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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (386)

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Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5

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EnHanced   PC (Steam) 

Tiny Windows…    3.5/5 stars

“EnHanced,” which I believe is pronounced “En-Aitch-Ants-Ed,” is one of those out-of-nowhere pet-project type of Indie games that can be found commonly on websites like GameJolt, Itch.io, and NewGrounds, but which don’t all-that-often find their way to Steam or the other big digital markets. With Desura dead-and-buried, it is only through the grace of Lord GabeN and his destruction of all standards of curation on Steam that a game like “EnHanced” could find its way into the public eye at all. But “find” it did, as the developer, ‘The Bell,’ a.k.a, Erik Bell, moved his pet project from GameJolt to the Big City of Steam.

“EnHanced” is actually a remake/remaster of The Bell’s earlier effort “H,” which is still free to download and play on GameJolt. Nobody at MeltedJoystick had even heard of this title, and it failed to find its way into our database until one fateful day when The Bell offered us a review copy for free via Steam Curator Connect. Upon viewing the store page and promotional video/screencaps for the game, I didn’t see anything that made me want to self-harm, so I went ahead and accepted it. In all honesty, MeltedJoystick doesn’t receive all that many complementary review copies of games, and “EnHanced” marks the very first example of such a game coming to us via Curator Connect that we didn’t flat-out reject (or, rarely, ‘politely decline’), which is a pretty low bar. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by “EnHanced.”

Presentation
Almost across the board, presentation is the low point in “EnHanced.” Honestly, this remake barely looks different from the original free version, though the $5 price tag is far more reasonable than many other NES-inspired retro games.

As a NES-inspired retro game, though, “EnHanced” suffers a bit from trying to imitate a hardware platform that isn’t really worthy of visual replication. The color pallet for everything in “EnHanced” is limited, with frequently-awful collisions of color and an overall dreary look, all for the sake of copying the visual stylings of hardware that could only output 64 preset colors and display 25 of them on-screen at once. As a result, the main supporting character is rendered solely in shades of green, while the cutscenes are typically mono-color affairs. But, hey, there are cutscenes, and, in spite of the drab color palettes, they’re actually very well done. Character and environmental designs are also overall well-done, with a few obvious homages to memetic Internet material, such as the so-called ‘NES Godzilla Creepypasta.’ Animations are reasonably well-executed too.

Audio (which was contributed by someone else, not done by The Bell himself) is the high point of “EnHanced’s” presentation, with numerous catchy, memorable chiptunes that are stylistically similar to those 8-bit earworms of the past, yet entirely original (at least as far as I could tell). Sound effects are also well-executed and incorporated nicely into the gameplay at key points.

Technically is where “EnHanced” falls down the hardest, though, and it’s not, as you might expect, due to a huge number of glitches. No, for a largely one-man project, “EnHanced” is surprisingly solid, with nary a crash to be found (the sole glitch I ran into was the left d-pad not working in a well-hidden minigame). The game’s main, overwhelming, soul-crushing flaw is the fact that it can only be played in a window… and a very small, un-resizable window at that. I tried everything, even going so far as to download an external program that could supposedly force stubborn software to run full-screen, but there is no way around this shortcoming. The best way to make “EnHanced” feel like a playable full-screen experience is to run Steam in Big Picture mode, which plops the tiny game window against a neutral-colored backdrop (though the taskbar is still present on screen). Other than that, and the fact that the game doesn’t support Steam Cloud for save backup, “EnHanced” is surprisingly more modern and with-it than a large number of other Indie PC games. It supports Xinput out of the box (though it’s not possible to rebind buttons or keys at all, which is a fair oversight), and includes most of Steam’s other bells-and-whistles (like Achievements).

Story
“EnHanced” tells the tale of the titular ‘H,’ a security guard at a top-secret location who awakens from a night of hard partying in a cargo bay, only to discover that the rest of the base is on lockdown, many lab specimens have escaped confinement, and nearly all of the administrative staff have died in the process. The sole remaining admin in the compound is Larank, the latest hire, who comes across a barely competent, mildly insane, and completely untrustworthy.

Torn between Larank’s orders to follow lockdown protocol and his own desires to rush to the residential area of the compound to check on his family, H must make his way through all manner of carnage, all while a greater, overarching mystery unfolds.

I can’t say much more while avoiding spoilers, but suffice to say, very little in “EnHanced” is as it seems. The game’s plot is well-conceived and well-executed, while the character dynamic between H and Larank is obviously inspired by the relationship between Chel and GLaDOS.

All in all, a single run through “EnHanced” can take about 5 hours. Fortunately, the game supports New Game+ an infinite number of times, allowing the player to carry over H’s upgrades but not a whole lot else. Certain cutscenes also change slightly in New Game+ to take into account new information the player has gleaned.

Gameplay
“EnHanced” is like a Metroidvania game… only without most of the things that make a Metroidvania game. “EnHanced” is a 2D Sidescroller with plenty of platforming and plenty of enemy-shooting. And while it all takes place inside a single large compound, there is very little backtracking allowed, as each major wing of the game’s environment is encapsulated as a stand-alone ‘stage.’ Each of the game’s stages, however, connect back to a central hub, where the sole save point sits. Also, once an area has been completed, there’s no going back until New Game+, as the doors leading in all lock.

H’s controls are fairly basic with a dual analog controller. He can move side-to-side with the left stick or d-pad, but the right stick controls his aim and facing, as in a twin stick SHMUP. H can jump, fire standard beam shots, fire missiles, and lob grenades, though the latter two options must first be unlocked via the upgrade menu. The default beam weapon has a heat capacity, and generates a small amount of heat with each continuous shot. When the heat meter fills up, the beam fire rate drops to a crawl until the player stops firing and lets it cooldown for a while (which also prevents missiles from being fired). Lastly, H can carry a supply of 5 energy tanks, which, unlike the energy tanks in actual ‘Metroid’ games, must be used manually, via a simple button press, in order to restore some hit points.

Let’s get this out of the way: “EnHanced” is NOT an RPG, though it does feature an experience-like score and upgrade system. Killing enemies and collecting coins (which drop from both slain enemies and destroyed environmental debris) adds to the player’s score. Upon hitting specific score thresholds, H earns an upgrade point and can spend it to improve one of a variety of abilities, including Health, Weapon Heat, Weapon Cooldown, Beam Power, Jumping, Speed, Range, Missiles, and Grenades. Most of these are self-explanatory, with the exception of the fact that maxing out the Jump skill unlocks a very important Double-Jump ability. Because double-jumping is so essential, it actually benefits the player to do some point grinding early on in order to unlock it ASAP. Most of the other powerups, however, feel a bit bland and unexciting, as they don’t really offer much of an obvious improvement. Yes, it’s obvious that the maxed out beam weapon is stronger than the starting one, but each of the incremental improvements in between feels incredibly weak, and the amount of upgrades that must be sunk into each category to max it out is fairly significant.

“EnHanced” is also lacking in the area of hidden powerups that one might expect from a Metroidvania game, which is obviously due to the fact that every upgrade comes through score and the upgrade system. Instead, “EnHanced” features a stable of temporary power-ups that last for a few minutes, including a reflector shield, a coin magnet, a ‘Gradius’ like Option companion bot, and fast cooldown. And in place of interesting things to find, the game includes a whopping 60 secrets and 30 hidden security cameras. While tracking down these hidden goodies does certainly make the game last longer, I can’t help but think some of them are hidden a bit too well. I managed to find several really bizarre Easter Eggs (which don’t apparently count as official ‘secrets’ during my initial and one New Game+ run of the game, but always ended up just shy on secrets and security cameras at the end, which leads me to the conclusion that some of these secrets are hidden a bit too well.

What would a not-quite-Metroidvania be without bosses? Ehhh… it would be a game without bosses… but “EnHanced” actually has quite a few bosses, and they’re all quite well-designed and interesting. Roughly half of the game’s boss battles reminded me fondly of Valve’s ‘Half-Life’ series, where the object wasn’t to memorize a pattern and repeatedly hit the boss until dead, but to figure out a gimmick and exploit it. The other half of the bosses are largely pattern memorization affairs, but they’re all well-executed and never come across as unbalanced or cheap (which is something that not even experienced “AAA” developers get right all the time).

Overall
If more actual NES games displayed the basic level of competence displayed by “EnHanced”… I’d have gotten a lot more enjoyment out of my NES back in the day. While the mindboggling decision to force the game to run in a tiny window is unfortunate, the engaging narrative and quality gameplay mostly make up for it.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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