The Gameslinger's blog, Games Obscura, is a blog dedicated to covering strange, obscure, underrated and overlooked games. Some games covered are amazing games that were simply overlooked or forgotten. Some are flawed or poorly received, yet have interesting aspects or concepts that make them worth a second look. Others are downright weird; but fun and interesting, too. In any case, all are worth digging up and taking a second look at, and that's what this blog is all about: In-depth second looks at games that are worth rediscovering, for one reason or another.
I take requests and suggestions! If you know a game that was underrated, obscure, strange, overlooked or poorly received, and you think that it is worth discovering and giving a good second chance, then let me know!
Send any requests or suggestions to: email@example.com
You can also leave suggestions in the comments section, or send them to me via a PM.
Feel free to browse through all my articles; the material in them generally isn't time-sensitive, and I check comments on all of my articles, new and old!
Publisher(s): AQ Interactive (Japan), Atari (N.A. and Europe), Codemasters (AU)
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date(s): July 27th, 2006 (Japan), February 27th, 2007 (N.A.), March 6th, 2007 (Europe), March 16th,2007 (AU)
Cover art for Bullet Witch.
What Is This Game?
Bullet Witch is a third-person action shooter which casts the player as Alicia Claus, a tough, beautiful, stoic witch, battling her way through the demonically-overrun, post-apocalyptic ruins of the “near future” in the year 2013. After the legions of Hell suddenly and violently appeared on Earth, they quickly began laying waste to human civilization in an orgy of murder and violence, overpowering even the military and raining destruction upon our world, and as a total badass and perhaps the world’s only hope, Alicia takes up arms against the demonic forces. Wielding her signature weapon, the “Gun Rod,” along with a host of devastating magical spells and an acrobatic moveset, and guided by a strange supernatural voice, Alicia will tear through the forces of hell, and just about anything else that stands in her way, with her destructive arsenal, on a quest to save humanity and uncover the mysteries of her own past.
Bullet Witch is an action shooter with some technical flaws, but also some very fun gameplay concepts, a massive sense of scale to the action, a dark, gritty, cool (and wonderfully over-the-top) setting, bizarre enemies, and a badass, sexy main character, which all feel like something akin to a comic out of “Heavy Metal” magazine with a bit of a Japanese gaming twist. As Alicia, our dark, brooding heroine, the player will massacre the legions of darkness, while navigating huge environments and, despite some noticeable technical flaws, will discover some amazingly intense, exciting and explosive action along the way. Bullet Witch has been bemoaned by some for some of its technical issues and lack of polish in some areas, but for those who can look past these issues, there is an explosive, intense and immensely stylish onslaught of action gameplay awaiting them. Infusing gothic horror and modern stylistic elements with the look and borderline-insanity of an animated metal music video, Bullet Witch creates a style and atmosphere uniquely its own, and when combined with explosive, intense action (including massively destructible environments) and the stylish, sexy and badass heroine at the center of it all, it becomes easy to see why Bullet Witch is a game worth checking out for curious gamers who’ve seen it sitting in the bargain bin…..if you can overlook its technical issues, a game filled with character, style and intense and addictive gameplay is waiting…..
Alicia is a graceful, stylish heroine; and Bullet Witch's brand of unique action gameplay reflects that.....
Bullet Witch was a game which, in a way, won my love far before I’d ever played it. The gameplay videos, trailers, and various concept and promotional art of it I had seen over the year between its release in Japan and its eventual North American release revealed to me what I, honestly, knew would probably not be a “technically” great game, but still looked to be remarkably original, creative and fun. Bullet Witch didn’t have amazingly high-end graphics on par with Gears of War, and much of the press surrounding its Japanese release reported a game that had more than its share of AI problems and technical shortcomings. But what was also apparent in every screenshot, every video and every piece of conceptual or promotional art I’d seen for Bullet Witch was a sense of creativity, style and excitement. I loved the scale of the environments and action. I loved the gothic-horror-infused post-apocalyptic setting. I loved its over-the-top, flat-out strange enemies. And I adored the amazingly cool, uniquely stylish Alicia, a heroine who managed to be badass, sexy and feminine without coming off as contrived, silly or overtly exploited. In short, I was into Bullet Witch from the beginning, intrigued by its thoroughly unique qualities and concepts and in love with its fresh, creative look and style.
I had Bullet Witch preordered months before its U.S. release in early 2007, and was following the developer’s blog on IGN for the game closely as its release approached. When the game released to mixed reviews, I wasn’t terribly shocked; and, perhaps partially because my expectations were well-adjusted, I picked up my copy of Bullet Witch and found myself thoroughly enjoying it and quickly addicted to its explosive and addictive gameplay. Bullet Witch, to be fair, has a number of glaring technical flaws and some thoroughly cheeseball writing, voice acting and cinematics……but there is also a wonderfully charming, unique, stylish and just-plain-fun action-shooter underneath them. And if you can look past its shortcomings, you’ll find a game that is fun and filled with personality…..
Bullet Witch had a lukewarm reception, but lying beyond its shortcomings is an explosive, exciting game, with plenty of style and personality....
History, Release and Reception:
Bullet Witch was created by the recently-defunct Japanese development studio, Cavia. Cavia was founded in the year 2000, and had met with a good degree of success in development of licensed titles for existing franchises, including a number of relatively successful licensed PS2 and Game Boy Advance titles for popular anime franchises including One Piece, Naruto, Steamboy and Ghost in the Shell, in addition to development of a number of spin-offs to popular video game series, including Resident Evil: Dead Aim (a light-gun shooter) and Dragon Quest: Shonen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon (a Dragon Quest “Mystery Dungeon” spin-off). As a freelance developer, Cavia worked with numerous publishers, and two of their few “original” IPs being the Gungrave series, and the Drakengard series (or Drag-on Dragoon in Japan), which was published by Square Enix.
In October of 2005, on the horizon of the “next generation,” Cavia expanded its business from a freelance developer to its own development and publishing company, renaming itself AQ Interactive, while simultaneously acquiring Japanese game developers “Artoon” and “feelplus,” and re-creating the “Cavia” brand itself as another subsidiary development company within AQ Interactive. With AQ Interactive serving as a parent company to the three development houses, Cavia had managed to expand itself while simultaneously maintaining its own, original brand as a subsidiary of its new-found, expanded brand name.
Bullet Witch's developer, Cavia, had spent much of the previous console generation doing titles for established franchises; pictured here (left to right): Resident Evil: Dead Aim, Steamboy, Dragon Quest: Shonen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and One Piece: Grand Battle.
The Drakengard series (known in Japan as Drag-on Dragoon) was one of the only original IPs for Cavia during the PS2 generation. The series won praise for its dark story and setting, although its gameplay was criticized by some as simplistic or repetitive.
Having spent much of the prior generation working on licensed properties, Cavia/AQ Interactive was eager to try their hand at a new original IP as the new generation of consoles arrived. Bullet Witch producer Tohru Takahashi described his and Cavia’s excitement for the oncoming generation in an interview with 1Up.com, stating “The Xbox 360 is a particularly exciting hardware to develop for, because its superior power now allows for new kinds of expression which were previously impossible.” With an enthusiastic outlook on the new generation Cavia set to work on creating an IP that would strike a balance of appealing to both Japanese and North American gamers, and at the same time breath a unique breathe of life into the third-person shooter genre. The idea of taking the traditional third-person shooter gameplay elements and infusing it heavily with fantastical elements and a hint of exploration and adventure gameplay was the core idea behind Bullet Witch in its inception, and served a model that the team felt would make for a unique experience while simultaneously appealing to both the Japanese and North American market’s differing tastes. The art direction and character designs were an especially important element to the team, as well, and Takahashi noted that considerable thought was put into the game’s look and style; particularly, into the main character, Alicia, herself, who went through a number of iterations before finally settling upon her final design. Likewise, Cavia built Bullet Witch’s gameplay from the ground up, including all its mechanics and the engine itself, in the interest of creating a unique next-gen experience centered on fast-paced action, massive destruction and physics-heavy combat and gameplay.
When Bullet Witch launched in Japan in July of 2006, it met with heavy promotion and hype, but also some harsh criticism from professional gaming journalists. With the Xbox 360 less-than-popular in Japan, Bullet Witch was a unique title for Japanese gamers in that it was a rare early Xbox 360 that was not only developed in Japan, but also with a Japanese audience in mind. Bullet Witch was launched with a fairly large amount of promotion, especially in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where director Take Yoichi promoted the game at the store AsoBitCity on its launch day, alongside a playable demo set-up for the game in front of the store. Alongside considerable coverage in Famitsu's magazine and on their website leading up to its release, it appeared Bullet Witch was on track for success…..but when it released in Japan, Bullet Witch met with a lukewarm reception both critically and in sales numbers. Professional journalists noted the game’s general “unfinished” feel and lack of polish; including poor enemy AI and sub-par graphics, and, due much in part to the Xbox 360 itself and its thus-far dismal sales performance in Japan, the game, even being one of the more “popular” Xbox 360 titles in Japan at the time, still had largely poor sales numbers; debuting at number 29 on the sales charts, selling a mere 9,083 copies.
Bullet Witch had no shortage of attention leading up to its release in Japan. It was featured prominently in magazines such as Famitsu......
......and even saw a large promotion on launch day in Tokyo's Akihabara District. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360's general lack of popularity in Japan meant little success for the title.
Bullet Witch may not have been a rousing success in terms of critical or sales reception, but the title had received enough attention for its style, interesting central character, and unique brand of action gameplay to gain the attention of publishers Atari and Codemasters, who picked up the rights for North American, European and Australian releases of the title. With Atari shoehorning the title for North American and European releases, the first thing the publisher did was to look at the game’s technical flaws in hopes of improving upon them for a more positive reception outside of Japan. Much of the press surrounding Bullet Witch’s Japanese release reported on a game with a very cool concept that was simply bogged down by far too many technical flaws and limitations, resulting it what ultimately felt like an “unfinished” game. With this in mind, Atari went back to Cavia and AQ Interactive, giving them the time and money to improve upon some of the game’s issues and ultimately polish up the game for what would hopefully be a better reception internationally.
With additional time and money, AQ and Cavia went back to work on Bullet Witch, issuing improvements and tweaks to the game across the board, including a repositioned “aiming” camera, graphical tweaks and improvements, and minor work on the enemy AI, controls and core engine of the game. Meanwhile, Bullet Witch received a fair amount of hype and coverage, thanks largely in part to Atari’s push for attention and awareness. Aside from a consistently updated developer’s blog on IGN in the months leading up to Bullet Witch’s North American release and a consistent stream of coverage by the media, including a number of featured publisher and development staff interviews on major video game websites, Atari also saw to it that Alicia herself and, as such, Bullet Witch, got a little extra attention by the public eye, when she appeared topless in Playboy’s “2007 Video Game Preview” feature. Likewise, Bullet Witch saw an added promotional bonus in the form of a collectible, pre-order exclusive Bullet Witch comic for its North American release.
Atari promoted Bullet Witch quite heavily to the gaming press for its upcoming stateside release, which boasted some much needed technical improvements, and early press was positive. Sadly, upon release, it critical reception still was ultimately mediocre.
With a healthy amount of coverage and promotion, and additional work being put into the international version of the game by the developers, Bullet Witch appeared to be on the right track. Unfortunately, however, even in its final international release, improvements and all, many of Bullet Witch’s inherent flaws still shone through, resulting in an ultimately mixed-to-negative reception from critics and the press, and similarly unremarkable sales. IGN and Official Xbox Magazine both blasted Bullet Witch with 4.0’s out of 10, while Gamespot gave the game a mediocre 5.5 out of 10, citing poor level design, bad enemy AI and general technical and mechanical issues as the game’s biggest problems. On the slightly more forgiving side were sources including Game Informer, who awarded Bullet Witch a somewhat average 6.5 out of 10, and X-Play, who gave Bullet Witch a middle-of-the-road review with a score of 3 out of 5. Ultimately, it seemed, even after the game had gone back into development, undergoing tweaking and improvements on the technical front, the sentiments and complaints of many were still largely the same, and with its poor reception, Bullet Witch’s final hopes of carving out any large degree of success largely faded.
Atari continued to support Bullet Witch after its release with the subsequent release of DLC costumes and extra missions which had previously been released on the Japanese marketplace and, despite the subpar reception from the press, Bullet Witch managed to carve out some love amongst gamers who picked it up in spite of the negative buzz surrounding the game. While most who picked it up agreed that the game suffered from some legitimate problems, many also found a game that was surprisingly fun and unique underneath its problems. Despite some forgiving and loving fans who supported the game, Bullet Witch never saw the degree of success its creators or publishers had hoped for, in Japan or elsewhere, and what AQ Interactive and Cavia had hoped would be the start of a successful next-gen franchise quickly fell by the wayside. While Cavia had planned to make Bullet Witch the first in a series, the title’s poor performance critical and financially put the ax to any plans of a sequel, and Bullet Witch soon faded away as Cavia and AQ concentrated its efforts elsewhere.
Cavia and AQ Interactive themselves plugged along for a few years after, with a number of titles fitting the mold of their releases in the previous generation; mostly licensed titles based on existing anime and video game franchises, including two Zegapain games for the Xbox 360 and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii. Although they had been tasked with developing Hironobu Sakaguchi’s upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Cry On, alongside his studio Mistwalker, with AQ Interactive to serve as publisher, the upcoming would-be killer app was cancelled in 2008, due to AQ Interactive’s unease over the Xbox 360’s lack of success in Japan. Moving on, Cavia and AQ released, along with fellow developer/publisher Square Enix, the Xbox 360/PS3 action-RPG, Nier, in May of 2010. While the title was a big hit in Japan, it was just soon after, in July, that AQ Interactive decided to dissolve the Cavia development team into AQ Interactive, and just over a year later, in October 2011, AQ Interactive itself merged with Marvelous Entertainment to create Marvelous AQL, essentially absorbing AQ into Marvelous in the process.
Cavia saw a big hit in Japan in 2010 with Neir, another original IP, for Xbox 360 and PS3. Shortly after, the Cavia brand was dissolved into AQ Interactive, and AQ merged with Marvelous.
By this point, it is safe to say that Bullet Witch is all but forgotten by most gamers and, seemingly, by its creators, with no real hope of the franchise continuing and only a small handful of gamers who recall it, and even fewer fans. Bullet Witch has received the occasional attention over the following years in Japan; although sales were unsatisfactory overall, it did manage a spot in the Xbox 360 Platinum Hits line-up in Japan. However, with such a limited audience for the Xbox 360 in Japan, even this meant little in terms of sales, and since, the game has faded into obscurity, with only the occasional mention here or there. But while Bullet Witch is a title with some problems, it’s also a title worth the attention of curious gamers; especially for the dirt-cheap prices it’s dropped to. With the game going for little more than five to ten dollars at most retailers in North America, gamers owe it to Bullet Witch to finally give it a go, if they haven’t already……while Bullet Witch has some issues, it also has a lot to offer to those willing to look past them, and is a unique, quirky and often intense and exciting shooter with a lot of genuinely inventive and innovative gameplay features, an interesting style and setting, and a downright awesome heroine. Bullet Witch may be well worth looking past its blemishes to enjoy…..
Bullet Witch has been left behind and forgotten by most, but this unique action title may very well be worth a second look now more than ever.....
While there really is an interesting and often extremely enjoyable game in Bullet Witch, the truth of the matter is that many of the criticisms leveled against it are not inaccurate, and Bullet Witch does indeed have its share of issues. There’s a lot to love once you look past them, but first, let’s get the bad out of the way so we can focus on the good….
Bullet Witch is a game with a ton of great ideas, but also one with a number of downfalls that hinder them, mostly in the technical department. The big problem is that, at its core, Bullet Witch runs on its own engine, built from the ground up by the developers, and the engine itself seems to have some inherent issues which, ultimately, lead to a number of technical problems.
There are a number of issues, some small, but some pretty big, stemming from the somewhat faulty engine at Bullet Witch’s core. While it renders some surprisingly large and open stages seamlessly without load times, it also comes at the cost of an often-choppy framerate. While I found that the framerate issues ultimately didn’t lead to any major gameplay problems directly, they are still pretty noticeable when the action on screen gets chaotic, and considering one of Bullet Witch’s main selling points is massive destruction and chaotic action, framerate issues rear their head a bit too often during some of the game’s most spectacular moments of action and destruction.
The scale of the action and destruction can be massive in Bullet Witch, although the game's engine tends to struggle a bit during its more chaotic moments.
Another issue that stems from the game’s engine is some occasionally strange physics. Physics play a big part in Bullet Witch’s gameplay, and knowing this, the team designed the game’s engine to allow for advanced physics on objects and environments; and considering that the use and destruction of said objects and environments plays a pretty large part in Bullet Witch’s gameplay, seeing to it that the physics engine worked properly and consistently would seem to be a given. However, the physics in Bullet Witch can act downright strange at times, especially, once again, during chaotic moments or massive environmental destruction. Considering that many of Alicia’s offensive spells, as well the attacks of some larger scale enemies, rely on physics to destroy, throw or otherwise move objects, and while the complex physics make for some spectacular action, the somewhat spastic and unreliable nature of them also makes it somewhat unpredictable and risky to dabble with them at times. While these physics issues are not such a problem that they are constantly prevalent nor do they heavily impair or affect the gameplay, in a game so heavily reliant and focused on the use of physics in its action, some added polish and perfecting to the physics engine would have gone a long way.
Issues with Bullet Witch’s engine extend into the graphical presentation itself, as well, and while Bullet Witch is a very cool-looking game stylistically, and features some impressively large environments and incredibly frantic action and destruction, the game has number of technical problems on the graphical front as well. Aside from the aforementioned hiccups in the framerate, Bullet Witch’s graphical engine also seems to have some odd issues with properly rendering real-time shadows, which results in strangely jagged or trippy shadows, especially on objects or characters in motion. While not a huge quip, it is telling of the issues which Bullet Witch’s seemingly underpowered engine struggles with. Bullet Witch is somewhat of a double-edged sword across the board on the graphical front; while I was honestly impressed by the sheer size of the environments and scale of the action, and really like the stylistic elements of the game, including the designs for Alicia herself, her “gun rod,” the settings, and the downright bizarre enemies, the game’s graphical presentation, from a technical standpoint, appears lacking for an Xbox 360 title, even of the first generation. Textures are often flat or bland and environments, in turn, come off as low-detail. Animations are a mixed bag, as well, and while Alicia herself and some enemies move smoothly, other enemies come off as jerky and stilted in their animations.
Bullet Witch has some graphical issues, but the huge size and openness of the environments is quite impressive.
Although a number of the flaws mentioned thus far are largely anesthetic, Bullet Witch has a few other noteworthy problems which go beyond appearance. One of the most obvious and troublesome is the, frankly, idiotic AI most of Bullet Witch’s enemies suffer from. While Atari had Cavia go back to the drawing board to work on many of Bullet Witch’s technical issues for a release outside Japan, with the AI being one of the primary areas of concern, it seems Bullet Witch’s AI problems were a bit more deep-seated than some mere tweaking could correct, and even in the international version of the game, enemies remain largely oblivious and brain-dead; it’s not unusual to encounter a group of foot soldiers who will simply stand in one place as you mow them down, or who are running aimlessly back and forth or in circles. AI issues seem to permeate to all classes of enemies, with similarly oblivious or strange behavior from nearly all types, regardless of size or the nature of their attacks.
Enemy AI is one of the game's biggest problems. Much of the time, enemies are utterly brain-dead.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bullet Witch also suffers from some occasional, frustratingly “cheap” enemies and deaths, including some obnoxious moments of instant death. While these moments aren’t the norm, they also usually come suddenly, unexpectedly and with very little time or way to avoid them. In particular, the greatest offenders are Bullet Witch’s “sniper” enemies, who will hover a red laser over Alicia for a few seconds, before firing a single shot which, unless you manage to find cover, will most likely hit and, when it does, instantly kill Alicia. Often just as frustrating are the unexpected instant deaths which can result from falling or flying objects; the damage inflicted by flying, falling or moving environmental objects can seem entirely random, and results in some frustratingly unexpected, swift and frustrating deaths. It also feels like a cheap method of artificially ramping up the difficulty to, in some sense, make up for the otherwise poor AI.
Outside of the nagging technical issues and oddities, Bullet Witch’s other major issue is the length of its main story mode. Consisting of just 6 stages, the game is over far too soon, and while the individual stages themselves are very large, open and expansive, it still adds up to a campaign that can be blown through in little more than 4 to 5 hours. Bullet Witch does have considerable replay value in the form of its numerous DLC stages, as well as multiple difficulty levels and a large focus on scoring and perfecting your performance on individual stages (which, in turn, is lent an added level of addicting fun by the game’s online leaderboards), but the length of the core campaign is still shorter-than-average, and could have benefited greatly from even two or three more stages to flesh things out more.
Besides this, once we step away from the technical shortcomings, there is little I didn’t love about this quirky, flawed-but-fun game. One knock I could issue against the game is that the story, cutscenes and dialogue are pure cheese. While the premise for Bullet Witch and its world is the perfect setting for the over-the-top, ass-kicking shooter it intends to be, the cutscenes and dialogue can often be cringe-inducing and overly melodramatic. Likewise, while Alicia herself is an awesome, thoroughly likeable heroine, the same can’t be said of the remainder of the cast; and with mega-dork military meathead Max Cougar (the major supporting character of the game) desperately trying to steal the spotlight from Alicia every time he shows up in a cutscene, it can honestly be suggested that the story sequences and dialogue be ignored. This would be more of a concern if telling a story were a big focus for Bullet Witch, but Bullet Witch is clearly a game more focused on its gameplay and stylistic aspects, and as such, concerns of some cheeseball cutscenes and characters is more a passing concern than it would be in other games. As it stands, while Alicia may be the only worthwhile character in the game, she is also the one you’ll spend all of the game around, and goes a long way toward making up for the otherwise throwaway cast and story elements, by being a particularly unique, likeable and appealing character.
The dialogue and cutscenes are pretty goofy, and Alicia is probably the only likeable character in the bunch. Trust me, you'll be sick of this guy in no time.
While it may sound like Bullet Witch has a lot working against it, there’s also a lot to love beyond its issues. For those who can look past its problems, read on, Bullet Witch may have its flaws, but there is also a lot to make up for them under the surface….
Why it’s Worth a Second Look…..
Beyond the initially all-too-obvious problems which seemingly plague Bullet Witch, there really is a fun game with a lot of personality and individuality. While many were put off by its shortcomings, Bullet Witch is well worth a look by those who’ve been curious, but put off by its negative reception, or a second look by those who wrote it off originally.
Despite, or perhaps even in part because of, some cheesiness, one of the most striking and appealing aspects of Bullet Witch was its immense and distinct style. Lying somewhere between a comic you’d find in Heavy Metal magazine, a B-grade action/horror movie and a Japanese anime, with a bit of gothic flavor for good measure, Bullet Witch has a style all its own which it is simply drenched in, right from the moment you reach the title screen. Everything about the presentation and design of the menus, art style and general design of everything from the outlandish enemies to the setting to Alicia herself is bursting with a wonderfully bizarre and lively style that is simultaneously cool, dark, cheesy and at times totally crazy; and it fits the game perfectly and gives everything an added charm. Menus, including the title screen and spell casting menus have a gorgeous gothic style to them that goes above and beyond the presentational effort seen in many games of twice its budget or profile. Style was obviously a core concern for the team when making Bullet Witch, and it shows.
One of Bullet Witch's great strengths is its creative gothic/post-apocalyptic style, which the game is completely drenched in. Even the menus are oozing with style.
The greatest oddity of Bullet Witch, to me, was that a game with so many technical issues that directly affect its gameplay was simultaneously a game that was so much fun to play in spite of those flaws. While Bullet Witch suffers from a myriad of technical flaws which inhibit its gameplay, the core of the game itself was so fun and addictive that it counteracts it technical issues and produces some considerably fun, addictive and extremely satisfying gameplay.
There are definitely some strange enemies in Bullet Witch.
There are a lot of aspects which make Bullet Witch such an enjoyable game to play, and no doubt near the very top of the list is the sheer size, scale and impact of the environments and action. There’s a real sense of satisfaction in Bullet Witch’s action, and even with some poor AI, the action still manages to remain intense and keep the player on their toes, especially on higher difficulties. Although not all of Alicia’s spells are available right from the start, the impact and sense of scale is still apparent even in the first stage, and only ramps up from there. The level of satisfaction and sense of impact, excitement and power in Alicia’s actions and attacks is one of Bullet Witch’s greatest assets.
The action is explosive, unpredictable and satisfying.
The elaborate use of physics in the action, coupled with the destructibility of environments, is a large part of what makes the action and combat in Bullet Witch so exciting. While the physics engine has its hiccups, it is still undeniable the sense of fun and excitement it lends to the action, and what a large role it plays in it. The selection of offensive spells caters to the physics and destructibility of environments, too, and, once again, their impact is incredibly satisfying and appropriately exciting. From pushing objects such as cars and pieces of the environments around and into your enemies, to blowing up tanks with an explosive bolt of lightning, to casting tornado and watching a whirlwind suck in enemies, vehicles, trees and chunks of buildings, then watching it spit them out and send them flying , the spells, their elaborate casting sequences, and the ensuing chaos, lends an epic sense of scale to Bullet Witch’s combat.
Physics play a large role in the action. Expect to see cars and other large objects thrown at yourself, enemies and all about.
Likewise basic combat and general control of Alicia is exciting and satisfying. Aside from spells, the other half of combat relies on Alicia’s Gun Rod, a huge weapon she carries with her. The gun rod is capable of transforming into a number of different gun “types” including shotgun, machine and sniper rifle, as well as a few basic up-close physical attacks. In general, just as with the spells, the impact and feeling of power behind Alicia’s signature weapon is immensely satisfying. The gun rod itself suits Alicia nicely, lending to and complementing the already badass and unique style of the main character herself, and Alicia handles the weapon with a signature grace and style that permeates through all of her actions.
Alicia's signature weapon, the Gun Rod, has a number of forms and can function as numerous weapon types, including a shotgun, mini-gun, and sniper rifle.
On that note, it should be said that one of the things I loved most about Bullet Witch was just that: how unique and enjoyable Alicia was not just in her design, but also in all of her actions, movements and animations. In many ways, Alicia is really what brings the experience together and makes Bullet Witch something unique and fun beyond its flaws. Alicia moves and controls with a certain stylish grace unique to shooters and action games. From casting spells, to using the gun rod, to simple movements and acrobatic jumps and flips, Alicia has a graceful, elegant style to her animations and the way she moves that lends a very unique feel to the gameplay and puts it apart from the tough, masculine “feel” of the gameplay in many third person shooters and action games, whether the protagonist be male or female. Whether you're dodging bullets with a cartwheel, twirling the gun rod to choose between different attack types, or simply running or walking, the unique grace and elegance with which Alicia moves and controls lends a unique and exciting feel to the gameplay, and also complements Alicia’s character and style perfectly. Bullet Witch is a game with a lot of style, and Alicia’s subtle grace and elegance in everything she does works well in making the player feel at one with the stylish brand of action the game presents.
Alicia's actions have an acrobatic grace to them, which in turn give the gameplay a feel very unique to the action genre.
On that note, Alicia herself is, without a doubt, a large part of what lends such a particular attitude and style to the game as a whole, and her presence as the main character lends a constant sense of unique style to the game. Alicia’s design is bold, distinct and creative, and she manages to be both feminine and tough, graceful and deliberate, and sexy and understated, simultaneously, without feeling exaggerated or silly, either. Her tall, slender figure, and dark, gothic character and costume design make for a strikingly distinct and unique character. The game is smart, and does well, to center itself and its action around Alicia, with its elaborate spell casting sequences calling attention not just to the destruction they cause, but to Alicia herself and her stylish brand of action, and even the game’s camera generally sets itself in such a way that keeps itself close to Alicia and makes her appear big, bold and the “center of attention” even amidst the destruction and chaos of the action around her. The default third-person camera sets itself in just such a way that keeps itself close to Alicia and is set just subtly below her level, emphasizing her character as big, bold and authoritative, and, likewise, when the camera pulls in over-the-shoulder for more precise aiming of your shots, Alicia’s character and her signature weapon are big, bold and attention-grabbing.
Alicia herself, and her bold design and presence, lend a boatload of style and personality to the game.
While Bullet Witch may seem a bit on lean content at first glance, and its main story mode is indeed a bit short with just 6 main missions, there is much more to Bullet Witch than may at first meet the eye; and a number of factors come together to drastically increase the replay value, longevity and amount of content, thus taking a game which, at first, seems like an all-too-brief experience, and turning it into a highly addictive game bursting with extra content and replayability.
The smallest, although still significant, of these features is Bullet Witch’s leveling system, which allows you to level up Alicia’s various abilities at the end of each stage with points you earn from achieving higher ranks and earning skill points to distribute into three areas; Ability (for HP and MP), Gun Rod (pretty self-explanatory), and Witchcraft (which powers up your magical spells and abilities). The leveling system is nothing terribly involved, but there is a definite feeling of progression and accomplishment associated with it, due much in part to the fact that it does carry over beyond playthroughs and throughout the game as a whole; so, in other words, to take on harder difficulties, improve your scores and do better in the challenging extra missions of the game, leveling Alicia plays an integral part. If anything, the leveling system could have benefited from more expansion on it, as it will only take a few playthroughs to max out Alicia’s abilities; still it is a nice addition to the game and its persistence throughout the game as a whole sets the tone for what really makes Bullet Witch a fun game; its replay value, extras, extra missions, and emphasis on improving your skills and ranks.
A tense battle atop a moving airplane is one of Bullet Witch's highlight set-piece moments.
Many of Bullet Witch’s harshest critics railed against the game for the far-too-lean amount of content it initially presented players with, and, really, this was not at all an invalid complaint. Indeed, at first glance, and especially upon its initial release, Bullet Witch gave off a bad impression as a game with a very short campaign that clocks in a little more than 4 to 5 hours, and seemingly offered little to do outside of it. However, while these complaints are are/were not invalid, especially at the time most reviews were written for the game, there are a number of features they do not take into account, some due largely to the fact that said features/content were added later on via DLC. That said, these features absolutely must be addressed because of how greatly they affect the longevity and enjoyment of the game on the whole.
Scoring, ranking and online leaderboards add a whole new level of replayabililty to Bullet Witch, especially with the abundance of extra missions available via DLC.
Central to much of the extras and features which enhance Bullet Witch’s addicting replayability is its scoring/ranking system and, subsequently, its online leaderboards. At the end of each stage, the game will add up your score based on a number of factors and areas including Kill Points, Survival Rate (how many deaths/continues) and clear time, and multiply it accordingly by which difficulty you were playing on. It grades your performance with a letter rank (i.e. S, A, B, C, etc) in each area and then tallies everything up to come up with your overall score and rank for the completion of the stage. The system itself isn’t overly complicated and is easy to understand, but this works well, and is easy to grasp. Simultaneously, the score system, coupled with the online leaderboards, creates and demands an addictive drive for perfection, and the drive to perfect your score and skills becomes a central focus, and creates a highly replayable and challenging experience, greatly increasing Bullet Witch’s longevity.
Of course, with just 6 main missions, even with an addictive scoring/leaderboard system and multiple difficulties, the fun would still wear thin pretty quickly if that was all Bullet Witch had to offer. Thankfully, a slew of post-release DLC largely remedies this problem and serves to turn Bullet Witch from a game that is over in a day or two, into one you’ll be squeezing replay value out of for months.
A fun selection of alternate DLC costumes helps keep things fun and fresh, but the real meat of the game's DLC content comes in the form of its variety of additional missions.....
For starters, a list of fun and unique alternate costumes help to keep replay value up. While a somewhat superficial addition, the alternate costumes are each fun and unique and help to keep things feeling fresh upon extended play sessions and add some variety to things. Ranging from sexy to silly, the costumes include an (obligatory) schoolgirl outfit, a secretary, a colorful pixie, a mummy, and an alternate “white witch” version of Alicia’s original costume. While alternate costumes are just a surface-level addition, they are fun, varied and add an extra level of variety, freshness and fun to replaying missions. Of course, as fun as alternate costumes are, the game would need more to keep you playing than just that; and that’s where the bulk of Bullet Witch’s post-release DLC comes in, in the form of a hefty selection of extra missions which heap on heightened challenge and tons of replay value.
The wide selection of DLC missions, combined with alternate costumes and scoring/leaderboards, adds plenty of lasting appeal, variety and replay value to a game that was initially lean on content.
The game’s extra “concept” missions generally consist of reworked versions of the game’s main stages, with entirely different enemy and stage layouts, including considerably ramped up difficulty, and generally grueling challenges which will put your skills to the test, as well as versions of the game’s missions with all of your spells unlocked from the get-go (allowing use of the most destructive and high-level magic in the game’s earlier stages.) With a grand total of 17 extra missions, the amount of content and lasting appeal the DLC stages add to Bullet Witch cannot be understated; and in many ways, these DLC stages are more interesting, challenging, intense and just downright fun than the game’s original six stages. Most, in fact, go out of their way to emphasize what are some of the game’s best aspects, namely its potential for highly explosive and destructive action on a huge scale, and tense situations where the line between victory and defeat can literally be inches or milliseconds. Likewise, these missions place further emphasis on the addictive strength of the online leaderboards, and considering the intense challenge, the unpredictability of the action and chaos, and the precision and lightning-fast reflexes needed to achieve victory and perfection, the addictive fun of challenging other player’s scores and ranks in these missions adds a boatload of extended replay value to the game. The addition of having your full arsenal of spells unlocked adds a new level of insanity to each stage, and the unique layouts and challenges of each extra mission are genuinely imaginative and creative challenges. The fact that the amount of DLC missions equals out to nearly three times the game’s original set of stages really says it all; and between this and the slew of fun extra costumes, the amount of content added via DLC to Bullet Witch vastly changes and improves the game’s weight, lasting appeal and sheer fun and value.
One final, and more personal, note I must add, is that I found Bullet Witch to be the perfect game for which to set up your own playlist and play to. While the game’s soundtrack is not bad, and is well-suited to the game, it’s also minimalist and comes and goes with different action and set pieces; and I personally found that adding my own playlist and rocking out to the destruction and action in Bullet Witch was well-suited and added to the fun of the game. But I digress…..
Alicia certainly isn't afraid to leave some destruction in her wake on the way to saving the world.
Bullet Witch is a fun, quirky title with obviously large ambitions, which, sadly, the team may not have had the time, budget or technical prowess to ultimately achieve. The technical shortcomings, coupled with the generally lean amount of content in the game when it launched, added up to a reception that was lukewarm at best. However, Bullet Witch is also a game which begs another look, more so than it did even when it was released. Beyond some initially all-too-obvious technical shortcomings lies an explosively intense and exciting action game with uniquely open, destructible environments, a distinctive brand of stylish action, and a visually striking, imaginative and just-plain-cool heroine. Just as significant, however, and what reviews and press at the time, justly, could not have taken into account, is the huge amount of new content added via DLC, which does so much to enhance and extend the game and its lifespan, and more than remedies one of the biggest complaints leveled against the game at its inception: the very thin amount of content and replay value. With that issue more than remedied, however, and the price tag on the game reduced to little more than that of a cup of coffee, there is very little reason for action gamers or those who’ve long held off on it to pass on Bullet Witch any longer. With a unique style and setting which blends gothic horror and dystopian future, a badass and downright cool heroine, and its own very distinct brand of action, destruction and level design, Bullet Witch is more than worth a glance by curious gamers. Combine that with a boatload of post-release DLC, and you’ve got a game which is more than worth a second look. Beyond some technical deficiencies and a few cheesy cutscenes, there’s a game oozing with style, exciting action and plenty of reasons to keep you coming back for more. Bullet Witch has its shortcomings, but Alicia and her game are stylish, unique, explosively exciting and, more than ever, deserving of a second look.
Bullet Witch is not without its technical flaws, but with a strong heroine, an explosive and unique brand of action, and a boatload of post-release DLC extras, the game begs a second look now more than ever.
Who Should Play It?
Action gamers and fans of 3rd-person shooting. People who enjoy score-attack-style ranking and competition, and love competing to improve their own scores and best other’s. Fans of gothic or post-apocalyptic settings and styles. People looking for a somewhat different or unique brand of action/shooter gameplay, or who really love big, open environments and the ability to thoroughly destroy them. People who’ve seen Alicia around and are still wondering what her and her game are all about; or who appreciate a cool, stylish female lead with a unique style of ass-kicking.
Publisher(s): Hudson Soft (Japan), Vatical Entertainment (N.A.)
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Release Dates: April 4th, 1999 (Japan), December 28th, 1999 (N.A.)
Cover art for EGG: Elemental Gimmick Gear.
What Is This Game?
EGG, aka, Elemental Gimmick Gear, is a 2D, top-down perspective action-RPG/adventure title, in the vein of Zelda, Secret of Mana and Beyond Oasis. The game tells the story of the mysterious “Sleeper,” a man found in the cockpit of a strange bipedal machine uncovered from the ancient ruins of the world of Tokion. The Sleeper is taken to a laboratory for analysis, along with his machine, where scientists discover that the machine is over 5000 years old; and that the Sleeper is alive and healthy, but despite all attempts, will not wake from his comatose slumber. Over time, the Sleeper’s machine is studied, as he remains deep in sleep within the laboratory, and the people eventually begin to create copies of his egg-shaped mecha, using them for labor and work, giving the machines the name "Elemental Gimmick Gear", or "EGG" for short.
100 years pass after the discovery of the Sleeper and his machine. One day, without warning, the mysterious ruins extend a multitude of violent, mechanical tentacles, rooting themselves into the earth and bringing with them the destruction of all in their path. Just as the sudden appearance of the giant tentacles emerge from the ruins, so does a thick fog, which surrounds the ruins with its layer of gloom, giving the ruins a new title to the people of Tokion: Fogna. Just as this crisis emerges, so does The Sleeper finally emerge from his slumber within the laboratory, having not aged a day since his discovery over one hundred years ago. Under the care of the scientist Dr. Yam, son of the YAM Ruin Laboratory founder, (the facility dedicated to study of the ruins) and Selen, a fellow scientist under the care of Dr. Yam, The Sleeper’s awakening comes as a shock alongside the sudden danger emerging from the ruins. However, awakening under the watch of Selen, who has watched and cared for him for a time, she allows him to leave without alerting the other scientists, hoping he can somehow solve the mysterious threat of Fogna. With no memory of his own past, and only a new name (Leon by default, unless you choose to rename him) given to him by Selen, The Sleeper, along with his EGG, head out into the world of Tokion to save the dying world and solve Fogna’s mysteries; even as he and his machine are just as much mystery, both to those around him, and to himself.
From here, The Sleeper will set out on an adventure of Zelda-esque gameplay proportions. As The Sleeper, you’ll talk to people in town, explore the countryside, battle other creatures and mechs, take on dungeons full of devious puzzles, fight bosses, and gain items and upgrades, all while unraveling the mysterious story behind The Sleeper, Fogna, the EGGs, and the world of Tokion. Combining lovely hand drawn 2D graphics with occasional 3D boss battles and prerendered cinematics, EGG is a beautiful adventure with a gorgeous look and sound with a world and style both ethereal and dreamlike, yet at the same time, mysterious and foreboding.
Prepare for a mysterious journey in the world of Tokion in Elemental Gimmick Gear.
Ah, the Dreamcast. We hardly knew thee. I was enthralled by it long before it ever launched, swept up in the massive hype behind it, and when it finally arrived I was clamoring for one. An avid admirer of Sega’s often-troubled-but-always-inspired efforts, the Dreamcast held my interest both for the revolutionary power and graphical capabilities of the system, but also for the special place in my heart which Sega’s unique brand of creativity, style and innovation held. The Dreamcast did not disappoint me when I got my hands on it; the capabilities of the system wowed me, but what wowed me even more were the variety of fascinating and unique first and third party titles coming out, and waiting at the gates. I was enthralled. Sadly, my hopes and dreams were crushed far too soon thereafter, when, barely over a year after I’d gotten one, Sega made its tragic announcement that the Dreamcast was not faring well, and that they would be ceasing support for the system, and exiting the console business.
In a way, this was both a tragedy and, yet, a sort of odd blessing for me, as a passionate Dreamcast owner. While I was nearly in denial that this amazing new system I loved was dying, it also resulted in a swift price drop across the board, not just to the console and its accessories, but also to its library of games; a library that proved incredibly vast and varied for a system that, in the end, lasted barely over two years. A relatively broke kid at the time, with my primary source of income coming from the few dollars I could earn working for neighbors and relatives, the tragedy of the Dreamcast’s failing at the same time allowed my love for the Dreamcast and its library of games to thrive; with games and accessories dropping to dirt cheap prices on Ebay, the Dreamcast became the first console I was able to consistently afford new games and accessories for on my minimal budget. While I was in denial over the Dreamcast’s defeat, I was simultaneously in gaming heaven.
The Sleeper awakens after one hundred years in the Yam Labratory, much to the surprise of scientists Dr. Yam and Selen.
As prices sank and the PlayStation 2 rose, tightening its iron grip on the market, I was squeezing every last bit of gaming bliss out of my faithful Dreamcast. I found myself putting the vast majority of the money I earned into the Dreamcast and its library of titles, and it was almost intoxicating, having so many great titles to choose from, on a system which not only was still consistently wowing me, but now also fit my boyhood budget. Amassing a sizeable collection of Dreamcast games in a short time span, few titles escaped my grasp, and even fewer escaped my attention. From the big, triple-A titles, to the smaller niche ones, to the high-res PC and PS1/N64 ports, to the massive library of import titles which never came stateside, the Dreamcast had one hell of a selection for such a short-lived console, and I was on top of it, sucking up every bit of gaming goodness I could.
EGG was one of those titles I swept up in my Dreamcast frenzy, and, while almost entirely forgotten (or, perhaps, not noticed in the first place) by the rest of the gaming community, it left a lasting impression on me, both as something fresh and unique in the Dreamcast library, and as a nostalgic reminder of gaming from earlier generations. EGG is one of many forgotten but wonderful niche titles on the Dreamcast, a system overflowing with hidden gems. I was enthralled by EGG’s gorgeous 2D art, its intriguing techno-organic setting and its challenging but satisfying traditional action-RPG gameplay. In many ways, EGG is both a lovely throwback to 16-bit gaming, and at the same time, something entirely inspired and all its own. In an age where 2D, old-school gameplay was being somewhat neglected in light of the incredible new technology at the industry's fingertips, EGG was a refreshing change of pace and a fascinating little game bursting with personality and style. Fans of old-school action-RPGs, stylish hand drawn visuals or those with a true appreciation for niche titles and stylistic excellence in gaming must dig up this forgotten relic of Dreamcast excellence.
Setting out into the world of Tokion will prove to be a mysterious journey of self-discovery for The Sleeper....
History, Release and Reception:
EGG was developed under well-known Japanese publisher, Hudson Soft, by a little-known development team by the name of Birthday. Birthday was, and is, a nearly unheard-of developer, especially outside of Japan; having primarily worked under Hudson Soft and Namco for most its existence, with relatively-little credit ever given to its name, Birthday remained under the radar for the entirety of their existence. Prior to EGG, none of Birthday’s games had ever left Japan, their resume including mostly Japan-only turn-based RPGs, with their best-known work being on the Daikaijyuu/Kaijyuu Monogatari games, a series of turn-based RPGs released for the Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Game Boy Color under Hudson Soft’s name.
Birthday's previous titles included a number of Japan-only turn-based RPGs, such as the Daikaijyuu/Kaijyuu Monogatari series, which saw numerous installments on the Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Game Boy Color.
It is almost an oddity that EGG ever saw a release outside Japan, really. Released a few months after the Dreamcast’s launch in Japan to relatively little attention, it came as a pleasant surprise when small-name North American publisher Vatical Entertainment announced in November 1999, just a couple of months after the Dreamcast’s debut in North America, that they would be bringing the little-known title stateside by the end of the year. Vatical themselves, much like Birthday, were never well-known, and had largely stuck to releases for the Game Boy/Gameboy Color, with a few occasional N64 and PS1 releases. Although Vatical had a few Bomberman titles under their belt, and had recently published some N64 titles such as Shadowgate 64 and Top Gear Overdrive, most of their releases were low-profile.
With little public attention and no advertising, EGG was unceremoniously released at the end of December 1999 in North America, amidst a rapidly growing library of titles for the Dreamcast. EGG was quickly swept up in the tide of Dreamcast releases and went largely unnoticed; although it did gain very positive reviews from the publications and websites which noticed it. IGN have the game a very positive review score of 8.0 out of 10, mentioning some quips with the combat and English translation, but otherwise finding the game to be satisfying and extremely likeable. Planet Dreamcast also gave the game an 8 out of 10, praising the game’s graphics and music, and calling it part of a “dying breed of 2D overhead action-RPGs,” going on to say it is “one of the better ones of recent years.” Reviews for EGG resonated this same vibe across the board, from anyone who took notice of this diamond in the rough; Gamespot gave EGG a 6.8 out of 10, Shin Force gave the game an 8.0 and Game Revolution gave it a “B” on its letter grade scale.
Despite a positive reception from members of the press who played it, EGG was overlooked and quickly forgotten, due in part to the game’s niche appeal as an “old-school” title in an age of revolutionary new technology, but perhaps more so, simply due to the quiet release and almost complete lack of advertising or press leading up to or following the game’s release. Birthday was not heard from again, EGG being their final game, and, likewise, Vatical Entertainment disappeared as well, after the fall of the Dreamcast lead to the cancellation of a few possibly higher-profile releases for them, including a cancelled port of System Shock 2 for Dreamcast.
EGG itself has been, sadly, almost entirely forgotten since. Even when the Dreamcast is reflected upon by gamers, this small but wonderful title has still gone largely overlooked. And that is a true shame, because EGG is not just a wonderful game, but also a title that stands out as a unique and inspired entry into the Dreamcast’s library of hidden gems, cult classics and revolutionary titles. Certainly, all who have played it agree that EGG is a very special piece of Dreamcast gaming; the few Youtube videos on it praise the game for its gorgeous art and old-school gameplay, and nearly all user reviews that can be found for EGG are positive; it has just four on Game FAQs, but of them, all are extremely positive, praising the game with a 9, two 10’s, and a 7.
EGG is sadly forgotten and overlooked, even by Dreamcast fans. And this is a shame, because EGG has all the makings of a cult classic, and is a title which truly stands out amongst the Dreamcast’s library, both for its concept and quality. If you own a Dreamcast, and have a love for traditional action-RPGs, EGG begs to be dug up, experienced and given the long-overdue appreciation it has missed out on for so long…..
EGG has seen very little awareness, but almost all who played it agree it is a title any action-RPG fan should discover......
EGG is a lovely game, but there are a few quips and scruples with it, and its appeal is, admittedly, to a somewhat limited audiences. There is so much to love about EGG, so first, let’s get the bad out of the way….
Probably the most legitimate complaints about EGG lie in those about its combat and, more specifically, its boss battles, which take place in 3D. To be specific, normal combat, outside boss battles, is not problematic at all, just rather simplistic on the whole. While you’ll gain upgrades and abilities, ultimately, the core combat itself comes down to “punch, punch, punch…..and punch.” Outside that, there is also the ability to do a powerful spinning attack which will send your EGG whirling around the screen at high speeds to collide with enemies; the downside being that it will slowly drain your HP. But there is much more to the basic core of combat than that….it isn’t flawed per se, just rather simplistic.
Combat is a bit simplistic, but still works well.
Boss battles, on the other hand, are a bit more legitimately problematic. EGG takes place almost entirely from its 2D, overhead perspective; with the exception of boss fights, at which point the game goes to 3D, usually within a small, contained “arena” type room, where the boss battle takes place. Generally, the boss fights and fighting mechanics function the same as the normal 2D combat, however, they are simply not as well-designed as the rest of the game, have a somewhat clunky and inaccurate feel and, although each boss has a bit of their own “trick” to them, the boss battles generally follow the same routine and feel rather repetitive and uninspired. Boss battles are always a stiff challenge, so they are always rewarding in the end, but part of that challenge comes from the fact that the combat feels clunky and imprecise in them, and that the camera can be a bit awkward and stubborn. They aren’t terribly, horribly broken, but they do have an unpolished, tacked-on feel to them which is uncharacteristic to the rest of the game. What’s more, the boss battles would have functioned better and probably allowed for more variety and precision if they had simply been done in the same 2D, overhead style as the rest of the game. Overall, the boss battles aren’t some huge, broken issue with the game, but rather just something that feels tacked-on and unpolished; like a last minute 3D addition to what was meant to be a fully 2D game. The best way to sum up my thoughts on the boss battles is to say that I picture the team working on what was meant to be a traditional, old-school 2D action RPG, when somebody said….”listen, guys, we need to put in SOMETHING that’s 3D….this is a ‘next-gen’ system, after all……I dunno, make the bosses 3D or something.” Likewise, where the rest of the game’s hand-drawn 2D visual look positively gorgeous and overflowing with detail, the graphics in boss battles, while not ugly by any means, feel a bit bland. While they are not broken nor do they detract from what is overall an amazing game, the boss battles are clunky and a bit unnecessary, and feel uncharacteristically uninspired, amidst what is otherwise a game that feels very passionate and inspired.
The 3D boss battles in EGG are a bit of a low-light. While functional, they are a jarring transition from the rest of the game and feel a bit tacked on.
Some issues with the boss fights aside, I can find very little to really call “flawed” with EGG. One issue some may have is with the game’s steep difficulty. EGG is a homage of sorts to classic action-RPGs, and it will put the skills which fans of the genre have honed since the SNES and Genesis to the test. EGG follows a very similar structure to a game like Legend of Zelda in its pace and progression; you’ll go to town, buy items, speak to people, do some minimal side quests, roam the overworld, and go to dungeons, where you’ll solve puzzles, fight enemies and ultimately face the boss of each one, unraveling the story along the way. But don’t think EGG will let you off as easy as Zelda; EGG is tough as nails and pretty merciless as times, both in its puzzles and its enemy and boss difficulty. This is not a flaw, really; in fact, I absolutely loved it, as I’m always up for a hearty, legitimate challenge. But fans should know that EGG is a tough game, and those without the patience to overcome some its more devious dungeons may find themselves frustrated. One other minor scruple is that the game suffers from the occasional slowdown when there is a lot of action on screen; but this is a small issue which is ultimately of little effect on the game overall.
There’s not much else to really call EGG out for than these few issues, though, really. If you’re a Dreamcast owner, and a fan of classic Action-RPGs and adventures, read on, because EGG should be making its way to the top of your “to-play” list…..
Why it’s Worth a Second Look:
EGG is a forgotten relic of Dreamcast lore which is worth a look from any Dreamcast owner, and is must-play for any Dreamcast fan with a love for classic action-RPGs and adventures. There is so much for fans of the genre to love here, that this wonderful title should quickly move to any fan of the genre’s to-play list….
EGG's 2D visuals are gorgeous and filled with intricate detail.
First and foremost, what will be immediately noticeable to any who play EGG are its gorgeous visuals. EGG’s world is a wonderfully imaginative techno-organic sci-fi setting, with a remarkably distinct look and style, and huge credit is owed to the artists and graphical designers at Birthday who so brilliantly brought this world to life with the gorgeous, exquisitely-detailed 2D graphics and art throughout the game. Environments are lush and bursting with color, and the contrast between the lush greens of the organic world and ancient depths of the ruins clashing with the mechanical forces rooting themselves into the otherwise pure and earthy world of Tokion makes for a strikingly memorable world and an instantly unique and fascinating style. Likewise, while sprites and character art are small and at times minimalist, the characters, mechanical designs and enemies all have a similarly distinct style to them that completes EGG’s remarkably original world and brings it to life with its own, imaginative style. The end result in a gorgeously detailed and realized world, which simultaneously draws inspiration from an array of sci-fi and fantasy sub-genres, and combines them to create something all its own. EGG’s distinct style and visuals will leave a lasting impression on any who experience it.
Aside from the lovely 2D graphics throughout EGG, I also loved the style and look of the occasional cutscenes in the game. To anybody who watches the game’s intro cinematic, this unique look will be instantly apparent. Combining 2D animated characters with prerendered CG, the look is unique, captures the feel of EGG’s world beautifully, and is pulled off with excellence. These cinematics are few are far between, but what there is of them are very nice, and serve to complement the game’s already excellent visual presentation.
Cutscenes combine traditional 2D animation with prerendered CG.
Speaking of EGG’s wonderfully imaginative and creatively brilliant world and style, the story, setting and adventure itself are all just as engaging as the visuals themselves, and in many ways, all of these elements complement each other perfectly, working together to create a fascinating and engaging world and experience. The tale EGG tells is mysterious and interesting, and is greatly enhanced by how brilliantly realized its setting is. The setting of EGG in and of itself was so fascinating that I wanted to unravel its mystery just to know more about this fascinating world, and while the story itself sometimes takes a back seat to the gameplay and exploration, it is always driving the player forward, consistently lending to the genuine sense of mystery and discovery throughout the game at all times. It was a tale and world I truly wanted to unravel the mysteries of. The origins of The Sleeper, his EGG, the ruins and the world of Tokion are shrouded in mystery, and it was all a joy to discover. Just as the setting drove me to unravel the story, so did the story drive me to explore the setting, and the way the tale and gameplay complemented each other in this manner is proof of how fascinating an experience EGG is. Likewise, by the time the credits rolled, I felt EGG was a very “complete” game, and was fascinated, satisfied and even moved by the experience I’d had in the world of Tokion.
The world of Tokion is fascinating to discover and explore.
EGG’s world is a joy to explore, on that note. It’s beautiful hand-drawn 2D graphics make for a world that is always a pleasure to behold, and there is both a constant feeling of discovery and, at the same time, a somewhat friendly, homey feeling about it all. EGG’s world is not particularly huge, really, and you’ll find yourself returning to the same small town and surrounding areas often; but this is not a weakness, it actually is one of the game’s strengths, which suits the atmosphere of the game, reinforces a feeling of connection with the people of this part of Tokion, and creates a growing feeling of “home” with the game’s surroundings, as The Sleeper himself becomes more accustomed to the places and people around him, who in turn begin to accept him and look to him for help. The size of EGG’s world and the fact that the game has you revisiting the same places and people often is ultimately a very good thing, which simultaneously manages to never hinder the feeling of adventure and discovery when exploring the ruins and outskirts of its world. If anything, the cozy area of the world you find yourself in and around, filled with familiar people and places, establishes a bond between the player and the game’s world and people, which goes hand-in-hand with the story and adds a significant weight to the game’s immersion and emotional connection.
You'll leave your EGG to explore some parts of town.
Exploring the world and ruins is always exciting, and there is a feeling of accomplishment as you build your character in a particularly Zelda-esque fashion, gaining upgrades, increased health and new abilities. While the lush overworld is always a joy to behold, the dark, foreboding dungeon areas of the ruin are just as interesting, and are an incredibly satisfying challenge to overcome. EGG’s dungeon areas play out in a familiar fashion to any action-RPG/adventure game, but what makes them so great is the particularly devious puzzles and intricate construction of the dungeons themselves. Each area of the ruins will put the skills of any fan of the genre to the test, and EGG manages to achieve a balance between a tough challenge, both in its mind-bending puzzles and its challenging enemies/bosses, while still never becoming too over-the-top; you’ll always feel challenged, but never like the challenge cannot be overcome.
Exploring the ruins will put your mind and skills to the test.
EGG is a game which achieves a very strong and distinct atmosphere, and that atmosphere is much the result of the game’s gorgeous visual style, but also its lovely musical soundtrack, as well. EGG’s soundtrack, like much of the game, harkens back to the sound and feel of classic 16-bit RPG soundtracks. EGG’s soundtrack is lovely, filled with a sense of adventure and emotion, and has the distinct 16-bit sound of something like an orchestral score that has been digitized. The soundtrack radiates feelings of adventure and nostalgia, and, as with so much of the game, fans of 16-bit RPGs with fall in love with its familiar, yet distinctly original, sound. EGG’s soundtrack is fitting and completes the mood and atmosphere of the game, and on top of it, is highly memorable; even today, over a decade since I first played EGG, I still find myself humming its most memorable tracks.
You'll gain various power-ups and upgrades throughout your quest, bulding your EGG into a more powerful and capable machine.
The thing about EGG that is hard to put down into words is just what a wonderful and memorable experience it all comes together to create. EGG will simultaneously have you feeling nostalgic for the days of 16-bit gaming, while providing you with an experience that is fresh and original even as it pays homage to old-school action-RPG adventuring. EGG is so consistently a joy to see, hear and play that the whole experience becomes something almost cerebral. Its setting and concept are so unique that, even as you recall the older titles which served as its inspiration, and even as it follows many of the gameplay concepts prevalent in so many similar titles, you’ll still never feel like you’ve taken this adventure before. EGG follows a structure of gameplay and progression very similar to the “usual” action-RPG/adventure formula; if you’ve played through a Zelda title or Beyond Oasis, you’ll know what to expect from the general feel of the gameplay, and the progression of the adventure, as you talk and buy items in town, explore the world, uncover secrets and side quests, and ultimately prepare for and enter the game’s labyrinthine dungeons to solve puzzles and defeat menacing bosses. But what makes EGG great is that it takes this well-proven formula and creates a game that is so inspired, unique and beautiful around it. Any game can copy an established formula; but to take an established formula and create something all its own and fascinatingly original with it is impressive. And to maintain a nostalgic feeling of homage and never feel like it’s just “copying” the titles it was inspired by, is a hard balance to achieve, and a real accomplishment that EGG does it so perfectly. EGG does all this with ease, and creates an engaging story and creatively inspired setting around it all.
EGG establishes a strong feeling of connection between the player and the world of Tokion and its people.
Once you finish EGG, there is not a lot of incentive for replay value, however, your stay in Tokion will not be one that is short-lived. Clocking in at somewhere between 25 to 35 hours, EGG is of healthy size for a traditional action-RPG. The adventure lasts just the right amount of time; nothing in EGG felt like fluff or filler, there is just the right amount of optional content and side quests (which, likewise, don’t overwhelm or distract from the main story and quest), and the story and bulk of the game never hits any hiccups, nor does it fly by too fast; overall, I would describe the pace as steady throughout, never losing the player’s interest or feeling rushed. Gameplay itself is satisfying and rewarding throughout, as well, as the player steadily gains upgrades for their powers and health, and the somewhat basic upgrade/leveling system for the EGG’s various abilities (attack, defense, mind, etc) works well for the game, and makes for a satisfying experience in which your character constantly feels like he is growing and becoming more powerful, creating a feeling of accomplishment as you move forward. The game moves at an almost leisurely pace at times, but once again, this is part of what makes EGG such a pleasant experience; getting to know EGG’s corner of Tokion is a fulfilling experience, and the steady pace and progression of the story and main quest do an excellent job of conveying a feeling of fascination and connection with EGG’s story and world.
Uncovering the depths of EGG's world and tale is mysterious and fascinating.
Elemental Gimmick Gear is a lovely game that simply fell through the cracks. Developed by a near-unheard-of developer and brought to North America by an equally obscure publisher, EGG saw very little in the way of advertising or press upon release, quickly washed away amongst a sea of oncoming Dreamcast releases in the console’s opening months. As a decidedly classical game, both in gameplay and graphical presentation, EGG was a bit of an oddity, as well, in a time where the gaming industry was gearing up for a revolutionary new step in technology; and perhaps this, too, cemented EGG’s position as a niche title. However, in a time and on a console that was moving so boldly towards the future, EGG simultaneously served a quiet reminder that, even amidst the revolutionary new ideas and technology being set forth into the industry, the classics and classic concepts were still every bit as solid and strong as ever. It is only a shame that more people didn’t notice; because for any gamer with a love for classic gaming and a soft spot for 16-bit action-RPGs and adventures, EGG will almost undoubtedly prove to be an immensely satisfying experience. From the classic gameplay, to the gorgeous 2D visuals, to the lovely music and thoroughly unique and engaging setting and story, EGG is sure to intrigue and enthrall any with a love for the classics. Any who own a Dreamcast, and have a love and appreciation for the 16-bit classics of the action-RPG/adventure genre, will find a true diamond in the rough with EGG. This forgotten Dreamcast classic is overlooked far too often, even by fans of its genre and system, but any who take the time to dig it up will find a wonderful journey waiting for them in the world of Tokion.
EGG's journey is one every action-RPG adventurer owes it to themselves to take.
Who Should Play It?
Any fan of the action RPG or adventure genres, especially those of the 16-bit era. Dreamcast aficionados looking to discover and play some of the system’s lost classics. Fans of science fiction or “techno-organic” styles and settings. People with a love or appreciation for hand-drawn, 2D art or creative art styles and settings in video games.
Release Date(s): February 26th, 1998 (Japan), May 31st, 1998 (N.A.), June 31st, 1998 (Europe)
Cover art for Burning Rangers.
What Is This Game?
BURNING RANGERS, GO! From the funky soundtrack and theme music, to the bright anime-style visuals and crazy concept, Burning Rangers was a third-person 3D action/platformer that still speaks of how insanely creative, inspired and downright fun first-party Sega titles could be in the company’s heyday. Burning Rangers places the player in the roles of two new members of the Burning Rangers team. Just who are the Burning Rangers, exactly? You can think of them as a cross between firefighters and the Power Rangers, I suppose. The game takes place in a futuristic, nearly-utopian society, where one of the only prominent dangers remaining is the risk of fire. To deal with just such dangers, the Burning Rangers were formed, as an elite team of superhero-esque firefighters, trained and equipped to deal with even the most extreme fire emergencies. And this is where you, the player, comes in. Choosing from two of the Burning Rangers newest rookie members, Shou Amabane and Tillis, you’ll be sent into situations to deal with raging blazes, rescue trapped civilians, and navigate labyrinthine structures in an increasingly ludicrous (in a good sense) set of missions, while unraveling a mystery involving a distress signal that has set a giant cluster of space junk on a collision course with Earth. Armed with your blaster weapon for extinguishing fires (along with warding off a few belligerent enemies/other hazards), you’ll run, jump, fly (with your patented Burning Rangers jetpack!) and ultimately navigate your way around massive stages while putting out fires and searching every nook and cranny for crystals and civilians that will up your score. Burning Rangers is classic Sega and Sonic Team fare; and a wonderfully fun and original blending of 3D action/adventure, shooter and platforming mechanics, all wrapped up in a package with that classically outlandish Sega charm.
The whole Burning Rangers team, gathered for a mission debriefing in one of the game's anime cutscenes.
I came into the Sega Saturn game a little late, you see; and as a big fan of Sega’s work, that’s both a shame and an oddity. Heck, I’d had a Sega CD before it, and was in love with my Dreamcast after, so how’d I miss the Saturn boat? The sad fact of the matter was that I was a bit younger at the time, and just didn’t have the money for every console; and the Saturn had a bit of a bad rap as the “third place” console in North America at the time. I recall being very intrigued by the Saturn and many of its unique, seemingly overlooked, titles, but at the time I was younger, more impressionable, and with minimal funds, and the general consensus from the press and my peers was to just go with the Playstation and Nintendo 64, which were in much more prominent status during their respective generation in North America. I loved my Playstation and Nintendo 64, and we had a lot of great times together, but in the back of my mind, there was always the Saturn….Panzer Dragoon, Rayearth, Shining the Holy Ark, and, of course, Burning Rangers…..there was just something about these (and many more) Saturn exclusives, that kept the console in my mind throughout the generation, and far beyond it…..
Burning Rangers' style and concept are fun and upbeat.
The generation passed and the Saturn went out early (in North America, at least), albeit in a blaze of glory, with some incredible titles. The Dreamcast rose and fell (much to my dismay), just as it kicked off a new generation of consoles, and years later, the Xbox 360 released in late 2005. Oddly enough, it was only a month after acquiring an Xbox 360, effectively entering the newest generation of consoles, that I finally found myself fulfilling my belated Saturn destiny. After scoring a Japanese Saturn, with somewhere around 30 games, and a boot disc (to play North American games on my Japanese console as well….I know, it’s a bit backwards), I’d finally done what I always should have a long time ago; and funny enough, even with my shiny new Xbox 360, I found myself playing the Saturn every bit as much.
Burning Rangers had always been one of the Saturn’s most intriguing titles to me….it's bright, flashy visuals, attractive character designs, and outlandish premise had drawn me to it in old issues of Ultra Game Players and EGM. Reminding me each time I’d seen them that while Playstation and Nintendo 64 were dominating the market, there was still something very special about this console which had gone, in retrospect, criminally overlooked outside of Japan. Burning Rangers was a Saturn game which had haunted the top of my to-play list for far too long and, as such, it became one of my very first Saturn purchases after getting my hands on the system.
I wasn’t disappointed. Burning Rangers was, and still is, classic Sega fare; another forgotten testament to the creativity, crazy ideas, great music, bright, vibrant visuals and pure fun which were a staple of first party Sega titles. One of the Saturn’s greatest stumbling blocks had always been its 3D capabilities; while, if harnessed correctly, it could do some impressive 3D, it was simply built to be a 2D machine in its original conception, and as such, proved far more troublesome for developers, in an era dominated by 3D gaming, than its competition. However, Burning Rangers goes to show that, when harnessed properly, the Saturn could, in fact, pull off a visually brilliant, totally fun and highly playable, 3D title. But Burning Rangers isn’t just a wonderful game because it shows off what the Saturn could do. Burning Rangers is just a wonderfully fun and original concept on its own; a bright, flashy, funky game with spirit and soul, a great blending of genres, and a game bursting with personality. Anybody who loves or appreciates some of Sega’s or Sonic Team’s great, original efforts, owes it to themselves to check out this joyfully vibrant, sadly forgotten Saturn classic….
Burning Rangers is a fun, funky ride. Get ready....Burning Rangers, Go!
History, Release and Reception:
Burning Rangers was yet another forgotten Sega classic that was a sad victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus ensuring it’s unfortunate obscurity. Released in mid-1998, the Saturn was, at the time, still enjoying a comfortable level of success in its Japanese homeland, but elsewhere, was not faring so well, nor had it been for quite a time. Burning Rangers was part of the last batch of Sega Saturn games to reach North America and Europe in the Saturn’s waning years, and one of a number of brilliant first-party titles released in the systems final months, ensuring that the Saturn would at least go out in a blaze of glory.
And Burning Rangers was indeed a game worthy of any Sega Saturn owner’s attention. In addition to its fun and unique concept and impressive technical achievements for the system, it was also an all-too-rare appearance from Sonic Team on the console, backed by an array of talent and big names from the video game, anime and Japanese music realms.
Of course, the most immediately apparent and instantly attention-grabbing name for any Sega fan was that of the development team itself, Sonic Team, headed by Sega legend, Yuji Naka. Sonic Team’s presence on the Saturn had not been quite as prominent as many Sega fans would have hoped. Besides the classic Saturn launch title, NiGHTS (and subsequently, Christmas NiGHTS), the legendary Sonic the Hedgehog creators had only headed one other completed project for the system; Sonic Jam, which was not so much an original game, but a collection of 2D Sonic titles featuring a slew of extras and a 3D hub world. The most glaring issue was the lack of a true, original Sonic title for the Saturn. At the time, the team’s namesake series had seen three releases for the system, Sonic Jam and the non-Sonic Team developed Sonic R (a racing title) and Sonic 3D Blast, and of the three, none were really full-fledged entries in the Sonic franchise, and only one was a Sonic Team-developed title. Sonic Team had spent much of the generation wrapped up in the ill-fated, ultimately cancelled, Sonic Extreme, which was to be Sonic’s true Saturn successor, and as such, little had been seen of them. Because of this absence, Burning Rangers was an instant attention-grabber to any Sega fans pinning for the return of the beloved Sega development team to the console; it wasn’t a new Sonic title, but an original title from Sonic Team was long-awaited and much-needed regardless.
Mostly absent since their release of NiGHTS at the Saturn's launch, a new release from Yuji Naka (left) and Sonic Team was long-awaited by Saturn owners.
And Sonic Team spared no effort in recruiting a wide array of talent on all fronts. Burning Rangers owes much of its visual and aural excellence to a team of talented and well-known artists recruited by Sonic Team for the project. Burning Rangers has a very bright, distinct, and attractive “90’s anime” look and vibe, which resonates throughout the entirety of the game. To help achieve this stylistic element, Sega brought in anime character designer Hiroyuki Ochi for character designs, and artistic supervision and work including design of the game’s promotional and cover art. Ochi was an anime veteran, who’s work included the likes of Armitage the Third and Sol Bianca, among others, his career in the industry spanning work as an animator, character designer and director. Bringing in his talent lent much to the appealing visual style seen in Burning Rangers, and, along with the guidance of Sonic Team’s Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, did much towards lending the game its distinct and appealing style, as well as its flashy and crisply animated anime cutscenes, which were subsequently outsourced to Kyokuichi Tokyo Movie for professional animation work.
Anime production veteran Hiroyuki Ochi had worked as an animator, character designer and director on numerous anime titles, and was recruited to work on Burning Ranger's character designs, lending a strong anime style to the game.
Just as important to Burning Ranger’s was the sound and music, and plenty of equally-notable talent was on board to see to it that Burning Ranger’s poppy, funky, upbeat “anime” appeal resonated beyond the visuals. Heading up the game’s musical department was Naofumi Hataya, a man who’s musical genius should be near-legend to any Sega aficionado; his prior work including music and sound on games such as Sonic CD, Golden Axe II, and the Saturn’s own NiGHTS. Working alongside Hataya was a formidable team of vocalists lending their talents to the game’s upbeat, catchy vocal tracks which would become a staple of Burning Ranger’s style. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, a fellow Sega musical veteran, who’s voice appeared in the soundtrack of Daytona USA, lent his vocal talent to the game’s vocal themes, in addition to Tomoko Sasaki (aka “Talking Moon”), who’d provided vocals for NiGHTS. But the attention to detail didn’t stop there; each track was, in addition, re-recorded in English in New York, under Hataya’s supervision, for the English-language version of the game.
Naofumi Hataya had created the soundtracks for Sega classics such as Golden Axe II and Sonic CD, and teamed up with talented vocalists to create Burning Rangers' brilliant soundtrack.
In addition, the Japanese version of Burning Rangers saw the addition of some big-name voice-acting talent from the anime industry. Main characters Shou Amanabe and Tillis were voiced by Hikaru Midorikawa (Zelgadis Greywords of Slayers) and Yuko Miyamura (Asuka of Neon Genesis Evangelion), while the supporting cast included voice talent by Tomokazu Seiki (Van Fanel, Vision of Escaflowne), Ryuzaburo Ohtomo (Abigail, Bastard!!), Hiroko Kasahara (Naomi Armitage, Armitage III) and Aya Hisakawa (Iria, Iria: Zeiram the Animation).
With an all-star line-up of talent across the board, Burning Rangers had a lot going for it. Just as impressive as its cast and crew line-up, were the game’s technical accomplishments, though. As previously mentioned, one the Saturn’s greatest problems for developers of the 32-bit generation was that the Saturn had been originally conceived as a 2D monster; with its 3D capabilities added in later in the console’s development, upon the realization that the market was heading in a 3D-focused direction for the generation. While the Saturn was certainly capable of producing a good 3D title, it also presented a difficult development environment for 3D games, in particular making the inclusions of detailed effects including complex lighting and transparencies much harder to pull off than they were on Sony or Nintendo’s systems. With Burning Rangers, however, Sonic Team proved that, when harnessed properly, not only could the Saturn pull off these 3D feats, but also create a damn fine looking game that could stand tall right alongside the competition. Not only did Sonic Team manage to pull off excellent lighting and transparency effects that some had thought nigh-impossible with the Saturn, it also managed to create huge environments filled with vibrant colors and detailed character models, excellent fire effects, and fast-paced action, all running at an impressively smooth framerate. As one of the Saturn’s dying efforts, Burning Rangers was an excellent accomplishment as proof of what the system could really do; and it didn’t go unnoticed, with almost every major review and preview both at the time of its release and after pointing out its technical achievements for the system.
As what was seemingly one of the Saturn’s final big games, Burning Rangers gnarred a good amount of positive attention from the press prior to its release. Previews and press of Burning Rangers were in no short supply, with a number of big, multi-page features on the game from Sega Saturn Magazine, including a 4-page feature in December of 1997, and a massive 8-page feature in March of 1998, just prior to the title’s North American release.
When Burning Rangers was released, in February in Japan, and a few months later, come late spring/early summer, in North America and Europe, the Saturn was on its last leg outside Japan, and Sega itself was already looking past it towards hopes of success with its next console, as Dreamcast rumors started to buzz around the industry. The game fared well with the press, receiving mostly above average-to-very good reviews and scores. Gamepro magazine awarded the game a score of 4.0 out of 5, bemoaning the game’s controls a bit, but otherwise calling it a “roaring good time” and stating that “for Saturn fans, it’s one of the last good games for a system that’s pilot light has all but gone out.” Sega Saturn Magazine, meanwhile, gave the game a 90%, while Edge Magazine gave it an 8 out of 10. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 4 reviewers, meanwhile gave the game a variety of scores ranging from average to excellent; awarding it two 7.5’s, a 6.5 and an 8.5, while Gamespot.com gave the game one of its lower scores, a 62, stating that it wasn’t quite the “virtual fire-fighting experience we’d all hoped for,” but still went on to say it was a “really good game” regardless.
Burning Rangers saw a lot of positive press leading up to its release, and fared favorably with critics.
Burning Rangers saw a lot of positive press, but unfortunately, with the Saturn on the way out, it was released to a very limited audience outside of Japan, with the Saturn’s low install base and lack of success in North America and Europe. Because of the Saturn’s dying status outside Japan, Burning Rangers saw a rather limited number of copies printed and shipped, and was sadly overlooked by most.
Burning Rangers has seen some references and occasional press since, and has achieved a very positive level of cult status amongst hardcore Sega and Sega Saturn fans. To this day, the limited attention the game has gotten is almost always positive; IGN took a look back at the game with a retro-review in 2008, awarding it an 8.0 out of 10, and stating that “this game, and the Sega Saturn itself, deserved a better send-off.” Sega and Sonic Team, themselves have inserted references to Burning Rangers in some of their games since, including references in Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe. Still, sadly, Burning Rangers remains a lost classic amongst Sega’s many great original titles of the past and, like far too many of their most creative and original works, was a sad victim of bad timing on a tragically unsuccessful and/or underappreciated console. But, like so many other underappreciated Sega classics, Burning Rangers begs a second look from curious gamers, and this lost child of Sega and Sonic Team is one with all the same charm, spirit, creativity and fun that the publisher and developer’s greatest classics are renowned for…..
Burning Rangers is not a game with a lot of legitimate flaws to complain about, nor with many glaring issues. It’s honestly a very well-made game that, at its core, works well, has great presentation and is just a lot of fun to play. That said, Burning Rangers does a few quips and issues to mention, in addition to what is probably its one big flaw, which is the short length of the main game and small amount of individual missions.
This relatively short length and small amount of content in the game’s core story mode is probably Burning Ranger’s one big issue, and one of the only big complaints commonly cited by critics and fans. With only 4 missions in the game, the game flies by very quickly on your first playthrough, even considering the large size of each mission, and even considering the game’s large focus on replayability (which I’ll get more in-depth on later), it still makes for a game that goes by too quickly and feels like it could have used a bit more core content. The game has a plethora of extra content and unlockables from completing the game that vastly increase its lasting appeal (including a stage randomization feature which does much to remedy the small selection of missions), and a focus of perfecting one’s scores and times which likewise encourages replays of the game. But the fact still remains that 4 main missions is a few less than would have been desirable, and even with the level randomization feature, more actual missions, with brand new environments and sights to see, would have increased replayability and lasting appeal even further, and made for a game that felt like it had a bit more meat on its bones.
Besides a need for a few more missions to beef up its content, other issues are mostly small or subjective in what is overall a polished and well-made game. One small quip some have mentioned involves the controls, which can at times feel a bit floaty. It never becomes a huge issue, and the control layout itself is intuitive and easy to learn, but the control over your character can feel a little loose at times, and a bit of tightening up would have made controlling your character a bit more comfortable, especially during flight or intricate platforming sequences. Likewise, boss battles feel a bit less tight and well-conceived than the rest of the game, too. These are really small and easily overcome issues, however.
Burning Rangers could use a few more main missions, but the replay value is high, and missions are all exciting and enjoyable.
Also, one far more subjective complaint, could be found in the choice to dub the vocals in the game’s iconic soundtrack into English in the North American version. This is a small issue, and a debatable one that is probably more a matter of taste. The music is still catchy and spirited in English, and nothing besides the vocals were altered in the songs, but the vocal tracks generally sound better suited to their original Japanese vocals, which have a more “professional” quality to them, and just sound smoother and more natural with the songs. A minor, ultimately subjective, issue, and really just one with the English-language version.
And that’s about it, really; besides these quips and the aforementioned need for a few more main missions to flesh the game out a bit more, Burning Rangers is a polished, well-made and extremely fun game, bursting with the slightly-crazy personality and originality that made old-school Sega first-party efforts some of the best game’s around in the company’s heyday. Burning Rangers is truly a forgotten classic that is worth a second look….
Why it’s Worth a Second Look:
Sega has many brilliant first-party titles that have gone underappreciated but achieved a strong cult following, but Burning Rangers is one of their most tragically forgotten and neglected classics. There are a multitude of good reasons for gamers to dig up, and love, Burning Rangers.
Burning Rangers is a game bursting with the style, originality and totally unique and creative individuality that have made Sega fans fall in love with so many of the company’s wonderful original titles and exclusives. Burning Rangers is a stylish and unique game in nearly every aspect. From the bright, vibrant 3D graphics, to the funky and totally catchy soundtrack, to the perfectly executed and attractive presentation and menus, and lovely, bright and stylish anime cutscenes, Burning Rangers is filled with its own brilliantly realized and downright fun look, sound and atmosphere, and is overflowing with style and entertainment value.
The first thing you’ll notice about Burning Rangers is its upbeat visual and aural style. Even before the menus, you’ll be greeted by the stylish anime opening sequence, with its funky opening theme song and beautiful 2D animation. And from there, Burning Rangers truly never lets up in its audio and visual presentation. Truth be told, just about every part of Burning Rangers is exploding with its signature style in the sound and visual departments, and I can’t recall even a moment that lets up.
Right from the opening cutscene, Burning Rangers presents itself graphically and musically as attractive, upbeat and stylish.
The title screen and then the menus are the next thing you’ll notice, and all are beautifully stylish and well thought-out. With the funky music beating in the background (Burning Rangers, Go!), you’ll navigate what are honestly some gorgeous menus that are both perfectly functional and informative, and bursting with tons of colorful style and life. The constantly animated menu backgrounds keep everything feeling fast-paced and upbeat before you even get to the action, and little touches draw you into the game’s style and world; like the ability to check your “mail” from within the game/game world on the main menu, and the big, bold and attractive 2D character art on the character select screen. Honestly, it may seem silly to emphasize a game’s menus so much as a positive aspect, but they are a prime example of the excellent presentation, and the consistency of the game’s visual and aural stylistic excellence. The thing is that Burning Rangers draws you into its fun, bright, exciting atmosphere from before the actual game even begins, and it never loses focus on it for even a moment; Sega has a track record of first-party titles that were stylish and strong in their presentation, and Burning Rangers more than lives up to that reputation. From the excellent anime opening and cutscenes, to the gorgeous and lively menus, to the in-game graphics and HUD themselves, and even the loading screens, featuring the game’s lovely 2D character art, Burning Rangers always looks and sounds great, filled with life and style.
Even the menus are lively and stylish.
The music of Burning Rangers deserves special mention, because it is so off-beat, so funky and so much a part of the game’s personality and style. All of Burning Rangers music is great, from the overly-passionate Burning Ranger’s theme music to the upbeat menu music. Most important are the fun, funky vocal tracks, which have a style lying somewhere between 70’s disco/funk and 80’s pop, which a generous helping of old-school anime theme music. It both perfectly complements and, at the same time, completes, the game’s style and atmosphere. Burning Rangers soundtrack is just plain awesome, bursting with personality and fun which suits the game perfectly. It’s anything but generic, and is genius in how well it suits the game and what a creative and individual style it works so well towards establishing for Burning Rangers.
During gameplay there are, actually, long stretches of time without any music, however. With what a strong soundtrack Burning Rangers has, this might sound disappointing, but it also works remarkably well in heightening the tension, especially considering how nicely done the game’s soundwork is. The absence of music at most times during gameplay actually helps to keep the tension up and the player’s thought-process focused. Little details do a great job, like subtle background noises, including the constant, low rumble of the burning structures as they burn and collapse, of serving as a constant reminder of the urgency of the situation, and keeping an atmosphere of danger heightened. Likewise, sudden explosions, bursts of flame and crashes of collapsing object had an effectively low, bassy and powerful sound to them, and little details like the sound of futuristic doors opening or the echo of character’s voices within the massive structures you must navigate complement and complete the sound environment and all fit in and suit the game naturally.
In the voicework department, of course, the quality ultimately depends on the version you are playing; the original Japanese voicework is professional and well-done, performed by a cast of veterans from the anime industry. In the dubbed version, voice acting is more along the lines of merely “acceptable;” never awful or painful (which, considering this is a game from the 32-bit generation, is a step up from many of its peers), but nothing particularly remarkable either; some characters and actors in the dub are slightly above average, while others are slightly below, and it often sounds a bit cheesy, but either way, the dub work is not awful, just not too great, either. Either way, the game is fully-voiced throughout, which was always a nice and welcome addition in the 32-bit generation, and the voice work is at best excellent (in the Japanese version), and never anything worse than acceptable in the dub.
On the visual stylistic side, the character designs and art deserve just as special a mention as the excellent soundtrack. Sleek, attractive and filled with personality and style, Burning Rangers anime-style visual design is highlighted by the excellent character designs and bold, attractive art presented in the anime cutscenes and 2D character art showcased throughout the game. Characters themselves have tons of personality, both distinct as individual characters and iconic to the game’s look and style, while maintaining a style both familiar and attractive to any fan of anime, especially of the 80’s and 90’s generation. The characters themselves are likeable and attractive as is, but their costume design is just as important to their individual personalities and the overall visual style of the game. I simply love the “look” of the Burning Rangers team, the individual characters, and their uniforms and outfits, which are simultaneously a semi-humorous homage to the “anime superhero” look and something totally its own, as well. Decked out in skin-tight, brightly colored spandex bodysuits, topped off with equally flashy uniforms, big-collared jackets and angelic-looking jetpacks on their backs, the Burning Rangers crew is looking downright stylish as they fight fires and save lives. Of course, the crew itself is a fun, varied and, of course, totally sexy bunch (in true classic anime hero fashion). From the beefed up muscleman, Big Landman, to the wise-but-beautiful team supervisor, Chris, to the aptly named, handsome and stoic team leader, Lead Phoenix, and your main characters Shou Amanabe (the classic cocky-but-dashing anime pretty boy) and Tillis (the classic cute and sweet, but confident, female rookie), the cast of Burning Rangers is in some ways almost the anime stereotype, but moreover a completely conscious homage to the classic team of 80’s/90’s anime superheroes, while at the same time achieving their own unique and totally likeable style and personality. The character designs, cast and whole look of the Burning Rangers team is great and, just like the soundtrack, achieves a style that is both a classic anime homage, and something completely its own.
The Burning Rangers team are sleek, stylish, attractive and likeable, and a perfect homage to the classic anime superhero team.
Of course, the setting and world these characters are in is just as important, and Burning Rangers world is just a bright, fun and stylish as its characters. Again drawing from classic anime inspiration, while adding its own flavor to the mix, Burning Rangers showcases a bright and exciting futuristic sci-fi setting, and while the story it tells is somewhat brief and a bit outlandish, it also suits the game nicely and is in tune with the game as a whole; spirited and just fun, while, more importantly, showcasing a setting that is unique and enjoyable to experience.
The game’s style and visual excellence doesn’t let up during gameplay itself, either. While it is always arguable how well 32-bit 3D graphics have “aged” by today’s standards, it is, on the other hand, a fact that, for the capabilities of the time and system from which Burning Rangers comes, it is a damn fine looking game. In-game graphics are impressive and attractive from both a technical and artistic standpoint, and look great and are technically impressive by both the standards of the Saturn, and really, of any console at the time. In-game graphics jive perfectly with the anime-style presented throughout the game, and the 3D environments and character models are bright, colorful and filled with life. Likewise, the character animations are mostly smooth and well-done, and the sheer size and complexity of the game’s massive, totally interconnected stages is both impressive just for the size itself, and for the intricacy and attention to detail in them throughout. Stages and characters themselves are lively, each character and environment both technically impressive, and filled with unique personality and style. What really drives the graphical prowess of Burning Rangers out of the park, though, and completes it as a technically impressive achievement, is the excellent lighting, fire and environmental effects. Lighting effects, big and small, are extremely well-done, and do wonders to enhance the visuals, and add to the gameplay experience. Meanwhile, fire effects, explosions, and environmental destruction looks great and adds to an exciting and unpredictable experience. One thing the Saturn always had trouble with was transparencies and similar visual effects; but judging from Burning Rangers, you’d never know that. Visual and lighting effects are not just something Burning Rangers displays it is capable of, it is an area the game consistently excels at. Combine attractive character models, massive, detailed, and intricate environments, smooth animations, and an excellent array of visual effects, and they add up to a game that is both a technical achievement for its system, and just a great-looking game in general. Add to that the fact that, through all of it, the game runs surprisingly smooth, with a consistent framerate, and Burning Rangers really is impressive. While 3D graphics of the 32-bit generation have, arguably, not aged well by today’s standards, Burning Rangers is still a great looking game for its time, and, honestly, a game that holds up pretty damn well, considering its age, today.
Burning Ranger's graphics were a technical achievement for the Saturn, packed full of 3D lighting and effects than many thought the Saturn incapable of.
Of course, as with all games, one of the most important questions is: is it fun to play? And for Burning Rangers, the answer is a resounding “yes.” True to Sonic Team’s classic work, Burning Rangers is an experience focused largely on style, and just as much on fun, addictive gameplay. At its core, Burning Rangers plays like a blending of a few genres. Specifically, Burning Ranger’s gameplay is a combination of 3D platforming, 3rd person shooting, and 3D action/adventure, with a bit of arcade flavor achieved via a large focus on replaying missions to achieve higher scores and better ranks, by racking up more points through speed and completion time, exploration, finding and rescuing civilians, extinguishing fires, defeating the occasional enemy and collecting different color “crystals” (which also function as your health in a way very similar to rings in Sonic games) throughout the stage.
Your handheld blaster will prove to be an essential tool, both for fighting enemies and bosses, as well as putting out fires.
The game will place you in the role of the character of your choice (Shou or Tillis at first, or later, the other Burning Rangers members, who become playable upon completion of the game), and once in the role of the character of your choosing, you’ll navigate and explore the game’s huge environments, solving the occasional door or environmental puzzle, with the ultimate goal of reaching the end of the stage, defeating the boss, and ultimately saving the day. Along the way, you’ll search the stage for civilians in need of rescue, teleporting them out of the area upon discovery of them, you’ll fight fires and avoid or subdue dangers like rampaging mechs or environmental dangers like explosions and collapsed environments, and perform platforming feats, largely with the help of your jetpack, which allows for extended jumps and brief flight. The most central and essential tools with which the player must work are their trademark Burning Rangers jetpack, and their chargeable blaster weapon, which doubles as a tool for extinguishing fires and as a type of pistol for fighting the occasional rampaging robot, blasting environmental obstacles and, of course, fighting the end-of-stage bosses. Of all the gameplay elements, platforming and 3rd-person shooting are probably the most constant and prominent throughout, and what I really like about Burning Rangers is the way in which it cleverly implements them as a part of the gameplay that feels natural within the game itself. Specifically, I love how Burning Rangers takes traditional platforming and shooting elements, and molds them cleverly to fit the game’s theme of a fire rescue team; using third-person shooting mechanics to fight fires, and intelligently implanting platforming in a way that feels natural through the implementation of the jetpack itself, and makes the platforming itself feel less tacked on, more like a natural, logical need when navigating a structure that is half-destroyed and quickly burning to the ground.
The jetpack enables longer, higher jumps and brief flight, and serves as an important part of platforming sections.
Burning Rangers manages to keep up a tense and urgent pace at all times, as well, thanks to another cleverly implemented gameplay feature; a constantly-increasing structural “limit” for each environment. Burning Rangers encourages players to explore its environments, pressing them to find hidden areas and rescue innocents trapped throughout them, but at the same time forces you to think on your feet and keep moving, as the steadily-increasing “limit” percentage rises in the top right corner of your HUD. Extinguishing flames throughout the environment will help to bring the percentage down again, but every time the limit reaches an increment of 20%, flames will begin to explode from the environment around the character, and if the player can’t avoid and quickly put out the raging blaze, the flames will make short work of them. This could possibly become frustrating if the game didn’t handle navigation of its huge environments so well; but thanks to the ability to radio in for navigation and directions, the game again creatively and naturally makes itself intuitive in a way that never feels obtrusive or out-of-place. In this, the game cleverly encourages exploration of its large, intricate environments to not just rescue people, but find flames to extinguish, bringing down the “limit” percentage, while at the same time forcing the player not to dawdle in any one place too long or retrace their steps too often. These smart game design choices are pulled off expertly, effectively encouraging exploration while simultaneously keeping the pace and tension of the game at a consistent high point.
Missions are tense and exciting throughout, and stages are massive and intricate.
Burning Rangers is a relatively short game, but it is also one of exceptional replay value for a number of reasons which, in many ways, actually get more fun after your first run through the story mode. One of the key factors to this is the game’s arcade-esque focus on scoring, time, and mission rankings. Replaying missions is a core part of the game’s lasting appeal, as repeat playthroughs of missions are exciting and addictive as you attempt to seek out hidden areas, finish stage quicker and with greater precision, collect more crystals, and rescue more survivors.
The replayability and lasting appeal of Burning Rangers would be relatively thin if replaying the same 4 missions for higher scores was the only reason to continue after the credits rolled. But Burning Rangers has many more features and extras that are sure to keep you coming back for more. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that playing through the main story is something to be done at least twice, since, although the missions remain the same, the two main characters, Shou and Tillis, each have their own unique cutscenes and arcs of the story. But there is far more to Burning Rangers replay value beyond that, because upon your first completion of the main story mode is when Burning Rangers really opens up, with a whole slew of excellent extras and unlockable content that bring the game and its replayability far beyond what is initially accessible.
Probably the biggest and most significant of these features is the stage randomizer which becomes available. The stage randomizer in Burning Rangers massively increases the game’s replay value and amount of content. The stage randomizer does pretty much exactly what it sounds like; randomizes the layout of each individual mission, essentially altering the paths through stages, locations of dangers and civilians, and allowing for further exploration into the massive stages, opening doors that were previously inaccessible, which give way to all new areas, while at the same time cutting off other routes. The stage randomizer feature even allows the player to save their favorite randomized layouts for future playthroughs, allowing for replays of individual randomized layouts to discover their own secrets and perfect your time, score and navigation of them. I can’t emphasize enough what a great feature this is; especially when considering the seemingly lean amount of missions first available. The stage randomizer is an excellent feature that ups the replayability and lasting appeal of Burning Rangers massively.
Burning Rangers may have only 4 main missions, but its replay value is huge, thanks to an array of unlockable features, including a level randomizer, and the ability to enter special passwords and play as extra characters.
This feature alone drastically increases the size of the game and extends its appeal well beyond the somewhat brief story mode. But there is a plethora of other fun and significant unlockables that will continue to keep any player hooked on Burning Rangers. Upon completion of Burning Rangers, in addition to the stage randomizer, you’ll also unlock a “password function,” allowing you to input a wide array of passwords which will unlock a ton of other extra features. Password-unlocked extras include sound and cutscene tests, but probably the best and most notable of them are the passwords which allow you to play as any of the game’s supporting cast (Lead Phoenix, Chris and Big Landman) as well as the mysterious Iria Klein (who’s origin would be a bit of a spoiler to reveal), in any of the stages except the final mission, in addition to the ability to play as Shou or Tillis with the Burning Rangers theme playing throughout, in substitute of the voice navigation feature. Playing as the rest of the cast is a great addition, and it’s fun to see all of these supporting characters in action, and to be able to replay the missions with the game’s funky theme music driving the action.
Scoring and improving one’s performance is, as mentioned, a huge part of Burning Rangers lasting appeal as well, and one of the most fun features tied to this comes in the form of the game’s “mail” system. Essentially, there are 118 survivors throughout the game to rescue, and while rescuing them is essential to upping your mission performance and rank, you’ll also collect mail from the survivors when you save them. Individual survivors all have their own names, and will actually send numerous emails upon repeat saves, which differ depending of the character and the amount of times you’ve saved them. It’s a fun feature which serves as a unique form of collectibles, and an incentive to go back and replay stages for better results. Just one more fun feature, adding to the fun and consistently addictive quality of Burning Ranger’s excellent gameplay.
Replaying missions to rescue survivors and perfect your time and score increases Burning Rangers lasting appeal greatly.
Burning Rangers had, and still has, everything it takes to stand tall alongside Sega’s library of first-party classics and cult hits. It has all the style, beauty and focus on innovation and pure fun of the company’s long list of original titles. Sadly, like so many of the company’s other would-be classics, Burning Rangers was a victim of its console’s unfortunate fate, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Burning Ranger’s was released to a console that had already seen little success outside its homeland, and by the time it was released, the Saturn was already being disregarded as a dead console by most. As such, Burning Rangers, even amidst positive press, went mostly unnoticed, fading into obscurity as yet another excellent and inspired, but ultimately lost, Sega original. Even today, amidst what has been somewhat of a resurgence of recognition for Sega’s forgotten classics, Burning Rangers still, as it long has, remains overlooked and forgotten. But Sega fans, and gamers in general, shouldn’t let this title slip by them any longer. Forgotten and overlooked too often, even by fans of Sega, Burning Rangers is another great original title, with all the staples of what made Sega and Sonic Team’s work so exciting in their heyday. And gamers owe it to Burning Rangers, and themselves, to discover, enjoy and appreciate this lost would-be classic. Burning Rangers is a bright, beautiful game, bursting with the quirky fun, originality, inspiration and creativity that made Sega’s original titles so exciting in their best years.
Burning Rangers is a wonderfully original and well-made Sega title, which has gone overlooked for far too long; gamers owe it to themselves to check out this fun, addictive and stylish game.
Who Should Play It?
Any fan of Sega or Sonic Team’s classic work, or Sega aficionados. Fans of anime/anime style visuals, especially fans of 80’s and 90’s anime. Those with a love for arcade-esque score-topping and skill-honing at a game. People who love classic 3D platforming or action/adventure, or those who appreciate some creative cross-genre gameplay. Any gamer with an appreciation for excellent style and presentation, or creativity and fun.
Publishers: Time Warner Interactive/Expert Software Inc. (N.A.), GT Interactive (Europe)
Platforms: Windows PC, MAC
Release Date: October 31st, 1995 – November 12th 1995 (varied by specific location) (N.A. and Europe)
Cover art for The Dark Eye.
What Is This Game?
The Dark Eye is a first-person point-and-click adventure, and a truly bizarre, impressionistic entry in the horror genre. Weaving together several of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems into a larger whole, the game tells an increasingly twisted and tragic story that continually crosses the boundaries between reality and nightmare; sanity and insanity. The stage is set in the late 1800’s, and begins when player’s character arrives at his Uncle’s seemingly peaceful seaside home. He is welcomed by Uncle Edwin, an aging artist, as well as his brother, Henry, and their cousin, Elise. Soon after, however, a series of increasingly bizarre and unfortunate event begin to unfold; some of which bend the lines between reality and the subconscious, and others that are far too real. As the main character moves unwilling between reality, an ethereal, dreamlike “otherworld,” and a series of nightmarish events placing him in the perspectives of different murderers and their unfortunate victims, he begins to question reality and his own sanity. With the majority of the game’s scenarios and events derived from or inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and a truly unique graphical approach that combines prerendered CG backgrounds with stop-motion animated, clay-sculpted characters (in addition to a number of other abstract graphical techniques), The Dark Eye combines surreal visuals with a haunting atmosphere to create an experience as strange as it is engrossing.
A less-than-warm welcome to your Uncle's seaside home opens the doors to a nightmarish experience....
The Dark Eye is a game I may never have experienced if I’d not acquired it somewhat at random when I was much younger. Received as a birthday gift shortly after my family got their first computer, The Dark Eye was one of two more-or-less random PC games I’d received for my birthday (the other game being the less-fascinating and rather generic FPS title Assassin 2015). Going in with no prior knowledge outside of what the back of the box had told me, I found myself intrigued even by the title screen and utterly entranced shortly after the start of this bizarre and frightening journey. To be honest, I was probably a bit young for such a mature, and often gruesome or terrifying, game. But to a child of the late 80’s and 90’s, raised on the likes of Terminator and Aliens, that meant little to me. Even at the time, I appreciated that this was something very different and inspired, and it captured my love and fascination both as the first true “horror” title I’d played, and as something genuinely unique, even experimental, amongst the other games I’d played as a boy. I played through the game multiple times, was borderline obsessed with it, even amidst (or perhaps partially because of) my confusion over the seemingly baffling, fragmented and abstract story it wove. Ultimately, The Dark Eye served not only as my introduction to the horror genre of video games, but also as one of the first games that truly forced me to begin thinking of video games as more than just a fun pastime, and instead as an art form.
Even now, years later, The Dark Eye stands out to me amongst all of the video games I’ve experienced as something special; and as I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate the artistry and creativity of this strange little title, and what an impact it had on me personally as a turning point for my perspective on what a video game could really be. The Dark Eye was not a well-known game upon its release, nor has it gained much popularity over the course of time; however, the few who have played all seem to agree that there is something very special about this game. While The Dark Eye has a handful of issues and is certainly not for everyone, it is also a remarkably inspired and creative work from a purely artistic standpoint, as well as an engrossing, if somewhat fragmented, tale, and still one of the most eerie, haunting and mind-bending gaming experiences I’ve had. The Dark Eye may be largely forgotten, but any gamer who appreciates video games as an art form, or just loves horror games, owes it to themselves to hunt down a copy of The Dark Eye; there is a haunting and unique experience awaiting those who do…..
Prepare for a game as artful and surreal, as it is disturbing and frightening.
History, Release and Reception:
The Dark Eye was developed by the now-defunct developer Inscape during the height of the point-and-click adventure genre’s reign on the PC. Founded in 1994, Inscape was funded by two of Time Warner’s subsidiaries; Home Box Office and Warner Music Group. Founder Michael Nash had worked in interactive media development before, his prior career highlighted by his work as executive producer on San Francisco art collective/musical group “The Residents’” 1993 interactive PC/MAC CD-ROM title, “Freak Show;” a title somewhere between a game and an interactive tour, of sorts, that had the player navigating a bizarre carnival setting. Inscape was established shortly after, in 1994, with 5 million dollars invested from Time Warner, under the shared interest of Nash and Warner in combining talents from the entertainment and programming industries to work in the ever-expanding and, at the time, still somewhat untested, interactive entertainment industry.
Inscape’s first release came in 1995, in the form of a sequel of sorts to ‘Freak Show;” another “Residents” game, “Bad Day on the Midway.” Again taking place in a bizarre traveling carnival, Bad Day on the Midway was more of a fully-fleshed-out “game” than Freak Show; essentially a point-and-click adventure-horror title with multiple story paths and puzzle-solving. The game was well-received, even winning a number of awards, including two 1995 Macrovision International User Conference Awards (Best Entertainment Title and Most Innovative use of Multimedia) and a spot in CD-ROM Today’s “Top Ten Discs of All Time.”
Inscape founder Micheal Nash had worked in the realm of interactive entertainment before, his most noteworthy project being The Residents' Freak Show. After founding Inscape, Bad Day on the Midway was created as a sort of sequel to Freak Show.
It was within the same year, and at almost the same release date as Bad Day on the Midway, that Inscape also released The Dark Eye. Under development at the same time as Bad Day on the Midway by another group within Inscape, the project was headed by lead designer Russell Lees and while not nearly as high profile as Bad Day on the Midway, was every bit as passionate and inspired a project. For Russell Lees, The Dark Eye was a project all about experimentation, and his passion for the project showed through in the hard, painstaking work and creativity he put forth towards its creation. A former playwright and engineer, Lees was steered towards video game production by Michael Nash, who happened to be a childhood friend of his. When Nash had still been in the process of conceiving Inscape with Time Warner, he had asked Lees to come up with a few ideas and send them his way. One of those ideas was “the player entering the tales of Edgar Alan Poe;” and a few months later, when Nash contacted him about turning this idea into a game, Lees ended up working on The Dark Eye for Inscape as his first project in the video game world.
As a passionate aficionado of Edgar Alan Poe’s work, Russell Lees had read all of Poe’s stories and poems in their entirety, and upon conception of The Dark Eye, found himself re-reading Poe’s work, this time analyzing it for which of his writings would work best in the realm of interactive entertainment. He eventually settled up the general theme of murder, and selected the Poe stories he felt could best be told, in interactive form, through the eyes of both the murderer, and the victim; a chilling choice for the viewpoint of the player, and one which would allow the main character, and the player, to delve into the insanity which drove the murderers, and the terror and despair of the victims.
Russel Lees (left), creator of The Dark Eye, was a passionate fan of Poe's work. Legendary author William S. Burroughs (right) shared his love of Poe, which ultimately lead to Burroughs providing some of the game's most prominent voice work.
Equally important to Lees was the visual and aural presentation of The Dark Eye. With the assistance of artistic director Rebekah Behrendt, and animator Doug Beswick (known best for his work in Hollywood with the effects on films like Beetlejuice, Aliens and The Addams Family), Lees was committed to creating a visual design for The Dark Eye that was all its own. Working with a variety of graphical techniques including claymation, stop-motion animation, photo montages, and more traditional 3D computer-generated graphics, Lees and his team put painstaking amounts of effort toward perfecting the game’s visuals. While Inscape itself did the designs for the stop-motion characters, they had the designs shipped out to a Hollywood production house for their creation; but Russell Lees himself, along with his two hired animators, personally spent hours in a warehouse animating the stop-motion puppets and their scenes. Working from 7 am to 7pm for over a month on this process, Lees and his animators not only needed to animate their characters by hand, they also had to shoot them against a blue screen for their scenes and light the puppets to match the computer-generated environments in which their scenes took place.
Extensive thought and work was put into The Dark Eye's visuals, and a wide variety of techniques and styles were implemented throughout the game.
Just as important was the audio presentation of The Dark Eye, and for voice work and musical scoring, Lees looked to talented professionals for work on the project. For the soundtrack, award-winning British musician Thomas Dolby was brought on board. In addition to a sizeable, award-winning solo career including hits like “She Blinded Me With Science,” Dolby and his studio, Headspace, had a well-proven track record with soundtrack production, including tracks and production work for the 1986 George Lucas film “Howard the Duck,” and the 1992 animated film “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.” Likewise, for voice work, Lees was fortunate enough to recruit a talented cast. Top-billed amongst a cast of talented voice actors was the legendary author of such post-World War II, 50’s “beat” generation classics as “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs, who lent his voice to the main character’s uncle, Edwin, as well as the narration of selected tales and poems throughout the game. Lees actually traveled from Inscape studios in Los Angeles, all the way to Burroughs’ home in Kansas, to record his voice work for the game. Though Burroughs reportedly had almost no idea of what a video game even WAS, he did have a love for Poe, and this love made him happy to work on the project. Other actors were recruited through agents and sample tapes sent to Inscape. Lees says he was extremely lucky to find such excellent actors, all of whom were enthusiastic to work on a “real acting” job, instead of advertising or selling product.
It is ironic, then, with so much seemingly careful planning and hard work, that Russell Lees and his team were working on a short production cycle of under one year, and that there was also a good amount of uncertainty, and ideas that didn’t make the final cut. In fact, when Nash gave Lees’ “Poe” idea the go, Lees really had no idea WHAT that idea was going to become. His first idea, which earned the project the green light from Inscape, was the vague concept of “the narrator’s version of The Tell-Tale Heart.” The Dark Eye was developed on a relatively short development cycle, as mentioned, and when it began, the team really had almost no idea of how the game would look, or of the distinctive visual style it would take on. Likewise, the actual gameplay, specifically the amount of freedom given to the player, was a heavy topic of discussion, with debates over player choice and the possibility of multiple endings. Once the idea of the game comprising a variety of Poe’s stories came into play, and the themes of murder and insanity were settled upon, which stories to use and how to implement them also came into play; would the player be able to perhaps even combine the stories, resulting in different outcomes? And which, and how many, of Poe’s works would make the cut? While more were originally discussed, and the game was at first to include closer to seven “nightmare sequences” based on Poe’s stories, ultimately three were settled upon (The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and Berenice), in addition to a collection of narrated and text-based stories and poems (The Masque of the Red Death, Annabel Lee, The Premature Burial), all of which were tied together by the main story, a modified version of The Fall of the House of Usher, altered to tie in the “nightmare” scenes and their stronger themes of insanity and murder.
Ultimately, The Dark Eye was released late in 1995, to very little awareness. What few critics noticed it were mostly positive about the game, though some bemoaned the game’s largely straight-forward nature, which ultimately involved minimal choice by the player. However, critics praised the originality of the game and its striking visual and aural presentation, as well as its excellent atmosphere. Gamespot was one of the few sources to notice the game around the time of its initial release, and while they only awarded it a 5.4 out of 10, their review emphasized the game’s positive aspects, but simply cautioned players that it truly was not for everyone. With little fanfare and near-nonexistent promotion by Inscape itself, the game quickly faded into obscurity…..
Inscape enjoyed some success for a while afterward, beginning with the critical praise of the almost simultaneously-released Bad Day on the Midway, and ultimately leading to a slew of new releases announced at E3 in 1996. However, by February 1997, it was announced that Inscape was to be acquired by Graphix Zone and meanwhile, Michael Nash decided to leave Inscape, allegedly concerned over the recent acquisition. Graphix Zone itself, unfortunately, went under just a few months later, in November of 1997, taking Inscape with it. Meanwhile, Russell Lees moved on towards other ambitions in interactive media, working with Zoesis Studios for a time, and ultimately, as of this writing, becoming a Narrative Designer at Ubisoft Montreal.
The Dark Eye itself has ultimately fallen into gaming obscurity, but its unique attributes and inspired, artistic vision have earned it some attention from gamers who stumbled across it over the years and especially, in this age of the internet, has managed to at least earn a (very) small cult following, of sorts, namely amongst curious fans of the point-and-click adventure genre. A few more reviews, many increasingly positive, have sprung up on various video game websites over the last ten years; amongst them are Adventure Gamer’s 2003 review, awarding the game a 3 out of 5, Just Adventure’s 2003 review, crowning the game with a glowing “A+” rating, and Adventure Classic Gaming’s 2008 review, giving the game a 4 out of 5.
The Dark Eye had very little awareness when it was released, and ultimately still lives in obscurity today. However, curious gamers interested in the art of video games, and in a truly strange-but-inspired vision, should hunt down a copy of The Dark Eye and see what it has to offer; a unique and frightening vision awaits those who do…..
Your Uncle Edwin is an avid painter, but his works take on an increasingly bizarre and disturbing edge....
While The Dark Eye is a very polished and professionally well-made game, it does have a handful of flaws that inhibit it from being the slightly-greater, and possibly more recognized, game it could have been. These flaws are not so much on a technical level, but more come in the form of some design and storytelling choices that ultimately make the game a bit too straight-forward, and result in some awkward or disconnected storytelling which may confuse, turn-off or possibly even bore some gamers. The Dark Eye never was, and never was meant to be, a game for everyone; however, these issues still have some hold over what is otherwise a fascinating and unique experience.
The biggest complaint leveled against The Dark Eye has always been its linearity. While point-and-click adventures run the gamut from having tons of items and multiple endings, to others which suffer similarly from a rather straight-forward progression, The Dark Eye does tend to lead the player on a somewhat too straight-and-narrow path, even compared to other, similarly straight-forward adventure titles. While the player is free to move about environments of their own accord, and can make minor decisions, like “soul-jumping” between the killer and victim at key times throughout a nightmare sequence, in addition to the ability to do the “nightmares” in a few different orders, and a very small amount of optional discoveries or easter eggs throughout the game, ultimately, the path the player must take is very narrow, with limited interactivity with their surroundings, and no inventory or items to be picked up or used in any way. Essentially, while the player can move about at their own will and do some exploring, they are always tied to whatever the next specific action is that is required to progress the story, of which there is only one path through, and one ending to.
The gameplay works fine, however the overall progression may be a bit too linear for some.
This overly linear approach means that the game, which is of relatively short length to begin with, has rather limited replay value, and at times can feel almost frustrating due to what little control the player really has over their actions or the events unfolding. While a feeling of helplessness and despair over the terrible events the player must not only watch, but participate in, is no doubt a central theme to the game, the lack of any kind of choice and limited interaction is also frustrating to an extent, precisely because video games are an interactive form of entertainment. Many similar horror games, the Silent Hill series for example, produce a similar sense of helplessness and despair, while still giving the player enough control over their character and interactions, and even somewhat over the story, that it still produces a satisfying experience for the player. With this in mind, a game like Silent Hill does, in turn, manage to produce an experience that is both hopeless and frightening, but still a satisfying interactive experience. Though everything is going to hell around the player and there is basically nothing they can do about it, the greater level of control and interactivity creates the feeling that the player is just in a helpless situation, but still has control over their own actions. On the other hand, while The Dark Eye’s very straight forward nature does produce a sense of helplessness and horror over the events unfolding, the limited player control and choices create a gameplay experience that can feel frustrating at times, in that the game simply won’t let you do much else about it. This greatly affects the replay value of the game as well, since the problem only becomes more apparent the more times you play through the game, desperately seeking some explanation for things or a way to change even the most minor events, only to find that the game…..just won’t let you do anything else.
Ultimately, the linearity of The Dark Eye’s progression is probably its biggest fault, but what also needs to be mentioned is some disjointed storytelling, leading to a story that, while interesting and frightening, doesn’t really connect its various pieces well at times, or quite manage to come full circle the way it should.
As mentioned, The Dark Eye’s story is comprised of a number of different tales of Edgar Alan Poe woven together. The main “hub” of the game is their Uncle Edwin’s house, which is where the core of the story ultimately unfolds; the bulk of the game, however, takes place in a bizarre alternate-reality of Edwin’s home and, subsequently, the “nightmare” sequences (based on various Poe tales) in which the player enters the role of murderers and their victims through interaction with different objects in the “alternate” Edwin’s home. While the script, dialogue, writing and acting are all excellent in every individual part of the game, it’s the way that these individual pieces fit together that doesn’t always quite add up.
The "nightmare" sequences are brilliantly executed on their own, but don't always tie into the main story strongly.
For example, one “nightmare” sequence is the story “Berenice.” While there is a surprising amount of depth and thought put into the telling of that individual story, and it is equally well-written and frightening when the player experiences it both from the murderer’s perspective and the victim’s, in the end, it never really ties back to the main story outside of that particular “nightmare” very much. The same could be said of all of these nightmare sequences, as well as the other poems and stories the player witnesses during the game. Another good example of this is “The Masque of the Red Death.” When the main character finds a massive, macabre painting in the basement of their Uncle’s house, it leads to a narration, told alongside frames of the painting itself, of “The Masque of the Red Death.” On its own, this particular part of the game is brilliant; the narration by William S. Burroughs is riveting, the musical score in the background suspenseful, and the visuals abstract and disturbing. It is so well done that I remember looking forward to this part upon replays of the game, even though it is essentially 10 minutes of extended narration told alongside still pictures with no player interaction; it really is well-done and fascinating. However, I also remember, after being so riveted by the tale and intrigued by this disturbing discovery in the house’s cellar, that I simply couldn’t wait, upon my first playthrough, to see how it would tie together with the story…….and it never did. While I do understand that The Dark Eye is a game that consists of what is essentially a collection of tales, the fact that they are told together, as extensions of one tale, and not separately, would, logically, leads you to believe, and leave you waiting and hoping for, it all to add up in some way; and yet in the end, despite some common themes loosely connecting the nightmares to the tragedy unfolding at the Uncle’s house and the main character’s lose of sanity, nothing ever really connects or adds up to one whole quite the way it should. Instead, in the end, leaving the tale the game tells, as a whole, feeling somewhat unfinished or disjointed, with a few too many loose ends.
Aside from these issues, there is very little else to complain about. One minor complaint is that, at times, it can be confusing what to do next; and considering the aforementioned linearity of the game, the action that must be performed next to progress the game can sometimes be very specific and tough to figure out. Also a concern is the game’s somewhat short length and, as a result of this combined with its linearity, lack of replay value; the game will probably take between 5 and 8 hours on the first playthrough, and there is, sadly, little motivation to replay it after.
With these issues addressed and out of the way, however, it must be said that The Dark Eye is an incredibly unique experience that has far more positives and good reasons to play it, and which ultimately overcome these flaws, making it an interesting and inspired journey well worth taking…..
The Dark Eye is a psychological and often cerebral horror experience.
Why it’s Worth a Second Look:
Despite its linearity and some concerns over disjointed storytelling, The Dark Eye really is an incredibly unique game, absolutely worth the time of anybody interested in the experimental or artistic side of gaming, or any horror junkie who wants a truly cerebral and surreal experience in horror gaming.
Undoubtedly, one of, if not the, greatest triumphs of The Dark Eye is in its incredibly inspired and original visuals and sound. I had never before played a game that looked quite like The Dark Eye and still, to this day, have not seen another like it. The Dark Eye is immediately striking visually and aurally. Even the menus and title screen are brilliantly designed and oozing with an abstract, eerie style. Before even beginning the game, you are already drawn into its macabre world through the dark title screen, with a light slowly searching across what appears to be cracked glass in total blackness, catching glimpses of the shadowy words, “THE DARK EYE” amongst the blackness, while a foreboding cello drones eerily in the foreground of the title music. The presentation does not let up afterwards, either. As you are brought to a main menu with the appearance of a browned, aged piece of paper, and create or select your file under the file select menu’s heading “This phrenologial study has been prepared for,” a now almost dreamlike melody plays in the background. After creating your file , you are brought to an abstract illustration of a human head, with various portions of the mind outlined but not filled in (which will subsequently be filled in as you progress through the game). As the game begins, you are introduced to the main character through a blank-faced reflection of what would be his face in the water. Through the game’s uniformly excellent voice acting, the main character introduces himself to you, telling you that “for the tale I am about to tell, I neither expect nor ask for belief” and yet that “I do not lie; and I surely do not dream.” With an ethereal , dreamlike melody playing in the background of his introduction, the game immediately sweeps you into its world, while simultaneously lending an early sense of subtle dread to player as to just what strange or awful events will soon unfold.
The ethereal and surreal opening sequence immediately draws you into The Dark Eye's strange world.
The game never lets up visually or aurally from this point on. The sights and sounds of The Dark Eye are so consistently brilliant, well-conceived and unsettling that it makes for an experience that just as often sweeps the player off their feet, in awe of the inspired vision of the game, as it does keep the player on edge, uneasy and filled with a sense of dread and fear that never subsides. Indeed, its intricate and abstract visual style is both impressive in its creativity, and works wonderfully for the game itself, a perfect fit to its story, setting and mood, lending to it a heightened sense of the surreal, bizarre and nightmarish. The Dark Eye is a sheer masterpiece of mood and style, in large part due to its incredibly creative and well-done visuals and sound.
The Dark Eye is remarkably stylish and visually inspired throughout. Even the Main Menu is creative and clever.
The character designs and animation are likely to be the first, and most striking, visual element one will notice upon their first experience with The Dark Eye. As I mentioned earlier, The Dark Eye’s characters were designed as claymation puppets dressed in clothing, animated through stop-motion, and added into the game’s 3D prerendered environments through a painstakingly intricate process involving lightning and shoot the puppets carefully in a dark warehouse. The process itself is worthy of praise, and the fact that it was pulled off so flawlessly is truly admirable, too. However, the very designs of the characters are what really make their appearance so striking and unique. Characters have a decidedly “caricatured” look to them, with grotesquely exaggerated features; but what is so great about them is not just that they look so initially bizarre and exaggerated, but also how perfectly they suit the game. Not only are the character designs rich in creativity and warped imagination, they also fit the game’s eerily dreamlike, bizarre atmosphere so perfectly that they never once feel out of place, and honestly don’t even feel outwardly jarring once you are absorbed in the game; they simply fit the game like a glove, and, in addition, do so much to subtly enhance its trippy, warped style and mood. Without a doubt the character designs and visuals are one of The Dark Eye’s most striking visual attributes, and a true achievement in graphical design and creativity.
The character designs are bizarre and absolutely brilliant.
The Dark Eye’s visual brilliance does not stop there how, and the game as a whole truly is a sight to see, which still holds up remarkably well to this day. This is achieved largely in part because of the remarkable care put into its graphical presentation, and the wide array of unconventional techniques used to achieve its distinct style. While backgrounds and settings are mostly prerendered 3D environments (which are every bit as stylistic and well-designed as the rest of the visuals), The Dark Eye implements a broad spectrum of other techniques to creatively enhance the visuals, and produce a look completely its own. Among them are paintings, photo montages, illustrations, and models, all produced with a chilling style and painstaking attention to detail. Put all of this together, along with the aforementioned character designs and excellent lighting, colors and shadows, add a flawlessly realized 19th century setting combined with an eerie, often downright disturbing, style, and you have a game that is not only one of the most visually unique and creative you’re likely to experience, but also one that stands the test of time, even after more than 15 years.
Just as important and impressive is The Dark Eye’s excellent soundwork. Much like the visuals, the sound of The Dark Eye is nearly flawless across the board, and does just as masterful a job of creating a frightening and distinctive atmosphere. It is hard, truly, to pick one aspect of The Dark Eye’s sound which truly excels above the rest, because it is all so well done. Voice acting, and the excellent dialogue (as well as monologue and narration) is one of the greatest highlights. A talented voice cast combine with effective, well-written dialogue to not only create some of the better voice work of the mid-90’s, but also do wonders towards enhancing the mood and tone of the game. Voices are well-suited to the individual characters, and the actors themselves all show great talent in conveying emotional, subtly nuanced voice performances. The well-written and excellently acted dialogue does a great job of helping to create an engaging, interesting and believable cast of characters. The narrations and monologues performed by William S. Burroughs deserve a special mention, as well, with his unique drawl of a voice working wonders to create some inimitably haunting storytelling.
Music and sound are just as expertly crafted, as well, with both working together to dramatically heighten the ethereal, frightening and surreal atmosphere. Music ranges from deep, foreboding orchestral compositions to strangely dreamlike and ethereal pieces, as well as classical pieces. There is a wide range of sounds and tones to the game’s musical score, and it all works perfectly in harmony to heighten the mood and tension of the game. But just as important, and often working very closely and even intermingling with the music, is the phenomenal soundwork. From the eerie whispers permeating throughout the alternate reality/dream-state of Uncle Edwin’s home, to the simple soundwork of footsteps and creaking floor boards or just natural sounds like that of a crowd or the background of a quiet night, The Dark Eye nails its soundwork on all fronts. Without a doubt, the aural experience of The Dark Eye is brilliant, and works expertly alongside its equally brilliant visuals to create a frightening, twisted mood and style.
The visuals and sound of The Dark Eye are truly two elements I could go on and on about. Needless to say at this point, they are brilliantly imaginative and extremely well crafted, and are probably, on their own, worth experiencing the game for. But The Dark Eye has many other great strengths which cement it as a memorable and remarkably unique experience.
Playing the role of the murderer in the game's "nightmares" is truly disturbing.
The Dark Eye is partially such an effective experience BECAUSE it is a video game; the importance of interactivity in it cannot be overstated, and is proof of what a great strength interactivity lends to this medium. While the progression is rather linear, and the gameplay itself honestly pretty simply (in many ways, a point-and-click adventure at its most basic), The Dark Eye is still an experience that works so well because it is interactive, and truly is an experience that would not work (or would be a completely different experience) in any other medium. Being able to move about of your own accord and simply controlling the game is an essential part of what makes everything so effective. This is best shown in the core concept of the game; experiencing nightmarish murders and loss of sanity through the eyes of killers and their victims. The very fact that The Dark Eye puts you, the player, in the role of a main character who is questionably losing his own sanity makes for a disturbing and nightmarish enough concept; but even more fiendish in its design is when it forces you, as the main character, helplessly into the role of murderer and then, subsequently, victim, and forces you to experience their insanity and horror from their own, first-person perspective. What’s best is how effectively it works; not only does it create a real sensation of despair and horror when forcing you to play the victim, but, perhaps even more disturbingly, it creates an effective understanding and bond with the player when putting them in the role of the murderer. Not only does it do such a great job of frightening us by placing us in the role of the killer; it even manages to create a feeling of understanding and, even, sympathy for them, as it forces us into their minds, hearing their thoughts and experiencing their own loss of sanity and empathy. The Dark Eye doesn’t simply cut to the chase, you see; it has you control and linger in the minds of the murderers and their victims for a solid stretch of time before witnessing the murder itself. And this, in turn, creates not only an effective sense of dread, but also a twisted understanding of even its most reprehensible characters and the acts they perform. This ties back to how important interactivity is to The Dark Eye; its gameplay may be linear and not terribly complex, but it is so important in the simple fact that The Dark Eye works so well, and is so effective and frightening because it is a video game; because it is interactive.
And being put in the role of the victim can be absolutely terrifying.
Likewise, although The Dark Eye suffers from some ultimately disjointed story elements, that I wished had added up a bit more by the end, it is still, simultaneously, a very well-scripted and extremely interesting experience throughout, with very few lulls and many memorable moments. The game keeps things taught and exciting throughout, and as you drift back and forth between reality and alternate reality, murderer and victim, and dream and waking life, there are always interesting, and increasingly disturbing, events, and suspense which never lets up. Though to describe too much would be to spoil some of the shock and intrigue, it must be said that The Dark Eye is a game with moments that have stuck clearly in my memory for what is now well over 15 years since I first played it, and the density of these frightening, disturbing and exciting moments throughout is amazing; and, needless to say, any fan of Poe’s works will almost certainly find themselves enthralled with the wonderfully twisted and frightening adaptations of his work witnessed throughout the game. While, sadly, some different tales don’t ultimately tie into the main story as well as they could have, they are still excellent adaptations of his works to an interactive format, and, when put in the context of the overarching story of the game, which is filled with a genuinely intriguing and sympathetic cast, make for an incredibly intriguing experience throughout, with, honestly, few parts which are NOT excellent or memorable. The Dark Eye is absolutely an engrossing experience that will not soon be forgotten by any who play it, and is, as well, an excellent example of the psychological horror genre done very well in video games; as well as a prime example of how effective horror can be when told through an interactive medium.
While some elements of the story are a bit disjointed, it is still thoroughly intriguing, and filled with fascinating characters, throughout.
The Dark Eye is a truly memorable gaming experience, and a prime example of video games as an art form. Not only that, but it is also a game, in some ways, far ahead of its time, which holds up and has aged remarkably well. While the game is a bit too linear, and the various story arcs don’t quite come together or tie up all their loose ends as well as one might hope, these faults still do little to drag the game down as a whole; and ultimately, The Dark Eye is an incredibly imaginative, inspired example of video games as an artistic form of entertainment, from a time well before the notion of video games as a legitimate art form was the hot button topic it has become today. From its incredibly creative and varied graphical style and techniques, to its remarkable soundwork, to the superb atmosphere it all comes together to create, The Dark Eye is a real achievement of creative design work. Not only that, but it a prime example of how video games can excel as a storytelling medium because of the intimacy of the interactive experience. While The Dark Eye is a sadly overlooked and forgotten relic of mid-90’s PC gaming, it is also one which begs to be picked up and experienced by any who love horror, or take real interest in video games as a creative, artistic medium. For those who do, a lost horror-adventure classic, and a remarkably original and surreal experience, awaits.
The Dark Eye has been tragically overlooked, but any fan of horror or true, artistic creativity in video games owes it to themselves to experience this lost would-be classic.
Who Should Play It?
Horror fans, especially fans of psychological horror, and gamers with a lost-love of 90’s point-and-click adventures. Any gamer with an interest in the more artistic and experimental side of gaming. Those who love an original style, or heavy, dark or surreal atmosphere. Those looking for a good example of “video games as art.”
Greetings, all, this is The Gameslinger, returning once again from the wastelands, to the small town of Destructoid.
This post is just a brief announcement post, to inform the Destructoid community and any who care that I will be returning from my 2-month absence from the C-Blogs, with new articles for my "Games Obscura" blog! I never meant to go absent, with such a large gap since my last article, but the last few months proved rather hectic and busy, and things are just settling back down again; which means more time to concentrate on Games Obscura. I'll be getting back on schedule, with more regular updates to my blog, more in-depth "Second Look At" and "Look Forward" articles, and in general more time on my blog and around the community.
So, for those who take interest, just know that I'll be around, on a regular basis, once more. Expect regular updates and new articles in the future, and keep an eye out for my newest article within the next few days. For fans of the overlooked, under-appreciated, strange and obscure side of gaming, hopefully I'll give you something to enjoy and look forward to again. It's good to be back, and I hope to see you all here at Games Obscura, and around Destructoid. See you soon.....
Platforms: Xbox 360 (possibly cancelled), Playstation 3, PC (?)
Target Release Date: To be announced/none
Status: Development stalled; currently without publisher
Title image for The City of Metronome.
What Is This Game?
The City of Metronome is a 3D adventure game with some platforming elements. The game employs a cartoonish yet dark look not unlike the animated films of Tim Burton, and features a setting and style with a somewhat Victorian-steampunk feel to it. Set in a sprawling, gloomy city named Metronome, the game casts the player as a boy carrying a “sound box” capable of recording sounds throughout the game, and playing them back for use as weapons, communication with citizens, or tools for solving different puzzles and interacting with the environment. With an emphasis on exploration and its large, sprawling city as the game’s star, it tells the tale of a city in the grips of an oppressive corporation, which governs, rules and essentially brainwashes its citizens into becoming diligent, unquestioning workers. As the young hero, the player is tasked with exploring the city and uncovering its secrets, while simultaneously fighting to bring down the Corporation and unveil its dark intentions.
The game's young hero looks out at the massive city of Metronome.
The City of Metronome was first announced near the beginning of the current console generation, in early April of 2005, under the title of “Metronome.” In development by new-found Swedish developer Team Tarsier (now known as Tarsier Studios), the announcement, alongside a handful of images and a teaser trailer, stated that Metronome would be revealed at the upcoming E3 2005.
Tarsier itself was a new and largely unheard of studio. Founded in Malmo, Sweden in 2004 under the name “Team Tarsier,” the studio was small, independently owned, and had no prior releases under its belt at the time. In fact, as Tarsier studio director Peter Lubeck states, the studio was, indeed, founded with the very purpose of it being to create Metronome. Team Tarsier was, at the time, little more than a group of only seven students with a passion for video games, and Metronome was a dream they all shared and a game they hoped to create. Co-founded by Peter Lubeck and his friend Andreas Johnsson, Metronome stemed from a year of brainstorming and a shared love for steampunk settings, and by December of 2004, the team began initial work on the project. Among the project’s inspirations and influences were not just the steampunk genre, but also the anime films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, as well as the 1995 French film, “The City of Lost Children.” By January 2005, they were looking at E3 2005 as their chance to reveal their game and put it under the spotlight for gamers and potential publishers to see.
When E3 rolled around, Team Tarsier did not disappoint, pointing out the game’s full title, “The City of Metronome,” and showing off 11 minutes of gameplay footage which gained a respectable amount of attention from the press and curious gamers, all of whom seemed to find the project unique, creative, and highly intriguing. With an impressive visual style, an intriguing world and original gameplay concepts, The City of Metronome met with decidedly positive reactions from nearly everyone who saw it. With the positive reactions and imaginative idea behind the game, surely publishers would be looking to scoop up this interesting project from the fledgling studio…….however, the unique and charming style, gameplay and personality which grabbed The City of Metronome such positive reactions would also prove to be its Achilles’ Heel; the game's artistic and creative approach, combined with publishers’ phobia of working on such a project with a new, untested studio, put The City of Metronome, and Tarsier, in a sadly unfavorable position. Lubeck compares the project and its situation to “Beyond Good and Evil;” another “game that was very much loved and well received but didn't sell very well.” Adding that “that's something publishers tended to see when they looked at Metronome. It's a game that's cool, interesting and unique. It has a lot of soul and charm, but is it a game that could be turned into a commercial product?" This unfortunate stumbling block would prove to be the team’s greatest obstacle in coming years.
Likewise troublesome for the team was how to implement the sound-based gameplay in a manner both thorough and original, while being careful not to let it become a mere gimmick. Lubeck points out that many questions and variables in the sound mechanics' relation to the gameplay have arisen throughout development. Straddling the line between keeping the sound mechanics open-ended, yet not letting them become too confusing (i.e. letting the player record everything vs. only select things, or the uses of a particular sound), proved a topic of debate amongst the team and a tough obstacle to tackle. Implementing it into puzzles and combat was also a challenging concept, as the team worked to ensure that it was both functional and, yet, never a gimmick or simply a “skin” put on top of normal gameplay mechanics.
Amidst the development, potential publishers for The City of Metronome were still hard to find. After E3 2005, the game disappeared for a while, and while more concept art and a few more screenshots surfaced in early 2006, the game gradually sank into obscurity, as its lack of a publisher slowed development and media attention. The game was occasionally brought up in the next few years, but only in the form of occasional “what ever happened to that game?” articles and mentions on various video game websites. There was still interest, but with no new information or material, there was only so much to be said.
Concept art revealed some interesting designs and characters.
Just when the title was thought cancelled, and Team Tarsier all but forgotten, they suddenly came back into the limelight in 2010, after signing a publishing deal with Sony, and renaming themselves “Tarsier Studios.” Having worked on a long list of DLC for Little Big Planet and its sequel, Sony signed them on for a “new, unannounced project.” Many speculated that this project was, indeed, a Sony-exclusive release of The City of Metronome. While Tarsier had been approached a couple of times by developers interested in the game over the past few years, including Microsoft (who was interested in adapting it to Kinect) and a French publisher looking to convert the title into a point-and-click adventure, they had turned down the projects, not interested in compromising the original vision of the game; perhaps Sony were, at last, the publisher they had been waiting for. The game had been claimed and speculated to be in development for Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3 in the past, but with no concrete information on an official platform for it, the game becoming a Sony exclusive wasn’t hard to believe.
With no official word on what that project was, however, many have since assumed it was, in fact, the new Little Big Planet title for the PS Vita; which Tarsier Studios has been handed developmental control of by Sony and original Little Big Planet developer, Media Molecule. Regardless, their recent involvement with Sony has put the studio back in the limelight, and finally scored it a number of projects and releases, in addition to some awards. In addition to over 300 DLC costumes for the Little Big Planet games and the development of Little Big Planet Vita, Tarsier also released “Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic” in 2009 as a PSN downloadable title, and worked on a tech demo for the PhysX engine called “Desert Diner” (essentially a one-level first person shooter demonstrating the engine’s capabilities). Likewise, Tarsier Studios won “Studio of the Year” from the Swedish Games Industry, and won the Dagens Industri’s Gazelle Award for its rapid growth over the past few years. With its number of employees having since increased from its original seven up to forty, the studio is definitely on the rise, and has the eye of the industry upon it.
So where is The City of Metronome in all this? There is still no official word on the title, but with the studio’s growth and recent success with Sony, it has raised hope for this title, which was once thought lost. Tarsier Studios has certainly not lost its passion for the title, nor has it given up on the idea of it seeing a release. On their official website, Tarsier Studios still has The City of Metronome listed right alongside its other projects, with its profile page reading that although “Lady Publisher is a fickle mistress,” “One day though, the time will come when The City finally meets the rest of the world.” Peter Lubeck remains positive about the title as well, especially in light of their strong, growing relationship with industry giant, Sony, and Tarsier’s recently more fleshed-out resume. In a recent interview with Kotaku, Labeck said that "If we were to do Metronome as that big triple-A adventure I see no better publisher to do that than Sony. It's very good that we have that relationship with them, and going forwards that's the best partner from a publisher's perspective on that kind of ambitious, quirky, unique game. They have an open mind when it comes to investing and betting on something that sticks out, that's special." He went on to add that “we are looking at all these different new approaches like Steam, that has grown enormously on PC, XBLA and PSN, which have really shown the power of small games and with funding options like Kickstarter and Double Fine's success… that's also something that we're looking into."
While The City of Metronome remains in limbo for now, let’s hope Labeck and Trasier Studio’s passion for the title perseveres and that the game does eventually get a publisher and see a release. Because Tarsier has a very interesting game on their hands…….
Tarsier disappeared for a few years after Metronome failed to find a publisher, but resurfaced and has met with success since signing a contract with Sony. Tarsier has since worked on DLC for the Little Big Planet games on PS3, and is currently developing Little Big Planet Vita.
What’s It All About?
The City of Metronome is a 3D adventure title featuring a large, interconnected world for the player to explore and interact with. With its Tim Burton-esque, Victorian-area steampunk-style, and the uniquely dark-yet-cartoonish look to its characters and setting, The City of Metronome is instantly striking and fascinating from a stylistic standpoint. Add to that the fascinatingly unique implementation of sound into the gameplay, and you’ve got an extremely unique idea, which would be a true shame to have never come to fruition.
The City of Metronome's visual design is extremely stylish and atmospheric.
In fact, the team has said the game’s style and mood, and its setting, the city of Metronome itself, are the most important thing about the game and its concept; perhaps even more so than its sound-centric gameplay, which they admit has seen much debate amongst the team and changes throughout the years since the project’s start. And indeed, it was the game’s incredibly striking mood and style which gained my personal interest back when I first learned of the title. After acquiring an Xbox 360 and officially entering the “next generation” of consoles myself in mid-2006, I was enthralled by the potential this new generation was showing; and while I was as wrapped up in Gears of War and Mass Effect as the next person, I also was scouring the far corners of the internet for information on all the other, lesser-known titles that would be hitting my shiny new console, as well. I came across Metronome while digging through Gametrailers and was immediately grabbed by the fascinating style displayed in its trailers; and was sold by the 11-minute E3 gameplay video. This was going to be something very special; you could practically feel the passion of its developers bursting through in every minute of video. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Metronome became one of the most purely intriguing titles to me early on in the generation. I simply couldn’t wait to explore this amazingly stylish, dark and unique world which the videos and screenshots were presenting.
The city is the game's real star, and exploring it may be the game's most intriguing aspect.
With great mood, atmosphere and style, alongside the team’s focus on creating an immersive and lively setting out of the city, it’s easy to see how Metronome’s world could be absolutely fascinating to discover and explore. Likewise, the story wrapped around the setting seems like not only an interesting tool to drive the exploration of the city and convey the style and mood, but also like a story that could easily make for an interesting allegorical tale about society, government, and the working class. As mentioned earlier, the story of The City of Metronome casts the player as a young hero living in the vast, gloomy city of Metronome. Metronome is ruled by the all-powerful “Corporation;” a governing organization as sinister and mysterious and it is powerful. The seemingly all-seeing Corporation has a certain hold over the citizens of Metronome; the course of their lives are, by and large, are determined by the Corporation, and all of Metronome’s citizens are continuously compelled to work, without so much as a thought of questioning why. With the general populous controlled and almost brainwashed, the young hero, who possesses a sound box which can record and play back sounds to be used for different actions and effects, sets out to solve the mysteries or the city and uncover the dark secrets of the Corporation.
The citizens of Metronome are an interesting bunch. There are definitely some creative character designs.
It doesn’t take much to see how the story could serve as a metaphorical tale, which could be equated to a government’s relationship to its society, and the working class people within it, going about their work-a-day lives, unquestioning and almost oblivious to the greater workings and mechanisms which silently affect them and determine their destinies. While not many details on the story have been revealed, it is an intriguing concept, and one with great potential to tell a smart and potentially thought-provoking tale. As a gamer who values story, setting and characters in video games, and sees them as driving forces behind my personal desire to play and complete a game, a story with such potentially interesting ideas behind it is very intriguing, especially when coupled with such a strong style and atmosphere, and such an interesting setting to explore.
Much can and has been said of The City of Metronome’s style and atmosphere, and the exploration of its city and uncovering of its many secrets is so intriguing because of that focus on style and atmosphere to create an engaging and unique world. What has been shown of environments, in-door and out, and the city itself, looks like a place you’d want to explore. In-door environments are filled with eerie lighting, dingy hallways, and shadowy figures hidden behind doors begging to be opened and rooms waiting to be explored. Outdoor environments look gloomy and stylish, with exaggerated architecture that has a particularly 19th-century feel to it, and environments that look to be expansive both horizontally and vertically; the concept of navigating its many walkways, streets, alleys and rooftops is absolutely fascinating. Meanwhile, the strange citizens and enemies roaming the city have a decidedly bizarre yet cartoonish look, and interacting with them looks to be both intriguing and just a little bit eerie. Add to this the many interactions with characters, enemies and the world itself that have been shown and described, and you’ve got a world that looks incredibly unique and fascinating to explore, driven by a story and style which are original and fascinating.
Environments look great, and the game promises plenty to explore.
How Will It Play?
This all leads us to what the experience of playing The City of Metronome will be like; and it looks like one that would almost certainly be absorbing, very fresh, and very different.
With the aforementioned emphasis on the use the main character’s sound box backpack for interacting with the world, characters, enemies and puzzles of the game, and the developer’s dedication to making this use of sound more than just a gimmick, it seems this idea offers much to the gameplay in many facets. While the team is still ironing out the details on the sound-based gameplay mechanics, it’s safe to say it will play a large part in the game and offer plenty of gameplay variety, judging by both the 11-minute gameplay video and the ideas emphasized by its creators. The gameplay footage displays a number of uses for sound; including the use of music to defeat enemies in a non-violent form of combat, and to lull a sleeping guard at a gateway into opening the gate for you. The creators also emphasized other ways to use sounds you’ve captured; including adjusting the pitch and tone of the sound for different effects; recording the barking of a dog, for example, and then lowering its pitch to a deeper growl to scare enemies or citizens. Another example given was recording the sound of a door opening, then using it to force locked doors open. These examples give a good idea of the variety of uses and options presented by the main character’s sound box, and the many creative ways it would naturally implement itself into the gameplay; as everything from a non-violent solution to combat, to a tool for navigating the expanses of the city.
Using sound as a non-violent method of combating enemies is just one of the intriguing uses of sound throughout the game.
With this in mind, exploration is the other hugely intriguing aspect of gameplay in The City of Metronome, and, especially with the creative use of sound, exploring the city would undoubtedly be a vastly engaging experience, requiring thought and attention from the player. The use of different sounds to create different effects and open or explore different areas has a vast range of intriguing and thought-provoking possibilities to it. Not only do the aforementioned environments appear to be expansive, stylish and thoroughly intriguing to explore to begin with, the use of your sound box as a tool to explore them offers a range of possibilities to make exploring them and uncovering their mysteries all the more intriguing. The few examples we’ve seen and been told of serve as a small but intriguing tease of all the possibilities it could offer. And with the vast size of the environments vertically and horizontally, and a cast of citizens and objects to interact with, on top of indoor areas, the exploration possibilities Metronome offers seem incredibly intriguing. For an adventure game like this, exploration is always one of the most important aspects; an intriguing world with plenty to discover and plenty of interesting places to go is crucial, and keeping a steady but exciting pace is likewise important, and Metronome looks like it is set to provide that in spades.
Indoor environments look to offer just as much intrigue and mystery as outdoor ones.
The team seems to still be adding on ideas and experimenting with different possibilities for the game as well. One idea that stands out is the idea for episodic DLC that would put the focus on different characters in the city; and as such creating different gameplay aspects for the different characters, focusing on their own personalities. With unique gameplay mechanics centered around an incredibly stylish and potentially expansive world, Metronome has a lot of fun to offer fans of adventure games.
The City of Metronome was strikingly stylish and creative in its atmospheric visual design and gameplay concepts when it was first revealed. Even now, years later ,and nearing the end of the console generation, with only minimal information and material available on it, the game still stands out as what could have potentially been one of the most creative and original titles of the generation. Sadly, for now, though, the game remains caught in limbo, its fate in question. However, there is still hope for The City of Metronome; perhaps more so in the past couple of years than ever. With Tarsier Studios finally taking off, and developing a healthy relationship with Sony, the title may have a greater chance now than ever of finally getting an official publisher and, at last, being completed and released. The game certainly has all the potential to be a fan-favorite; with its innovative gameplay, fascinating world ripe for exploring, and highly distinct and artistic style, the game has all the makings of, at the very least, a cult classic. While The City of Metronome’s fate ultimately remains to be seen, hopefully its potential, and its developers raw passion for it, will win over the hearts of a publisher willing to invest in its creator’s vision; it could result in one of the most stylish, refreshingly unique and interesting titles of recent years.
The City of Metronome has seen some trouble finding a publisher, but its developers remain confident that this unique and stylish game will see a release eventually.
Who Should Keep An Eye On It?
Fans of 3D adventure games and those who love exploring large, interesting worlds. Those with a love for the stylish and artistic side of gaming; or fans of steampunk or Victorian era styles, and dark (but not necessarily frightening) settings. People just looking for something a bit different.