Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘2009’ Category

Crystal Defenders R1

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 25, 2012

Well, it’s been more than a year since I posted here–not because I’ve stopped writing, but because I’ve not yet managed to finish any posts to my satisfaction. I’ve been writing some fairly in-depth, multi-post reviews of several games, but since I didn’t want to publish any of the individual posts until they were all complete, in case revision was necessary. As a result, no posts for a year. Well, let’s change that.

I recently completed Crystal Defenders R1 for the Wii, a Final Fantasy-themed tower defense game by Square Enix, released 20 April 2009 in North America.

Crystal Defenders R1 is grid-based, and the enemies move along a fixed path, while your units are placed elsewhere on the screen. There are a variety of units available–soldiers, archers, black mages, and others–each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, soldiers are very strong, but have limited range and cannot attack air targets. Some enemies may be resistant or immune to physical or magical damage, so black mages or archers, respectively, may be needed to deal with them.

Each area in the game contains two stages, with the same map, but different waves of enemies. Each time a stage is played, though, the waves are the same, so it is possible to learn what enemies will come, then play a stage over, in order to use resources more efficiently, and maximize the score.

As is usual for a tower defense game, the units cost money to place, which money is earned by destroying enemies and surviving waves. Units can also be upgraded to do more damage or have greater range.

Early in the game, resources are quite tight, so it’s necessary to be as efficient as possible with unit placement and upgrades, in order to survive. Here, a criticism: it is more efficient to build a bunch of level 2 units, rather than upgrade the ones you have, so the winning strategy, early on, is to place a dozen or more level 2 soldiers and archers, and just let them take care of everything while the money rolls in. You can always upgrade a few or just place more with all the money you save by not upgrading units.

Worse, though, is that late in the game, the rogue becomes available. These allow you to gain extra money from destroying enemies, if they’re in range. Once rogues show up, the new best strategy becomes to spend as little on units as you can manage, until you’ve upgraded your rogue completely, then just kill everything immediately by upgrading things with the thousands of spare gil you’ll have. Resources become a non-issue, and all you really have to worry about is whether you’re placing the units efficiently in terms of space–not a big worry.

Basically, Crystal Defenders R1 is a very standard, and fairly easy, tower defense game. Getting a perfect on every stage may require more than one try (particularly the final stage, unlocked by getting perfects on each previous stage), but shouldn’t prove very challenging for anyone familiar with tower defense games. It’s fun, and you may get a few hours of play out of it, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the 800 Wii Points, considering how many excellent free tower defense games there are.

I’ve included the Japanese trailer for the game below–there is a trailer in English, too, but it’s not nearly as cool, and anyway the words aren’t terribly important.

Posted in 2009, Full Review, Good, Tower Defense, Wii | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Phage Wars 2

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 22, 2009

Phage Wars 2 by Armor Games is a fun little flash game, though not a terribly difficult one.


In Phage Wars 2, the player is a lab tech whose goal is to create the most powerful virus ever. This is accomplished by playing through the 32 stages (called ‘experiments’) and adding the gene proteins you discover to your virus in order to improve its strength, speed, defense, agility, and ability to reproduce.


Each of the 32 experiments contains a number of cells and enemy viruses. The player can choose to infect cells or attack cells which are already infected by an enemy virus in order to take them over. Once a cell is infected, the virus inside begins to reproduce, so the player can then attack other cells. The stage is won when no enemy viruses remain. A new gene protein is discovered after beating each stage for the first time.


Between experiments, the player has the opportunity to add the gene proteins to his virus. The proteins have varying effects, and can increase some statistics while decreasing others. Additionally, each protein takes up a certain amount of space in the virus’s genetic code, so the player must choose between them to create the strongest virus.


The controls are pretty simple: click and drag from a source cell to a destination cell to send your viruses to infect or attack. To send viruses from multiple cells to a single destination, just drag over all the desired source cells. The best strategy I found was to infect as many cells as possible as quickly as possible, and then to attack the enemy viruses once all the empty cells had been claimed. To support this, I improved the attack, defense, and reproductive ability of my virus, though I understand that improving speed and agility is also a valid strategy.

Here lies the problem with the game: it’s really much too easy. With a decent bonus to reproduction, the viruses will fill a cell quite quickly, and with a decent bonus to attack, it’s not hard to destroy any enemy virus given a mostly-full source cell. The game requires a little juggling to make sure you maintain control of your cells, but it’s not really hard to do, and by improving defense even that becomes very easy.

Phage Wars 2 has basically identical gameplay to its predecessor, with the exception of the ability to add proteins to improve your virus rather than simply choosing a virus at the beginning. The idea isn’t totally original to this series, either–the concept is basically just Risk, and the game’s particulars are rather reminiscent, to me, of the primordial soup subgame in The Time Warp of Dr. Brain.

The lack of difficulty and originality aren’t really so bad that they ruin the game; it still pretty fun. To be honest, I’m not sure I know any way to make the game more difficult without also making it frustrating or otherwise less fun. As for the originality–well, some ideas are reused because they work, and I’d say this is one of them. Give the game a shot if you’ve got the time to spare.

Gameplay: 7/10
The controls are nice, the mechanics are understandable, the concept is solid. It’s a little too easy, though, and the main skill required, I think, is clicking and dragging very quickly at the beginning.
Story: 2/5
The story’s just an excuse for the gameplay, so this only counts half. On the other hand, the story’s obviously just an excuse, so minus some points.
Graphics: 9/10
The graphics are polished and lovely. Minus a point since the foreground and background were sometimes hard to distinguish, and there was nothing that really impressed me.
Audio: 5/10
There’s nothing really wrong with the audio, but it didn’t stand out in any way. Some more interesting audio might have made my interest in the game last a bit longer.
Personal Slant: 6/10
I enjoyed the game, though I think the sequencing part was a little dull, and the lack of difficulty made it drag on a little by the end.
Total: 6.4/10
Phage Wars 2 is worth a play, though not a replay. In fact, I’d say that the moment you begin to become bored with it, you should abandon it–it’s just more of the same, and the ending isn’t worth plodding through the game if you’re not enjoying it. It only takes a few minutes to play through the first few levels, though, and those few minutes are worth it.

Posted in 2009, Decent, Flash, Freeware, Full Review, Strategy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on June 15, 2009

Alabaster by John Cater, Rob Dubbin, Eric Eve, Elizabeth Heller, Jayzee, Kazuki Mishima, Sarah Morayati, Mark Musante, Emily Short, Adam Thornton,  and Ziv Wities is an almost-entirely conversation-driven interactive fiction game based on the tale of Snow White.

According to the teaser on the game’s web site: “The Queen has told you to return with her heart in a box. Snow White has made you promise to make other arrangements. Now that you’re alone in the forest, it’s hard to know which of the two women to trust. The Queen is certainly a witch — but her stepdaughter may be something even more horrible…”
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 2009, Freeware, Full Review, Good, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Don’t Look Back

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 31, 2009

Don’t Look Back is a flash platform game, released 5 March 2009 by Terry Cavanagh. Mac and PC versions are also available.

Before I begin this review, I urge you to play the game. There are links there to the online and downloadable versions of the game. It only takes a few minutes, and much of the enjoyment will come from learning the story as it’s revealed. That warning given, I’ll not refrain from spoilers below.

The game opens with the player character standing at a grave. We are instructed that we may use the arrow keys to move, and, being the seasoned gamers that we are, we take that as an invitation to proceed to the right.

After a bit more instruction on the controls, we come to a cliff. There is no other option than to leap from the cliff, whatever the consequences may be. Fortunately, in typical platformer fashion, falling from a great height is no hindrance, and the game proceeds like any other platformer.

We eventually pick up a gun, and we have the usual jumps to make, spiders to kill, and falling spikes and other moving obstacles to dodge. Failure means that the screen is restarted, with no other consequence.

After a bit, though, we enter an area  that is dark–though the enemies can be seen, the walls and floors are hidden. This doesn’t make the puzzles that much harder, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere: walking through a dark, seemingly empty room, when sudden spiders start to drop from the sky just ahead of you; you try to run past only to be stopped by a hidden wall; now there’s no hope of dodging–they have you! And the screen restarts and you must try again.

The darkness doesn’t last forever, though, and the game continues. There are two bosses to face before we reach the deepest part of the cave, and they may be defeated in the usual way–dodge the attacks, exploit the weakness. Finally, after all this, we can see what was our goal in entering this place.

Here floats the ghost of a girl–undoubtedly, the ghost of the girl whose grave we stood before at the beginning of our quest. But the game does not end here; we must now escape the cave with the spirit following.

There remains one caveat, though: you must not look back. Should you turn to face the spirit of the girl, she will fade away like so much mist. And here it becomes clear what the title means, and just what story is being told. This is a close retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and our hero has journeyed into the underworld to retrieve the spirit of his beloved.

So, we make our way back out. The puzzles are different (since we take a different route), and are tailored to our new weakness (the inability to turn back). I found the above screen particularly heart-breaking, since I missed the jump for the ropes more than once, and had no choice but to turn back, consigning the spirit to her fate. Granted, the screen restarts, but being forced by my ineptitude to deliberately entrap the spirit in the underworld was a cruel punishment indeed for my failure.

Now, having faced all the trials both on the way into the cave and back out, and having resisted the temptation to look back on the face of our beloved, we reach familiar territory. For better or worse, the endgame is near, and we will see what reward we shall reap for our efforts.

Finally, we return to find… our hero, still standing before the grave. Moments later, both the spirit and the player character vanish, carried away by the winds, and the title screen returns. All this effort, everything was only imagined by the mourning hero–wishing that he could indeed journey to the underworld to save his beloved, though ultimately no more able than Orpheus to carry this out.

The revelation, without words, of this story–the hero’s motivation and intent, and the eventual resolution of the story–is very well done. As a platform game, Don’t Look Back is only average, but as a piece of storytelling it is really excellent. Everyone should absolutely spend the few minutes necessary to complete this game. The post on the author’s blog has links to each (identical) version of the game, so go there now and play it.

Gameplay: 6/10
The puzzles aren’t hard, but they’re well designed, and the controls are pretty good.
Graphics: 8/10
The simplicity of the pixellated graphics is all part of the charm, and the monochrome red color scheme sets the mood nicely. The only complaint I have is that it wasn’t clear until after I retrieved the spirit and realized this was the tale of Orpheus that the dog was Cerberus, or that the final boss was Hades–the sprites weren’t identifiable. Of course, there’s only so much you can do with that resolution, and it was all made clear eventually, so only two point off.
Sound: 9/10
The music fits the game very well, and the sound effects are similarly well done. Cerberus’s growling was really frightening, and the sort of gasp/sigh when you look back and the spirit is swept away is very nice, too.
Story: 9/10
The story is very simple, and a classic. The revelation of the plot is very well done, and the ending, too, is good.
Personal Slant: 9/10
Total: 8.2/10
The platforming aspect could have done with better and more challenging puzzles, but the storytelling was right on. I had fun with the puzzles and the desire to see how it would all end kept me going, full of anticipation. Don’t Look Back is short, and well worth the time it takes to play.

Posted in 2009, Flash, Freeware, Full Review, Good, Mac, Platformer, Windows | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »