International Karate Plus, Game Boy Advance

This handheld conversion of Archer Maclean‘s classic IK+ was published in 2002 by Ignition Entertainment and is generally quite excellent.

The only real complaint I have is that the fighters are slightly oversized (in relation to the backgrounds), although you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’d played the C64 version, or Amiga/Atari ST versions. Those of us who have played the earlier versions might be slightly irked by this scaling discrepancy, because it gives the player less room to fight in. Does this affect gameplay adversely in this GBA conversion? No, no really. Yes, there is less room to fight in, but International Karate is more about close-quarters combat, and timing your moves correctly, than jumping all over the shop like in Street Fighter II. So the oversized characters aren’t really a major problem.

This GBA conversion seems to have more responsive controls than previous versions, probably because it runs at a higher frame rate. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true of not. One thing is true: IK+ on the GBA runs at a blistering pace. Later levels require zen-like skill to beat and are often over in seconds.

IK+ is excellent on the Game Boy Advance, although does have limited appeal. It is a game you can pick up, play and enjoy at any time, though.

More: International Karate Plus on Wikipedia

Icewind Dale II, PC

Icewind Dale II is an Infinity Engine-based RPG released by Interplay in 2002. This sequel was developed by Black Isle Studios and was the final game to be developed for the Infinity Engine.

Unlike the first Icewind Dale – and all the other Baldur’s Gate games – Icewind Dale II uses the Wizards of the Coast 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset (not the 2nd Edition AD&D ruleset, as the others do), and the Infinity Engine has been reprogrammed to allow for this (note: with some limits. The programmers were apparently forced to drop some of the 3rd Edition’s rules because of the engine’s “outdated nature”). This employment of a new ruleset does make the game feel different to play than the previous Infinity Engine games. And, as this was the last Infinity Engine game, you would have to ask if this ruleset change ultimately contributed to the series’ demise. It could be argued that it did.

Thankfully the interface has been cleaned-up a bit and feels easier to use than the first game. A lot of the character portraits and graphic styles have been carried over, though, mostly because they are canon to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting that Icewind Dale II is based upon.

Icewind Dale II begins with a goblin raid and leads on to other quests as you explore. After the initial excitement you’re then assigned to much more menial tasks before the game will let you move on. Which is a little frustrating. The main ‘meat’ of the story revolves around a group of mercenaries who are caught in a war between the Ten Towns of Icewind Dale and a coalition of persecuted races and religions.

Combat is beautifully simple once you’ve gotten the hang of it, and the game is challenging from the outset, but rewarding in a miserly way. It takes a while to get a real foothold.

Otherwise: this is a decent isometric role-player and a fitting end to the Infinity Engine reign. Not sure why it’s currently not on Steam, but it’s available on GOG.com. An enhanced remake by Overhaul Games has not yet emerged, at the time of writing (May 2019), due to the whereabouts of the original source code being unknown.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icewind_Dale_II
GOG.com: https://www.gog.com/game/icewind_dale_2

Manic Miner, Game Boy Advance

Jester Interactive‘s 2002 remake of Manic Miner must surely rate as the best version of Manic Miner available (excepting maybe the Spectrum original), although it might play too quickly for some.

The speed at which Miner Willy moves and jumps is frightening. Unlike most versions of Manic Miner there’s no lack of processing power to slow the game down. The extra speed is fine early on, but later levels are made much more challenging due to how quickly you have to react. On the odd occasion Willy doesn’t correctly switch-jump, which can cause problems. Is this control fumble due to the fast speed, or is it a bug? Or even a feature? Who knows?

Graphically, this Manic Miner remake is superb. The backdrops are not too busy that they get in the way of the action (well, most are – the Processing Plant is definitely too busy!), but all are beautifully-drawn, and each screen is slightly bigger than the GBA screen so the screen scrolls a little when you reach the sides.

The Game Boy Advance version of Manic Miner features two separate branches: “Original Game”, with the original 20 levels; and “Enhanced Game” with new levels mixed in with the old ones. Usually in Manic Miner the new or ‘enhanced’ levels are not very good, but in this it feels like they have been properly designed and playtested and offer enough of a challenge without being full of dead ends (a problem I noticed with extra levels in other Manic Miner conversions – the programmers often don’t understand what it is that makes the original Manic Miner levels so good (ie. multiple routes to completion; few (or no) dead ends (where you get stuck); and clever platform/enemy arrangement).

The only downside is that they got rid of the iconic Monty Python-style ‘Game Over’ boot and replaced it with a crappy pre-rendered animation. Boo! Should’a stuck to proper 2D graphics instead of that dated muck…

More on The King of Grabs: 10 Best Manic Miner Conversions

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manic_Miner

Arx Fatalis, PC

Arx Fatalis is a 3D Role-Playing Game developed by French company Arkane Studios and first published by JoWooD Productions in 2002.

On the face of it, Arx Fatalis doesn’t look particularly special, but scratch under the surface – make some headway into the game – and you might begin to think that it’s actually pretty darn good.

To play, it’s fairly similar to The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, except dialogue plays less of a part and your actions decide which direction the game takes you. It’s nowhere near as good as Morrowind, though, and don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. Arx Fatalis is good, but it’s not that good.

Arx Fatalis is relatively open-ended and is known for being a game that does not hold your hand while playing. Helpful hints do pop up as you play, but these are just bare bones tips. Without any prior knowledge of the game – and without a walkthrough – it can be a struggle to progress. The magic system, in particular, takes some getting used to. You have to use mouse gestures to cast spells, and although the manual is okay it doesn’t explain everything. Thankfully you can ‘pre-cast’ spells and assign them to number keys.

What is good about Arx Fatalis is that the world is well-constructed and atmospheric. You can manipulate most objects, and can combine a lot of them to make potions and new items. The game is a solid challenge too. On the downside: the combat is a bit poor (hold down mouse button to charge up your swing, then let go); the menus and inventories are weird; the scrolling text during dialogue is strange (why have it scroll vertically when non-scrolling text would have been much better?); the ‘pre-cast’ magic system is a bind in terms of key-presses; and there are either bugs or game idiosyncrasies that cause a real headache (like, for example, something I did (no idea what) that caused my life energy to slowly deplete, which made me give up on the game; or the levitate spell that doesn’t end unless you save and reload).

I’ve read a few comments online that rave about this game, but – come onArx Fatalis is really not that great! Playing it now it just seems like too much of a pain in the butt to play any further than the temple levels. If you like tearing your hair out when gaming, then Arx Fatalis might be for you. For everyone else, though, it’s probably a little too deformed to get any major fun out of.

Note: Arx Fatalis was patched by Arkane and re-released on Steam and GOG in 2011, but as the game was not written to run on more modern systems it does come with some problems. The game did not run ‘out-of-the-box’ for me (and many others, it seems). Thankfully the original game source code has been released online (just the game engine – not the assets), and a group of fans called Arx Liberatis have released their own patches to address some of the issues. It is frustrating that a game I bought (on GOG.com) required a patch to make it playable, but the fix was easy enough, and the game is really worth fixing and playing. Whether your game will need patching or not is down to your individual system setup. At the time of writing (2019) the required patches are still available online.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arx_Fatalis
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1700/Arx_Fatalis/
GOG.com: https://www.gog.com/game/arx_fatalis

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, PC

This 2002 sequel to Serious Sam is very similar to the first game. The first level even has the same monsters, but does blast through them quickly to get to the new stuff. And there is quite a bit of new stuff. Weapons, environments, enemies, bosses, et cetera.

This time Sam begins the game in jungle surroundings, but soon finds himself in a never-ending maze of corridors…

Overall, though, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is just as ‘generic’ as the first game (ie. quite generic – never really a good thing). It’s reasonable fun though, and more challenging than you might think.

Again: The Second Encounter was developed by Croatian developer Croteam – probably back-to-back with the first game.

More: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter on Wikipedia
Steam: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter HD on Steam
GOG.com: https://www.gog.com/game/serious_sam_the_second_encounter

Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Game Boy Advance

The second game in the Golden Sun series is pretty much identical to the first, which is fine because the first Golden Sun game was so good. Again: this sequel was developed by Camelot and published by Nintendo in 2002 (2003 in Europe).

In Golden Sun: The Lost Age you can import your characters and items from the first game if you like, via the Game Link Cable or a password system, or you can start afresh if you haven’t played the first game. Playing the first Golden Sun is not compulsory, but if you do complete both games you are apparently rewarded with special items.

Golden Sun: The Lost Age plays the same as most JRPGs: colourful towns and villages with shops that you can explore at will; a pseudo 3D map for exploring the “overworld”; and a long procession of dungeons and caves to crawl through. And, if you don’t enjoy a bit of turn-based dungeon-crawling, then maybe this game isn’t for you.

For those who love level-grinders, though, both Golden Sun games present an opportunity for weeks of absorbing adventuring and are well worth a play if you’ve never tried them before.

More: Golden Sun: The Lost Age on Wikipedia