Welcome to the fifth 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. In order to help you uncover some previously played diamonds (and to avoid lumps of worthless zirconium) this feature is aimed at giving you a heads up on some titles you may have missed while on the New Release racks.
The titles covered below can all be purchased nearly anywhere that has a selection of used games—usually for $20 or less in stores or on the web. In my experience, they are easily located by digging deep in picked-over sale racks, or by searching online auction houses. Please keep in mind that since the games recommended in this feature are older and not on the latest hardware, it’s assumed that the graphics aren’t going to be bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating that takes that into account, and does not penalize them by comparing them to today’s standards. Gameplay is what we’re talking about here. Happy hunting, and more importantly… Happy Gaming!
Developer: Mitchell Corporation
I’d like to start things off this month with a little-known puzzle game called Ballistic. It’s a simple affair that takes about three seconds to learn. There’s really not a lot to it, but this simplicity nicely fuels the addicting quality common to classics in the genre, and for that alone it deserves a bit more spotlight than it’s earned so far.
The premise of Ballistic is that the game takes place on a field made up of a loop or a pair of spirals. Colored balls travel down these tracks from the outside towards the middle, and your goal is to prevent the balls on the track from reaching the end of the line. This is done by manning a ball-launching cannon at the center of the track. The oncoming spheres are eliminated by hitting them with balls of similar color. If you can make a shot creating a chain of three or more like-colored balls, the entire chain disappears. Add in a little bit of quick thinking to your strategic shooting and it’s possible to trigger large multi-stage combos that can mean the difference between success and failure.
It may sound pretty simple, but once those balls start coming down the track the pressure mounts surprisingly quickly. This kind of tension in a puzzler is both rare and valuable, and I guarantee the game is a lot harder than it sounds once past the first few levels. In my opinion, the best puzzle games are simple to pick up, but hard to put down. With fast action and constant pressure from the ever-advancing rainbow-hued onslaught, that definition fits Ballistic like a glove.
Next up this month is D2, the extremely odd adventure/suspense sequel to D, quite an eccentric game in its own right. The titles are completely unrelated to each other in terms of plot and setting, but what they do share are heavy doses of mood and atmosphere in addition to the same (mostly) silent female protagonist.
The gist of D2 is that you’re on an airliner that crashes into a deserted, snow-covered wasteland. Possibly Canada. After staggering from the wreckage, you quickly discover that there’s some weird stuff going on because the other passengers start turning into green, ookie creatures with tentacles. (One notorious scene even had to be censored in the USA.) Once you locate a small cabin and buddy up with another normal-looking survivor, the two of you have to come up with a way to solve the mystery of the plane crash and escape back to civilization.
The disc is unique in that the gameplay is quite boring, but because of the tremendous moody quality, it remains gripping. Warp did a tremendous job of portraying a stark bleakness and despair through the wintry setting. By guiding a lone girl through deep snow a thousand miles from anywhere, significant emotional investment in both the game and her struggle for survival is created. The limited sound palette is just as powerful by being mostly silent and understated, often composed of no more than the crunch of snow, or your rifle’s report when hunting for food (no random items here… you have to hunt your dinner). Playing through D2 strongly reminded me of Fargo and The Shining with its sense of evil things lurking just under the surface of calm, frozen tranquility. Rather than being a scene of peace, the landscape takes on the aspect of a huge, open tomb.
For those of you who may be exasperated by my comparison to film, don’t be offended. Kenji Eno, the lead man behind Warp, is known for his cinematic leanings and his rigid storytelling structure. In fact, I’m bending the rules of the Basement a bit by including D2 since the gameplay is pretty drab. It’s the type of adventure where you travel from location to location triggering events, and if you go in the wrong order or miss a key item, you’re stuck. The controls really aren’t that great, and the lipsynching is atrociously distracting to boot. Still, despite the stringently linear quest and adherence to some really uninspired structure, D2 has more than its fair share of compelling moments. The solitude it instills is an intense feeling that must be experienced.
(Note: As a word of warning, hearing-impaired gamers are out of luck. There are no subtitles and one puzzle is based solely on musical sounds.)
Bringing up the rear in this edition of the Basement is Silhouette Mirage, a 2D platformer from cult developer Treasure. Treasure is nothing if not quirky, and in my experience their games usually achieve mixed results. However, I found Silhouette Mirage to be one of their most successful and easy-to-find efforts, quite unlike some of their other works. Something like Guardian Heroes or Radiant Silvergun currently goes for outrageous sums on eBay, so the oddly unappreciated Silhouette Mirage on a used rack shouldn’t be passed up.
The disc is a 2D platformer starring a cute little android named Shyna. She can run, jump and shoot with the rest of them, but what makes Shyna special is her unusual coloration. Nearly every enemy in the game can be classified into two types: Silhouette (purple) or Mirage (red). Shyna’s body is colored differently on each half, giving her the powers of both aspects. Facing right, she’s red. Going left, she’s purple. This is significant because the trick to the game is getting the hang of attacking or defending using the correct color for the situation. For example, if she’s attacking a Silhouette (purple) enemy while facing right, her opposing coloration will destroy it. If she were to take it on facing left, her similar coloration would instead steal energy from it or completely repel its attacks. It’s a fun and interesting mechanic that engages the brain a bit more than the usual platformer.
The game is also loaded to the gills with humorously insane situations and weird characters. If you’ve ever wanted to fight a boss character in a giant bowl of soup, Silhouette Mirage is your game. Sadly, the game’s only real fault is a significant one. When localizing the game for America, publisher Working Designs saw fit to tamper with the game’s balance for the purpose of increasing playtime. By tweaking the game’s emphasis on money collecting to buy weapons, it becomes slower and more tedious than it was originally intended to be. It pains me to say it, but the game is only really enjoyable after inputting a code or two. If you don’t mind cheating a bit, it’s a creative game worth tracking down.
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