Monthly Archives: June 2016

Best Underrated $5 or Less Deals from the Steam Summer Sale: 2016 Edition!

Once again, the Steam summer sale is upon us.  One of the big reasons I look forward to the summer sale is that it gives me the opportunity to check out games I’m curious about but not confident in paying full price for.  Over the past few years of this blog, I’ve made a tradition of doing a write-up during each summer sale about ten deals that I think are underrated “steals”.  These are games that are discounted below $5(USD), and are games that I think probably haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.  The past years’ posts can be found at these links:  2014 Edition2015 Edition Part 12015 Edition Part 2

The Summer Sale this year is much different than the years before.  Since the institution of Valve‘s new refund policy, which occurred before the last Winter Sale, the prices on games are constant throughout the length of the sale.  Previously, games would get a base discount for the entire sale period, but certain games would go on even deeper discounts as limited time daily and flash deals.  This created a reason to check back on the store each day to see the new daily deals, but now that’s all gone.

Valve has never explained why these changes to the summer and winter sales have happened, but most believe the culprit to be Steam’s new refund policy.  Since this new policy allows for no-questions-asked refunds within a 2 week period of purchase, those limited time sales would be rendered pointless, since if a game you bought went on a daily deal, you could just refund it and buy it again for the cheaper daily deal price.  Honestly, I feel like the lack of the daily and flash deals has removed a lot of the eventfulness and fun of these big Steam sales.  It was always exciting to check back each day for the new deals.  Now, despite the fact that the sale runs for 12 days, you only really need to visit the store once during the whole sale since nothing changes from day to day.  On the other hand, I find the new refund policy to be an important pro-customer move on Valve’s part, so I’m stuck having to accept that these changes to the summer sale are a necessary sacrifice.

The current Steam Summer Sale started on June 23rd and will run through July 4th.  Now here are the games I recommend this year.  All prices are listed in USD:

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – $1.49


A touching and immersive puzzle adventure game with a rich story to tell.  I played Brothers last summer and wrote a very positive post about it.  Brothers tells the story of two brothers who set out on an epic journey through a fairy tale world to save their dying father.  A controller is basically required for this game, as the player controls both Brother’s simultaneously, one with the left stick and the other with the right stick.  This game is for those who are looking for something with a lot of heart.

The Last Door Season 1 – $1.99


Another game I’ve wrote about before.  The Last Door is a moody and atmospheric point-and-click adventure game with pixelated graphics and an amazing orchestral score.  Set in the Edwardian-era, fans of Lovecraftian horror should not miss this game.  Puzzles are similar to the point-and-click adventure games of the 90’s with a focus on creative uses of items and inter-character dialogue, but I found the difficulty to be very fair, not too hard but not too easy.  The game has been released in two seasons of five episodes each, and both are on sale for less than $5.

Antichamber – $4.99


Antichamber is an oddball first person puzzle game with some similarities to Portal.  The story behind the game is intentionally vague, but the players find themselves in a position where they must escape a large facility that is governed by non-Euclidean geometry.  Non-Euclidean geometry is kind of one of those Matrix-style Neo moments of “you have to see it to understand it.”  This game is a great puzzler that is full of mind-bending spectacles.

The Swapper – $2.99


The Swapper is another puzzle game, but this one is played from a side-scrolling perspective.  The main mechanic is that the player can materialize clones of themself across the environment that move synchronously with each other.  Set aboard a derelict space vessel, the game’s story has a highly philosophical bend to it.  This is a great game for gamers seeking out something a little more cerebral and thought-provoking than the average title.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – $4.94


D4 is a modern narrative-focused adventure game, similar in vein to Life is Strange or Telltale’s work.  D4 tells the story of David Young, a former detective of the Boston police who has gained the ability to travel through time to the scene of murders after witnessing the bizarre death of his wife.  From the creator of Deadly Premonition, D4 is heavily inspired by the works of David Lynch and his own iconic brand of weirdness.  This is a great game for those that enjoy bizarre tales of mystery, but I will warn you that the game ends on a cliffhanger, as it was meant to be the first “season” of an ongoing series.  Unfortunately, the director has recently taken a break from game development due to medical issues, and I fear that the story of D4 may never be finished.  Nonetheless, the game is a wild and bizarre ride while it lasts.

Organ Trail – $2.99


A lot of you probably fondly remember Oregon Trail, an old educational game that was widely available in elementary schools all across America in the 90’s.  (I’m not sure how popular it was outside of the US.)  Oregon Trail was about the planning and management of an expedition of American colonial settlers that sought to settle in the Oregon frontier.  Proper decision making with regards to the expedition’s limited resources was key to the survival of the group to the end of their arduous journey.  Fast forward to the modern day and here we have Organ Trail, a mixing of Oregon Trail nostalgia and zombies.  Very similar in design to its inspiration, Organ Trail instead features a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse setting out across America in search of a safe haven on the west coast.  Yeah, I know it sound a bit contrived, but I thought it was an amusing game for only a few bucks.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – $2.99


Games based off of the “Metroid-vania” structure are getting to be a dime-a-dozen these days, but Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet came out before the craze took over, and I think it was a bit overlooked at its release.  Featuring art similiar in style to the works of Genndy Tartakovsky, ITSP is a dual-stick shooter with a heavy focus on exploring a vast interconnected map, ala Metroid.  Players take on the role of a tiny UFO who must venture inside the titular Shadow Planet to save his homeworld.  A good title for those looking for a light-hearted, visually-striking action adventure game.

VVVVVV – $1.24


VVVVVV features an aesthetic and design that is reminiscent of old Commodore 64 games.  It’s one of those retro-inspired platformers that is hard as nails.  You guide the captain of a starship that has crash landed in an alternate dimension and must explore a large interconnected map to find his missing crew members.  The game has no jumping, but instead the player hits a button to reverse the flow of gravity from either up to down or down to up.  VVVVVV is not a particularly long game, but I think most players looking for something with a tough but fair challenge will be satisfied with it.  The soundtrack is also an incredible collection of catchy chiptunes and electronic beats.  Veni, vidi, vici.

Nova-111 – $3.74


Nova-111 is a highly unique and experimental action adventure game that came out late last year.  The game centers around a tiny spaceship exploring alien worlds filled with hostile creatures and dangerous obstacles.  What makes Nova-111 unique is that it has a turn-based and grid-based structure akin to old roguelike RPGs.  That is to say that the ship and enemies move around on a grid, and each time the player moves the ship (which counts as one turn), the enemies take a turn to move.  It’s not really an RPG like the old roguelikes, more of an action adventure game, but I think it blended the elements of these two genres very well.  The game was a great surprise to me earlier this year when I played it on the Vita.

Outland – $0.99


Outland was a game that recently released on PC, but was released on Xbox Live Arcade ages ago.  It’s a melee-focused sidescrolling action-platforming game that takes place in a beautifully silhouetted world.  The main gimmick behind the action is probably familiar to the Ikaruga fans out there.  Enemies and projectiles are colored either blue or red.  The player has a barrier that can be shifted between blue or red, and the color of the barrier dictates the enemies and projectiles that the player is immune to.  At its core, Outland is just a well-designed action-adventure game that I think fans of these sorts of things will love.  I cannot emphasize enough that at 99 cents, this game is easily the best deal on this list.

System Shock Remake Has a New Demo and a Kickstarter

The previously announced remake of the original System Shock has just resurfaced with a new demo and a Kickstarter campaign.  I’m a huge fan of System Shock 2, but I’ve never been able to get far into the first game because it’s design has aged fairly poorly.  The demo is available via Steam, GOG, and Humble Store, and the links can be found on its Kickstarter page.  You don’t even have to donate to access the demo!  It’s great that this game is getting new found attention.  While it was a pivotal part in the early development of 3D gaming, I feel like most people know nothing about it, and if they do, they only know it through its more popular sequel.


Image courtesy of the System Shock Kickstarter.

Aboard Citadel Station in orbit of Saturn, an experiment with artificial intelligence has gone awry, and the Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network, better known as SHODAN, that maintains the station now believes herself to be a goddess destined to re-engineer life and the universe.  She has turned against the inhabitants of the orbital colony, warping them into cyborg and mutant slaves, and has ambitions of annihilating humanity to begin her own ascension.  In System Shock, you play as the hacker responsible for SHODAN’s insanity and must overcome the horrors of Citadel Station as he (she?) desperately searches for a way to stop the rogue AI from launching an attack on Earth and the rest of humankind.  Released in 1994, the game was an early mix of FPS and RPG and had a heavy focus on player immersion.  If you’ve ever played a first-person game that focuses on storytelling through environmental exploration, you have System Shock to thank for that.  The game is also an example of a pre-Resident Evil atmospheric horror game, although it rarely gets credit for that.

System Shock was the team at Looking Glass Studios’ follow-up to the Ultima Underworld series that they had created years earlier.  Ultima Underworld was a first-person action RPG set in the Ultima universe and featured many of the key elements of System Shock, namely a focus on immersion, exploration, and allowing the player to discover multiple solutions to a given obstacle.  Ultima Underworld, itself, is also incredibly important to the history of gaming, as it was the evolutionary link between grid-based/turn-based first-person RPG dungeon crawlers like Wizardry and real-time first-person action games like Wolf3D and Doom.

System Shock had a number of high profile projects that were in some ways its direct descendants.  Warren Spector’s Deus Ex was heavily based on the ideas of immersion and exploration that were pioneered by his work on System Shock and Ultima Underworld.  System Shock 2 was released in 1999 by Irrational Games and is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest PC games of all time.  In 2007, Irrational would later use System Shock as the template for its biggest hit, BioShock.  And I’ve heard rumors that Dead Space was originally meant to be System Shock 3 (which is easily believable if you’ve ever played the two series).

With all the HD remakes and re-releases that come out these days, I have difficulty thinking of a game more in need (or more deserving) of the treatment than System Shock.  While it’s both important and influential, its UI and control scheme are incredibly antiquated.  The game predates such things as WASD and mouse look.  Today, these issues are notorious of early 3D games, but they are exacerbated in System Shock due to the game’s level of complexity.  The remake’s Kickstarter promises big improvements on this front.  To me, this would be a really valuable achievement.  While System Shock 2 has achieved a legendary status in PC gaming, I think the original System Shock has been held back from being as fondly regarded due to how obtuse it is to play for modern gamers.


Images courtesy of the System Shock Kickstarter.

The remake is being overseen by Night Dive Studios, a company whose main mission has been to procure the rights to classic PC games so that they can be re-released on digital storefronts like Steam and GOG.  A while back they managed to rescue both System Shock 1 and 2 from legal limbo and re-released the original versions of those games for sale.  I’ve heard that back in the day Looking Glass sold the rights to the series to an insurance company to keep EA from getting control of it, and Night Dive was able to successfully negotiate the re-releases of the game with that insurance group.  Other classics that Night Dive have gotten re-released include I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, The 7th Guest, Turok, Shadow Man, and the old Humongous adventure games among many others.

Night Dive is promising that the remake is being built from the ground up and will feature numerous improvements and tweaks.  They’ve even gotten the original voice actress to reprise her role as SHODAN.  The demo is currently available from Steam, GOG, and Humble Store and is a good exhibition of their vision.  I’m excited for this project, because, while I’m a huge System Shock 2 fan, I’ve always been a bit deterred from playing the original due to the issues I’ve discussed above.  Hopefully, this project will meet its crowdfunding goal, not just for the sake of this remake, but also because there’s been talk of an actual System Shock 3 in the works, as well.


The Liebster Award & The Maximum Utmost


Hello, everyone!  As they spread like wildfire across my WordPress feed, I’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award at long last.  The Liebster Award is a sort of self-propagating acknowledgement that is passed from blog to blog as a means of encouraging discovery and new connections between writers.  The basic rules of acceptance are to answer 11 questions posed by the nominating blogger and then suggest an additional 11 nominees and pose a new set of 11 questions to be answered by them.  It’s basically like an elaborate chain letter, but reading some of these award posts, I realize it’s a good way of getting to know other writers a little bit better.

I have been nominated by retr0pia75 amongst others, but retr0pia was the first, so I’ll be answering their questions.  Thank you to all those who have suggested me, however.  I really appreciate it.

1) Favorite plant?

An interesting question.  As my username implies, I favor the shortleaf pines which surrounded the small farm I grew up on.

2) Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon?

Crash Bandicoot, forever and always.  The Playstation is my favorite console of all time, and Crash Bandicoot was one of the games I got along with the system.  I had many good times with that game and its subsequent series, especially Crash Team Racing.  I love that big idiot marsupial.

3) Most disappointing game in recent memory?

Hmmmmmm, probably The Division.  I had high hopes as it starts off very strong, but eventually the game just devolves into a repetitious slog.

4) Favorite flavor?

Does pizza count as a flavor?

5) Best E3 ever?

This one was a tough call between E3 2015 and 2016, but I think maybe 2016 has it.  To be honest, all of the old E3’s sort of blur together in my head.  But 2016 had Breath of the Wild, Resident Evil 7, Death Stranding, Last Guardian, Wolfenstein 2, etc., so I don’t feel too worried about my choice.

6) Most overrated TV show?

Grey’s Anatomy.  Everyone in my office loves it, but it simply isn’t for me.

7) Favorite Nintendo character?

Donkey Kong, star of my favorite Game Boy game and my favorite kart racer.  He also had some not too shabby SNES games that you might have heard of.

8) Worst movie you’ve ever seen?

Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.  I watched this on Netflix back in the days when the streaming selection wasn’t so great yet, and uggggghhh.  I had to cut it off at the 10 minute mark.

9) Best video game soundtrack?

So many incredible soundtracks to choose from.  I’m going to reveal an embarrassing secret.  In my high school days, I had a MIDI collection of FFVII tracks that I would listen too every day after school.  So, I’m probably going to go with that.

10) Most tragic downfall of a video game company/franchise?

I tried to think up a few different possibilities for this question, but, in the end, the answer is obvious.  Sega was gaming’s greatest underdog and had a style like none other, and the creative collapse that befell the company’s many talented teams after the Dreamcast era is easily the greatest tragedy in gaming to me.

11) Least awful Michael Bay film?

To be honest, I think the only Michael Bay films I’ve seen are The Rock and Pearl Harbor.  I guess between those two I would choose The Rock.


And now for my nominations.  I tried to pick blogs that haven’t been nominated yet, but I apologize if any of you have already been selected before.

Nintendo Figures

Blow In My Cartridge

I Played The Game

Disco Dracula

Beauty and Gloom

Hungry Goriya

Skeptical Gamer

Nick the Gent

More Sleep Needed

And if they graciously accept, these are my questions:

  1. What made you want to start writing a blog?
  2. Outside of gaming, what hobbies do you try to cultivate?
  3. Night Owl or Early Riser?
  4. Book or movie that had the greatest influence on you growing up?
  5. Favorite beverage to relax with?
  6. Favorite character from a game?
  7. Favorite season of the year?
  8. What was the first game that really made you like video and computer games?
  9. The Beatles or Led Zeppelin?  (Or neither?)
  10. Pie or cake?
  11. Favorite number?

Thanks to everyone for reading!


Luigi’s Mansion Arcade


It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a proper arcade (well, at least as proper as they come these days).  My local bowling alley has a decent sized collection of aging and decaying ticket games off to the side of the lanes, but I don’t really count that.  I recently visited a more well-equipped venue, and I was incredibly surprised to see a cabinet based on Luigi’s Mansion.  I’m a big fan of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on the 3DS, so I had to give the game a go once it was free.

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade is heavily based off of its 3DS counterpart.  I played through two levels which appeared to me to be exact replicas of the Gloomy Manor and Old Clockworks stages of the handheld game.  As far as I can tell, I think the game just takes the exact levels and art assets from Dark Moon and scales them up to a big screen experience.  And the game looks great, despite everything originally being designed for a tiny handheld display.  It’s a testament to the strength of the visual design that was present in the excellent original.

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade is probably best grouped with the lightgun games, although it’s not really a shooter.  The machine features two (one for each player) fairly hefty and solid replicas of Luigi’s Poltergust 5000, which is the gun peripheral used to play the game.  If you’ve never played a Luigi’s Mansion game, then the brief explanation is that Luigi explores a series of haunted mansions using a vacuum-like contraption, the Poltergust, to capture the various spooky ghosts that evilly inhabit each residence.  There are two buttons on the arcade game’s Poltergust peripheral.  One on the top is used to blast a bright flash of light (the Strobulb) that stuns the ghosts and makes them vulnerable to attack.  Once stunned, the button on the Poltergust’s grip can be used to start vacuuming in the specters.  


Gameplay mostly consists of Luigi slowly making his way through each mansion of the game, with the players having a first person view of his perspective.  The game is on-rails, so there is no direct control of Luigi’s movement, but there are a few branching paths offered in each level.  During the downtimes of the game, the players can aim the Poltergust at various objects that decorate each mansion to try to suck out some some loose coins to add to their score.  Each time you suck up a coin, there is a very satisfying *ka-chink* recoil that is triggered in the peripheral’s force feedback.  After a bit of this, you’ll begin to hear the snickering of ghosts or catch glimpses of them preparing an ambush, and this is the cue to get ready for a fight.

Combat consists of flash stunning the ghosts before they can attack, and then using the suction on the Poltergust to vacuum them into captivity.  If you know the home games, then you’ll know that when vacuuming up a ghost, you need to pull them in the opposite direction to which they’re travelling.  This is featured in the arcade game by aiming the poltergust away from the ghost as you’re capturing them.  So, for instance, if the ghost is moving toward the right side of the screen, you need to aim the Poltergust to the left side of the screen to more quickly reel it into the vacuum.  Each ghost has a health counter that depletes as you wrestle with it, and the ghost is finally captured when this counter hits zero.

I’ve always found Luigi’s Mansion to be a rather hectic game.  You see, as you are working on wrangling in one ghost, other ghosts usually come out to attack.  The player is defenseless while using the vacuum, which means that they need to properly time when to let go of the ghost they’re currently capturing.  I don’t think this is necessarily obvious to someone who has never played a Luigi’s Mansion games.  Sometimes, there’s a lot of ghosts that come out of the woodwork at one time, and the game becomes a bit overwhelming.

Most shooter-type games in the arcade are very simple, you just point, shoot, and reload.  And because of the nature of arcades, these types of games need to have a “walk-up and play” quality where anyone can drop money into a machine and quickly understand the basics of what they need to be doing.  But with the need to flash the ghosts first (which sometimes requires precise timing), suck them up, and play defensively, it may be a bit complex for someone who has no prior experience with the series.  I know the girl I enjoyed the game with expressed some confusion as to exactly what we were supposed to be doing.

It’s not that the game doesn’t try to explain all of this to you.  Quite the opposite.  As you move about outside of combat, there’s a constant stream of messages at the bottom of the screen from Professor E. Gadd, the inventor of the Poltergust.  But these messages are text only, since E. Gadd speaks in his “wabba wabba” style gibberish from the home games.  I actually didn’t pay much attention to these communiques, since I was too busy probing the environment for hidden coins during these segments.  I suspect most people will be similarly distracted from E. Gadd’s chattiness.

I really liked Luigi’s Mansion Arcade.  It’s a unique and visually attractive game, and the Poltergust is probably my favorite controller I’ve ever used in the arcade.  But  I feel it’s not necessarily a good arcade game, because I fear that it’s not particularly accessible.  It’s also an unusually slow game for the arcade, as combat is broken up by the walking sections which are fairly slow and uneventful.  But it’s a cool game, nonetheless.  Some might not remember, but Nintendo used to be a real presence in the arcade before their extraordinary success with the NES and Game Boy caused them to turn their entire focus on home gaming.  From my understanding, this game was actually developed by Sega on behalf of Nintendo, but regardless it’s still awesome to see Nintendo in the arcade again.


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