198X Review

As I get older time seems to become more and more precious. There’s just not enough of it in a day. Therefore my appreciation for short games has grown as I have; where I would have been furious as a child to get home and pop a game into my console only for the experience to be over as quickly as it had begun, I bask in enjoyment when I can complete a game within an hour or two of sitting down with it, as long as it’s fun and impactful. 198X is one of those games. It can be beaten in an hour, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The story is meaningful, the gameplay is fun and engaging, and it acts as a nice throwback to a simpler time.

198X is essentially an hour-long story that finds a warm home as interactive entertainment. The protagonist’s name is Kid, and we accompany him in the outskirts of a city, appropriately called Suburbia. In the opening moments, he finds an arcade nestled down an alley in what looks to be an old abandoned building. He marvels at the glowing lights permeating the otherwise dark and dreary room. The game’s gimmick is that the player is experiencing old arcade games along with the protagonist as he inserts a coin and escapes into the virtual world, if not only but for a fleeting moment. The story, intertwined with the gameplay, is a neat and inventive idea that I would love to see more of. It’s a real coming of age story that implements gaming and nostalgia in a creative way. It’s relatable, and I was never an 80s kid, which says a lot about the masterfully written narrative.

The gameplay revolves around a variety of different arcade-style games that all fall within a different gaming genre. The first game you experience acts as an introduction, easing the player into the story. It’s a beat ‘em up that resembles the old Streets of Rage games. It controls as well as I expected from a game that has a lot of source material to draw inspiration from. In fact, all the games featured in the story control very nicely and I have no complaints in that regard. You move on to play games inspired by Outrun, Phantasy Star, and other 16-bit gaming staples, all of which are fun in their own right.

One of my favorite parts about this game is its soundtrack. It is comprised of some great 16bit-style tracks that are sort of smoothed out to appeal to a modern audience. Flying through space and blowing up giant starships becomes even more exhilarating when the music is ramping up in the background. Outside of the arcade games, the soundtrack that plays over the narration is just as stellar. It sets the tone for the whole game, evoking emotions that only a masterful soundtrack can draw out of the player. Paired with the incredibly atmospheric narration that Ms. Tuttle brings to the table, the sound in this game is definitely something to keep an eye (or ear) on.

The graphics are what’s to be expected from a 16bit video game, but it somehow looks better than what I am accustomed to in games from the 90s. I’m a sucker for the visuals in pseudo-retro games. The art directors are able to capture the essence of the times, but also upgrade it and make it pop in the world of the 2000’s. It is quite impressive, considering the game’s story, outside of the playable arcade games, is dished out in the same 16bit art style. The entire game, from head to toe, is pixelated heaven. I received pure enjoyment from the game’s art, and I hope we see more games like this one.

While the game is all about quick, pseudo-arcade games that can be finished within a matter of minutes, it allows for a certain level of replay value. When the story is completed, the player can choose to jump in at any point in the story, giving the freedom to play any featured game on a whim. However, these arcade games fall short of their source material. It’s simply more fun to jump into Outrun, or Streets of Rage than to play 198X’s take on these games. All in all, the replay value is there should it be something that interests you, but I would rather invest my time in the actual games rather than their depictions within this title.

198X is a short burst of fun that any fan of old arcades can pick up and find some enjoyment in. On one hand I would love for it to be longer, on the other it is the perfect sized experience that demands my attention for the little free time I have. At the end we are promised that the game is “to be continued” and I hope 198X reaches the level of success that is required for the developers to consider a sequel. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I urge you to do so.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 3/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 2/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100

Spyro the Dragon (Reignited Trilogy) Review

In the late 90’s the video game market was flooded with 3D platformers, such as Gex: Enter the Gecko, and Super Mario 64, as video games made the transition from two-dimensional side scrolling adventures to fully fleshed out 3D environments. One platformer that stood out from the rest for me was Spyro the Dragon. While I never played the original extensively, I dipped my toes in the water whenever I would visit my friend. He had a Playstation 1 while I did not. Therefore, for me, the Reignited Trilogy is a throwback to a more innocent time; nostalgia, accompanying the game through every charging dash into druids and every toasted sheep.

Spyro the Dragon in this new trilogy is the same Spyro I knew and loved in 1998. The game revolves around Spyro, a young dragon who must free his fellow dragons from Gnasty Gnorc’s magic. Following a televised broadcast wherein the dragons insulted Gnorc as being no threat to their lives, he proves this to be untrue as he petrifies every dragon in the land except for Spyro. He also turns all the dragons’ treasure into minions that Spyro must defeat throughout his journey. There really isn’t much depth to the story, but I don’t believe this to be negative. Of the 8 hours it took me to get to 120% completion, I can conclude that it is simply more gameplay oriented than story driven.

In the Reignited Trilogy, Spyro the Dragon got a much-needed aesthetic upgrade that is one of the prettiest remasters I have ever seen. The many worlds within this game are beautifully colorful and vibrant and it made exploring every nook and cranny a pleasure. From the shadows cast by Spyro, to the level of cartoonish detail in wall, grass and sky assets, there is no doubt that Toys For Bob put a lot of time into making the original Spyro game thrive in 2018.

The upgrade in graphics and console capabilities also allowed the developers to bring characters to life, making each dragon you rescue unique while also reflecting the world in which they are found. For example, in the Artisans world there are artistic dragons whereas the Dream Weavers world hosts sleepy dragons. This is a huge improvement to the original as the old dragons seemed to be the same models consistently recycled. Sound has been upgraded as well. While the same melodies bridge the gap between new and old, the depth of the music has been adjusted. The music sounds more clear, crisper and just all around more enjoyable. There is always the option to revert to the original’s musical score while playing Spyro Reignited which is a nice addition, however I never felt the need to change this in the options. The new music is far superior, albeit the choice is nice for nostalgia’s sake.

The beauty of the game does not stop at its visuals and sound. The tight controls have been perfected in this iteration. Each movement of the left thumbstick feels like it is directly connected to the movement on screen, making for an immersive experience. Newly added to the game is the ability to move the camera using the right thumbstick. While as common sense as this might be today, the original was designed to be played without thumbsticks and camera controls were mapped to the L2 and R2 buttons on the original PS1 controller. While now being able to move the camera easily and fluently, including up and down, platforming sequences have lost the difficulty of the original.

On that topic, the game is much easier than I remember all those years ago, however this may be due to my juvenile fine motor skills and reaction times that undoubtedly affected my ability to play video games. This game will not pose a significant challenge to any veteran gamer. The game was designed with children in mind, however that does not mean that others cannot enjoy what it has to offer. Even putting nostalgia aside, the game is genuinely fun. Some of the more difficult (which isn’t saying much) moments I had with Spyro were trying to figure out ways to get to platforms that appeared to be out of reach and not easily accessed. Never was I too stumped to figure things out eventually, but some sequences took much more time than others. I believe this to be a good thing. The challenge was not in facing minions, but the platforming itself which illustrated a focus point in the game’s level design. And that design is nothing short of stellar. Insomniac’s attention to platforming should be commended, as they are the ones who originally designed the worlds.

The greatest part about Spyro’s level design is that it is well structured with clear direction. I was never overwhelmed with too many options of where I had to go to progress through the levels, which cannot be said for many other games in this genre. This is not to say that the game was linear though. Insomniac used the 3rd dimension to their advantage by designing levels with elevated platforms that often stretched over lower platforms that had already been traversed. The home worlds were open-ended with various worlds to choose from which could be completed in the order the player chooses. The home worlds, while acting as a hub for other levels, were their own levels as well, offering a plethora of treasure to collect and dragons to free. There was never a shortage of things to do, and while collecting things may be a turn off for some gamers, I assure you that Spyro is not like other platformers in that way. There are only three things to collect: Gems, Eggs, and Dragons. While most platformers overwhelm gamers with too much to do and no direction of where to start, Spyro approaches the genre differently, and is a gem worth playing.

Now it seems like I’ve been ranting on about how great Spyro the Dragon is, but the flaws in the game must not be dismissed. Although the camera control has been greatly improved in this remaster, there were still moments I fell to my death in a cheap, unforgiving battle with the camera. When I did die, I was never too frustrated though because extra lives are given out too generously. I fell a lot, only to be put into a “reigniting” loading screen which was more of a minor annoyance than frustrating. I looked up at the top right of the screen and there it was, 34 lives remaining. There is no sense of pressure to play well as even a mediocre gamer can accumulate free lives without much sweat. The levels, while having impeccable design, were so small that even if you do die, there is more than likely a recent checkpoint not far. Contrasting the ease at which I completed regular worlds, the flight worlds were quite challenging, which was jarring and certainly took me out of the experience. There is nothing worse than a cake walk that is abruptly interrupted by a time constraint, turning it into a cake run. That was what the flight missions did. You are given a set amount of time to destroy/fly through objects which would give back time, but not nearly enough. Fly through that ring to get back one second, but it will take you three seconds to get there. I know I just complained about the game being both too easy and too hard, but it is this contrast that detracts from the experience.

It must also be mentioned that there have been reports online saying that the game is unplayable for a select few gamers. While it did not bother me, people have been reporting that motion blur has been giving them headaches and nausea. If you are not susceptible to motion sickness, more than likely you will be able to handle the camera movement in this game, but for those of you who tend to get sick playing video games, you may want to stay away. In the end, there is obviously more positives than negatives to be said about Spyro the Dragon.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 3/5

Total: 18/25 or 72/100