and moved on from Wheel. It didn’t help that Wheel was a single player game on Facebook, thus not as exciting to play as the actual TV show. That was the end of that for a while, I stopped playing Facebook games with the exception of contests, such as winning a Def Leppard track pack for Rock Band 3 thanks to a contest program once.

Cut to months later, where I started getting requests for The Price Is Right Slots and Zynga Slingo. At that point, I had not played any Facebook games for several months, and decided that now was the time to scratch that itch again. First with TPIR Slots, then with Zynga Slingo. Now here’s my rough opinions of both.

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Looking back at Blood II: The Chosen.

Critical opinion of games can vary wildly. Some games are universally praised, such as the major AAA entries, while others are universally slammed for their absolute badness. Though in all honesty, the games that are merely okay are the most interesting.

As time goes on, some games have stood the test of time and are still praised to this very day. Others have not aged as well and thus have a more negative reception now than they did back then. Despite that, there’s some games that are old enough that while the game is universally disliked now, there’s some people that have fondness for the game because of the time they played it. For me, that’s Blood II: The Chosen.

Caleb lives… again.

Taking place in the far-flung future of 2028, the protagonist Caleb from the original Blood is brought back from the dead to stop Gideon from unleashing the Cabal and causing hell on earth. While Caleb goes through darkened alleys, desolate hotels and the obligatory sewer level, he bumps into a few supporting characters who spout goofy tidbits of advice. All this culminates in Caleb having to destroy “The Chosen One” in a dark parallel world. It’s typical late 1990s first-person shooter fare: Little story, strange levels to roam around in, baddies to shoot, and the occasional jumping puzzle. Because hey, people LOVED jumping puzzles back in the day! (/sarcasm)

Blood II was one of the first games to use Monolith’s new Lithtech engine. When it was released in late 1998, the game had very mixed opinions. GameSpot gave it a respectable 7.8 in its heyday, IGN gave it a slightly weaker 6.8, and GamePro was the most critical of the game, giving it a 2/5. The general opinion seems to be that Blood II wasn’t as good, giving Blood considerably more praise. This opinion is agreed upon with most of my friends, regardless of playing it when it was new back in 1998, or when replaying it today.

From early on in the game. These guys have the funniest voice, including saying goofy gibberish which sounded like “Strongalellie,” which I still don’t get what it means.

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StoneLoops! of Jurassica: An interesting GameStop freebie.

So I’m sitting here, browsing the internet and looking at goofy forum posts, when I get an email from GameStop. Usually they’re for dumb deals where you can save $5 off a copy of some used game from six months ago or something. But this one caught my eye.

Free game?! Sign me up!

I’m a complete sucker for free games, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to snag a free game, despite it being somewhat of a clunky way to do this.

Normally I don’t frequent GameStop because of their nasty business practices of pushing pre-orders, plus I often find games on sale elsewhere, so often times my GameStop visits are usually that: visits. This was back before they branched out to “geek culture” alongside games.

So I buy a few games at a store just to use up another coupon I had: Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition for PS3, since I had heard it was a pretty cool game; and Die Hard: Vendetta for the Gamecube, since they were gonna stop selling Gamecube games soon. (Note from me in 2019: I played Arkham Asylum and thought it was great, but I still haven’t played Die Hard: Vendetta to this day.)

I get home and go through the less-than-interesting set of events, including having to register for GameStop’s Impulse service, and then installed StoneLoops! of Jurassica. In my excitement and fervor for something free, I didn’t realize what the free game really was.

This looks like something I’ve seen before…

Look familiar? Yeah, it’s similar to the Magnetica series of games (or Ballistic/Puzz Loop, if you prefer). A color matching ball shooter game created by Mitchell Corporation, duplicated by many others, notably PopCap’s Zuma and MumboJumbo’s Luxor.

For those who haven’t played these kind of games, the goal is to shoot balls of a color into a matching color to stack combos for points. Luxor changed it up a bit where instead of shooting randomly colored balls like Zuma or Magnetica, you’d pull a ball over and shoot it back onto a stack to make combos, clearing groups of balls being pushed by special monsters (Beetles in StoneLoops!). Luxor added to this by giving the player powerups like spears and time stoppers, almost like the powerups in games like Arkanoid.

StoneLoops! is based on Luxor‘s gameplay style, yet has a theme/style more reminiscent of Zuma, so in a sense it’s a weird mashup of the whole ball shooter genre. The similarities to Luxor were so blatant that MumboJumbo actually muscled Apple to remove an iOS version of StoneLoops! from the App Store. Not a big deal for developer CodeMinion, as they still have the game available on other platforms, including the PC.

Though I doubt Luxor has an excited announcer yelling words like “ASTONISHING!” and “AVALANCHE!” when you’ve done great combos. Guy could give the Unreal Tournament announcer a run for his money. StoneLoops! has the same kind of gameplay loop these ball shooters have, including upgrading your hut (which doesn’t do much of anything), and a long story progression of multiple levels of challenge.

There really isn’t much else to this game, the game is fairly innocuous and no different than the other color-matching ball shooters out there. Despite that, it’s a decent time-waster.

You can try StoneLoops! of Jurassica for yourself on CodeMinion’s official website, free of charge. Sadly it’s a trial version and not the full game, but an hour is probably enough to see the StoneLoops! experience for yourself. I recommend it just to hear that overexcited announcer.

2019 update:

This would be the first out of two games I’d get from GameStop’s Impulse service, the other being a free copy of Darksiders that I didn’t use. (It came with a Steam key, so I gave the key to a friend.) It was clear GameStop was using this to attract people to the Impulse service, which wasn’t a big success as it would shut down in 2014. Which means this whole adventure was kind of a waste, in retrospect.

However, I downloaded the trial again recently and found it just as goofy as I remember it. I’m not even super-big on casual games like these and I had a fun time for about 10 minutes. I can see the appeal and the addictive nature of these games, for sure.

This post has been completely overhauled, making it drastically different from when I originally wrote it, where it was more like a blog post. I tried to update it more how I usually write things these days. My apologies for it being so short, these kind of games are fairly simple and don’t require a lot of words.

Elite Forces WWII Iwo Jima: Budget Warfare.

Man, remember when World War II games were really popular? It just seems like there was a time when everybody was clamoring for shooters that involved shooting them Nazis. Then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened and suddenly Nazis were so passe, replaced by middle eastern militia, Russian ultranationalists or Korean dictators.

Let’s go back a few years. Even before Call of Duty was a thing and Medal of Honor was the only WWII shooter in town, there were a handful of people getting in on the WWII train.

Enter ValuSoft. With the help of developer 3LV Games, they graced us with this wonderful game: Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima. A sequel to Elite Forces: WWII Normandy, this is a first-person shooter that takes us through the Pacific theater in WWII. At least, I assume, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Lithtech… that’s usually a bad sign.

I should back up a bit and give you a brief history of the developer. 3LV Games only made three games in their lifetime: The two Elite Forces: WWII games and Arthur’s Quest: Battle for the Kingdom, a game that GameSpot gave a 1.9 out of 10 to. So already that’s a bad sign.

While there isn’t much to say about 3LV, there is a lot to talk about ValuSoft. These guys were the absolute kings of bargain bin games. Most of these games were also very bad, made in a slap-dash quality to make a quick buck. In the early-to-mid 2000s, if you were perusing the bargain rack at a Wal-Mart, it’s likely it was published by ValuSoft.

ValuSoft was snatched up by THQ in 2002 and folded into a bargain label. When THQ folded originally in 2012, it was acquired by Cosmi, a studio that had been releasing games for decades prior. It’s now under a generic “Play Hard Games” brand where you can get stuff like Mutant Football League and The Original Strife: Veteran Edition if you want to get your games from even lesser-known digital storefronts.

It’s an unfortunate loss in the budget gaming world, leaving PC budget racks everywhere with cheap copies of Ubisoft titles or loads of slot machine games instead. It’s an improvement in which you’re less likely to gamble on garbage, but that takes all the fun out of it.

This guy must be strong if he can handle an M1 Garand singlehandedly.

So Elite Forces WWII Iwo Jima uses Monolith’s “Lithtech” engine, although not very well. There’s a fair share of games around this era that used this engine, presumably because it was the cheapest to license. Nowadays, the equivalent would likely be Unity. But it’s not the engine that dictates the game, it’s the game itself, so let’s drop in.

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