Busted this out for a few hours on a whim to re-live those blissful pre-Y2K vibes and hot damn, it's incredible how this plays almost exactly like you'd expect a modern day Wipeout demake to play. Maybe it's sacrilegious to describe a game's canonical progenitor as "feels like a demake" but what I mean is: I straight up cannot believe that this is running off of 25 year old hardware, it simply looks and plays too well (and too similarly to its modern counterparts) for that to be true.
Seriously, this thing handles like a dream in what seems like 480p + 60fps, and if it wasn't for the fact that you can jam the HYPERTHRUST button and damn near outpace the rendering engine, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that you're playing on a PS1. There's even a cool technical control detail here that I think later games have abandoned, which is that the forward/backward pitch of your craft is something you have to actively manage while racing. This adds to how buttery smooth the game feels as you whip ass up and down and all around the tracks while the choicest late 90s EDM pulses outta your TV.
I legit think I'm gonna get an HD upscaler for the PS1 just so that I can live inside the aesthetic of Sampa Run specifically. Firmly in my "polygons so sharp they could cut ya" era after just three hours of old school Wipeout

aka Metal Gear: Ghost Babel
This getting branded as "Metal Gear Solid" outside of Japan was a massive disservice, as this is not simply a ported/demake'd MGS1. Sure, it's heavily inspired by MGS1 gameplay-wise, but Ghost Babel is a totally unique and strange alternate-universe sequel to the original Metal Gear. Even more bizarre is how much future games seem to pull directly from Ghost Babel. The narrative is, shockingly, a proto-MGSV in a lot of ways with the subplot of Viper (a venomous snake, if you will) and his crusade of vengeance against FOXHOUND. There's even straight up [REDACTED] in this game, whereas MGSV held back and wouldn't go all the way despite the themes. Some of MGS3's narrative and best moments are taken right out of this game, too. And the post-game special VR missions are just straight up Raiden's VR training alluded to in MGS2, that's not even up for debate - the missions are literally conducted by one of the Patriot AIs! It's impressive how overlooked Ghost Babel is in the Metal Gear series history given all that.
Overall, this is a delightful experience: the visuals are oozing with charm (that codec screen is just eye candy to me), and the gameplay is that classic Metal Gear 2 top-down goodness. It's retro in all the right ways if you ask me, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Metal Gear fans owe it to themselves to check this one out - just play it with save states to bypass some of the frustrating padding introduced in the last few levels.
🐍📦

I want to grind this game down to a fine powder and snort it

West Side Story but turn-of-the-millennium counterculture cyberpunk. Save the world by spraying the cops and capitalists with graffiti while blasting pirate radio jams, pulling sick tricks, and understanding the concept of love.
They very truly do not make 'em like this anymore, just an all-around miracle of a game.

Something about the physics in this game just broke my brain: Mario is too slow, yet he jumps way higher than you'd expect. But there are little Jason Voorhees Goomba dudes in some levels so like, there's merit to this whole endeavor. Worth a look simply for how bizarre the game is, really. Seriously, one of the first levels in the Tree Zone makes you go left as part of the primary path.

I grew up in the middle of full-fledged Pokémania collecting binders upon binders full of the trading cards, but I never actually played the Pokémon TCG - me and my friends just could never grasp the mechanics, really. So, it's wild to be falling in love with the 1996 Pokémon TCG in 2023.
As an RPG, it leaves a lot to be desired, but gameplay-wise, this is a straight up deck building roguelike card game. You go around playing your deck(s) against dozens and dozens of others to collect booster packs, which you can then use to re-tool your deck(s) to be even more busted than you previously thought possible. You challenge club masters (think: gym leaders) and collect medals (think: gym badges) in any order you choose and eventually earn the right to take on the grand masters (think: elite four). Not a single frill to be found here, just pure, unfiltered, jank-as-hell gen 1 TCG goodness. I'd go fuckin feral for a modern version of this, ngl.
Main deck drivers: Venusaur x3, Koffing x2, Kangaskhan x2

2019

I'm struggling to think of a roguelike/lite with better theming and justification for the endless loop of death and rebirth. It's a testament to how great this game is that, upon beating the final boss for the first time and immediately being asked to do it again, I went "yeah okay I think I'll do this a few more times before moving on".
Just a hades hell of a game from start to finish.

Checked out this NES ROM hack that faithfully recreates a pretty obscure PC follow-up to the original Super Mario Bros. as a native NES game. I guess, technically speaking, this would be the third official sequel to Super Mario Bros. (after The Lost Levels / SMB2 in Japan). So, this is a review of the content of the game that's being ported; the port itself is amazing technically, no criticism there.
There's a lot of cool stuff here: the Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. enemies add a nice mix-up to the original enemy roster, and I kind of like the deeply saturated palette and new sprites + interesting usages of old sprites. It's also just nice to have, ya know, more official Super Mario Bros. content to experience. The original game remains a solid mainstay of retro gaming, and this builds off of it nicely.
But damn, this thing feels like an official ROM hack in the weirdest way: there's an item that basically lets you swim in the air for a few seconds which feels like a physics exploit, the DK hammer power-up is hilariously busted, and the level design is just straight wack sometimes with tons of leaps of faith onto off-screen platforms and clunky block placement. Hudson Soft just doesn't have that Miyamoto special sauce, unfortunately.
Overall, had a nice few hours with it and probably would recommend, but I nope'd out after getting frustrated with 8-2's awful Hammer Bros. overuse and 8-3's fire bar nonsense. Worth a look just to experience some forgotten Mario history, but consider playing on something with save states unless you're a seasoned SMB expert.

This review contains spoilers

My man EARNED that hat
* Played perfectly out of the box on Ubuntu 20.04 via Proton 7.0-5

I'm coming at this as someone who unironically loves the original Sonic Adventure, so there's a lot that I want to love here. One such thing is the reckless sincerity with which Sonic Frontiers approaches its narrative, which (when combined with the musical score) reminded me of Kingdom Hearts of all things at times. I also surprisingly enjoyed the discount Devil May Cry-esque combat, even if it could use a bit more depth, as well as the shameless inspiration taken from Shadow of the Colossus. Like, c'mon, that's a trio of extremely interesting (and nostalgic) influences for a Sonic game, is it not? I'll even say that this feels much closer to Sonic '06 than anything has in a while, and I mean that in a good way: I maintain the opinion all of these years later that Sonic '06 is an alpha build of a game that could've been a truly great Sonic Adventure 3 with an extra year or so of polish and fixes.
But one of my ultimate annoyances in gaming is when a game overpopulates itself with completely pointless collectibles and other tedious, meaningless guff, and this game has tons of that - some of the collectibles even respawn! And the amount of times this game aggressively wrestled control from me in order to lock me into one of the four different running style controls/systems really started to get on my nerves. Just let me run across the environment freely, dammit! And that's saying nothing of the overall lack of polish on display here - hell, some of the "hype" cutscenes are so poorly stitched together that it reminded me of all of the SA2 audio bugs. This leaves the game feeling extremely ambitious but unable to hit the heights it's aiming for, and that's a shame for me personally. Gotta give it props for trying though.
But one thing's for sure: it should be considered a crime to include a mandatory pinball minigame with physics that awful, holy hell.

katamari damacy for those of us with terminal twitter brain 🦝

Finally checked out this classic in the form of a fan-made ROM hack called A Link to the Past Redux that adds a bunch of quality of life improvements, bug fixes, and general tweaks streamlining the experience - though controversially also changing Link's hair from pink to blonde...
It's good, and I totally get why it's a considered such a gaming keystone (especially for anyone coming from the NES games before it, goddamn what an experience that must've been), but it ultimately falls prey to some of the worst of what I call "retro game bullshit", where solutions are unclear or deliberately obtuse and some common enemies are almost unfairly difficult for no real reason. It's very clear that this is the blueprint for damn near every Zelda that came after it though, I can't deny that.
If I had played it on a device that supported save states instead of an Analogue Pocket FPGA core, maybe I'd feel better about it. Should've considered picking up an old strategy guide too, for maximum nostalgia. Oh well.

Oh man, where to even start with this one? One step forward, ten steps back. Violet is inferior to 2022's own Pokémon Legends: Arceus in every way except story and characters; if it wasn't for that incredible and clearly Toby Fox-inspired ending sequence in Area Zero and the touching bits throughout with Arven, I'd be tempted to write it off entirely.
Every risk and change PLA took to improve the series is instantly reversed here, as Scarlet & Violet are clearly built using a modified Sword & Shield engine instead of the more fluid (and stable) PLA engine. The lack of voice acting continues to be deeply embarrassing, and the "open world" promised here is a complete farce since there's an intended order to everything. The Team Star siege battle mechanic is the definition of a tedious time-waster, too. Really, everything feels so completely undercooked across the board and it's a damn shame. Scarlet and Violet are the biggest victims of developer crunch this side of Cyberpunk 2077 and it really shows.
But at the end of the day, if you like Pokémon, you'll probably enjoy the bits of this that are actually playable. At least there are some really fun Pokémon designs in this one.
Team: Skeledirge, Garganacl, shiny Jumpluff, Clawitzer, Revavroom, Baxcalibur

Endlessly charming and impressively animated, but ultimately feels like a missed opportunity: what I hoped was an exploration-focused adventure through a haunted hotel felt more like a linear cruise through a harmless theme park. Still worth a look for the gorgeous visuals and an instant recommendation for younger gamers, but if you're like me, hoping that LM3 will recapture some of the magic of the original Luigi's Mansion, then it might be time to lay this series to rest.

Electronic Symphony is better purely by virtue of the soundtrack selection despite all of the extra modes and goodies on offer here, but there's a certain era-specific charm to having your intense streak stop dead in its tracks so that the UMD drive can struggle to load the entire unedited and hyper-compressed (but censored) music video for Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl", upon which the game comes back up to normal speed right around the time Gwen goes "AWWWH, SU-PAH KUH-WAH-EE". Ain't nothin' like mid-2000s pop culture, baby!