Welcome to the ninth installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement. It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash and getting a gem of a game at the same time.
The titles covered below can usually be found online or in any shop that has a selection of used or discount games (usually for $20.00 or less!) Please keep in mind that because the games in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, it's assumed that the graphics aren't bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating that takes this into account, and does not penalize them for visual shortcomings. Gameplay is what we're talking about here.
Happy hunting, and more importantly… Happy Gaming!
Special Feature: The Art Of The Deal
by Brad Gallaway
Over the course of writing the Bargain Basement, readers have asked from time to time how I find such great deals, or what secret methods I use to scrounge so many worthwhile games on the cheap. Well, the truth is that there isn't any secret, just a lot of legwork and persistence. While picking through a used bin every now and again might turn up a gem, it usually won't get you very far. A few changes in technique and little more effort can potentially yield much greater and more consistent results.
In an effort to encourage fellow Basement shoppers like myself, I've put together these tips to get you started in the right direction.
Where to look?
Naturally, your largest and most accessible source of used games are going to be specialty retailers like Electronics Boutique, GameStop, or smaller "mom & pop" type game stores. Don't stop there, though. Retail chains like Target or toy stores like KB sometimes have heavily discounted items from time to time, and you'll also want to stop by video rental places. Granted, the quality of things you'll get at a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video are likely going to less than something that's only had one home, but they're still options. One reader suggested trying stores that are not specifically geared towards games, like Half-Price Books. In that account they had related finding like-new games for unbelievably low prices where you really wouldn't expect them. Pawnshops are also great for this, too.
Cover lots of ground, and look frequently.
It's also important to cover your surrounding areas thoroughly. Within local driving distance I'm lucky enough to have nine dedicated game shops, all with their own sections of used titles. Going to one shop just isn't good enough. When I'm on the hunt for good bargains, I'll hit all nine of them at least once a week and pick the racks clean. "New" used games are being traded in on a daily basis, so a barren wasteland can become a fertile hunting ground at any time. By the way, if you're going to make a trip, be thorough and look at those generic cardboard sleeve games while you're at it. This is especially important if you're not too picky about packaging because when a game's case is lost or destroyed, it will often be put into McPackaging that lacks the telltale spine you might be looking for.
Don't give up!
If you still haven't found what you want after putting a thousand miles on your car and getting acquainted with every game shop employee in the tri-state area, just remember that good things do come to those who wait. And wait. And wait. It's all about perseverance, so rest assured that being a dedicated game hunter will bring rewards in due time. I've personally come across even the most sought-after games on multiple occasions, so I know that nothing's out of the question. Trust me… it'll all be worth it once you unearth a near-flawless copy of Einhander, Xenogears, or Snatcher hidden behind those forty-two beat-up copies of Fighting Force that haven't been touched in years.
Deception III: Dark Delusion
by Brad Gallaway
Tecmo's virtually unknown Deception series has a long and bloody history on the Sony PlayStation, though it's never garnered the reputation it deserves. I just don't get it. It seems to me that something featuring predatory mass murder, satanic sacrifice and gruesome fatalities would have been a bigger hit. If anything, I guess it disproves the theory that violence always sells.
Anyway, in spite of not doing well at retail, this is a highly offbeat series that's worth a look. Your main character (always female) must kill opponents invading a series of rooms and castles by any means necessary. With no direct offense at your disposal, the game's hook is the character's ability to set magical traps. Using yourself as bait and slipping out of their clutches at the last moment, unleashing nasty surprises on your would-be captors gets the job done in an entertaining (and messy) fashion.
Contrary to the first two installments, Deception III: Dark Delusion marks the first time that your character has clearly been on the side of good. "Good" is highly subjective, however. The tale told is an intricate one, with an unusually fat amount of cutscenes that reminded me of nothing so much as the film Dangerous Liaisons… except that they're not French and don't make nearly as much sense due to a very sketchy translation. I have to give Tecmo points for trying, though.
The gameplay is as rich as the story tries to be, but far easier to understand. A wealth of different traps is offered, broken up into three basic categories: Floor, Wall and Ceiling. There are also elements like cold or electricity that can be combined with the basic traps to increase damage or trigger special effects. Once you've created a few, you place them around rooms and lure opponents into them. Hilarity ensues. One thing about Deception III that keeps it from getting boring is that most of the areas you're in have environmental features you can take advantage of. For example, putting a huge boulder at the top of a flight of stairs guarantees that the enemy halfway up has nowhere to go but flat. You can also do lots of fun things like putting a spring-floor trap near a fireplace to make human S'mores, or use strategically hidden lightning rods to recreate Benjamin Franklin's famous kite/key experiment.
Adding replay value, there are several different endings to see based on choices in the game and you can also experiment with different trap creation formulas. If that isn't enough to satisfy, there's also a puzzle-based Expert mode for a real brain-busting challenge. Considering how cheaply Deception III: Dark Delusion can be obtained, gamers hungry for something a little outside the norm will get far more than their money's worth, proving that sometimes it's good to be bad.
Board Game Top Shop
by Erin Bell
Top Shop is very similar to Monopoly, except that the capitalist war is waged not over a neighborhood with houses and hotels, but a shopping mall with stores and restaurants. The 2-D "board" is laid out as a mall with rows of stores connected by an elevator, and four players (who can be various combinations of human and computer-controlled) stroll through the mall buying up storefronts and stocking them with items to sell.
Owning a lot of stores and keeping them well-stocked is the key to winning Top Shop, since whenever a player lands on a store that they don't own they are required to buy one of the store's items. If the player is rich, they have the option of buying out the entire store—items and storefront in all, which then becomes their property.
The board certainly gets colourful very quickly, with over forty different shops to open that sell everything from candy, comics, videos, cameras, pets, fruit, car parts, and jewelry. There's even a children's store with several conspicuous Game Boys in the window.
Compared to Monopoly, Top Shop goes by at a fairly languid pace. Games can take hours to complete, and victory is achieved not by bankrupting all other players (although it is possible to win this way as well) but by reaching a certain preset amount of money and assets. Because of the fact that Top Shop is not as cut-throat as Monopoly, games often become unpredictable wars of attrition where players are very closely matched. As well, a large part of one's success is random. Who lands where and gets to buy what is all determined by the roll of the dice, and unlike Monopoly, there no special occurrence board spaces or Chance and Community Chest cards to spice things up.
Personally, I thought the hyperactive anime-inspired graphics were one of the Top Shop's strong points, but at the same time they might turn some people off. Expect to see a lot of saucer-eyed teenagers, cats, and weird genderless things in the game. There is also a lot of pink and yellow.
While nothing to get climb-the-walls excited over, Top Shop is nevertheless a cute little game that can be charming and mundane in equal amounts. In other words, it's perfectly suited for its release in Agetec's A1 Games bargain series.
by Kyle Orland
I've looked for bargains in the PlayStation section of my local FuncoLand so many times that I've almost memorized the location of every game. So when I saw a bright yellow CD case marked Turnabout wrapped in shrink-wrap, I was a little surprised that anyone was still trying to make a go at releasing new games for the classic PlayStation, especially in the hard-to-sell puzzle genre. Not that I was complaining; I'd been itching for a good puzzle game.
Based solely on technical achievement, Turnabout could easily have been a Super Nintendo game, or even a Nintendo game. Heck, with its utter lack of complexity, Turnabout could even be a wooden tabletop game. The controls involve a total of two buttons, "turn left" and "turn right," which are used to maneuver differently colored balls into like-colored stationary bricks. The levels start out simply enough, but complex, maze-like courses and sliding blocks make even some early levels exercises in frustration. This is not one of those relaxing, easy-to-master puzzle games; this is only for gamers who enjoy a real brain-buster. I spent most of the latter half of the game randomly turning the board, desperately trying to find some avenue towards success (surprisingly, this random fumbling sometimes led me to a solution that I had no idea how I had achieved).
Turnabout is short on the flashy production values, but it covers all the basics perfectly with a clean interface, an intuitive edit mode, and a mercifully included "undo last move" command. The only thing missing is a two-player mode—I can only imagine how much fun it would be to race a friend to the end of some of these twisted levels. Many of my play sessions became multiplayer screamfests anyway, with roommates calling over my shoulder to "turn the thingy this way" and "put the ball past the thing and into the other thing." Who knew bargain puzzle games could breed such deep strategy?
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway