Weekend Pickups – May 2021

Welcome back for another round of “I don’t really have anything specific in mind, so here’s what games I’ve bought lately”. It was Memorial Day weekend, which is usually considered the kick-off to summer as the weather has finally begun to stay a consistently mild temperature. It’s only a matter of days before we enter a few months of complaining about the heat as a change of pace from complaining about the cold(Talking about the weather…the signs of reaching middle-age have begun). Anyways…I was able to check out the game store in town and picked up a pile handful of games. I found a few PS3 games that I’d wanted to check out for a while, along with a few GBA and a single PS2 game. PlayStation 3 games have remained pretty inexpensive the past couple years, save for the few weeks this spring of people panic buying games after hearing about the now-reversed decision by Sony to shut down the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita digital storefronts. I have also wanted to build up my library of Game Boy Advance games, something I never did years ago when it was the current Nintendo handheld system. I happened to come across a few Castlevania games, which depending on the game, don’t typically sell for egregious amounts of money, but still aren’t something you find everyday.

The Games

Final Fantasy XIII

It wasn’t until my late teens/early 20’s that I really began to appreciate, or “get” RPGs as a genre, particularly(Pokemon Red & Gold being an exception). I’ve begun making the joke that I end up bringing home another JRPG every time I visit the local game store…and this weekend was no different. I’ve played quite a few different Final Fantasy games by this point, but have never played FFXIII(or either of the sequels). I remember when the game was released and thought it looked cool, but (foolishly)thought I was going to play through the previous entries before I’d begin playing it. I always heard a lot of mixed things about the game, but intend to play the game myself and create my own opinions from there…once I finish up what must be a dozen or so other JRPGs first…

The Darkness

I remember reading about a game called “The Darkness” shortly after getting my PlayStation 3 back in December 2007(as the original “Spider-Man” lettering indicates). The premise sounded interesting – a dark, supernatural FPS in which you have an army of monsters, “Darklings” available to summon and attack enemies, alongside an array of conventional weapons. The first game I played on my PS3 was a military shooter called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction shortly after that, so it got sort of lost in the middle of “bigger” games. I had always heard interesting things about The Darkness(and its sequel), so it’s simply another example of a game I didn’t get around to playing until years later.

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is a game that I don’t really remember hearing anything about back when it was released in 2010, but in recent years I’ve heard quite a few people mention the game and how underrated it is compared to other games of the era. A hack ‘n slash action-adventure game made by Ninja Theory/Namco starring Andy Serkis and written by Alex Garland. Pretty intrigued by this one…


Singularity is another game that I remember hearing about back during the PS3 days but didn’t know all that much about. Similar to Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, I’ve heard more people mention the game in the last few years than I ever did following its release. I really enjoyed some of the older games developed by Raven Software like Star Wars Jedi Knight II, X-Men Legends, or Soldier of Fortune II. It’s a little disappointing that Raven has been relegated to little more than assisting Treyarch and Infinity Ward in making yearly Call of Duty releases since Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010, which was released a matter of months after Singularity.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

I remember first playing Castlevania: Lament of Innocence on a demo disk inside an issue of PlayStation Magazine and really liking it, so I ended up buying the game a couple months later. I ended up selling the game a few years back when I (regrettably)decided to downsize my game collection, but I’ve been keeping an eye out for a decent copy of the game the last year or so. I’ll admit the game didn’t do anything revolutionary with the series and may not reach the same heights of something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but I still have something of a soft spot for the game. I had always known of the Castlevania games and had played Super Castlevania, as well as the NES original, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I started getting really into the series, which happened to be right as Lament of Innocence was to be released…

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge

For as much as I and many others love the Banjo-Kazooie games, it’s usually(and understandably) the console releases that are mentioned. There were two BK games released for the Game Boy Advance – Banjo Pilot and Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge; the former being a cart racer similar to Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing(Banjo’s first appearance, btw) while the latter is an adventure-platformer more along the lines of what one associates with the series. Throughout video game history, handheld releases very RAREly(well done, right?) receive the recognition of home consoles, it’s easy to be unaware BK games were even made for the GBA. You don’t come across either game very often, but I’m still looking for a copy of Banjo Pilot to go along with Grunty’s Revenge…

Speaking of sequels that went unnoticed because they were released on a handheld…

Gunstar Super Heroes

Gunstar Heroes is one of my absolute favorite Sega Genesis games and would likely be near the top of my all-time favorites as well. A sequel – Gunstar Super Heroes was released on the GBA in 2005, 12 years after the original. It was only within the last decade or so that I myself had even heard of the game and I don’t seem to be alone in that regard as I’ve come across many others who were surprised to hear there was a sequel released. Looking forward to this one…

Advance Wars

Advance Wars is a series that I’d always wanted to play, as I have heard next to nothing negative about the game from anyone or anywhere since its release back in 2001, but was a little intimidated by for the longest time as RTS-type games have always been my weakest genre of games. I came across a copy of Advance Wars for a decent price and decided to finally give it a shot. The GBA releases are revered by fans and seemingly destined to be ignored by Nintendo as Intelligent Systems has finally started to gain more recognition now the Fire Emblem games have begun to increase in popularity on this side of the Pacific.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

While I have played a few of the Castlevania games for the Nintendo DS, I have never really played any of the three GBA releases – Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. Circle of the Moon was released as one of the launch titles for the Game Boy Advance on June 11, 2001. None of the Castlevania games on the GBA seem to be very easy to find in the past few years and the latter pair(the ones that didn’t essentially get erased from the overall Castlevania timeline by Koji Igarashi) have begun to skyrocket in price, so as soon as I saw Circle of the Moon the other day I knew I had grab it. It’s just 11 days short of the 20-year anniversary of the Game Boy Advance’s release in North America, so it’s a perfect time to kick back and play some Castlevania….maybe I’ll even get around to watching Season 3 of the Netflix series as well.

That’s all for now! I’m pretty satisfied with the games I was able to find over the holiday weekend. What games have you picked up recently? Let me know. Thanks for reading!

Blogtober 2019 – Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

For today’s Blogtober game entry, I’ve chosen Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, quite possibly my favorite DLC, along with cover art of any game(many consider The Witcher 3’s Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine to be the greatest, I regrettably have not gotten around to playing those…yet). Undead Nightmare was released in October 2010 as a stand-alone expansion to what was already regarded as a defining moment of the console generation in Red Dead Redemption(released just earlier that year) by combining two of our most beloved American institutions – the wild West and zombie b-movies. It was a rush of excitement and nostalgia playing Undead Nightmare again as Rockstar Studios masterfully blended Red Dead’s epic western motif with schlocky zombie horror.

Undead Nightmare begins in black and white, evoking a setting similar to sci-fi/horror films of the 50’s and 60’s as our narrator sets the scene of former outlaw turned bounty hunter turned farmer John Marston returning to the homestead just as a violent thunderstorm begins. John returns to his wife Abigail and son Jack and voices his feeling of something being amiss, though unable to quite determine what. Before retiring for the evening John asks whether anyone has seen Uncle, the elderly layabout tagging along with John since his days running with the Van der Linde Gang; Abigail simply assumes he’s “waiting out the storm in some house of ill-repute” as they head off to bed. Later that night Uncle, who has been turned into a zombie breaks into the Marston home and bites Abigail, who then in turn bites Jack, before John is able to put a bullet through Uncle’s undead skull. John then quickly proceeds to hogtie both Jack and Abigail and lock them inside a bedroom before heading into nearby Blackwater with the hope of figuring out what exactly is happening. He reaches Blackwater only to find the town all but abandoned as the undead roam the streets. After coming to the aid of several survivors in town, John attempts to question those left as to why this is happening. The Blackwater resident’s explanations for the recent occurrences range anywhere from being the fault of “that snake oil salesman”, “the man with the glass eye” or Mexican immigrants; others think it simply God’s judgement. John then travels westward to seek out the con-man Nigel West Dickens and the grave robbing ghoul Seth Briars, both of whom acquaintances he was obliged to lend a helping hand during the storyline of Red Dead Redemption; thus begins John Marston’s old-west journey of horrors through the zombie apocalypse.

Undead Nightmare’s core gameplay elements are the same as Red Dead Redemption: riding and shooting your way across the territories of West Elizabeth and New Austin, but rather than chasing bandits as a bounty hunter you are fighting hordes of the undead on both sides of the border – you eventually make your way down to Nuevo Paraiso to confront Abraham Reyes regarding an ancient mask taken from an underground Aztec tomb. You ride across the forest, desert, and plains stopping at different locations and undertaking(get it?) various tasks as indicated by icons on your map, like the majority of Rockstar games. In place of clearing out bandit hideouts, you will need to clear out each settlement as they have been overrun by zombies; you must assist the remaining townsfolk by eliminating the zombie population, which in turn provides you a safe place to rest, change outfits, or save your game. The town will inevitably be overtaken after the cycle of a few days, so you will find yourself returning to different areas several times as you roam the countryside. An early mission finds you “cleansing” several cemeteries around New Austin and in Blackwater by burning the wooden coffins lying about, before putting any of the walking dead back in the ground…hopefully for good.

After nearly a decade Undead Nightmare still plays remarkably well and the shooting still feels great and in my mind, just as good if not better than the weighty feel of Red Dead Redemption 2. The biggest complaints with the controls are the cumbersome feel that seems to be another Rockstar trademark, an at times, downright clumsy mix of the jittery movement of earlier Grand Theft Auto games and the lead-in-your-boots feeling of RDR2. The lack of precision in your movement is amplified greatly when trying to clear out a town as you need to move quickly to stay one step ahead of the swarm of zombies and in order to assist the surviving townspeople a moderate amount of platforming is required as they are generally perched upon a rooftop. Another issue is the number of bugs found encountered within the game, just in the short time replaying the game the last week I found myself teleporting through buildings while clearing out a town, or levitating along the ground instead of running. A few times while cleansing a cemetery zombies would emerge from underground without any heads which would usually signify a glitch that would prevent the final “boss zombie” from surfacing and I would have to restart the sometimes lengthy process.

The overall tone and mood of Undead Nightmare are more over-the-top and absurd in contrast to the sober timbre(mostly) of the main adventure. The story and characters within the game are closer to Shaun of the Dead, than it’s George Romero inspiration Dawn of the Dead. Undead Nightmare also offers no shortage of Rockstar Studio’s trademark darkly, humorous satirical take of the old-west ethos. In addition to roaming hordes of zombies, John also encounters other mythical creatures steeped in folklore like chupacabras; you can also unlock a unicorn as a mount to sparkle dash around the countryside. In addition to the other mythical creatures featured in the game, you are able to discover each of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Each one having its own unique appearance and attributes, along with having unlimited stamina. The “War” horse is covered in flames and will set fire to any zombies who come to close or the “Death” horse is a pale color(obviously) and will cause any nearby zombies to explode upon approach…awesome! One of the most memorable parts of the game is the side mission Birth of the Conservation Movement in the Tall Trees region where John happens upon an old man shooting into the forest and exclaiming that Sasquatches need to be hunted down, them being a danger to civilized humans who feed on babies. John is then tasked by the old man to hunt down the six Sasquatches in the Tall Trees region, with a circle on the map indicating the approximate location of each one. You…dispatch the first five upright ape-men before coming across the sixth and final Sasquatch sitting alone by a tree alongside the river. As you approach the final creature he speaks out to you and describes the horror of the last of his kind being hunted down by some sort of monster and asks politely asks John to shoot him, ending his misery in knowing he is the final one remaining. The narrative twist of “humans being the true monsters” isn’t anything unique in a sci-fi or horror setting, it did provide a memorable moment amid the ten hours or so of rampant zombie splattering.

Aside from a few technical issues to the game, I still feel Undead Nightmare is one of the best expansion offerings in the recent decade. The simplest way to describe Undead Nightmare is “Red Dead Redemption…with zombies”, though it provides a horror movie experience exceeding most games of the era. This was still in the earlier years of what would become an increasingly crowded expanse of media, not just video games, but movies and tv featuring zombies. It’s since become foregone conclusion that any AAA FPS title will include a “zombie mode”, but Rockstar did an impeccable job of inserting the eerie, yet campy sensibilities of zombie b-movies into an epic western setting. I know I’m not alone in hoping that Rockstar would release another expansion similar to this for their most recent masterpiece Red Dead Redemption 2.

That’s all for now, have you played Undead Nightmare? What do you think are the best zombie game offerings out there? I still have one more retro zombie game coming up next week for my Halloween Blogtober, with my next post featuring a horror-themed arcade title that has become a cult classic. Thanks for reading!