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About
Oculin, known in the realm of the living as Benjamin Toy Yoder, is a college student majoring in journalism and professional writing. He likes to pretend to be a vidjya game journalist and, at the very least, has successfully tricked a few people into believing him, landing him gigs at VGChartz, Classic Game Room Empire and TheSpeedGamers.

Digging for gems in unknown or poorly received titles is what Oculin games for. He places a large emphasis on entertainment, rather than just polish. He also has an unhealthy interest in creepy Japanese idol games, despite never playing one.

Anime, visual novels and manga are also hobbies of his, although he is incredibly picky and very rarely takes recommendations.
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Oculin
3:27 PM on 08.14.2014



I have a weakness for cute anime things, especially if it looks like it's from the 80s or 90s. While I had heard of the Japanese Umihara Kawase series, I've never been too big into importing. All of the games have passed me by until the most recent Nintendo 3DS release, which was localized under the name Yumi's Odd Odyssey. 



Something that has stood out about the franchise even since it's original 1994 Super Nintendo release is the visual style of the games. While the characters are cute little chibi girls, the backgrounds instead take a more realistic look.  Paper doors, cross walk lights, wine racks, faucets, rubber ducks and tons of other everyday objects sit in the background often not even placed logically. Sometimes a paper wall will just float in the backdrop for no particular reason. The fish enemies fall somewhere in-between realistic and just goofy looking. They wobble around on their legs and have big buggy eyes. This is all set to a soundtrack that feels like it's out of the 16-bit era with a whimsical and relaxing vibe to it. 
 
The aesthetics create a strange and surreal environment, yet it doesn't feel out of place given the game's structure. There's no story outside some brief character bios, nor an overarching world. The game is based off a simple stage select screen. Each stage is a small self-contained box the player must navigate through.



Merely running and jumping on platforms won't get you far.  A fishing lure is your main tool for traversing the levels in Yumi's Odd Odyssey. After throwing the lure in one of eight directions, it will attach to a surface. You can then swing across gaps or simply hang in the air. I often hear the series get compared to Bionic Commando because of this mechanic. However, Yumi's Odd Odyssey offers much more freedom of movement when you're attached to a surface.

When hanging from the fishing lure, you can retract and extend your line. It may not sound like much but the speed you generate from doing this is ridiculous. You'll start bouncing around with only the lure keeping you from flying off in some random direction. Let go of the lure and off you go, hopefully not to your death. 


Yumi's Odd Oddsey is all about controlling the speed and angle at which you launch. The lure mechanics can feel unpredictable at times as there's a ton of factors in how fast and what direction you'll go. Even so, it still feels heavily reliant on the player's skill and timing.  



Early on you'll have to start throwing your lure mid-air to swing from one surface to the next without ever touching the ground. All of the platforms and interactive elements have a distinct look to them, so you'll never find yourself accidentally trying to latch onto background elements. Once you master the basic mechanics, you can start doing some advance techniques like wrapping a lure against an object to get a specific angle or to further increase your launch speed. 

You're not constrained to the set paths the levels seem to lay out. If you can use the physics to get to the end another way, the game's totally okay with you doing that.  Don't feel like dealing with spikes today? Swing yourself across the bottom of them, or try to throw yourself over the entire spike pit. The only barriers you'll meet are the borders of the level and your own ability to pull off these feats.  There are later elements like icy surfaces you can't lure onto, but those have their own uses that you can take advantage of. 



There are 50 levels overall, though you have to find secret doors to access most of them. The levels can be completed in less than a couple minutes. Actually completing them is the tough bit. Don't be surprised if you spend hours impaling the adorable little characters on spikes or having them drown at the bottom of the ocean. Surprisingly, it doesn't really come off as frustrating possibly due to the relaxing nature of the soundtrack. 

I hope interest in Yumi's Odd Odyssey starts to bloom over time. From what I can see, there's not much of a conversation going on about the game. It definitely deserves some attention after having to wait two decades to premiere outside of Japan. It's only available digitally on the eShop in North America, so it has a limited reach. $20 might seem a little steep for such a simple looking game, but the depth in the gameplay absolutely makes up for that.
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Nintendo has a weird interest in The Mysterious Murasame Castle. There's only been one game in the series, which was released for the Famicom Disk System in 1986. But it's a title that they keep referencing quite often in their modern games. Takamaru, the main character, has had cameos in a handful of titles. He's featured in a spin off mode for Samurai Warriors 3, he's a resident of the main island in the Japanese only Captain Rainbow and he's set to appear as an assist trophy in the upcoming Super Smash Brothers on Wii U and 3DS. The 3DS Virtual Console release is the first time the game has officially left Japan.



The Mysterious Murasame Castle is an isometric action adventure game, but with a heavy focus on action. Taking place in Feudal Japan, you play as Takamaru, a samurai apprentice, who is tasked with infiltrating castles that have been taken over by an evil power. This divides the game into two separate instances. Each level first has Takamaru navigating to the castle, and then he must retake the castle by killing the corrupted lord.

The game features some elaborate branching paths in levels, giving it an exploration aspect not seen in many action games from the time. However, you won't get much time to just stop and seek out secrets and hidden treasures. First, you're on a timer so you'll have to keep moving. Second, the game throws an avalanche of death at you. It's surprisingly just how much crap packs the screen while playing this game. Dashing ninjas, shurikens, fireballs, tornadoes, suicide bomber ninjas and all other sorts of enemies and obstacles fly across the screen at relatively high speeds.



The timer and rain of enemy death doesn't give you space to do much other than get to the castle or boss as soon as possible. It doesn't help that the longer you're on a single screen the more enemies and projectiles will fill it. Avoiding all of the enemies and projectiles is your first and foremost goal. Making it to the other side as fast as possible is your second goal. Actually killing enemies is the last thing on your mind.

It reminds a lot of shoot 'em ups since you have to mainly focus on evading projectiles while just spamming the attack button to take out the immediate dangers in front of you. Takamaru has a sword to deal damage in close quarters combat, but you'll largely use it to slay minion ninjas and deflect throwing stars that fly directly into Takamaru's face.

Your main offensive weapons are your ranged attacks. You start with a basic throwing knife, however you can power it up to a strong but short-ranged fireball, or a long-ranged windmill sword. These projectiles can be augmented with a variety of other power ups that can increase the throwing speed, multiply number of that can be thrown, and change direction as which they can be thrown.



You have a limited number of shots for enhanced projectiles, but ammo is dropped frequently so running out isn't that much of an issue. There are also a couple special moves that will clear the screen of enemies or make Takamaru briefly invincible.

All of Takamaru's attacks can be used while in motion, so it makes the game just a non-stop forward march death and destruction.

The Mysterious Murasame Castle can be punishingly difficult. Unlike a lot of 8-bit action games, there's quite a bit of leeway. You have a health bar and there's a plentiful number of health recovery items hidden in the world. Losing a life simply returns you to a powered down state on the same screen, but there are a lot of power ups scattered about to quickly raise your capabilities again. Running out of lives will return you to whichever area you were playing and the game even features a save function.



It's an intense game, something that the fast-paced soundtrack only amplifies. For $5, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is definitely an 8-bit gem worth checking out. It's just a shame it's taken so long to leave Japan.
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Oculin
1:11 PM on 06.07.2014



I've started panicking about the future of WiiWare's availability, so I'm turning around and purchasing WiiWare titles I've been dragging my feet on. Onslaught, a first person shooter on WiiWare, was one of these. Despite being an early title for the service and having to work with significant size limitations, the developers Shade, Inc. surprisingly squeezed in a decent experience.

Onslaught focuses entirely on shooting hordes of enemies. You play as a member of an expeditionary team on a deserted planet. Not too long after arriving, he finds that the planet is infested with massive genetically enhanced bugs. There are only a handful of enemy types and all of which  lack strength and have poor AI. However, they have numbers on their side. The player uses an assault rifle, submachine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher, grenades and an energy whip to tear through these foes. The arsenal is generic, but all the weapons are functional and serve their purpose. 



As with most shooters on the Wii, Onslaught controls via the Wii Remote's pointer. The player shoots within a bounding box on the screen and going outside of that box will turn the camera. The game is not the best controlling shooter of this style thanks to poor sensitivity for turning. However, the player is almost always moving forward, so it's rarely a issue. The motion controls overall work well with a few nice gimmicks here and there. For example, the player has to shake the nun-chuck to wipe the bugs' blood and guts off their screen to clear their view.

Across the game's 13 missions, players defend locations, navigate from point A to B, or just cause pure carnage by killing every bug on the map. The story is generally forgettable and cheesy, and mostly told through still images and dialog boxes. A few giant bug boss fights are in the game as well, but they normally come down to an annoyingly long encounter with non-stop strafing and shooting. The player is occasionally given a vehicle with mounted machine guns, but it's mainly used to simply slaughter even more bugs.



 It's easy to tell that the WiiWare's size limitations had its effect on Onslaught. Most of the locales look exactly the same and you'll be killing the same bugs non-stop from start to finish. Impressively, the Wii easily handles dozens upon dozens of bugs on screen at once. 

 Onslaught is mostly mindless shooting, but later on the game becomes much more challenging. In the past, online co-op was an option. Today that's no longer the case with Nintendo Wi-Fi now gone. Players have to rely on two computer controlled partners whom they can assign to shoot to the front,  the sides or behind the player. These partners seem just like some extra fire power early on, but later on these characters become key in helping the player reduce damage taken and for defending objectives from multiple fronts.

In all honesty, Onslaught is more of a technical surprise for an early WiiWare game. It works and was impressive given WiiWare's circumstances in 2009. That being said, if you do want a cheap, fun and largely mindless shooter, Onslaught delivers. Just keep your expectations low.

Score 6.0 / 10

Pros:
- Impressive number of enemies on screen
- Enjoyably mindless shooting with light strategy
- Fun small motion gimmicks

Cons:
- Repetitive environments, enemies and bosses
- Generic weapons
- Probably cooler in 2009
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Oculin
5:00 PM on 06.04.2014



I'm not really sure what I expected coming into Drakengard 3. I've never played a main entry in the Drakengard series, but I fell in love with the spin-off title NIER. While NIER was far from a  AAA polished experience,  what made it stand out was how unique it was. NIER had standard hack n' slash gameplay, but the title constantly experimented by mixing in elements from other genres. Some of the most striking examples were the bullet hell-style boss battles and the text adventure sequences. The story had an amazing localization that perfectly portrayed loveable characters with playful and often foul-mouthed dialog despite being in the middle of devastatingly depressing world. 

 Part of me wanted Drakengard 3 to recapture what NIER was. However, Drakengard 3 is not NIER. So you can throw out most of those expectations.



Drakengard 3 focuses almost entirely on hack n' slash gameplay. Each level is mission based and incredibly linear with narrow corridors and small rooms usually filled with waves of enemies. Most of the foes you encounter do little beyond occasionally attacking, so they essentially just act as fodder. The difficulty slowly climbs, but rarely are there that many challenging situations. Stronger enemies and mini-bosses shift the focus to evasion, but theses foes are relentlessly recycled. It's a repetitive structure that is thankfully still somewhat enjoyable because of the game's variety of weapons. 

Early on the player has a limited arsenal of weapons and basic movesets, which makes the game seem frustratingly simple. However, over a couple of hours the player's options are expanded. There are four weapon types; swords, knuckles, spears and discs and each weapon has three different varieties with small, medium and large sizes. A large number of these weapons have different movesets which can be expanded through upgrading them using gold and materials. The player has the ability to carry one of each type of weapon with them, so they can swap between them mid-combat. Death is rarely an issue outside of carelessness, so it's just a matter of choosing which tool is most efficient for slaying enemies.



Certain instances and boss fights have the player mounting a dragon that can breathe fire, fly around and butt stomp to the ground. Piloting the dragon has its moments, but most of the time you feel like you're stumbling around an arena with awkward controls and camera angles. What should be an empowering experience always feels like a liability. The on rails shooting sections with the dragon fair much better and are a nice distraction from slicing up countless foes.

The overall gameplay experience just feels woefully average. There's no attempt to add any interesting mechanics and the game doesn't play well enough to be impressive for its action alone. Technically the game is a disaster with consistent frame rate issues that sometimes grind the game to a halt. Visually, it seems the least amount of effort needed was put into the graphics, although character models used in the cutscenes are impressive when stacked up against the rest of the game.

The actual game elements of Drakengard 3 just feels like a shell the developers used to hold the story and characters.  

The main story presented from the start is a bit underwhelming. I could bore you with the full details, but the core information you need to know is that you play as Zero who is trying to kill her sisters. These sisters are worshiped as living gods and each has a disciple that can help them summon an angel for combat. When Zero kills one of her sisters, she takes their disciple. This initial story takes up the entirety of the first play through, but rarely goes much deeper than its premise.



What makes Drakengard 3's story interesting is what happens after the first set of credits.  The story continues through multiple timelines that show alternative adventures that Zero takes.  A large portion of these additional storylines focuses on what I assume to be the overarching story of the Drakengard series. This plot involves the recording of multiple timelines and branches in reality. The story does eventually loop around back to the main plot, but not until much later. Without playing the rest of the main series, you can sort of enjoy this taste of a larger tale. Still, it feels like you're missing out on the bigger picture. 

The final branch of the story contains most of the key plot points to wrap up Drakengard 3. Despite this, it feels like the game tries really hard to keep you away from this branch. You'll traverse the same repetitive landscapes multiple times across all the story branches. The final branch in particular requires the player to collect all the weapons in the game to access it, which needs some grinding for gold. Finally, the last boss, while an interesting and cool surprise, is completely unforgiving. Only those who are lucky or just devote hours of time and energy into the fight will likely get past it. After 4 hours of attempts, I gave up and just went ahead and looked up the ending online like a true casual.

As interesting as the story becomes over time,  it isn't the real draw of Drakengard 3. Instead, the characters play a much bigger roll.



The game doesn't gloss over the fact that you are mass murdering soldiers. Zero is essentially a psychopath, who seems to enjoy slicing everyone into pieces. Her dialog is mostly verbally abusing her dragon and disciples, or complaining about how annoying a situation is.

The disciples that follow Zero are just as crazy. Dito is witty but as blood hungry as Zero is, Decadus is calm and priest-like but a masochist who moans at any thought of physical pain, Octa is wise but a sex freak and Cent is a lying asshole. All of this is rounded off by Zero's dragon Mikhail, who is charmingly childish and often clueless about the current situations and conversations. 



As you mindlessly slay through the enemies of Drakengard 3, your chatty party will talk almost non-stop. There's sex talk, threats, bullying and a lot of arguments, but these conversations are the highlight of the game. Everyone's perverted and obsessive attributes are what make them so likeable, even if they're a bit two-dimensional. Each disciple added to your party adds a new personality to the conversations. 

Even with the relatively simple main plot, these characters bend and defy the player's expectations of how they interact with each other and the world. The game is constantly crushing tropes and redirecting the storytelling because of it. What is mostly an average game and difficult to trudge through becomes quite enjoyable thanks to these characters. 

Drakengard 3 is a game of banter. Almost everything exists for the purpose of highlighting the characters and delivering dialog to the player. The gameplay simply acts as a sufficient distraction as you listen to these conversations. It's a couple steps shy of being a bad game, but its focus on characters is enough to make it a unique experience that's hard to regret playing. Well, minus having thrown your PlayStation 3 out the window due to the final boss.

Score: 6.0 / 10

Pros:
 - Solid combat
 - Wide variety of weapons with different weights and movesets.
 - Bizarre and entertaining characters and dialog


Cons:
 - Tedious gameplay
 - Poor visuals and consistent technical issues
 - Weak story
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Recently Nintendo's Wi-Fi functionality across their Wii and Nintendo DS platforms were shutdown. In-game online services and downloadable content are no longer available. Thanks to Nintendo half ignoring online gaming over the last generation, the Wii and DS had the least to lose. The Wii's and DS's online experiences were passable at best and few titles embraced DLC. It's sad to see the online functionality and additional content disappear, but what terrifies me the most is what the future holds for the Wii's online store, WiiWare. 

For now, WiiWare is safe. Nintendo has not announced any plans to shut down the service, but it's inevitable. I'm sure only a few people are as distressed as I am about losing WiiWare. WiiWare never succeed like PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade did, so many will be willing to just write off the service. Unlike DSiWare on Nintendo 3DS, WiiWare hasn't been integrated into the modern eShop store on Wii U. The service only exists on the original Wii and Wii U's backwards compatibility mode. Unless Nintendo bothers to integrate the Wii into the Wii U's main operating system, I can't see them merging the two stores as they did on the 3DS.



WiiWare is not a service known for its high quality games. The Wii overall is a system made up of experimental and budget releases. Wii games were often interesting to look at but were rarely polished enough to be AAA experiences. Like a lot of Wii's software, a large number of WiiWare titles are exclusive to the system.  Games like the wind based platformer LostWinds, the town and dungeon management Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King / Darklord, and the 16-bit style ReBirth series from Konami can't be found anywhere but on WiiWare and are largely considered decent games.

It's rare to have the money and time to play every single game you want to. Probably more than two thirds of my gaming budget and playtime is dedicated to games I've missed out on over my 24 years of existence and from before I was born. WiiWare is a platform I have yet to fully invest my money and time into, so I'm contemplating just dumping money into the service and hoarding games.

It will be a good while into the future, but eventually PSN's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable support and the Xbox 360's XBLA will likely disappear. Many popular games will live on via ports across multiple platforms, but not everything will be salvaged. We already have seen this issue with current retro games that seemingly never get rereleases for one reason or another. In those cases, you can at least still buy an original copy even if it might incinerate your wallet's contents as prices on older games rise.



These services shutting down will end the ability to buy some of these games. There will be the option of not paying for them through hacked systems, emulation and piracy. As long as someone has a copy on a system that can be ripped, it can be preserved. I'm not a fan of piracy. Just thinking about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But without any alternatives, hacking and piracy might be the only way to save the future retro of digital download gaming.
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I'm finally giving up on ignoring indie games. They just won't go away. I've gotta deal with them eventually, so it's about time I start playing some. I thought it'd be fitting to make one of my first forays into the space with Cave Story, a title that pre-dates the modern indie movement.

Cave Story was more relevant 10 years ago thanks to using a retro style that had seemingly been abandoned by publishers. Now, there's no shortage of games that tickle that retro itch. But if you take all Cave Story's nostalgic elements and throw them aside, there's still an impressive game underneath.

Cave Story doesn't simply emulate titles of the past. A lot of retro side-scrollers weighed the player to the ground and reduced mobility, which would rack up the challenge. The small and relatively fast character you play as in Cave Story easily maneuvers between enemies. Later on there are opportunities to take advantage of vertical space with an upgradeable jet pack and a machine gun that can be fired downwards to propel the character into the air. The character's mobility adds some freedom from the ground and flying right over enemies while raining bullets down on them from above just feels good. I haven't played that many retro side-scrollers, but I haven't seen many games that offer the level of control that Cave Story does. 



Speaking of upgrading, the weapons in Cave Story have three tiers of levels. Collecting little shards that enemies drop upgrades your weapons. However, taking damage reduces the level of the weapons. The player has a health bar, but it almost becomes a secondary factor. Losing the upgrades on your weapons feels even more devastating than just flat out dying. It helps that the game is forgiving and saves your weapon levels at save points, but losing a level can completely throw you off in a pinch. This system creates a unique incentive for players to avoid damage to stay empowered. 

I didn't particularly like Cave Story's plot, at least not as much as the gameplay. It's about some bunnies that get experimented on to be used as weapons. The premise just didn't resonate with me. However, how it's presented is one of the game's strongest feats.



Early on, a lot of the characters are talkative as the scenario is being set, but the game drastically cuts the amount of dialog later. The story has a minimalistic approach by giving characters just enough lines to establish a likeable personality but keeps their purpose or goals from becoming overbearing. The dialog provides just enough information so that the visual storytelling doesn't come off as overly vague while still letting the player fill in the blanks on their own. All of this combined creates scenarios where a character's actions in the story become even more potent without any supporting dialog for them.

There's a lot more to cave story, but these elements in particular set the game apartment for me. Its presentation gives the vibe of retro love letter, but tearing away the pixely art and chippy tune music doesn't change the fact that there's a fairly unique game underneath.
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