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Gamebox 2.0: Games of July 2023

As the summer days get hotter, so do the action-packed games we got to try out this July. This July brought a lot of fun retro titles for a new generation like cult classic FPS Rise of the Triad and the RayStorm X RayCrisis HD Collection. We got to do some fast-pacing shooting in Crime Boss: Rockay City and Rightfully, Beary Arms. Check out all reviews and thoughts on these games and more below.

Crime Boss: Rockay City (Zach): Coming from 505 Games, INGAME Studios, and Epic Games, Crime Boss: Rockay City lets you team up or take down a slew of genre-favorite celebrities in a number of different FPS modes.  The main single-player mode sees you playing as Travis Baker, played by Michael Madsen, who arrives in Rockay City looking to take down The King and take over the city’s various crime enterprises for himself.  Crime Boss actually has a pretty interesting rogue-like structure where you have a sort of risk/reward mechanic in play.  You can play as Travis, which will earn you experience that you can use to unlock new abilities, but if you fail the mission, that run is over and you’ll have to start from scratch.  You can hire other members of your crew and control them in the various missions, but they’ll only earn you cash and not experience, so you eventually have to get your hands dirty as Travis.  Michael Rooker, Kim Basinger, Vanilla Ice, Chuck Norris, Danny Trejo, Danny Glover, and Damon Poitier co-star in the game and it’s a bit of a mixed bag as far as their performances.  Basinger and Rooker in particular are great and seem to really understand the assignment while some, like Vanilla Ice, seem completely miscast and there are some other line readings from others, like Norris and Madsen, that feel like they just delivered the lines without context and they were cut and pasted into whatever scene.  It is fun to see so many famous faces and the game would definitely be much more generic without them.

As far as gameplay, if you’ve played games like Payday, Crime Boss will feel similar and it also has the standard controls set by Call of Duty as far as the shoulder buttons aiming and firing and where functions like reload and switch weapons are.  The shooting feels really satisfying and shooting, with the right amount of heft to each different weapon.  Each character you control has a different loadout and you can’t pick up weapons in the levels, so it’s important to find a character that you like as far as loadouts.  There are certain modes where you have a crew of characters with different loadouts and, if one dies, you’ll switch to another who may have a different gun or a melee weapon as their main weapon.  In the single-player mode, you’ll do things like pull off heists and battle rival gangs to gain territory, which is also what you’ll be doing in co-op, which plays very much like Payday.  There is also an option for quick action where you can jump in and do some quick missions.  I was pleasantly surprised that Crime Boss: Rockay City is more than just its celebrity cast and it is a very solid, fun shooter with a unique and interesting single-player campaign to dig into with lots more depth than you may expect.  The game is out now on the Epic Games Store and PS5/Xbox Series S and X.

Rightfully, Beary Arms – Early Access (Chris): We first got to try Rightfully, Beary Arms, a bullet hell rogue-lite game from Daylight Basement Studio at the recent Pax East. It was built meant to showcase just some of the weaponry and enemy designs, which all gave a strong impression of the game. The new Early Access build has been released and the developers hope you have been practicing your bullet-dodging skills lately. You might think this game might be relaxing and cutesy. Especially with an adorable bear mascot. But this bear has claws and will to be ready to take on the countless hordes of enemies.

Rightfully, Beary Arms stars Beary, a space explorer out looking for an adventure and his lost weaponry. He ventures out to find new weaponry and upgrades to venture deeper into more dangerous parts of the galaxy. Beary explores locations that come in the form of procedurally generated dungeons. At the moment, each location looks like a dockyard, a bowling alley, or a spaceship, but the overall layout is different for each run. There are multiple connected rooms, but only one exit point in every stage. However, enemies are randomly spawned and must be defeated. Each room becomes a firefight with no real safe area. Only when all the enemies in a room are defeated that room is safe to revisit.

The player can pick one of three default weapons to start their game with; a pistol, a cap gun-looking shotgun, and a retro space laser. All the default weapons have unlimited ammo and start with barebones stats that will need to be upgraded. Or not if you like a challenge. After every fight, there is a chance to be given a chest that contains a boost. This can increase the default weapon’s stats, give you a new weapon or unlock a special ability called a Gambits. These abilities will help greatly in battle, such as slowing down time or removing all enemy projectiles but it will temporarily lock some of your health if you use them. Only if you clear a room will that health be unlocked. If you’re lucky in the dungeon, you can find a store to pick new abilities and upgrades with enough currency called plu. These items are randomly picked and are expensive, but help if put in the odds in your favor.

More than likely Beary will get defeated a few times. Running into enemies, getting hit by projectiles, or running off the level will reduce Beary’s heart count. After all the hearts are gone, Beary is pixelated out of existence. Beary’s stats get a reset and you have to choose something that benefits the enemies. This can be reducing the chances of dropping ammo, increasing the speed of the enemy, or even their numbers spawning in the room. However, you get to keep your earned weaponry. This is less of a punishment, but a balance to make sure no matter how upgraded Beary has become, the enemies get some fighting chance too.

Rightfully, Beary Arms has that balance of fun and frustration that makes you carefully pick your choices. Every weapon has its pros and cons and can be tailored to suit every player’s style. The game forces the player to get a good understanding of the basics of combat and management, Risky choices will give your great rewards, but only if you survive a run. The game’s tough factor stems from how often you can recover health. Every dungeon doesn’t guarantee health items! You might get an unlucky run of three stages that don’t refill health, then take on a boss fight with barely one heart left. Hopefully, the Early Access build will identify more areas to improve the gameplay further, with some possible tweaks for newcomer bullet hell players. If you are a fan of games like Enter the Gungeon or looking for a fun action-packed indie title to try, then check out Rightfully, Beary Arms today!

Mr. Run and Jump (Zach): Coming from Atari and Graphite Labs, Mr. Run and Jump is a precision platformer that throws you into a neon-drenched world full of enemies and hazards.  After starting out in a game straight out of the 2600 (which is actually where Mr. Run and Jump originated on a homebrew 2600 game), Mr. Run and Jump and his dog Leap are sucked into the Realms of Color, where he needs to try and defeat the evil Void and save the realms.  The game is a speedrunning platformer in the vein of games like Celeste or Guacamelee where Mr. Run and Jump has to make his way through each stage by wall jumping, diving and leaping, dodging enemies, and avoiding spikes.  The game does a great job of easing you in and introducing you to all of Mr. Run and Jump’s moves, of which he has many.  Along with the standards like wall jumping, Mr. Run and Jump can high jump, long jump, and dive.  You will eventually need to combine all these skills to make it through the stages and it will definitely test your dexterity and platforming skills as it progresses.  There’s an interesting power mechanic where Mr. Run and Jump can double jump, but his power is tapped out for other actions until he lands back on solid ground, so you have to make sure you’re moving and utilizing moves in a way that doesn’t leave you flailing in mid-air with no way to do anything.

The game looks fantastic with an excellent neon aesthetic that still has some of that old-school simplicity and an absolutely stellar soundtrack that keeps the action driving.  The game controls are fantastic and you definitely get into a flow as you play when all the moves are clicking.  Along with completing each stage, there are collectible shards that you can collect in each stage and special challenge rooms that you can tackle to collect special orbs.  After completing each stage, you can go back and tackle them in Time Trial mode to try and get the fastest time.  Mr. Run and Jump looks and plays great and if you’re a fan of platformers, it’s definitely one to check out.  The game is out now on PC, Xbox Series S/X and One, PS4 and PS5, Switch and Atari VCS.

RayStorm X RayCrisis HD Collection (Chris): Bundled together for the first time, two classic vertically scrolling shooters are returning in the RayStorm X RayCrisis HD Collection from Taito, M2, ININ Games, and United Games. Based on Taito’s 1994 arcade title RayForce, these games feature a “two attack layer” system, where the player can shoot in two separate planes. The player can fire off bullets at one higher plane while targeting locked-on attacks to enemies at a lower level. The games rely on skill than spamming special attacks, so you can’t easily spam a screen-clearing attack to win. This anthology features the original arcade version of RayForce, two versions of its prequel title RayCrisis and two versions of its spin-off RayStorm.

All three games share a similar plot of invading forces taking over the world and conquering Earth in the distant future. RayForce and RayCrisis have an evil cybernetic cloned human army. RayStorm takes place in an alternate universe, but the rebellious space colony of Secilia has declared war on Earth. Mankind’s final hope is new-age starfighters with advanced weaponry that will cut down the enemy’s number. Players take up the role of pilots that battle the invading forces, clearing a path to make a big assault on the take the opposing army’s ultimate weapon.

This collection lets gamers experience Ray’s series with all the fast-paced, bullet-dodging action with none of the slowdown. RayForce looks and plays like the arcade setup, retaining the classic sprite graphics. RayForce is like an upgraded game design with 3D graphics and an additional ship to pilot. There is a new chargeable special attack and the lock-on system is further extended. RayCrisis adds new randomly selected levels and changes difficulty depending on the order. The gameplay is similar between the HD versions and the original graphics, but the presentations feel different. The original format of RayCrisis and RayStorm retain the early 3D graphics that still look amazing on an arcade cab or TV today. The HD versions give the game a smooth feel, upgrading the rough polygonal edges that make it resemble PS2 games. No matter which graphical version, the tough gameplay will still have you reacting to every moment of dangerously close incoming enemy fire and lucky chances of tight squeezes.

The RayStorm X RayCrisis HD Collection is an excellent addition to any Shoot’em Up fan. The game focuses on quick reflexes and precision attacks that lets gamers feel like a total ace pilot if they don’t get shot down a lot. The boss designs are big and offer up a variety of attack patterns to overcome. Each game has a distinct feel to the typical formula and will have fans favoring one over the others. The collection is the best way to obtain all five versions of the games and it won’t require a ton of quarters to master the game. RayStorm X RayCrisis HD Collection was released on June 29th and is available on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. A physical edition of the game, with bonus content, is also available from Strictly Limited Games.

Garlic (Zach): Coming from Sylph and Ratalaika Games, Garlic, like Mr. Run and Jump is a precision platformer with an old-school aesthetic mixed with wacky anime/Warioware-style humor.  You play as Garlic, a silent warrior in the vein of One Punch Man who is looking to climb a mystical tower and reach the Cyber Goddess, who will grant him one wish if he can survive the journey.  The game has all the movement you would expect from a precision platformer, like wall jumping, but Garlic can also do a dash move to attack enemies and can also bounce on their heads.  The game slowly doles out all of the moves that are in Garlic’s arsenal and there is a ton that you can do, but also a lot to remember.  The amount of movement options might be a bit too complex at times, where you need to remember certain moves that you may not use all the time to get through certain sections, but the wall jump and other moves are pretty forgiving, so you can recover and continue if you miss a jump or movement and it feels fast and smooth throughout.  Along with progressing through each stage, there are mini-games you’ll encounter, wacky boss battles that will see you battling or trying to outrun them, and wacky cutscenes that progress the story.

The game has an excellent art style that captures different old-school styles, from old VGA graphics to NES to even the black-and-white aesthetic of old Macintosh machines.  Each section has an overall feel but the levels vary wildly in color and style, which keeps things varied and interesting as you progress.  The music is also excellent, changing things up in each level and varying between super energetic, upbeat tunes to more sinister, creepy tunes depending on the stage.  The overall style is fun, with extreme close-ups and wacky expressions in the cutscenes and a whole host of crazy characters to encounter with the dialogue to match.  Garlic is a great platformer that is constantly throwing out new challenges and changing things up to keep you on your toes and features tons of movement and combat options to help you make it through each stage.  It’s out now on PS4/5, Xbox Series X/S and Switch.

Take No Prisoners (Chris): Publisher SNEG has ported over a new batch of nostalgic gaming, and we got our hands on the cult hit Take No Prisoners. Developed in 1997 by Raven Software, Take No Prisoners is a top-down action-shooter, that used sprites and early 3D environmental graphics. It’s not a flat top-down perspective, but it’s not exactly a 3rd person angle either. The game stars Slade, a mercenary that is hired by Martech Industries to retrieve the crystal that protects a dome compound inside the city of San Antonio. Slade has to explore San Antonio, looking for weaknesses to get inside the dome and obtain the crystal.

The plot of the game unfolds in a non-linear fashion, allowing players to delve into Slade’s main objectives through cutscenes while also granting them the freedom to explore the game world at their own pace. In fact, the game lets you fight and wrack havoc right against the guards of Martech Industries, who will promptly retaliate. However, the player can freely explore most areas. Slade can pick up logs and talk to NPCs to flush out more of the plot but the game typically doesn’t make it mandatory. There are several fractions in San Antonio that each holds a key item that will help Slade get into the dome. The game will give you limited directions in the order of where to start, but it’s up to the player to figure out the best routes and alternative paths.

The gameplay focuses on exploration and fast combat. The levels are designed to be big mazes that have multiple paths are dead-ends that only expand on a revisit. However, Take No Prisoners won’t make it obvious where to go to the next object. Exploring levels will always lead to combat, and you won’t be able to see all the enemies on screen at once. Carelessly running around a room is a sure way to get gibbed. The movement and actions are very responsive but may require some re-mapping of buttons. The default design is not the best layout. Slade can carry a hefty arsenal of weaponry, equipped to handle crowds from a machine gun or unleash a few powerful shotgun blasts for a faster takedown. But not every situation is going to call going in blasting. You can lure enemies into better positions and take them out individually. The landmines become a handy secondary attack to reduce a swarm of enemies. If things are looking rough and ammo is low, there is a good old fashion laser sword to get up close and personal.

This updated port is only updated to run on modern machines and practically everything else is left untouched. The graphics have that rough 90s pixelation of 3D effects and the gameplay revolves around trial and error. The level designs make the game challenging to explore. It’s really easy to get lost and requires backtracking or reading thru the notes to find out clues on what to do next. The combat gameplay is fine but limited by the view. The top-down perspective is always going to have a difficult time showing where all the enemies are safely and the player is going to take a few cheap hits from it. Take No Prisoner is a fun experience if you appreciate 90s gaming nostalgia or are interested in seeing what prime gaming was in the Windows 95 era. Take No Prisoner was released on June 30th and is available on GOG and Steam.

Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition (Zach & Chris): We first check it out at PAX East earlier this year and now Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition is coming out for PC and consoles. Developed by a combination of Apogee Software, New Blood Interactive, and Night Dive Studios, Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition brings everything from the original cult classic into HD and adds a whole slew of new features.  Every episode of the original Rise of the Triad is included here along with a new episode created exclusively for this version, plus a level editor to let you create your own insane levels.

Rise of the Triad is still the fast-paced boomer shooter that fans of the genre have loved for decades. The gameplay loop and style all still play great in 2023.  Rise of the Triad follows H.U.N.T (High-risk United Nations Task-force), a covert elite squad of soldiers on a mission to stop supernatural activities. They are not mystical themselves, but they are deadly with combat skills. Before an episode, you pick a member of H.U.N.T to play as each member has different stats and attributes that suit slightly different play styles. Some characters are more balanced with speed and health. Some have better weapon accuracy than health. Some are slower with more health and less speed.

The first episode, Dark War, brings H.U.N.T an island that is experiencing strange cult activity. The team discovers an army of cultists known as the Triad, who have set up a base of operations at an accident monastery. Lead El Oscuro, the Triad is hunting the team is stranded on the island and now must battle to survive. In the additional episodes, the H.U.N.T will learns more about the Triad and their plans to destroy Los Angeles, soon the world.

Rise of the Triad is probably best known for its awesome weaponry that lets you become an occultist killing machine. Along with standard weapons like MP40s and pistols, you can get weapons like a magical baseball bat called Excalibat, Drunk Missiles, magic spells, and even God Mode, which has you pointing your fingers at enemies and exploding them. The levels are full of mechanics that let you take out crowds of enemies in fun and brutal ways. There are aerial platforms, jump pads, teleporters, and other mechanics that let you get the drop on enemies. Some layouts won’t make any sense in real life, but it’s lots of fun dodging spike traps and flame throwers while rocket-jumping to safety.

There are also a ton of secret areas to find that give the player stronger weapons and health, and even find power-ups that will let you literally fly. Which also helps to find even more secreted areas and alternate paths. The game slightly gives you hints on where the secrets are, but it’s on the player to find them. Finding triggers for secrets mostly happens by accident but comes in handy when you need a boost in health or ammo. However, triggering secrets at the right moment come by trial and error. Walls will move into certain positions and take away precious health items that you would later desperately need in emergencies.

It’s clear that a lot of love went into modernizing Rise of the Triad. The improved framerates enhanced the original sprite work while keeping everything that fans love about the original release. This doesn’t feel like a quick port that is repacked. The game plays silky smooth on modern gaming options. This edition adds 4K Ultrawide resolution if you have a monitor that supports it. The PC version also supports controller input, but if you aren’t playing this on a keyboard WASD style, you’re doing it wrong (Play it like a true keyboard warrior!). The new episode included in this game rounds out the whole connected plot of the H.U.N.T team against the Triad, setting up for a showdown with El Oscuro once again.  There’s also cross-platform multiplayer and a slew of options to customize your experience for newcomers or veterans of the title. You can pick any music track you want in each level, not just the track for that level, and there are multiple soundtracks, from the original 1994 MIDI version to a new modern version and you can adjust settings with the gameplay to experience the game however you want.

If you’re a fan of boomer shooters and you’ve never played Rise of the Triad, this new version is the perfect way to dive in. The game is up there with great classics like Doom and Wolfenstein with frantic gameplay and challenging levels. There is still some degree of old-school game designs that requires precision platform jumping and mindless exploration to figure how where to travel to in the level. However, some practice or tricky alternate methods can be used to avoid the slow parts and get back into the action. Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition will be releasing this July 31st for PC, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series S|X, and Nintendo Switch.

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