Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Review

It must be difficult for game creators. Do they stick to a winning formula for a sequel and run the risk of the concept becoming stale, or do they gamble on new features that have the potential to disgruntle loyal fans to the franchise? It’s a hard balance to get right as many games have shown over the years. The question is, will Sonic 3 fall foul of over-zealous creators or will they get it right for a third time in a row?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is a platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released in 1994 on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and latterly for Windows in 1997. Later, it would be made available for the Game Cube, PS3 and Xbox 360. For this review, I revisited the Sega Mega Drive version.

Visually, very little has changed between Sonic 1, 2, and 3 (Screenshot taken by the author)

After Sonic 2, Dr. Robotnik’s spaceship crashed into the mysteriously floating Angel Island. He meets and tricks the island’s guardian, Knuckles the Echidna, into believing that Sonic is trying to steal the Master Emerald. Sonic and Tails must once again defeat Dr. Robotnik who is being aided by Knuckles.

There are several new features to this game. Sonic can attain three shields: lightning, bubble and fire, each giving him a unique ability when using them. The giant gold rings, which are portals to finding the Chaos Emeralds, are now found in secret locations.

The bonus stages themselves are much for interesting and fun than Sonic 2. They consist of Sonic and Tails running around a globe in third person view. The object is to collect all the blue spheres. If you hit a red sphere you fail. The more blue spheres you collect, the faster Sonic runs, adding some difficulty to the harder bonus stages.

Once Sonic gains all the Chaos Emeralds, he can become Super Sonic, making him invincible for a short period of time.

The new bonus stages are so much more enjoyable than the tunnels of Sonic 2 (Screenshot taken by the author)

As expected, the game looks great. Lots of beautifully designed levels for you to navigate through, and plenty of unique sprites to evade or destroy. However, I feel that if you were to be shown screenshots of Sonic 1, 2 and 3, there are times you’d be hard pressed to distinguish between the three. This is certainly not the case with the Mario franchise where the graphics of each game are very distinguishable. Now, I concede that Super Mario 1, 2 and 3 were all released on the NES and Super Mario World on the SNES, and so is bound to look different. However, even when comparing Super Mario World to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, there is a clear distinctive design to the levels and enough gameplay changes so that both games can stand on their own.

The all too familiar underwater levels…you’d have thought he would have learnt to swim by now! (Screenshot taken by the author)

One of the issues I have with this game is that the levels are so much bigger than previous games, but are filled with slopes and shoots and other features that you feel like you’re just whizzing through the levels without actually doing much. I appreciate that the whole appeal of Sonic is that he is fast, but sometimes it feels like you’re just on autopilot because he just whizzes through the game. Along with this speed comes another issue that the creators have yet to rectify…when Sonic is going at full speed, the game lags and the sprites flicker.

That being said, I enjoyed playing Sonic 3 much more than Sonic 2, but for the reasons stated above I cannot give Sonic 3 5 stars.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, with all Chaos Emeralds captured.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic 3 is simply the perfect Sonic game. It beats out all previous Sonics with outstanding graphics, more hidden items and new items like many types of shields…The bonus rounds give the average player a fair chance this time, unlike “those tunnels” of part 2. It seems unlikely that Sega will be able to top this one. Overall 38/40.[1]

Gamepro: “Sonic 3 proves that you can teach the old hedgehog new and exciting tricks. Take that old Sonic magic, add fun new variations, and you have another spectacular game. Overall 19/20.[2]

Hyper: “Everything you expect from a Sonic game, nothing more. If it was just me, the score would be lower, but Sonic freaks are going to go off. Overall 90%[3]

Entertainment Weekly: “Sonic 3, by contrast, represents the apotheosis of the Sonic concept: Unlike previous games, the stages are linked cinematically (Sonic and Tails literally tumble from one scene to the next), and the characters have some stunning new techniques — I, for one, never thought I’d see a spiny blue hedgehog on a pair of skis. Ovearll A+[4]

Mean Machines Sega: “Sonic’s Back! Back! Back! This game re-establishes him as King of the Hill, Top of the Heap and Life Emperor of the Platform Universe. Huzzah! Huzzah! Overall 94%[5]

Sega Power: “No radical changes to the game, but its sheer size, super graphics, wealth of imagination and above all playability, guarantee Sonic gold status. Overall 90%.[6]

Sega Magazine: “An amazing release and serious contender for Best Platform Game ever award. Overall 95%.[7]

My verdict:

“Sonic 3 is a very good game. If you like the solid formula of speed, ring collecting and bonus stages that the creators have been successful with in their first two outings, then this game is for you and you’ll enjoy every second of it. Personally, I worry that there aren’t enough differences between this and the previous two games and it’s in danger of going stale.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic the Hedgehog 3? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Sonic 3’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1994). Volume 7, Issue 3:30. https://retrocdn.net/images/a/ae/EGM_US_056.pdf Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[2] ‘Proreview – Sonic the Hedgehog 3’. (March 1994). Gamepro. Issue 56:42-44. https://archive.org/details/GamePro_Issue_056_March_1994/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[3] ‘Sonic 3’. Hyper. (March 1994). 4:26-29. (http://sost.emulationzone.org/sonic_3/scans/sonic3hypermarch943.jpg Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[4] Strauss, B., (February 11, 1994). ‘Sonic CD; Sonic Chaos; Sonic Spinball; Sonic 3’. Entertainment Weekly. (https://ew.com/article/1994/02/11/sonic-cd-sonic-chaos-sonic-spinball-sonic-3/ Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic 3’. Mean Machines Sega. (March 1994) Issue 17:49. http://www.outofprintarchive.com/articles/reviews/MegaDrive/Sonic3-MMS17-6.html Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[6] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic 3’. Sega Power. (March 1994). Issue 52:30 (http://sost.emulationzone.org/sonic_3/scans/segapowermar943.jpg Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[7] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic 3’. Sega Magazine. (February 1994). :87-88. https://archive.org/details/sega-magazine-2-february-1994/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed 23rd NOvember 2020).

Age of Empires III (Including The War Chiefs and The Asian Dynasties Expansions) – Review

Keeping sequels fresh whilst staying true to the original franchise is a tough challenge for game creators. You can’t change things too much or too quickly without a backlash of disgruntlement from fans, but you also need to be seen as being progressive and innovative. The Age of Empires franchise has always been innovative in the way it has taken the gamer through history and given them control of countless civilisations from around the world. After the success of Age of Empires II and its spin-off, Age of Mythology, what new features would its creators include to keep the franchise fresh whilst still staying true to the originals concepts?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Age of Empires III (AOE III)is a real-time strategy game and the third in the Age of Empires franchise. Developed by Ensemble studios, it was published for PC by Microsoft Games in 2005 (The Mac version was published by Destineer’s MacSoft in 2006). Glu-Mobile published a mobile version in 2009. A remastered version was released in 2020. For this review, I revisited the original PC versions.

AOE III focusses on the European colonisation of the America’s between 1492 and 1876. The story mode focuses on the Black family and their fortunes and failures in North America. The story mode has a similar style to that of Age of Mythology (AOM) where there are cut scenes before and after each mission which progress the story along.

The game is broken into three acts:

Act One: Blood – The first campaign begins in the late 16th century and introduces Knight of Saint John, Morgan Black who must travel from Malta to South America in a bid to prevent the Circle of Ossus from finding the Fountain of Youth.

Morgan Black must travel to South America to prevent the Fountain of Youth from falling into the wrong hands (Screenshot taken by the author)

Act Two: Ice – The second act takes place in the mid-18th century, and sees Morgan’s grandson, John Black and Mohawk companion Kanyenke, ally with General Washington during the Seven Years’ War against the French.

John Black and Kanyenke join forces with George Washington against the French in the Seven Years’ War (Screenshot taken by the author)

Act Three: Steel – The third act takes palce in 1817, and sees Amelia, John’s granddaughter, who is trying to expand her railroad empire, pursue a French prospector to South America where he intends to find the Lake of the Moon and the Fountain of Youth.

Amelia is trying to regain her family’s fortune by building the new railway in the US (Screenshot taken by the author)

Thankfully, AOE III has moved away from the simple mission objectives of “build up your base and destroy the enemy base”. Although there are many missions where that is the end goal, there are also other interesting missions to ensure the game doesn’t become monotonous. An example of this is the Pirate’s Help mission where Morgan must gain 8000 experience points by doing a number of small missions in order to impress a pirate named Lizzie. Another is the Bring Down the Mountain mission in the John Black campaign where you need to use miners to hack down rocks to block mountain passes.

Secondary objectives do very little other than give you extra experience points with which to have more shipments sent from your home city or enables you to add features to your home city. Other than that, they are pretty pointless.

Another improvement is that there is greater differentiation between the civilisations. There are plenty of unique units to each civilisation, encouraging the gamer to try them all in Random Map mode in order to find their preferred units.

Different from AOE II but kept from AOM the gamer has the opportunity to choose how they wish to advance to the next technological age. Each path will offer different improvements and units and it is up to the player to decide which path is best suited for the mission at hand.

Although AOE II had ‘Heroes’, (e.g. Joan of Arc etc.) they fought like every other unit. AOM introduced the concept of a special ability or attack that ‘Heroes’ performed but these were automatic and could not be controlled by the player. AOE III has introduced special attacks that CAN be controlled by the player. ‘Heroes’ such as John Black can either use Hawk Eye – which kills almost all units with one shot, and Eagle Eye which is a powerful shot that damages enemy units in an area. Once used, you have to wait a minute or so before it can be used again. Some ships have a similar special attack where they pepper their intended target with cannon. 

Interestingly, sea battles and the use of ships in general seems to have taken a real backseat in this game. If memory serves, other than the Pirates!, Great Lakes, and Last Stand of the Boneguard missions, you can quite happily do without worrying about a naval presence. Whilst we’re on the subject of ships, they have dramatically increased the number of units each ship can carry. The problem with this is that there is no automatic disembarking button, so you have to manually click the unit’s icon for them to disembark, and when you’re carrying large numbers of troops, this can prove tricky in tight spots.

To make things a bit more challenging, and realistic with regard to technological advancement, Morgan Black’s campaign can’t advance past the Fortress Age, and John Black’s campaign cannot advance past the Industrial Age.

Other new features include:

Gaining experience points – Dotted around each map are several treasures or captured units, mostly protected by human or animal ‘guardians’. Defeating the ‘guardians’ and taking the treasures or rescuing the prisoners will gain you resources, units and/or experience points. These experience points enable the gamer to have shipments of resources, improvements or units sent to your town centre. Killing enemy units also gains experience points.

Build your shipment deck – After every mission you are unable to unlock more improvements for your shipments. This gives you the opportunity to build you own deck of shipments that you prefer to use during missions and Random Map modes. For example, one mission may require artillery, so provided you have unlocked an artillery card, you can swap that card in for another and have a shipment of artillery sent to your town centre.

Trading posts – There are two types of trading posts: The first consists of building a trading post in the village of local tribes. This enables further improvements to your units and resrouces as well as being able to train unique Native American units. The second consists of building trading posts at specific areas along trading routes. These routes regularly have traders travelling along them. At first, all these trading posts do is help gain experience points. As you move through the ages, you can upgrade the way the traders transport their goods, and also which resource you would like to have added to your stockpile.

AOE III has greatly improved graphics from AOEII. They have moved away from the 2D isometric view to a 3D model giving different parts of the screen a slightly different perspective. The buildings are incredibly detailed with animated, realistic looking smoke arising from fires and chimneys. The units are also very detailed, and beautifully illustrated and animated. This goes especially for the artillery, whose artillerymen are a hive of activity carrying, reloading and firing.

I very much enjoyed the story mode and the fact that you follow the same family over a 300 year period. Although fictional, the story is compelling and keeps you from skipping the cutscenes.

I really liked the experience points and shipment system employed in this game as I think it can certainly give you a tactical advantage when you get it right. I love the fact that parts of the buildings are blown off when they are under attack, adding the realism of warfare. Last but not least, AOE III has managed to create a beautiful score to go with the game. These are the types of musical scores that I find myself listening to simply because I enjoy them so much.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have played through this game several times and thoroughly enjoy the missions.

What the critics said:

1up.com: “It’s a rock-solid package, one that tightens every part of the existing game with a facelift worthy of the most talented plastic surgeon. Ensemble has proven no one can beat it at its own game, but neither will it be Age of Empires III the wannabes are aiming at in the coming months. Overall B-“.[1]

Game Revolution: “But no one buys strategy games for the sound effects – they buy them to agonize over tactics and statistics and this is why Age of Empires III is still a recommendable RTS. The steps it has taken in the gameplay department since Age of Empires II are negligible, but at least the new card-based bonus system adds an element of customization and depth to the genre. This result is as detailed as a history book, and about as much fun. Overall 3/5.[2]

Gamespot: “Age of Empires III has some very big shoes to fill, and on top of that, the real-time strategy market has grown hugely competitive due in no small part to Ensemble Studios’ previous accomplishments. This latest game offers a lot of what made Age II so great, and it’s got plenty of depth and lasting appeal, despite how most matches tend to begin and ultimately pan out similarly. Age III does seem surprisingly rough around the edges in some respects, and those expecting the game to revolutionize or even refresh this style of gaming may come away disappointed that their high expectations weren’t met. But those looking for a complex and interesting real-time strategy game with fantastic good looks and some historical flavor will find just what they want in Age of Empires III. Overall 8.2/10.[3]

Gamespy: “Age of Empires III is an absolutely fantastic title with superb graphics and tight gameplay. Single-player or multiplayer, no matter what your skill, you’ll get hours of joy out of this sucker online or off. Age of Empires III may not redefine real-time strategy gaming, but it sets the bar so high that we’ll be comparing games to this for years. Shoulder your musket and pony up: this one’s a real trip. Overall 5/5.[4]

Gamezone: “Age of Empires III is a must have game for any Real Time Strategy gamer. There are so many new additions in this game that it will boggle your mind. This is one of the best looking games, much less an RTS game, that is out on the market currently. This is one purchase you will not come to regret. Overall 9.5/10.[5]

IGN: “Age of Empires III is a superbly balanced and polished game and it definitely ups the ante for the C&C and ‘Craft developers. Discounting a few niggles in the interface, the whole presentation is rock solid. Each new release in the Age of Empires series has added something to the mix. But while Age of Empires II seemed to focus on quantity, Age of Empires III sacrifices some units and civilizations in order to make the whole experience much tighter. Overall 8.8.[6]

Awards:

2005 PC Turn-Based Strategy – 2005 Gamespy Gamers’ Choice Awards[7]

2005 Best Graphics – 2005 Gamespy Gamers’ Choice Awards [8]

2005 Outstanding Award – Gamezone[9]

My verdict:

“Great graphics, fantastic soundtrack, challenging gameplay, and lots of new features to keep you interested. It is easy to see why the Age of Empires franchise is so popular. I love these games and I find myself returning to them again and again.“

Rating:


AOE III: The War Chiefs was the first AOE III expansion pack to be released. It was developed by Ensemble Studios (Destineer’s MacSoft on the Mac), and was published by Microsoft Games for the PC in 2006 and MacSoft for the Mac in 2007.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This expansion continues to follow the story of the Black family.

Act One: Fire – Nathanial Black is the son of John Black and Nonahkee of the Iroquis from Act Two: Ice of AOE III. His story begins in 1775. The campaign begins with Nathanial and his uncle Kanyenke trying to persuade the Seneca and Mohawk tribes not to join in the American Revolutionary War. Nonahkee is soon kidnapped by the Mohawk and a group of Hessian soldiers led by Colonel Sven Kuechler. It turns out Kuechler has gone rogue, so Nathanial joins forces with George Washington to pursue the leader of the Hessian Soldiers and rescue his mother.

Nathanial Black must join forces with George Washington in order to rescue his mother (Screenshot taken by the author).

Act Two: Shadow – The year is 1866. We are now introduced to Chayton Black, son of Amelia Black from Act Three: Steel of AOE III. His father, a member of the Lakota tribe, died when he was young. When American prospectors begin to encroach on Native American land in search of gold, Nathanial must decide which side to fight on.

Clayton Black is present at The Battle of Little Big Horn (Screenshot taken by the author).

Primary Objectives: Again, there is a nice array of different primary objectives to win the each mission. I found mission 6: Valley Forge particularly interesting because the first objective is to build 6 houses to shelter the men through the winter. The issue is that the cold depletes your gatherer’s energy bars and so you need to head back to the fires to gain your health back. Then you need to amass 3000 food before your town centre arrives and you can build a farm etc. This is before you build an army and destroy the enemy fort.

One new building that features is a fire pit. This enables you to instruct villagers to dance. There are up to 16 different dances, some of which vary depending on which tribe you are. Some of these dances are:

Fertility Dance – Increases unit training speed

Population Dance – Speeds up the production of units

Gift Dance – A slow trickle of experience

War Dance – Increases damage to enemy units

Holy Dance – Spawns Medicine Men.

Fire Dance – Increases damage to buildings and ships

Earth Mother Dance – Increases your population

The Fire Pit allows you to assign villagers to perform various dance to increase attack, resources, population etc. (Screenshot taken by the author).

Other new features include:

6 New Maps – These include: The Andes, Araucania, California, Northwest Territory, Orinoco and the Painted Desert.

Trade Monopoly – For Random Map players, a new ‘Trade Monopoly’ winning scenario has been added. Once a player owns more than half of the trading posts on a map can begin a timer. Your opponents need to destroy some of your trade posts before the timer runs down. Whilst the timer is ticking down, the player who started it cannot rebuild more trading posts if some of his has been destroyed until the timer stops.

More Native Tribes – Another four minor tribes to bring the overall total to 16.

Unique Technologies – Each Native civilisation has unique technologies.

Revolution – When advancing to the Imperial Age, European colonies have the option to revolt and form their own nation. A revolution gives your military a boost but can damage your economy as your settlers all change to colonial militia.

Stealth Mode – Certain Native tribe units have a stealth mode, allowing them to sneak past or sneak up on the enemy. However, this slows down your unit’s movement, and if you get too close to the enemy you will still be spotted.

New Skills for Heroes – Native heroes wuch as Wind Feather from the first mission can use Nature Friendship which convert treasure guardians to ally units.

What makes this expansion a bit more challenging is that not only are you unable to advance further than the Fortress Age, but you are also unable to build walls, an incredibly useful defensive necessity. There are also no watchtowers. Instead, your barracks act in a similar way and will fire arrows from a turret.

There is also less artillery available to the Native Americans. Instead they have either mantletes – Iroquis who carry a shield, and falconets – small cannon. There is only one mission where an allied army supplies bigger artillery for you.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Gamespot: “The WarChiefs expansion adds a solid amount of new content to the existing game, and while many of the new features provide interesting new ways to play and win the game, it’s fair to say that fans of the series will appreciate the changes. The WarChiefs does a lot to shake up the formula, but when you get down to it, the tried-and-true Age of Empires gameplay remains pretty much intact, and the expansion offers more depth and strategy to an already deep strategy experience. Overall 7.8/10.[10]

1Up.com: “…WarChiefs turns into an exciting exercise in completely rethinking old strategies. And this, after all, is what the best expansion packs do: not just add, but entirely revise. Overall A.[11]

Eurogamer: “All told, it’s quite a lot of newness from an expansion pack, and in many ways makes for a pretty considerable shift from how the original game works. Not everyone’s going to agree with me here, as Age Of Empires III certainly has its fans, but, for me, this is redemption (but only redemption & we’re not talking elevation to high levels of acclaim) of a sort for the original game. I laughed one of those laughs that sounds a little like crying when I heard that AOE3 had scooped the Best Online Game award at this year’s Golden Joysticks. What a baffling decision – it wasn’t a terribly interesting game, it was just by the numbers RTS, and in many ways, pretty boring. I prefer my strategy over-the-top, even slightly silly, so being able to vanquish a foe by setting a horde of hypnotised bears on him is far more like my idea of fun. Overall 6/10.[12]

Gamespy: “In the end, The WarChiefs is yet another demonstration of why Ensemble Studios remains among the first rank of strategy game developers. The single-player aspects of the game may indeed be just more of the same, but in this case it’s pretty damned good. On top of that, the multiplayer additions elevate the expansion to a must-own. Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs has managed to re-invent and reinvigorate the game. I’m sorry guys. I’ll never doubt you again. Overall 4.5/5.[13]

IGN: “As we said at the beginning, Ensemble’s not known for producing expansions that alter the strategies of concepts of their core games. Given the popularity and quality of the core games, who are you to argue? Fans of Age of Empires III who are just looking for more content are definitely going to be pleased with the expansion. Those who are hoping for something new or different aren’t going to find it here. Some of the Native American concepts offer a nice twist, as does the inclusion of revolutions and monopolies, but to be totally honest, they could just call the game More Age of Empires III and we’d still line up to play it. Overall 8.2.[14]

My verdict:

“Personally, I really enjoyed War Chiefs. The limiting of the artillery and defensive structures were a challenge. The stories and scenarios were good, and it was nice to return to play as some other members of the Black family.”  

Rating:


Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties is the second expansion pack for AOE III. It was developed by Ensemble Studios in collaboration with Big Huge Games and published by Microsoft Games for the PC in 2007; and developed and published by Destineer’s MacSoft for the Mac in 2008.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This expansion pack leaves the Black family behind and introduces three more civilisations: Japan, China and India, and is broken down into three campaigns respectively.

Japan – This campaign focusses on the reunification of Japan (a scenario of Age of Empires II: The Conquerors) and the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It begins with The Siege of Osaka c.1614-15.

The Asian Dynasties expansion saw some beautifully designed Asian buildings and a whole plethora of new units unique to these ancient civilisations (Screenshot taken by the author).

China – This campaign is based on the controversial hypothesis that China reached the Americas before Columbus.

China’s campaign sees the introduction of the Treasure Ship, which regulalry generates a resource of your choice (Screenshot taken by the author).

India – This campaign introduces a new character, Subedar Nanib Sahir who serves the East India Company, and focusses on the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Follow Nanib Sahir as he joins the Indian Revolution (Screenshot taken by the author).

As well as the design of the buildings, which fit with their respective Asian cultures, there is the introduction of loads more unique units. Other new features include:

Wonders – When advancing to the next age, you must choose to build a wonder. Each wonder offers either units or a resource bonus.

Rice Paddies – Instead of farms, rice paddies can be built. They can be used by villagers to gather food or gold.

Consulates – This new building allows your base to ally with a foreign power. This allegiance will allow you to buy foreign units not otherwise available to you. Export (symbolised by a green leaf) is automatically generated as your villagers gather resources. However, it is generated a lot slower making it more difficult to buy foreign units.

Treasure Ships: For many of the Chinese campaigns, you have a treasure ship which generates a resource of your choice every minute or so.

I didn’t enjoy this expansion quite so much as the others. To me, it felt like there were so many upgrades to use resources on and they were so expensive that I found you could complete each mission before using them.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Gamespot: “Like The WarChiefs expansion from last year, The Asian Dynasties does a good job of introducing distinct new civilizations to Age of Empires III–only this time, instead of Native American tribes, there are three iconic Asian civilizations to play with now. There’s a fair amount here to dig into if you’re a serious Age of Empires fan or someone who likes Asian civilization. Overall 7.5/10.[15]

Gamespy: “No self-respecting Age III fan would want to miss out on all the East meets West fun, not to mention the new artwork: such gorgeous pagodas, arches, minarets and colors that those musty old Europeans could scarcely imagine in their new worlds. This expansion pack is a rare and generous package of new visuals, new gameplay, and absolutely crucial improvements to the core game. If you weren’t an Age III fan before Asian Dynasties, get ready to be one now. Overall 4.5/5.[16]

IGN: “Asian Dynasties is another great chapter in the Age of Empires series and one that strategy gamers with a yen for the Far East should definitely investigate. The units are colorful, the combat is exciting, and the story, though not as thrilling as Age 3 or as historically relevant as Age 2, is still strong enough to carry the action. It’s true that the missions leave a bit to be desired in terms of but I don’t want to come down too harshly on the campaign here because at the end of the day, Asian Dynasties is a heck of a lot of fun. I mean, the elephants alone are worth the price of admission. Overall 8/10”.[17]

My verdict:

“I enjoyed the storyline and the game still looks and plays great. My only gripe is the increase in expensive upgrades that are not worth the effort of gathering resources for. Other than that, it gets a thumbs up from me.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires III and its expansion packs? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Lee, G., (10/14/2005). ‘Review – Age of Empires III’. 1up.com. (https://archive.is/20100105233119/http://www.1up.com/do/reviewPage?cId=3144773&did=1 Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[2] Dodson, J., (November 1st, 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Game Revolution. (https://www.gamerevolution.com/review/36011-age-of-empires-3-review Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[3] Kasavin, G., (October 14, 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Gamespot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-review/1900-6135842/ Accessed 14th November 2020).

[4] Kosak, D., (October 18, 2005). ‘Review – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii/659812p1.html Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[5] Amer, N., (10/18/2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Gamezone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20071011063943/http://pc.gamezone.com/gzreviews/r25458.htm Accessed 14th November 2020).

[6] Butts, S., (14 Oct 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2005/10/14/age-of-empires-iii Accessed 14th November 2020).

[7] (November 23rd 2006). ‘PC Real-Time Strategy Game of the Year – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061123230259/http://goty.gamespy.com/2005/pc/index15.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[8] (November 23rd 2006). ‘Best Graphics – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061128225404/http://goty.gamespy.com/2005/pc/index20.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[9] Knutson, M., (10/16/2005). ‘Age of Empires III’. Gamezone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061214005041/http://pc.gamezone.com/gzreviews/r25458.htm Accessed 15th November 2020).

[10] Ocampo, J., (October 20th, 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Review’. Gamespot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-the-warchiefs-review/1900-6160294/ Accessed 15th November 2020).

[11] Chick, T., (10/17/2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs’. 1up.com. https://archive.is/20131219221713/http://www.1up.com/reviews/aoe-iii-warchiefs Accessed 15th November 2020).

[12] Meer, A., (9th November 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The Warchiefs’. Eurogamer. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/aoe_wc_rev_pc Accessed 15th November 2020).

[13] Rausch, A., (October 20th, 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii-expansion-pack/740899p2.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[14] Butts, S., (18th October 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2006/10/17/age-of-empires-iii-the-warchiefs-review Accessed 15th November 2020).

[15] Ocampo, J., (October 23, 2007). ‘Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Invasion Review’. Gamespot. https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties-review/1900-6181567/ Accessed 15th November 2020).

[16] Chick, T., (Oct 24, 2007). ‘Reviews – Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties/830070p2.html Accessed 16th November 2020).

[17] Butts, S., (23rd October 2007). ‘Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2007/10/23/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties-review?page=3 Accessed 16th November 2020).

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention – Review

RPG fans like nothing more than to take control of a character or group of characters, and immerse themselves fully in a fantasy world where they can increase their character’s stats, find magical and rare weapons, and rescue a kingdom or two. It’s pure hero fantasy…and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention is a fantasy turn-based tactical RPG. It was developed by Climax Entertainment and Camelot Co. Ltd., and published by Sega in 1992 in Japan, and 1993 in North America and Europe. Released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, it would later be released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 (under the title of Shining Force: Resurrection of Dark Dragon), Wii Virtual Console in 2007, iOS in 2010 (discontinued in 2015), and Windows, Linux and Mac (Steam) in 2011. It can also be found as part of the Sega Smash Pack Volume 1 on the Dreamcast, Sega Smash Volume 2 for Microsoft Windows, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation3. For this review, I revisited the version found as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3.

Millenia ago, in the Kingdom of Rune, a battle between good and evil took place. Dark Dragon, who led the forces of evil, was defeated by the Warriors of Light who cast him into an alternate dimension. Dark Dragon vowed to return in 1000 years to once more wreak havoc in Rune. 1000 years later, in which time peace and tranquillity existed in Rune, the Kingdom of Runefaust attacked Rune hellbent on helping Dark Dragon to return.

Taking to people in the towns help you progress further in the game (Screenshot taken by the author)

A young man named Max, who lives in the Kingdom of Guardiana, is sent to defeat the evil warrior Kane and his army. Along with an army of his own, Max soon discovers that Darksol is behind the plot and pursues him throughout Rune to stop Dark Dragon’s ressurection.

Just so there is no confusion, Dark Sol from Shining in the Darkness is the son of Darksol and Mishaela from this game, meaning that Shining Force is a prequel to Shining in the Darkness.

Meet your party:

Max (You): Max is human and an all-round fighter, both fast and accurate. If things are looking bleak during a battle, he can cast Egress to whisk your party away to safety. Be warned, if Max is defeated in battle, you automatically lose the confrontation, and are sent back to your last save spot minus half your gold! To prevent this, keep an eye on his health and don’t be afraid to use Egress or keep a supply of Angel Wings for each member of your party (Angel Wings have the same use as Egress).

Luke: Luke is a dwarf and a great warrior. He cannot cast spells and his movement is limited, but he is strong.

Ken: Ken is a centaur and a good fighter. Centaurs have quite a long movement range so be careful he doesn’t go too far and get separated from the group.

Tao: Tao is a young elf who is training to be a mage. As she gains experience, she will be able to cast spells from afar but she is weak in hand-to-hand combat. Make sure your protect her.

Hans: Hans the Elf is an archer, perfect for ranged attacks. Again, protect him from hand-to-hand combat.

Lowe: Lowe is a halfling priest. Although weak in attack, his skill lies in healing your party during battles.

There are nine other characters who will join your party along the but you’ll have to wait to meet them to find out who they are.

An easy to use menu system helps you keep track of the stats of your party (Screenshot taken by the author)

For the most part, the game takes place from an almost top-down view, in the traditional Japanese-style RPG. There are no labyrinths, and only a few puzzles to solve. You must make your way through various towns and through the overworld map in pursuit of Darksol. In the towns, you can talk to the citizens, some of whom offer insights to help you progress. You can buy and sell weapons and items from the shops to assist you on your quest. You can also find priests who can resurrect fallen characters, cure them of various ailments, promote those who have reached level 20, and record your progress.

Unlike many other RPGs, there are no random battle encounters as such, but there are areas where you can find battles should you wish to increase your stats before progressing in the game.

Battles take place on a square-grid system. Depending on their stats, characters can only move a certain number of squares at one time. Depending on your proximity to an enemy, you can either attack with a weapon, cast a spell, use an item or choose to do nothing. If you are adjacent to a member of your own party, you can swap items. This does not class as a move, and so items can be exchanged without losing your turn.

When an attack occurs, a beautifully animated action scene appears with a blue dialogue screen explaining damage given or accrued, and experience points and money earned etc. When an enemy is hit by your weapon or spell, your attacking character will earn experience points for themselves. When an enemy is defeated, a larger amount of experience points will be awarded to your attacking character and the money earned will be added to your party’s kitty. For every 100 points accrued, that character will level-up increasing their attack, defence, MP, agility etc. Once a character reaches level 20, they can be promoted to a different class of fighter.

This game has beautiful fighting animation scenes (Screenshot taken by the author)

What can I say other than this game looks beautiful. The overworld map and village scenes are bright and vibrant, and detailed with clear distinction between the sprites and environment. The fight scenes are beautifully illustrated and animated with incredible looking sprites, action shots and backgrounds. I really cannot compliment this game enough on its graphics. For me, they are superior to games like Final Fantasy V (1992), Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992) and Paladin’s Quest (1992). However, by the time this game reached North America and Europe, the SNES was beginning to take the graphics up a notch with games like Secret of Mana (1993) and Illusion of Gaia (1993). Had Shining Force been released a year or two later, it would have looked a but dated.

The only thing that lets this game down for me, is the music. By 1992, Both Nintendo and Sega had released games with fantastic 16-bit soundtracks like Super Mario World (1990) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) respectively. Now I know that these are different genres from Shining Force, but it is an indication of how good the music could be in games. I just feel that Shining Force loses a few marks in this department.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “A beautifully crafted piece of Megadrive software with just the right balance of action and adventure to satisfy all needs. Overall 91%.[1]

Sega Power: “A beautifully produced RPG. Great tactical battle sequences. Loads of unique, cute characters, speedy gameplay and lots to see ‘n’ do. Gorgeous to play and look at. Overall 89%.[2]

Megatech: “Finely presented combination of exploration and fighting leads Shining Force to victory. Overall 90%.”[3]

My verdict:

“Blood, death, war, rumpy-pumpy, TRIUMPH!!! I love this game. Shining Force looks beautiful with great graphics, illustrations and animations with plenty of different characters to get to know. The chess-like manoeuvring during battles is challenging and enables you to prepare your army for strategic assaults on the enemy. However, hardened RPG players may find this game a tad easy though.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining Force? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Mean Machines Sega. (May 1993). Issue 8: 74-6. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_7_1302171993.pdf Accessed 11th November 2020).

[2] ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Sega Power. (July 1993). Issue 44: 58-9. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_8_1302172014.pdf Accessed 11th November 2020).

[3] Davies, P., ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Megatech. (May 1993). Issue 17:76-8. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_9_1302172042.pdf Accessed 11th November2020).

Earthbound (Mother 2) – Review

RPGs are like Marmite. You either love ’em or you hate ’em. What tends to put gamers off is the investment needed to play through the game and many argue that the need to fight endless battles against minor minions to increase stats are a cheap way to ensure the longevity of a game. However, this is also what attracts many gamers. They fully immerse themselves in their chosen character and enter a world of pure escapism where they can be a barbarian, dwarf, mage, elf or countless other humanoid species.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) is a single-player RPG developed by Ape Inc. and HAL Laboratory, and published by Nintendo. It is the second game in the Mother series, and was released in Japan in 1994 and North America in 1995 for the SNES and Game Boy Advance. In 2013, it was released on the Wii U Virtual Console. For this review, I played the version found on the SNES Mini.

The graphics suggest the game was designed for a younger audience (Screenshot taken by the author)

A decade after the events of Mother, the alien force that is Giygas has enveloped and consumed the world with hatred, turning animals, plants and humans into monsters. With his three companions: Paula, Jeff and Poo, Ness must travel the world collecting melodies from the eight sanctuaries in order to stop the invasion.

Characters:

Ness – Just a normal kid who defeats his enemies with the use of a baseball bat

Paula – Ness’ friend who possesses psychic powers

Jeff – A young scientific genius

Poo – A mysterious Eastern prince

Fighting scenes sport an array of weird and whacky opponents (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is viewed in 2D with the overworld view being an iosmetric design Interestingly, unlike other RPGs, there is no difference between the overworld and town/dungeon scenes, meaning the game moves seamlessly between the two.

Although the game looks to be aimed towards a younger audience with whacky and childish jokes, I thought that it was quite fun to play. The story is well thought out, if a little bizarre, and there are plenty of collectables to keep you interested. Although cartoon like, I thought the graphics were good (but not great), bright and colourful, with lots of variations amongst the sprites.

Battle scenarios consist of standrd RPG practice in that it is a turn based affair. You can choose to attack, use an object, defend yourself, use PSI, flee etc. Once an enemy is defeated, you gain experience and money.

Isometric overworld view (Screenshot taken by the author)

What makes Earthbound different form other RPGs, is that it isn’t based on random encounter scenarios. In this game, you can actually see your enemies and can give them a wide berth if you do not wish to fight. Also, once your team reach a certain level, many of the lesser enemies are automatically defeated, meaning you don’t have to waste your time faffing around with pointless battles that give you little in the way of experience points. Additionally, you can gain a tactical advantage by approaching an enemy from behind. This allows you to strike first everytime. I thought that these were great features to have. I have always disliked the random encounter aspect of RPGs. I understand that they may be important for the game to ensure your characters build their stats but I’d rather have the option to fight when I wanted to because I feel random encounters just slow the game down too much.

There are a few other interesting aspects to this game. Firstly, your father regularly deposits money into your account so that you are never short of cash to buy new weapons and other items. Secondly, because you can only carry a certain amount of items, you can drop off items or have them delivered to you when you find a telephone. Thirdly, your character becomes homesick at times, which I believe affects him during battles. To remedy this, you simply need to call your mother who gives you a pep talk…very cute!

Did I complete the game?

Yes, with minimal help from a walkthrough

What the critics said:

Gamefan: If you love RPGs, you really must buy earthbound. At first glance the game may not seem like much, but a rich and involving adventure hides just beneath this game’s 8-bit veneer. While not as mind blowing as, say, FFIII, EB is just as fun to play simply because it’s so wacky, original and amusing. Overall 89%.[1]

Super Play: “An RPG that’s very much more than the sum of its parts. If you’ve got the patience to suffer its crude elements then prepare to be boggled: there’s simply nothing like it on the SNES. Overall 88%.[2]

Nintendo Power: “A great story, fun graphics, good sound effects. Frequent, sometimes tedious battles. Poorly designed inventory system limits how many items you can carry. Overall 4/5.[3]

Game Players: “The game’s biggest strength is its humour, but while there’s something here for everyone, most of the quips and strangeness are geared for the younger set – it ain’t exactly Final Fantasy or Illusion of Gaia. Overall 69%.[4]

Awards:

RPG of the Year – 1995 Game Fan Mega Awards[5]

My verdict:

“I really wanted to give this game five stars, but I feel that the graphics let this game down a bit. When compared to the likes of Final Fantasy III and Secret of Mana, the graphics are not what one expects from a SNES. However, don’t be put off by first impressions. This game has much to offer and endears itself to you the longer your play it. Say ‘Fuzzy Pickles'”

Rating:

What are your memories of Earthbound? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] Rox, N., ‘Earthbound – Review’. Gamefan. (August 1995). Volume 3 Issue 8:70-71. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume3Issue08August1995ALT/page/n69/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[2] Nicholson, Z., ‘Earthbound – Review.’ Super Play. (September 1995). Issue 35:38-40. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_35_1995-09_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n39/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[3] ‘Earthbound – Review’. Nintendo Power. (June 1995). Volume 73:10-19 & 107 (https://archive.org/details/NintendoPower1988-2004/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20073%20%28June%201995%29/page/n113/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[4] Lundrigan, J., ‘Earthbound – Review’. Game Players. (July 1995). Issue 54:60. (https://archive.org/details/Game_Players_Issue_54_July_1995/page/n63/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[5] ‘1995 Mega Awards’ Gamefan. (January 1996). Volume 4 Issue 1:106. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume4Issue01/page/n105/mode/2up accessed 22nd October 2020).