Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Lord of Ultima is a browser based Empire building strategy game, akin to Travian, but to the umpteenth degree. Very very loosely based on the Ultima universe (Some names get thrown around), the goal of Lord of Ultima seems to be building cities and armies, so that you can build more cities and armies. There is a quest system thrown in, some dungeons you can raid, and bosses you can kill to gain artifacts to make your journey faster. The game is based off of microtransactions, so those willing to throw cash at “Diamonds” will receive bonuses and get rewarded, and thereby have a competitive edge.

I have not paid for Diamonds, and have no intention of doing so. So I can’t speak as someone who plans on tossing some cash at the game. Having been playing for a couple of weeks now, since the game came out of Public Beta and went live, my early impressions are fairly mixed.

City Building and empire building can be fun, and it’s a nice passive way to game. You can set up the timer, go to work, come back and do it again. The game itself plays FAIR, there’s definitely some lag and slowdown issues, and the servers seem to go down a little more than I would like, but it’s more or less acceptable in terms of performance. I do have some complaints with the gameplay itself however.

1. Repetitiveness: Ok, so I’ve built my 5th city, and it basically seems like I am building my cities so I can… build more cities. Larger armies allow me to tackle higher level content, but the content itself is all the same, just with bigger rewards. Attacking a level 1 dungeons doesn’t require anything different than a level 4 dungeon, except more troops.

2. What’s the goal? Even after doing some research and reading the forums quickly for information on the “endgame”, information on this is spotty at best, and nonexistent in the game itself. The tutorial just tells you how to get set up and running, which is fine, but it doesn’t tell you what your motivation is, what’s going to happen, or how best to prepare yourself for it. Apparently shrines are going to pop up on the continents. And people battle for them. Or something. Something in the game itself that told you about this impending apocalypse and how best to prepare for it and what you might want to do when it happens seems like it might be a good touch.

3. Seems to be a fairly set way to do things. While looking at the forums, I also stumbled across people’s city plans. The experts of the community who have been playing since Beta have already determined the mathmatically best way to set up and operate cities for optimum performance. If you don’t do this, you’ll generally be extremely handicapped competitively. Not only does this ideal setup involve destroying all the natural resources in your town, it just ends up being very generic and boring. In fact, people just complain and insult other people whose cities they conquer if they are not set up this way. What’s the challenge in following a cookie cutter building plan? Or the fun, for that matter? This of course also just means the people are the most meticulous and have the most time to devote to setting things up in this one way will be in a much better position.

4. The game doesn’t really prepare you for PvP or combat. The tutorial gets you up and running, but again a major component of the game seems to be the ability to conquer other people’s cities (and defending your own from raids or being conquered) you can “opt out” of some of this by electing not to build a castle in your empire, but again, the game does a very poor job of explaining the advantages/disadvantages each path brings, and I suspect that those who choose the path of peace are in for an even more boring experience. But those who unwisely enter the realm of PvP and watch as their hard work for the last several weeks gets annihlated by those more experienced doesn’t seem like a lot of fun either.

So, as much as I have loyalty to the Ultima name, and I want to see the game be successful, I only play when I am at work – I have no intention of paying for it, and I am not sure if even a couple weeks the game will hold my attention. It just seems to take more time to play as you go forward without any sort of return in fun. While I find it a huge step forward from Travian, the game is still missing some key ingredients that would make me recommend it to anyone. Though, at free, it’s certainly worth a try. I haven’t hated it, but I certainly haven’t loved it.



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Super Laser Racer is a a retro racing game released by New Star Games – It can be had off their website or from Steam. Since I love Steam so much I would marry it, I always suggest purchasing titles from there when you can.

Quick Facts:
Game: Super Laser Racer
System: PC
Players: 1
Price: $5
Genre: Retro Combat Racing
Released: 2009
Time to Complete: 10 hourish to do all difficulties/courses.

In freeze frame, it's impossible to capture the chaos that can ensue in this game.

Regular readers of my material know that I love a few things. I love cheap games. I love quality games. I love games with simple mechanics, and I love games with a classic arcade feel.

Super Laser Racer wins on all fronts. On a base level, SLR is a retro skinned vector graphics combat racing game, sort of a mix between Geometry Wars and Super Mario Kart (Even one of the racers is named Geo and shaped after the primary Geometry Wars ship) Your goal is to race against 11 computer controlled opponents in a series of futuristic courses, utilizing your own skill and reflexes, as well as weapons and speed boosts scattered throughout the course. The game offers 12 different courses and 3 difficulties out of the box, though the game also includes a level editor – so you can make your own courses or download some of the great ones that fans have made.

The game can be controlled via keyboard or gamepad, though I think serious gamers will prefer to use a gamepad for better control and arcade feel. The action is fast and furious, the intensity can be great, and the challenge factor (especially at high difficulties) can be great – the outcome of a race can turn in an instant. The AI of the enemy racers is quite good, though not unbeatable, and the speed of the game makes for easy replayability without much frustration.

In addition to the standard tournament racing, there are also addition modes like Survivor and Eliminator to add some replayability (and to make it a smidge easier to get some achievements for those concerned with such things), as well as a level editor to add even more depth. The game also features leaderboards, so you can try to compete to see if you can get the fastest lap.

As you can see from the screenshot, the game uses an eyepleasing retro vector graphics update, similar to Geometry Wars. It’s eye catching and fun, and the electronic dance music packaged with the game adds a great futuristic feel to the title.

So what didn’t I like? Well, this title begs for a online multiplayer component. Yes, the leaderboards are nice, but to actually be able to race against other people/friends would have been awesome and really have pushed this title into the must have category. Also, I thought the weapons were a tad bland, some were fairly useless. A little more variety would have been welcome. And this is nitpicky, but I would have liked a tutorial with the level editor.

All that being said, for the price, this is a bargain. This gives you everything you want out of a title of this style. As a side note, I would have loved for them to have released a Super Laser Racer screensaver. I’d definitely have let that bad boy run in my background.


Very eye pleasing, fun, bright vector style graphics. The explosions and weapons are enjoyable, and no slowdown at highest resolution play.


The sound is standard, nothing that blows you out of the water, but the music is great.


Control is much better with a gamepad, so I suggest having one – though some players say they enjoy using the keyboard just fine.


Fun, intense, fast paced racing action with some thrills spills and missiles. If you’re into racing or combat racing games at all, you’re going to enjoy it. If you’ve never dealt with the genre, I strongly encourage you to dip your toes into the SLR waters.

What I liked:

1. Crisp fun presentation.
2. Fantastic soundtrack.
3. Basic but challenging gameplay which keeps you coming back.

What I didn’t like:

1. The lack of online multiplayer is the glaring flaw in this title. For $5 though, we let it slide.
2. Admittedly, I didn’t spend a LOT of time with the level editor, but a tutorial of some sort would have been a nice touch.
3. A few more weapons/better weapon variety would have been appreciated.


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Space Invaders Extreme was released in 2008, for the 30th year anniversary of the original Space Invaders. As the cliché goes, this ain’t your fathers Space Invaders.

Released for both the PSP and the DS, this review will focus on the DS version.

Quick Facts:
Game: Space Invaders
System: Nintendo DS
Players: 1 (2 player with Nintendo WiFi)
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Released: 2008
Time to Complete: 1 hour or so per playthrough.

Space Invaders Extreme takes the original SI formula, and cranks it up to the umpteenth degree. More enemies, more varieties of attacks, more music, more flashing, more stages, more modes – just more of everything.

As an immediate disclaimer – This game at its core is still an old school arcade shooter. If moving side to side, dodging enemies and pressing a fire button repeatedly doesn’t sound fun to you – You can go right on ahead and skip this title. However, if you have a nostalgic side and enjoy those arcade classics, you won’t be disappointed.

Space Invaders core game play is called “Standard” mode – Which consists of a 5 stage adventure through 20 waves each, and a boss fight. There are a few different colors of enemies, and when you kill several of them in a row, you get weapon power ups – such as lasers or explosive shots. Your score multiplier goes up for killing many enemies without dying, and you can even level up – which will increase the rate of fire and power of your shots. Something cool is, the game scales to your skill – The better you do, the more options you have to unlock harder stages. So while there are only 5 stages you play in a complete game, there are actually 12 different stages, in addition to the EXTREME mode versions of the 5 basic stages for a total of 17 stages.

It will only take you an hour or so to complete a playthrough, but if you aren’t good, you’ll need to restart – It probably took me 3-4 hours to get through a complete playthrough my first time – and then I was able to do it faster on the normal modes.

During your stages, if you kill enemies in a certain order, you will engage mini games such as Round Start and Roulette which will allow you to try other challenges or complete power ups.

The actual presentation is pretty fun – The music is extremely catchy and you’ll find yourself bopping along to it. The game supports rumble if you have a slot-2 rumble device, which is also cool. The flashes and colors and lights can be a tad distracting at first, but they are fun and visually interesting. Figuring out the enemies and what their shots do will take a little time, but once you get in a flow you’ll know what everything does.

And the end of each stage is a boss fight! The boss fights are a neat addition, putting a very unique spin on the Space Invaders formula – You’ll need to figure out the trick and weak spots of the bosses and execute them.

So while there isn’t a lot of depth, this is without a doubt one of the hardest games I’ve played in a long time – But it’s up to you how much of the challenge you want to take. Maybe you don’t want to unlock the harder stages or bother playing with the extreme stages. Regardless, this is a fun short-time game that can easily be picked up and put down.

There is a good deal of replayability in that you have not only the Standard mode (And varying difficulties), but you can also challenge yourself with Stage mode (Play each stage), as well as Ranking mode – Which has you attempting to go through Story Mode to get the highest score possible – and it compares your scores against other players. There is also a WiFi multiplayer mode where you can go head to head.

If you like the classics or dig a good challenge, or high scores still excite you, this is a great title to snag.

I mean, it’s still Space Invaders. Brighter colors, flashy backgrounds and explosions, and giant pixilated Space Invaders are coming your way. Simple, but fun.


The sound effects are totally retro and fine – But the music stands out as being really catchy and enjoyable. The rumble adds a nice deep bass groove too.

The game controls just fine – You really only use the D-pad and a fire button, though the shoulder buttons will hold your special weapons so you don’t waste them. Nothing fancy here.


It simple, it’s classic, it worked 30 years ago, it still works now. Move your ship side to side, avoid enemies and falling lasers, and kill as much as possible. This version adds more than enough spin on the classic though so it doesn’t feel dated at all. Go for that high score, and challenge yourself.

What I liked:

1. Classic fun gameplay.
2. Excellent presentation.
3. Very challenging!

What I didn’t like:

1. I think some sort of museum/classic SI inclusion would have been fun.


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Plants Vs. Zombies is a very fun, entry level foray into the “Tower Defense” gaming genre. Tower Defense games involve building “Towers” that usually cannot move, but can attack invading enemies in a variety of ways. Plants Vs. Zombies features a cute family friendly visual style, some great replayability, and as much challenge as you want to get out of it.

Here’s the description as seen on the Steam website:

“An all-new action-strategy game from PopCap, makers of Bejeweled and Peggle! Zombies are invading your home, and the only defense is your arsenal of plants! Armed with an alien nursery-worth of zombie-zapping plants like peashooters and cherry bombs, you’ll need to think fast and plant faster to stop dozens of types of zombies dead in their tracks. Obstacles like a setting sun, creeping fog and a swimming pool add to the challenge, and with five game modes to dig into, the fun never dies!”

I really enjoy tower defense, and I enjoy games of the “casual” ilk – as I get older I don’t always have time to delve into a long experience like Borderlands, and my gaming roots are in the early days – So most of your gaming experiences were shorter with replayability. Plants Vs. Zombies comes from this school. The game boasts 50 levels in the adventure mode (which can be played multiple times with different difficulties) as well as some great minigames and “Survival” mode (Probably my favorite).  When I started this one, I didn’t want to put it down. The game offered a moderate amount of challenge, but was very enjoyable from start to finish. The learning curve was a little slow moving, but they really wanted to make sure everyone understood what was going on – and the ability to purchase varying upgrades added some personalization to the experience.

The imagination and variety of both the plants and zombies is great, including Michael Jackson dancing zombies, and plants that toss Watermelons. The graphics are fun and family friendly – the music is very catchy, and the sound effects are very acceptable – mosly involving varying degrees of… “Brains…” chants from the enemies and various piffs and poofs from your plant arsenal.

If you’re looking for something fun and silly, and you enjoy killing Zombies, P Vs. Z is a very fun, family friendly game that you’ll want to keep coming back for.

System Requirements
OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista
Processor: 1.2GHz processor
Memory: 512+MB of RAM
128MB of video memory, 16-bit or 32-bit color quality
8 or later
Hard Drive: 65+MB of free hard drive space
DirectX-compatible sound

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Many of you saw my post blasting 2k for the broken multiplayer in Borderlands. I finally was able to spend the time to play through the game, and here’s my final review – Even though Multiplayer still didn’t deliver the way I had hoped, the game itself is stull a very enjoyable single player experience.

I’m a big fan of post apocalyptic anything, so when I first saw the Borderlands trailer, I was intrigued. A cooperative shooter set in a barren world, with an eye catching visual style, some good jokes, and a rocking soundtrack sounded like a fantastic game. I was incredibly excited for it, as I got a few of my gaming buddies to buy in, and we planned to play it. Unfortunately, the Multiplayer function on the PC version is implemented pretty poorly, but the game still was a very fun single player experience.

Quick Facts:
Game: Borderlands
System: PC (Also avail for the 360)
Players: 1-4
Genre: FPS with RPG Elements
Released: 2009
Time to Complete: 30ish hours per playthrough (You can playthrough twice)

Borderlands takes your FPS formula and interjects some popular RPG elements, such as a skill tree, quests and loot drops. There are 4 “classes” you can choose from, Soldier, Hunter, Siren, and Brick – each with a distinct style of play. I also loved how depending on your gun drops throughout the game, your game experience could vary wildly from someone else’s game. Between the classes and gun variety, it’s hard to have a generic experience with the title.

The story itself involves you as more or less a bounty hunter – Dropped on the planet Pandora to look for something called “The Vault”. It’s basically implied that if you find the Vault, you will become incredibly wealthy. Once you land on the planet, a mysterious angelic character starts beaming you messages to assist you in this task. You’ll also require the help of the locals, and this is where the story mostly permeates from – You doing things to help out the locals and make Pandora a better and safer place for all.

Pandora itself had become more or less a haven for scum – gangs and other treasure hunters, and the game has a Wild West feel. Go kill thug X so the townspeople are safer – that sort of thing. The story is fairly weak, but coherent, though you never really care for the NPCs or the task at hand – other than a few of the bit player being pretty funny (Scooter, the redneck mechanic – notably)

The gameplay takes a pretty solid FPS standpoint with a cel-shaded graphical style, a huge variety of weapons and some pretty varied enemies – from armored beasts, to bandits, to highly protected mercenaries. The interface itself is mediocre, performing some tasks like equipping weapons and checking quests logs I felt was a tad cumbersome, and the AI is incredibly bad. The landscapes are fairly similar, though visually interesting if you look at the details, but be prepared to see a lot of brown, sand, and rock.

Despite these primary flaws, I found myself having fun whenever I played. Unfortunately, because of it being quite simply broken at launch – and then still frustrating and complicated after they “fixed” it, the Multiplayer was MUCH harder to get into than it should have been, especially for a game marketed as a mutli-player experience. I still haven’t gotten to play much multiplayer, except at a buddy’s house who also has the game on the Xbox360.

There have already been two DLC packs with added content released for the title for the Xbox360, the 2nd one should be out for the PC within a couple weeks of this review being written – so it’s good to see the franchise is getting support and additional content to keep the game fun and dynamic. All in all, despite its flaws, I had a lot of fun playing the game – I hope they fix it up and are successful enough to create a full sequel that puts the multiplayer issues to bed.


The PC version is far and away better looking than the Xbox 360 version. It’s a crisp, interesting looking shooter with some fun effects. Some people are turned off by the cel shaded style, but I dig it. For a wasteland, there are cool things to see if you look, but some players have noted the backdrops can get a bit repetitive. Not a ton of variety in the enemies either.


The music is fun and rocking, and sound effects are engrossing. There is a very limited supply of one liners that the enemies use, and that gets a little obnoxious, but the voice acting is decent enough – and some good humor is supplied by a few of the characters. Again, I liked the style.


The control can be a little sluggish – You may need to adjust some of your mouse settings. You can use a gamepad on the PC, but most people will opt for a mouse and keyboard approach. I found the interface itself to be a bit subpar, though you will get used to it and fight through the pain.


The gameplay itself was good. A great marriage of FPS and RPG elements, though the skill trees were a little too limited for my tastes. The variety of gun and loot drops made for interesting and fun fights, and allows you to really choose the style of shooter you are – which I enjoyed a great deal as well. You like pistols? Use pistols. You like to snipe? Snipe. You want to blow stuff up? Blow stuff up. Some of the weapons are clearly better than others, but you can probably make do with about anything.

The story was thin, but not out and out bad – and the quests kept you moving. Vehicles, teleportation, and convenient respawn made getting around the world pretty convenient.

The default inclusion of a second playthrough option with tougher enemies I liked as well.

What I liked:

1. Setting, style, presentation.
2. Well done marriage of FPS and RPG elements.
3. Fun FPS gameplay.

What I didn’t like:

1. Multiplayer was horribly broken, and still not great.
2. Bad AI.
3. Some repetitiveness in enemies and locales.


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Double Dragon was probably one of my original favorite arcade titles. It’s one of those genre defining games, that other games would model itself after and be compared to. In my ongoing retro revival, I busted out the Game Boy version of the DD, which I am sure I had at the time, but don’t remember much of now.

Quick Facts:
Game: Double Dragon
System: Nintendo Game Boy
Players: 1-2
Genre: Brawler
Released: 1990
Time to Complete: 2-3 hours.


The arcade version of Double Dragon was released in 1987, with the slightly modified NES version coming out a year later. This Game Boy port dropped in 1990, and in some ways is superior to the NES version.  Oddly enough, you’ll notice how crisp the graphics look in monochrome, and the character models look great. Unlike the NES version, your player will start out with your full arsenal of moves, including the newly included standing jumpkick (as opposed to the roundhouse found in the other version).

The gameplay is the same – Move across the stages (occasionally moving up as well as to the right) engaging enemies in an attempt go get your lady back. You are given several attacks to do this, punches, kicks, jump kicks, elbows, headbutts, and more. Also, enemies may drop weapons that you can pick up and use as well.

At the end of each stage you’ll encounter a boss (usually these boss fights will become regular encounters later in the game) until you end up at the last encounter with the machine gun wielding girlfriend stealer.


A couple technical limitations plague this release as much as the NES version: Only two enemies can be on stage at once, and any weapons you pick up will disappear as you defeat the group of enemies that dropped the weapon. While we’re talking about the downside, the challenge factor to this title is pretty low.

Double Dragon was known in the arcade for its cooperative play – There is a 2-Player link mode for the Game Boy, but it involves battling another player, as opposed to going through the story with them.

The music for this title is fantastic, and the stages themselves look interesting and varied. In terms of presentation, I think this is one of the sharpest Game Boy titles I’ve ever played. Despite the ease of difficulty, this game moves briskly, and is very enjoyable, and you never seem to really get tired of beating the crap out of the waves of enemies that come your way.

I will say this for genre evolution: The lack of a “Dash” is extremely noticeable, as there are times you’d like to zip across the screen or charge at/away from an enemy – And instead you’ll need to meander over to them tough guy style.


To me, the Game Boy version looks sharper and crisper than the NES version of the game. The monochrome palette and attention paid to the characters makes them look fantastic. The stages are interesting and well done, and I experienced no slowdown at any point.


The music stands out in Double Dragon as well. Decent, non-annoying tunes will help guide you on your mission to save Marion. The battle sound effects are a bit repetitive and minimalist, but it doesn’t detract from the game in any way.


The control is impressive and response, again probably trumping that of the NES version. It felt very natural and easy to move and attack, jumping worked when you wanted it to, and you were able to execute your moves on demand. The lack of a “Dash” is definitely something that gamers today will notice.


By now, the formula is classic – The side scrolling brawler has you moving along the stages battling various enemies. There are no friends, there are no shops, there is you, your fists, and several heads that they need to be introduced to. Weapons usable from fallen foes add a little variety, but even if you never used them, I don’t think you’d mind much. Some system limitations force only two enemies on screen at once, and the challenge factor is generally low for the title – it’s enjoyable all the way through.

What I liked:

1. Crisp presentation.
2. Fantastic gameplay.

3. It’s just fun.

What I didn’t like:

1. Technical limitations only allowing 2 enemies on screen.
2. Not very challenging.

3. I only got two for this one.

The Bottom Line:

An extremely well done port that stands up even today. Fans of the genre and series will enjoy a small stroll down memory lane. B.

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Continuing my Retro Gaming kick, I was in a bit of a Contra mood (Isn’t everyone?) after snagging the new Contra for my Wii. So I dug back to 1994 for this classic Game Boy title, which is actually a port of the Super Nintendo game – However, I never (Or at least have no memory) of playing the SNES title, so that won’t factor in to my review.
Quick Facts:
Game: Contra: The Alien Wars
System: Nintendo Game Boy Color
Players: 1
Genre: Side Scrolling/Top Down Shooter
Released: 1994
Time to Complete: 1-2 hours.

Contra, is of course, one of the most revered and recognized franchises in gaming. If you’re in the mood to grab a gun and run along shooting aliens, this line rarely disappoints. Released in 1994 for Game Boy Color, Contra: The Alien Wars is a port of the SNES title to the little Nintendo, and the title actually holds up pretty well.

You’ll run, you’ll jump, you dodge, you’ll die. You’ll grab the coveted Spreader gun. Gameplay is pretty standard – You keep moving to the right, shooting everything in your path, jumping over what you can’t shoot. You’ll also be able to grapple from things that hang, and climb up vertical walls. These elements are pretty much scripted, so it doesn’t really add much to the gameplay itself, bit it is a nice way to mix things up a bit. Powerups come in the form of floating balls which drop several weapon upgrades including the Flamer, the Spreader, Homing Missiles, and Crash Bombs.
There are 5 levels total, 3 of them are done in the side scrolling fashion, the other 2 are done as a top down shooter, where your goal is to take out several enemy generators throughout the stage. I found these levels to be more or less filler – and slightly annoying, as the small screen and somewhat sluggish controls led to a few frustrating deaths from the speedy and fast spawning enemies.

Technically, I was quite impressed with how much they crammed into a Game Boy game. There is great variety in the graphics, several enemies, decent music, and stages that definitely move and change. I never felt bored or like I was repeating anything, and the pacing of the game was perfect. The difficulty was about what you’d expect, some cheap deaths, but you learn your lessons. A limited number of continues means you need to be on your toes. One fo the frustrating elements from the series remains intact – in that if you die and lose your special weapon upgrade, you’re going to be in trouble when you respawn.

On the downside, the controls were a TAD sluggish and jerky at times, when moving side to side to deal with enemies that come from both sides of the stage. This is mostly forgivible. Also, the boss fights were pretty simplistic – While most of the bosses looked pretty cool, they basically each had 1 or 2 moves that you just had to get in sync with and take them down, so the boss challenge factor was pretty low.

A view of the mediocre top down mode.

A view of the mediocre top down mode.

All in all though, this was an enjoyable and fast paced shooting romp – that still holds up pretty well 15 years later. It does boggle my mind the idea of paying $30 or $40 for games like this at the time though. :shakes head:


I think they did a great job cramming Contra onto the small screen, the graphics don’t really look watered down at all. The “Color” element of the game is pretty weak however and definitely looked like an afterthought.


I think they use the same Contra soundbytes and music from the first game still. So… go with what works.


Controls were a bit sluggish at times, but not so much to really take away from the gameplay experience. The climb/grapple maneuevers were fun to execute, as well as hopping up and down dual teired terrain. Some of the jumps were actually fairly tricky to execute requiring spot on timing.


The Contra formula is in full force here: Run, shoot, get powerups, jump over enemy fire. You’ll keep things fresh by having to grapple, climb walls, and jump to avoid traps. The boss fights are interesting and challenging enough, with enough excitement to make them FEEL like boss fights. The top down stages felt a bit weak, however, and didn’t really enhance the gameplay.

What I liked:

1. Fun Gameplay.
2. Classic Contra elements intact.
3. Impressed at how much game they crammed onto a GBC cart.

What I didn’t like:

1. Slightly sluggish controls.
2. Top down stages seemed weak.
3. Boss fights seemed a little simple to master.

Yes (B!)

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