Games of October 2020

Full Throttle (PC)

Full Throttle is one of the LucasArts SCUMM games that got a remaster recently (I played the original) and it follows the adventures of Ben, a motorcyclist, who finds himself in a mess when evil executive Adrian Ripburger sabotages his bike and frames him for murder. That's the gist of it anyway, it has many of the nicer features of LucasArts games from that era, including voice talent with people like Mark Hamill (the Ripburger voice is similar to his famous "Joker" voice, though not as growly or exaggerated) and Maurice LaMarche (using the same Orson Welles impression he does for everything, such as most famous role, the Brain from Pinky and the Brain).

I've played several of the "LucasArts SCUMM canon" over the years but none have actually made it into a review (Grim Fandango doesn't count, it uses an engine that was ultimately only used with two games), largely owing to the fact that the time I played them was a little bit BEFORE I started writing reviews for the website.

My first knee-jerk reaction upon completing Full Throttle was that it was definitely one of the weakest entries of the LucasArts SCUMM canon that I've played as of yet (as of this writing, I haven't played the Indiana Jones titles, The Dig, or Loom). There's very little puzzles, putting items together, or locations to explore—mostly there's a few short sequences and a long, somewhat annoying combat segment that glues the two parts together, and ultimately is a fraction of the length of other LucasArts games.

The Curse of Monkey Island (PC)

The Curse of Monkey Island, the third game in the Monkey Island series and the last one that could be considered good, is one I finished recently. It mostly serves to continue the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood after the abrupt ending of LeChuck's Revenge, though it isn't executed as well as it should be. Part of the problem was that the original designer of the first two games, Ron Gilbert, had since left LucasArts (and the days of the genre were coming to a fast end, and even this game had disappointing domestic sales).

The first immediate problem is how different it is from the first two games. I've ragged on HG101 before, and here I think that their observations about how the art style and voice acting changed the tone of the game are indeed correct, it is not to the game's favor, and playing the first two followed by the third is absolutely jarring. The other problem is the setting also takes a much denser, wackier, and more parodic setting than the earlier games.

It's a decent enough game to make up for those faults but it's still a problem with the game, along with the inventory system being changed. Like Full Throttle (see above), you can interact objects by clicking and holding them, with the inventory items in a separate window accessible by right-clicking. It's a whole lot more cumbersome than the old method that Sam & Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle and the other two Monkey Island games did, with the options ("Talk to..."/"Grab"/"Push"/"Look at"/etc.) on the left and the objects on the right. This also makes puzzles less intuitive, you used to be able to just drag your mouse over the screen and you can tell where items are, in this one you can't, and there are a few items that are very important (the chisel, for instance) that almost blend completely into the often-dark backgrounds.

The other thing that was a little bit off-putting in the game was that traditionally LucasArts games have a tendency of solving puzzles through stealing or switching out items. This was the case for Day of the Tentacle: switch out the lighter gun for the flag gun to keep the exploding cigar (which was ultimately used in a sequence to steal a gold-embossed feather pen), or to switch out a mallet with a left-handed version in order to a push an old lady down the stairs two hundred years later (it makes sense in context). Even Full Throttle has a segment where you distract someone for a second to steal a battery-operated bunny (and later, whole boxes of them).

However, there's something about the sequences in Curse of Monkey Island that makes these events more cruel than funny: in the first part of the game, Guybrush infects a barbershop comb with head lice (and getting a patron to be shaved bald), pours cooking oil on a man sunbathing (and peels off his tattoo), and ruins a theatrical act by tampering with some juggling items. Part of the problem, I imagine, was that they just didn't have the same talent of the LucasArts of a few years prior, as generally the less sense puzzles make (the famous "cat hair mustache" puzzle, anything by Pendulo, etc.) the worse the writers are. I should also bring up that's not how tattoos and sunburns work, as tattoos go deeper into the skin and sunburns only peel off the outermost layers (and even then, it will never come off in a solid piece—after the pain goes away, it will be like shedding dandruff for a week or two...I know the feeling).

At least for all of its problems, there's no point where it's impossible to go forward. There's a joke in the game about how you can't actually die in LucasArts games, which was more common in other titles (especially Sierra titles). It's not just dying, though, it's getting irreversibly stuck. As an example to how Curse does not screw you over is a section about 75% into the game where you'll need to get fireflies in a jar to put in a lighthouse. You attract them with a jar of sugar water, but if you don't puncture holes in the jar, they'll die. In an adventure game that is not nearly as forgiving as LucasArts games, if the fireflies died, there wouldn't be any more back at the source, and you were S.O.L. as far as beating the game went.

Pokémon Trading Card Game (Game Boy)

Maybe it was the whole lousy year that I felt that I could sink my teeth into a game that I've played before and written about this game before, which is still mostly accurate (though there are two "Card Pop" exclusive cards, not four).

While it's fun to blast through the game and try new things (like getting a draw, which is rarely heard or identified properly), it's not perfect, even for what was available at the time. There are a few cards that were released in the U.S. by that time but didn't make it in, with Fossil Ditto and Base Set Electrode not making it due to their unconventional Pokémon Powers. The only other change (that was not a bug, most notably Psychic types getting double damage on Confusion) is no drawing two on a mulligan (making novelty decks like "Mulligan Mewtwo" not function correctly), which were the rules at the time.

The other immediate weakness I saw was there's no real post-game either. You can finish collecting cards through just grinding away, you can collect a few promos through trades (although a few are permanently missable), and you can blow away the "legendary" players with a deck to counter theirs (you can switch decks between players), but due to their specialized cards or unfortunate RNG means that they (like other players) can get the jump on you. Rod, the "Lance" of the game's "Elite Four" (complete with Dragon-themed Pokémon) is either going to be a pushover or a major problem, as unlike the others, he can't send his flagship Legendary card into play immediately, but his deck has no real weaknesses and he can send his Charizard out for the barbecue.

I think that the second game proved, as I had played last year that there's not a lot where the game can really go (even aside from additional cards, which destroyed the meta).

Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (Game Boy)

Like I alluded to in the September games file, the early Game Boy games were by and large not good. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins is another such game. While the game includes some unusual worlds, non-traditional ways of dealing with coins, and a few new mechanics (Bunny Mario, for instance), it features just over two dozen non-secret levels and is very easy to beat in just a few hours (if that).

I sort of wish I had gone with the color hack, but that's water under the bridge. While I may actually give a nod to SML over SML2, SML2 at looks and feels like a Mario game.

Orbital (Game Boy Advance)

Orbital was one of the simple "bit Generations" games for the Game Boy Advance...born out of the 2005-2006 era, a weird time in Nintendo's history where more experimental, oft-forgotten games were made, when Electroplankton, Odama, Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, ChibiRobo!, Trace Memory, and many others. You basically control gravity with two buttons, one with "repel" and one with "attract", which behave differently depending on how big your planet is. You absorb blue (smaller) stars to grow, avoid red (bigger) ones. If you brush up against smaller objects (without touching them) you can add them to your orbit.

Despite playing all 30-something stages, you never do see your little planet grow to the size of the bigger red orbs, and asteroids are always a problem, no matter how small. (You can't have asteroids in your belt), either. It never really felt like a complete title, and like Osmos, which it reminded me of, never got beyond the whole "here's a neat concept" point. Maybe I'll get into Osmos again, if only for adding it to the "new" list.

It was later ported to WiiWare as Orbient with some QoL improvements, but I prefer an emulator with quick save.