2021 Games

Games are added as I write about them, not in order of playing (necessarily).

1. Power Pete (1995)

In our inaugural page that focuses on our new format (with a format a bit more based on this page's inspiration, Kentie.net), the first post here is for Power Pete (also known as Mighty Mike, though I'll be referring to it as Power Pete in this review), an old Pangea Software game.

Like with Glider PRO, Power Pete got open-sourced with modern features (like a joystick aim) and runs great, the only problem I have is there's no way to do full screen without doubling the resolution. Still, you can do widescreen and utilize most of your screen's real estate without stretching the UI.

You can see more about my personal memories of Power Pete is the May 30 2021 update of this site, but the plot resolves around action figure trying to rescue stuffed bunnies from other departments of a toy store. Here, let this better explain it:
Toy Mart has closed for the evening. The clerks have long since turned off the cash registers, and the midnight janitor has left. Suddenly the store comes alive as dolls, action figures, and game pieces jump to their feet.

Within moments cities are formed: in the Bargain Bin, race tracks become islands of action surrounded by a sea of on-looking toy robots. In the Clown Department thousands of insane clowns initiate a massive pie fight. Throughout all of the departments, life arises...

Suddenly there is a commotion in the Doll Department! One of the cages in the Stuffed Animal Zoo has broken open – hundreds of Fuzzy Bunnies hop out of the cage and scatter. The Fuzzy Bunnies, with their limited intellect, do not realize the danger they are in. The new metropolis of Toy Mart can be a very dangerous place for Fuzzy Bunnies to wander alone, and without help they stand little chance of surviving until morning.

The peaceful inhabitants of the Doll Department cry out for the Fuzzy Bunnies to return...but to no avail. What will they do? What will become of the Fuzzy Bunnies? "I WILL HELP YOU!" storms a deep, resonant voice from one of the shelves. A hush crawls over the crowd of Fuzzy onlookers. A large package tumbles from the shelf onto the floor and bursts open...and a figure emerges. Yes, it's Power Pete – the most powerful action figure money can buy! "Fear not, my fellow merchandise! I will rescue the Fuzzy Bunnies!" he exclaims.

Armed only with his single-shot suction-cup gun, Power Pete trots gallantly off into the aisles of the Toy Mart Metropolis. Luckily for Pete, the Metropolis is scattered with additional accessories. All Power Pete needs to do is to equip himself with better weapons and power-up accessories, and then he should have no problem rescuing the Fuzzy Bunnies, right? Wrong.

There are many toys which would love to see Power Pete "recalled" since his sales have increased and caused their sales to plummet. Power Pete will have a very difficult time finding all of the Fuzzy Bunnies since almost every toy in the store is out to get him...
Playing it for the first time since around 2010 (when I used an actual Mac OS 9-running iMac) was fantastic, and thanks to resources from Macintosh Garden (link) I was able to get the maps to the levels, which I appended with locations of keys and bunnies. It also includes with quality scans of the rare strategy guide, skip it—it only includes text descriptions of how to beat the levels, though it does mention in an interview that there were supposed to be 12 "worlds" instead of just five. Given that there are major gaps in the categories of toys to fight (girls' toys, space toys, military toys, etc.), I can only guess that these are what the cut departments had. There's also evidence that whatever scraps were actually drawn up for that were moved into the "Games Gallery" world, renamed "Bargain Bin" late in development, as that world (the fifth and last one) features sandboxes, UFOs that make you invincible, stuffed dogs, and baby toys scattered about.

The game's not hard if you have any real video game experience, and the only bug I found was a rare collision error that crashed the game in the third level of Candy Cane Lane. Unfortunately I didn't get specifics before the game quit out. There's a few frustrating trial-and-error sequences in the fourth world (Magic Fun House) and the hitboxes can be wonky sometimes. The dinosaurs in the first world (Prehistoric Plaza) come to mind, but typically bad hitboxes are usually paired with some unsatisfying enemy defeat, like in EVO: Quest for Eden. Here, the weapons sound nice, and any successful "kill" comes with a pop with confetti and loot coming out. Most enemies tend to go up and down in wave patterns as they move toward you, so the best strategy is to get them parallel with you against a wall to open fire.

Using the maps someone extracted, I managed to build maps, which you can see below. I'm not sure they are for printing (I wouldn't recommend it, despite my love for my printed guidebook material) but they are helpful. The one missing from the rip was "Clown-3", you'll see how I had to work around it. (Hint: it's not pretty). Also they don't include food, but the poison apples in World 3 (Fairy Tale Trail) are marked with a Mr. Yuk symbol. All other food (bubblegum and grapes in the first world, pizza and sandwiches in the second, apples and pies in the third, peanuts and cotton candy in the fourth, and hamburgers and hot dogs in the fifth) aren't marked on the maps. In the case of the second world (Candy Cane Lane), only the pizza and the sandwiches are edible, everything else is just background objects or trying to kill you. Another exception is birthday cakes (as well as a second variety of pie), those are weapons. Editor's Note: Since this was written, this page has been copied into a new page.

2. Bugdom (1999)

Power Pete wasn't the only Jorio port, Bugdom, an old favorite of mine from our family iMac back in 2000, was ported too, and unlike the "official" Windows port works well without needing extra software and has better textures more like the Mac version. I can wax nostalgic about the year 2000, and getting our pet cat around the same time, and all that, but as I found with Marble Blast Gold (except in that case, 2005), no game can really turn back the clock, no matter how "authentic" the experience is. Mostly, does Bugdom hold up?

Obviously, the 3D is a little lacking. In the year 2000 the graphics were great, a level well above what any game console on the market could manage (maybe except for the Dreamcast), and while I don't have any big problems with the camera as implemented in the original version of the game (until you start rolling at least), the distance texture is mapped out with a blurry grass photo, but it's only until you get practically right near it if you find out if it's clear space or an insurmountable wall of grass, and while the levels are somewhat linear, they tend to be a bit confusing, especially if you were trying to 100% it.

At times, Bugdom is a 3D adaptation of Power Pete but with different levels, theme, etc., with one difference being that in Power Pete you need to collect all the bunnies to beat the level, whereas Bugdom the ladybugs don't really NEED to be rescued, and if you weren't concerned with score, you can just dash for the exit. Of course, in Bugdom's case, you don't get extra points for killing baddies nor able to collect any power-ups from killing them. All health upgrades and ways to get points are hidden in walnuts spread across the level, creating a finite number of points to be earned.

While there are only 10 levels (including bosses) and the final boss is a complete pushover, the game isn't particularly easy to complete. The third level features fish that can take out an entire life, and the fourth level has stomping feet that take out a good quarter of your HP.

There was a sequel, but Bugdom 2 is...well, I just remember how atrocious the voice acting was and how stupid the main character looked. Maybe if it gets ported (or I find a copy of Bugdom 2 for Windows, whichever comes first) I'll take a look at it.

3. Friday Night Funkin' (2020)

I had heard of this game before, and from the screenshot on Wikipedia, I immediately thought, "Hey, this looks just like StepMania, which I haven't seen since like 2003" (StepMania, at least the Mac OS X version I remember, was kind of rough around the edges).

And FNF is also rough around the edges. No native fullscreen, a tutorial that isn't that intuitive (hint: don't follow the left side, only do the right). It doesn't exactly tell you where to stop, I was playing "Week One" (the first level, new levels are released every week) and I finished the first song with flying colors, only for it to immediately segue into the second. Either way, it's far from ready for prime time.

4. Eversion (2008)

Eversion was planned for a spot on the site and was written up almost five years ago, so here's the version that I planned to write with some very minor edits (particularly in removing the link to the developers' site, as a result it's harder to find the original Eversion freeware release, though I may add it as a download here in the future).

Here's the version from June 29, 2016 as it was planned to go up on Carbon-izer:

I played Eversion circa 2011 knowing to an extent the big twist toward the end (the trailer for eversion, the HD Steam re-release, spoils it somewhat). Unless you are a child or "those of a nervous disposition", Eversion isn't scary, at least not like a horror movie is (besides, if you are one of those two types, Eversion will warn you ahead of time). Even if you know what you're getting into, there are some genuine surprises that await you. If you want a platformer that's fairly easy to beat and provides a small but rewarding amount of challenge, stop reading now and check out the freeware version of Eversion at Zaratustra Productions. The rest of the review will continue in a spoilered text, so highlight it if you want to read. By the way, the weird audio in the trailer is available here, or at least that's the way I found it.

The first level of Eversion resembles a basic NES platformer with overly cheery music (taken from Cocoron, an old Famicom game, though later releases altered this). The sky is bright, there's flowers, you collect gems from smiling blocks, and even the Goomba-type enemies bounce around (how can you kill them like that?)

At some point, you can "evert" to another phase of the world (there's roughly a level for every "eversion" world, though some levels have multiple points). World 2 has the enemies move slightly slower, and the music less cheery. They're no longer happy and bouncing. It feels like a normal platformer at this point. Some clouds become solid at this point, creating puzzles to get all the gems (mostly it relies on timed jumping, on later levels). The flowers begin to wilt.

World 3 is no longer happy and starts to look dangerous. The enemies have changed once more, becoming even slower red lumps with eyes coming increasingly together. Blocks no longer smile. The flowers have totally wilted, and the water has taken on a sea-green color instead of the blue it once was (like most platformers, water will kill you).

And it just gets worse from there. The enemies will briefly stop moving at World 4, becoming single-eyed maroon lumps before becoming growing into black monsters with fangs and red eyes (they move terrifyingly fast and won't die permanently later on). A wall of darkness will chase you through the levels. Hands will pop up from the water (which ultimately will become lava) with a sudden "SKREEEEEEEEEEEEE!" sound. The flowers will become thorny vines (which will also kill you).

One of the more disturbing instances in the game is the opening to World 4. That one I actually won't spoil for you, because it was a somewhat genuine shock and kinda gross when I realized what was going on (a YouTube link for those that want to see it anyway).

As you get further in, the game will start messing with you. It will throw in an occasional "GAME OVER" instead of "READY!"

Of course, if you complete World 7 without all 240 gems, you will get a Game Over for real (with the bad ending), so be sure to get all of them on later runs. The "true ending" is the labyrinthine World 8, which there's a point (even in the revised freeware version) where you can get COMPLETELY screwed over and would have to start the level over. Since I've gotten 240 gems and know what the ending looks like, maybe I should invest in the Steam HD version if I want to have a chance at beating it...

For what it's worth, I did buy the Steam version and 100%'d it, though the Steam version isn't well-optimized in terms of "full screen without stretching" and other features I would've hoped they had. It's just mostly higher-resolution graphics.

5. Bachman (1992)

Bachman was one of the very first things I wrote for what would eventually turn into this site, and you can see my "page" which links to an even older blog. The Mac Garden page is here. I only ever played the black and white shareware version; the color version just looks weird in my opinion.

Fun fact: I wanted to write more about Bachman, as well as other games I played at my grandfather's house in Waco (like Milestones 2000) as part of what would be a page on Waco, Texas (which would be built, but be a bit different than what I originally had planned).

6. Nier: Automata (2017)

I bought this for $20 during a Steam sale but I had wanted to play a modern, AAA title on my PC, and thankfully it seems to run relatively well, all things considered. Of course, it's still janky on PC (full screen is 30FPS, windowed is 60FPS) and a mod designed to fix some of its errors actually caused the game to not launch.

My first big complaint of it is the complete lack of save points, the first 30 minutes of the game consist of an arcade bullet hell sequence, a relatively easy boss, and waves of enemies. They give you a small amount of recovery items at the start that are automatically administered, but should you screw up, that's it. True to Square Enix's legacy games like the game described in the next section, they'll bump you to the title screen. The long download time of this game (50GB) already has left a poor taste in my mouth.

7. A Hat in Time (2017)

A Hat in Time is what a lot of Kickstarter campaigns turn into, a promise of a game loved and ultimately ruining that promise. I got A Hat in Time a few years back as a Christmas present but after trying it for a second time, never got into it. Part of the problem is that it wanted to be more like Super Mario 64 (which I played and still adore) and Banjo-Kazooie (never played) and less like Donkey Kong 64. Despite being in development for four years, the game is a mess, with both the lack of polish from an indie game and riddled with DLC (and like DLC, turns the main menu into an advertisement). It hybridizes the Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie experience with huge, sprawling maps, and some vague goals for each "act" within the world (a bit like Mario 64). Unfortunately, in the case of Mafia Town, the first world, you'll be relatively unguided on where your goals are, what areas are accessible (the boss levels are very different, one of which taking place inside of a restaurant), and so on. Like Banjo-Kazooie, there are things you won't be able to access immediately, like boxes you can't penetrate with your current weapon. Furthermore, the map makes changes in between what mission you choose to do. In Mario 64, these were relatively minor, only affecting the ending sequence. In Bob-Omb Battlefield, for instance, the last thing you encounter is the boss on the summit or the finishing flag. In another sequence in the "Mafia Town" map, you'll be turning off fire faucets that are helpfully (but annoyingly) marked in the 3D world (not in a 2D map in the HUD). Not only does the game not indicate what to do with them (hitting them with your umbrella) but the lava can be fallen into easily, and unlike Super Mario 64 where it's fairly easily to land on safe ground and recover health, it's basically game over.

Not that I have a lot of interest in continuing. In the end, you never discuss what your rival wants or why she hates you so much, and the game's intriguing but unexplained premise (you're a little girl flying through space in a spaceship) is just wiped away as just being a dream, but without irony or twists.

8. SimFarm (1992)

Of all the Sim games that were produced between 1990 and 1996, SimFarm was the hardest one to really get into. Sure I played it, but its complexity meant I really just goofed around and added roads and random farm plots, the stuff I used to do with SimCity 2000 before I figured it out, but SimFarm had a much more difficult (and less satisfying) learning curve.

I was able to do a bit more than my dysfunctional run a few years back but still not much. I had some cotton plants growing (I was down in the Texas area), not trying to make hamburger toppings. I also took care of some cows. The cows were able to grow nice and healthy, eventually increasing (milking?) their value to the point where, at peak, I could net a $715 profit on each head (I had six).

I didn't have a manual indicated that the cows could eventually have a calf to raise for more profit, which despite the relative complexity of the game vastly simplified animal husbandry. Cows are all female, and being a cow means that she has already given birth. They also don't have any milking machines at the farm, that happens after they're sold. Basically, if cattle had more variety, there would be heifers (females before birthing), cows, steers, and a bull. A good overview can be seen here.

Not that my successful cattle raising paid off. After a few years (of in-game play, letting the in-game music, of which there was only one track, go on for far too long), with a lot of spraying (apparently all this is done manually with several clicks each and cannot be automated). High winds eventually stripped much of the nutrients of the soil, and I ended up bankrupting myself with fertilizer sprays. An extended drought also hurt the crop, causing more debt upon me. I started in June 2021 (the game's clock picks up from the system's clock) and by February 2024 I was nearly $4000 in debt. Selling my six cows at that point would've netted me almost $6000 to help pay back that glaring loan, but I had no other way of making money.

Even at the fastest speed, the days clicked by, and while the cows appreciated in values and even had four new ones (valued much lower, guess nobody eats veal), but some cows did escape. Not that it would've helped my situation much. After selling off the few mature cows left at $1255 each (so much for the other plan), I just kept sinking. By February 2026, my debt had increased to almost $25,000, and the year after that, $40,000. After many of the cows escaped into the fields, they had to be sold (turns out you can't herd cattle back into their pen) but by that time my cattle were next to worthless. Every year got worse, and there's no way to lay low like SimCity to keep everything intact; if you don't have enough money to harvest, the crop dies and you get nothing. By September 2027 I was close to bankruptcy. By December of that year, I had $29 in hand and over $50k in debt. After selling the cows (couldn't afford to feed them anymore), the few remaining pieces of equipment I had (despite sheds, they all rusted away), and I couldn't do anything because I had no credit and no money. In 2028, the bank began to foreclose on the property, and a field was lost permanently. After some reconfiguration, two new fields were planted, but neither was harvested due to lack of funds. As the situation continued to deteriorate, I belatedly realized you couldn't pay down part of your debt. Not that it would've helped much. I prepped a field for demolition to sell but the bank took a different one. Eventually (2030), I was raising two pigs on a tiny plot of land, with "just" $20k in debt.

Pig farming was marginally successful, by March 2031 debt was paid off and 9 pigs were owned (but less than $400 on hand). But when January 2032, I realized the pigs couldn't appreciate enough in value for the taxman, so by that year, there were six pigs and around $200 on hand. My credit was trashed, I couldn't take out much more than $15,000 if I wanted to. Even when I sold off more land to lower my taxes, my taxes were actually raised. It just wasn't possible to repair it, and you get into a death spiral like The Sims except instead of your Sim ultimately dying, the homestead gets sold.

One of the big problems with SimFarm is due to its unpredictability and tediousness, you can't "set it and forget it" like you can with the SimCity games, and I doubt that windstorm really was the thing that sunk me. Without it, I probably would've still lost money, just at a slower rate...and in this game there are no agricultural exemptions. I didn't understand messages that I needed more roads, either...in SimCity this is fairly obvious but in SimFarm it isn't.

As I mentioned in the old 2015 review, SimFarm has graphics close enough to the original 1989 SimCity that interoperability looks like it could done, and since that review was written, a prototype of SimRefinery, a game made exclusively for Chevron Corporation (though Chevron soon lost interest in the title after release), has surfaced. As only the prototype has been released and incomplete, most of what is seen is pretty in-depth. Probably the closest you can get to that sort of thing is installing a bunch of mods for Factorio that make it super-obtuse.

9. Bloons TD 6 (2018)

Video games are like food. Some aren't to your personal taste, some just taste bad all-around, and some are really bad for you, even if they taste good. Bloons TD 6 is junk food. It has an addicting enough facade, there's a bunch of maps, a motley assortment of monkey types (towers) to help you pop the "bloons" as they pass by (specializing in different types), a way to build up tiers of powerful towers (it is a tower defense game, after all), and a bunch of other stuff. Unfortunately, in addition to being pretty surface-shallow and a lot of grinding to watch your monkeys go for it.

The lack of a story mode make it more "junk food"-esque and the constant sponging of real life money to get ahead (with buttons sometimes placed in a way that you might accidentally click on them) makes me nostalgic for Plants vs. Zombies though.

10. Yoot Tower (1998)

I pulled out Yoot Tower again to update the new Yoot Tower Guides page. I had previously written a lot about it here at this page. Look for more YTG content in the near future.

11. Otto Matic (2001)

After snapping out of a trance that had me into Bloons TD 6 for like a month, and another go at Factorio (vanilla, and giving up after I realized that my factory design would be tied up for a long time as I was facing a major red circuit shortage just before the "Yellow Science" phase), I discovered like Bugdom and Power Pete, "Jorio" has also ported Otto Matic. Otto Matic follows a similar formula to Bugdom with some changes. Perhaps I'm just jaded but it feels mechanically similar, open metal crates (instead of walnuts), enemies have almost the same physics, you rescue humans (instead of ladybugs), there's even an analogue to the rolling feature of Bugdom as you can power through gates. QoI issues have been improved, Otto doesn't tend to continuously move like Rollie the pillbug did, and the graphics resemble a PS2 game rather than the (slightly improved from) Nintendo 64-like graphics Bugdom had.

One of the things I noticed from a long break (about 15-20 years I'd say) from playing it was that it's best played with a controller, as controlling a third-person character in 3D is always going to be an exercise in frustration as you can never go quite where you want.

12. American Truck Simulator (2016)

I'd like to say this all started with a dream I had...for some reason, I was a bit interested in a Petro truck stop just north of the Interstate 35 split near Hillsboro, Texas, and wondered if it was still there. (It was.) As I drifted to sleep, I dreamed of a computer game where a truck was traveling down a highway, passing the Petro (among other things).

While the exact sort of weird dream game I had didn't exist, I knew of the next best thing...American Truck Simulator, which I played a demo of back in 2017. ATS doesn't have real brands (like Petro), though it does have some clear knock-offs of other brands. In my first excursion, there was "Ray's Hamburgers", obstinately a shout-out to McDonald's, but the signage is from Burger Chef, once one of the biggest competitors to McDonald's. The last Burger Chef closed in 1996 and CKE Restaurants Holdings (last owner of Burger Chef and current operators of Hardee's/Carl's Jr.) still makes attempts to control the Burger Chef trademarks, so why not have it here? It's just as anachronistic. (In my December 2020 games list, I mention that JCPenney could've benefitted from inclusion in the Back to the Future game.)

My second tour of duty was driving from Los Angeles to Arizona, and I could see some of the faults of the game. The first thing is that it's hard to judge distance, and I ended up stopping well before the stop line of the stoplights. (Why no one honked at me is a blessing of the game, I guess). The second thing is that after driving through a surprisingly barren and run-down looking (part of?) Los Angeles (and run-down in the sense of "small forgotten town", not "trash-filled hoboville"—really didn't look like LA at all), we quickly got onto the Interstate. Here's where it first lost me...it's not fun to drive an 18-wheeler because it accelerates so much slower than a real car would. I know my car isn't great when it comes to mashing the accelerator and hoping the gears get up to speed in time, but here it's worse, as I can hit the accelerator pedal all I want and it slowly chugs up to speed. When you do get up to speed, it starts to warn you if you go over 55 mph...cars drive 65 mph, but trucks can't (this is apparently the norm in California). I haven't been penalized for driving too fast, and I don't know if the game takes into account the "big city/small town" paradigm where you can get away with driving 15+ miles per hour in an urban highway but you try to do 5+ in a small town and some State Trooper nails you with a ticket, but it sure is annoying.

As of this writing, the Texas DLC is still planned, and I'm looking forward to it...but Los Angeles' poor showing doesn't instill a lot of confidence on how the cities in Texas will be portrayed. Moreover, I'm still not sold on the concept. I do enjoy a good road trip as part of a vacation, probably with a podcast and a large bottle of water (or some other drink, but usually water) from a convenience store...but it's not the same when you're driving in a computer game that can't show the world as it is due to both scale and trademark reasons. It's true that I haven't scratched the surface much in terms of the game or its mods, but even if I got what I wanted: better (decidedly non-truck) handling, no speed limit nagging, and a 1:1 scale with every trademark on it from Arby's to Zaxby's (not just food, but I couldn't think of any common gas station and other roadside signs that started with those letters), it still misses the point of video games in general, at least the type I like to play. It doesn't tell a story, and I'm not talking about railroaded "story-driven" games, there's no plot to it, not even "save the princess", and there's no randomly generated events that create lore. (The Sims in a nutshell--see the review). There's no mind-numbing building/management aspect that begs you to finish just one more little mini-project like Prison Architect and Factorio (both my favorites in the last five years), while rewarding you with more things to add or challenges to overcome. There's no fast-paced action involving paranoia and violence, like Deus Ex or Hotline Miami (like dogs racing toward you to tear out your jugular vein). No fantastical worlds to explore and/or bosses to fight. No good writing.

This isn't to say that I've concluded ATS is not good, but maybe I should just find myself a reason to get on the road myself.

13. Wave Race 64 Kawasaki Jet Ski (1996)

(This is the full name of the game for the original release, yes. Read on).

Wave Race 64 was another of the "Baton Rouge games" (see the Mario 64 review), and somewhat of a lost relic for years. You see, I like games to be as close as the original as reasonably possible--with minor improvements like resolution, compatibility, or QoL features, which is where the open source ports of Pangea games or Super Mario 64 shine. When the Wii had its Virtual Console, which offered some fairly decent N64 emulation at a time when the mainstream stuff wasn't as good (for a while, and I'm not sure if this still holds true, one of the best ways to play Nintendo 64 if you didn't mind the limited library, was running the Virtual Console version of the game through Dolphin). I bought Super Mario 64 via the Virtual Console but held back on Wave Race 64. The original release was called "Wave Race 64 Kawasaki Jet Ski" (this was also how it appeared on Nintendo's official N64 games list) and in association with Kawasaki jet ski products, but the Wii release had no such thing.

For the Wii release, the banners were altered to remove the Kawasaki branding and replace them with (decidedly not in the 1996 release) Wii and Nintendo DS Lite banners, as well as stuff with the Wii-era grey Nintendo logo. It may have seemed minor but for me was a deal-breaker.

As for the actual gameplay, it revolves not just around lap racing but going to the left or right of buoys, the problem is, the Nintendo 64's technical limitations make it a bit difficult to see where the track actually goes, I botched a few races because I thought a wall was a ramp or entrance. In terms of racing games for the Nintendo 64, I prefer Mario Kart 64...but more on that another day.

14. Commandos 2: Men of Honor (2001)

As I don't intend on reviving the old "games list", I did write a few more entries that previously never saw the light of day. One, Eversion, was posted above. Also like it, it was written around the same time (June 23, 2016). It's a bit raw and refers to other games in the "old index". It should be noted that there is a re-release that updates the controls a bit (but not in 2016), and of course, this isn't updated beyond what was written in 2016 (for what it's worth, I did eventually beat the first level but wasn't worth playing again).

I never thought of myself of someone who would suck at computer games. Sure, I might need a little hint now and then in a particularly mind-boggling adventure game (no challenge completed yourself is worth banging your head against your monitor for months on end). I mean, I beat VVVVVV without much help, I might've gotten through Super Metroid if I had (or made) a map and if I had read a manual regarding running, and the only reason I may have used a walkthrough in parts of Final Fantasy VI so I didn't miss anything important (because there is a lot to miss).

Ah, but Commandos 2 (I never played the prequel) is definitely a blow to my ego. It was one of two games on GOG I picked up on recommendation from a good friend on "something different", but alas! I can't get through the first level. Oh believe me, I would've written a more complete review after completing more levels but I'll have to put this one on ice indefinitely. Here's the gist of the story because I care about C2 more than I do, say, Hammerfight. The game sets up a World War II-era scenario where the Allies have all but lost Europe (except for the UK), with their only hope being the "Commandos", an elite group of soldiers that will be able to manuever their way through obstacles and enemy soldiers to bring the Allies to victory.

The problem is the learning curve is sharp and merciless. The first level, "Training Camp" makes you think that this will be the chance to teach you controls and the works before sending you onto harder (yet more interesting) pursuits. It sounds simple: retrieve the toolbox, disable the guys watching you, and cut through the barbed wire. The first task is to run up to the first guard when no one is looking, knock him out, tie him up, and drag him back to the shrubbery where the two of your guys start the level.

"Training Camp" my ass! You make one mistake, either doing something too early or too late, the enemy will discover you, and shoot, punch, and kick you as the character portrait in the lower right gets beaten and bloodied (oddly enough, at the portion of "dead", the guy definitely looks a bit worse for wear, but not nearly the "face full of blood" like "DOOM Guy" gets). You can try running back to the hiding place to avoid getting killed, but more often than not usually just gets BOTH of you killed as the mooks follow you back.

On the rare occasions that I actually DO end up getting to the box (using the other guy), I can't figure out what to do with it (no indication that I have the wire-cutters needed to complete the level), and ultimately end up making myself known to the bad guys and losing. Again. Now, I figured out the hard way that you need the strong guy to actually tie up the mooks and the fast guy to shimmy underneath the barbed wire, but I still haven't beaten the first level yet. I don't know whether to be ashamed at my playing or angry that the game is so needlessly difficult.

The Commandos can wait. I'll put this one on ice.

15. The Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)

One of the things that caught my eye recently was The Return of the Obra Dinn, an indie game by Lucas Pope, maker of Papers, Please. While I never did get around to writing about it here, I didn't care much for it; at its core was rout memorization that involved fast clicking to get through as many people as possible without penalization, and the quasi-moral choices it offered (YOU CAN ONLY BUY ONE--FOOD FOR THE MONTH OR HEAT FOR THE MONTH. SUCH IS LIFE IN MOTHER RUSSIA ARSTOTZKA.) Naturally, a less-than-stellar experience isn't going to sell me on future games by the same developer...you won't see me buying future titles from Zachtronics after being filtered by SpaceChem (that's another one that I never got around to writing about).

Retro pixel art games (NES and Super NES, primarily) have been done to death, but RotOD uses dithered black and white pixels, akin to the old Macintosh. it's an aesthetic that I really enjoy, and creates a sort of surreal atmosphere that can't be replicated elsewhere. The default palette even has the same sort of warm greenish gray rather than the true "black and white" of real monitors, for an added bonus. There are variations you can play with, like true black and white, or something more orange-based from a Zenith computer. The actual game play though, is a 3D game, with wireframes and the dithered rendering. Maybe I had too much stuff open but there were some loading times that kind of took me out of it for a second.

But what's the game like? Well, from what I can tell, the game mostly revolves around finding skeletons and what happened to them, and figuring out the identities as well. You soon find out the captain killed three people. There's some auto-writing to a notebook that happens after you witness the deaths (through some pocket watch that lets you view the circumstances to a death), removing the need to keep an extensive set of notes (if this was released before, say, 1998, this is what you would have to do). The question for me is what is the extent that you need to figure things out. Can you just drift through and just do enough to feel clever, or is it going to be some sort of obtuse game that you at least need hints for? I'm not sure.

One thing I did take note of is that you have to figure out who everyone is, but you are provided a list of the crew members, which are not just British, they come from around the world. The following nationalities are all represented: England, Scotland, Austria, France, America, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Formosa, India, Sweden, Wales, Persia, China, New Guinea, "Siera Leona" (Sierra Leone), Russia, Denmark, and India. So being a bit of a history buff, I looked up who had control of what in those days. America at the time would've been independent thanks to the Revolutionary War (but before the War of 1812), United Kingdom would've controlled England, Scotland, Ireland (all of it), and Wales, with the greater British Empire controlling India and Sierra Leone (in 1807, the same year the Obra Dinn set sail in the game, the British slave trade was abolished and the formerly enslaved were sent to Sierra Leone, and I don't know if that plays a part yet). New Guinea was independent, its island named by Spanish explorers and as of 1807, not yet colonized or organized by anybody (so still tribe-based). Persia would've been part of Iran even in 1807 (also known as Qajar Persia or the Qajar Empire). Formosa refers to the main island we know as Taiwan today, but both China and "Formosa" were under control by the Qing dynasty in China. "Italy" in 1807 had a national identity but was still officially composed of small city-states and surrounding kingdoms, just as it had been a few hundred years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Austrian Empire was created by 1807, spun off from the German-based Holy Roman Empire (not to be confused with the original Roman Empire), which by this time was the "Confederation of the Rhine", a French satellite state. (This also might explain why there were no Germans onboard). Poland only had independent identity as Duchy of Warsaw (another French client state), and France of course was an empire under Napoleon (a much larger country which included Belgium and the Netherlands today). Finally, Denmark was part of Denmark-Norway (the two kingdoms were united for centuries), and both Sweden and Russia were independent countries.

16. Mario Kart 64 (1997)

Mario Kart 64 is my favorite Mario Kart (well, certainly better than the other versions I've had significant exposure too. Double Dash!!, the sequel on the GameCube is better mechanically and graphically but its gimmicks and uninspired battle mode puts it below MK64. And the Wii version, the less said, the better (at least for now). Mario Kart 64 has just eight racers (Mario, Toad, Yoshi, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Wario) and 16 courses (four of which are locked at start) among four cups, and all of them are memorable, from Kalamari Desert's train that runs through the course to Rainbow Road's neon imagery. I know I have a lot of nostalgia for this one both from the late 1990s/early 2000s to the late 2000s to the mid-2010s, but if I had one complaint, the music doesn't run in four player mode (or three players). The decomp project is still hopelessly at 20% (as of this writing) and the few hacks for the ROM fix much more than the music (there's no hack just for it).

17. Half-Life 2 (2004)

There's been an awful of backlash against older games recently. Super Mario 64, for all of its press, has been re-publicized and has been discovered by the so-called "zoomers" which either hate it because they cannot comprehend the camera and controls, or are mystified by it, from blurry textures to text clips that just aren't explained all that well.

Similarly, there's the case of Half-Life 2. I'm old enough to remember when HL2 was sold in stores, and by that time, PC gaming was functionally dead. There were still some simulation and strategy games as far as "computer exclusives" went but there wasn't much beyond that. I didn't buy HL2 in that time, it would be another seven or eight years before I actually played it (purchased it with the Orange Box in 2011), and while it was the first time playing a real computer FPS (given how anti-video game my parents were, there was no way that DOOM or anything remotely close to it got on our home computers, and they were Macs at that).

The "zoomers" think HL2 is overrated and not a good game. While I'm tempted to say that they're wrong just out of principle (after all, the same crowd seems to really like Undertale and trashes other old games), I personally just didn't care for HL2 that much. There were other great games I played in 2011, including Portal, and was later engrossed by Deus Ex, but it's been a struggle to play Half-Life 2, and every six months or so I pull it out and progress a little bit further.

18. Bubble Trouble (1996)

I wrote about Bubble Trouble several years ago (it looks like it has some errors, I talk about the PowerWave, then drop that thought, but I'm not going to mess with that article), and I decided to give it another spin again. After all, I'm trying to re-list everything from the big old list into the new one.

It's worth noting that SheepShaver was later upgraded to play Barrack and Apeiron (mentioned as unplayable or buggy in the review) so Bubble Trouble isn't as important. I should note that in a real Mac, Bubble Trouble got a background border image, but in SheepShaver, the window will just resize.

I don't think Bubble Trouble deserves to be stuck in the past, but with the official passing of Ambrosia Software in 2018 (it had been functionally dead for years), it's a real shame that some of its games are trapped in the past. Pangea Software, a similar company (Mac-primary games) is working with third-party fans to make its games available for modern systems for free. Meanwhile, Ambrosia's stuff is still stuck in the past (literally). Escape Velocity is a relic locked in the mid-1990s, and while Ferazel's Wand and Harry the Handsome Executive were supposedly sold to new owners to be rereleased some way, they're still trapped in limbo.

19. VVVVVV (2010)

I must admit that I haven't played VVVVVV in a while (in the last two years or so but not this year, I don't think), but since I'm talking about 2011 (see Half-Life 2) and games I already posted about in some way (see Bubble Trouble), I might as well talk about VVVVVV, which you can read more about on my old page here. Now, one of the things that makes talking about VVVVVV a bit more timely is that VVVVVV got its first update in seven years and it's a helpful update, not one that bogs it down with DLC. You can see the details here.

VVVVVV did officially go open source in 2020, but that does not include the actual game content, which is still being sold on Steam and GOG, as well as the official site. (Get the soundtrack too. It's not easily extractable from the main game, and it's really good, too).

20. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (2001)

To round off this 2021 games list, let's go twenty years back to 2001. I don't know why I was so overwhelmed with nostalgia in a 2015 review that I spent half the time gushing about what my world was like in those days, and why I when I finally got around to writing about Oracle of Ages in 2019 I was less than impressed (the original one I had in mind was supposed to be more positive).

21. Deus Ex (2000)

What the heck, let's make it 21 for 2021. Deus Ex I did complete back in 2017-2018, and having played it, it's easily on my personal top ten. I did try to start playing it again for a second time but there were some problems (resolution/borderless window) and its flaws more obvious, particularly in the weaker levels. The first level is practically played in the dark and must rely on a flashlight of which there's a limited supply of. The game is a combination of FPS and western RPG (including skill points to improve abilities), and while I do wish there was an FPS that was more linear (I missed out on Call of Duty and the like), it's such a joy to discover everything you can do, and different ways of doing things. Some of the choices you can make don't really the affect the game beyond some dialogue choices and additional scenes, but it's still fun to play around and see what you can do. Early on, you can poke around the home base of "UNATCO" and enter the ladies' restroom, which will get you criticized by your boss. Any non-story critical NPCs can be hurt or killed, so if you so desired you can do some horrible things like blow up children with rocket launchers. On the other hand, almost every enemy can be spared (take that, Undertale!). Even for some boss fights you can sprint away and lock the doors behind you.

One downside of Deus Ex on a technical end is that the digital versions aren't pre-patched beyond just "working" so you'll need to apply all sorts of patches to make it work properly. Your patience will be rewarded, however.