Raider: Episode 1


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Rating: 4.1/5 (107 votes)
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GrimmrookRaider Epsiode 1Have you been hankering for a two-fisted retro platformer you can sink your teeth into? If so, Raider: Episode 1 from Pseudolonewolf may just hit the spot.

Anyone who has traveled the breadth of the galaxy has heard the stories before. Stories about ghost starships or whole civilizations that have wiped themselves out through non stop war (and, amongst the most cliche, both). These are the stories told in the seediest of back-galaxy starship stops and they always seem to end in some vague reference to treasures unfound that the bravest of explorers still chase after to this day. Entertaining, sure. They definitely serve to pass the time while you wait for your star-cruiser to finish fueling up. But no one takes them seriously, right?

Only, this time the story doesn't stop with the vague reference to massive treasure. It keeps going and even includes coordinates. This is enough to make any space pirate reconsider the veracity of a story, but for you, Arkus Zei, a mixture of curiosity and empty coffers practically guarantees a quick jaunt to the specified coordinates. Even if it's just to prove that the story was nothing more than a story after all.

The funny thing is that when you get to the location in question, there is in fact a starship there. Correction, a ghost starship. Well, you've made it this far, it'd be a waste to turn back now, wouldn't it? Once you board the deserted vessel, the [up], [left] and [right] arrow keys move you in their respective directions whilst the [down] arrow key lets you crouch. [A] lets you jump, [S] swings your sword, and [D] shoots your blaster. Explore as much as you can and don't hesitate to pick up whatever treasures lay hidden in the labyrinthine corridors of the ship, but be careful. No end of spikes and monsters await you and they're none too eager to let their spoils go so easily. Also be sure to keep an eye out for the checkpoints sprinkled throughout the game. These handy stopping points allow you to respawn at their location should you die, but watch your lives in reserve as well for once they're all gone, it's back to the beginning for you whether you like it or not.

Keep your wits about you, watch your jumps, and you just might survive long enough to reach the greatest treasure in the galaxy.

Analysis: The first thing that should be mentioned is that this game is hard. Maybe not I Wanna Be The Guy hard, but even on the beginner difficulty, Raider: Episode 1 will prove to be a hefty challenge for many gamers. This works, though, considering that this game intentionally hearkens back to a time when the good games were the ones that made you throw your controller against the wall in frustration.

Raider Episode 1As Pseudolonewolf points out, the one departure from those games of old is that Raider has a far more developed story, and a considerably well told story at that. True, most of the plot is revealed in moderate sized text sequences at the beginning and the end of the episode, but there is a great deal of personality and character expressed in those well written lines. Your anti-hero, a grizzled lone space pirate, is suitably cynical with a nicely dry wit about him. While it's never animated, as you read some of his reactions you can practically see his little alien eyeballs rolling sarcastically in their sockets. Ultimately, when it comes to plot, what you have is something that is engrossing and well told, but doesn't get in the way of the game in the least.

Raider not only tells a decent story but looks and sounds pretty solid as well. If you like pixels, you're sure to love Raider's style which hovers somewhere in between latter-day NES and early SNES. Meanwhile the music represents the best of the era in that it is well orchestrated, perfectly matched for the game's content, but also easily tuned out. Maybe it's just me, but this is one of those rare games where I just stopped listening to the music after a while as opposed to scrabbling for the mute button.

You can't talk about a platformer without analyzing the controls, though. At first, jumping in the game may feel a little awkward but it shouldn't take you long to acclimate yourself to the feel. Once this minor hurdle is overcome, Raider exhibits some remarkably tight controls. You'll face no end of tricky challenges but the precision and consistency with which your character responds creates a sweet spot in platforming. Yes, it's hard, but at least you're given the tools to overcome.

But the true brilliance in Raider stems from two related principles. First, as hard as everything is, you still get the sense that it's possible. There's a school of platform game development in which the games are only possible in the academic sense. Raider manages to swoop in just a little bit underneath that. This makes it both addicting and frustrating in such a way that if you are playing on a laptop you should bolt it down to something (unless you don't mind it being shattered against your wall, but then you won't get to play any more). The second thing that really makes this game work is that accomplishing anything, maybe even a small sequence of jumps, feels like pulling off a death defying, jaw dropping feat. Largely because you just did. Thus, perhaps Raider's greatest strength is a level design that is both the biggest challenge and reward in the game.

Counting against Raider are few minor flaws. From an aesthetic point of view, the game lacks variety a bit. Yes the graphics are beautiful if you appreciate pixel art, but the backgrounds never change. The platforms you face on the first room are the same type and color as those you'll face all the way to the boss battle. This lack of variety extends to the enemies of which there are only a handful. Even some basic color swaps might have spiced things up a bit. But, to be fair, if you're in the zone you'll probably be too busy jumping and shooting and slashing to worry much about this.

The other problem is so small it's almost a nitpick, but after playing through the whole game, it stands out as the one thing that really seemed to bother me. If the base of a ladder is on a platform as opposed to free floating, you must physically jump off of the ladder once you get to the bottom. I know, this seems small and petty, but in a game that is otherwise exceptionally well executed this stands out like an off note in a beautiful symphony.

In the end, when you load up Raider: Episode 1 in your browser you can expect solid controls, a good story, and magnificent level design that will put your platforming skills to the test. This first in a series of five episodes sets a high standard for the four episodes to follow, and I can't wait to see what Pseudolonewolf has in store for us next.

Play Raider Chapter 1

27 Comments

I hate games that map Jump to a separate key instead of the up arrow.

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blakyoshi7 Author Profile Page June 19, 2009 2:26 PM

Ah, the old days, when video games weren't fun.

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Fleebnork,
I totally agree. But you can change the key setting.
(How to Play > Configure)
It was a very nice game. It took me 50 minutes to finish the first level.

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waycooler Author Profile Page June 19, 2009 3:23 PM

Hm. I think I have to play this. And if it's not going to be as hard as IWBTG, then I think I'll be fine. I mean, if I managed to nearly beat IWBTG then this should be a cakewalk. Everything is a cakewalk when compared to IWBTG.

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Leeksoup June 19, 2009 3:27 PM

This is a FUN GAME. I have no idea why it's so fun, but I am heavily enjoying the whole thing. Also, I agree about the music- it's nice enough that it can be ignored at will.

If this was released as WiiWare, I'd totally buy it.

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Not a casual game. Kind of hilarious though. Anybody else remember that pulse-quickening nervousness you used to get when you got to the final boss on a really tough 8- or 16-bit game, because you knew chances of winning were so low and it would take you so long to get there again? Well this game has that.

The author makes a rather aggressive philosophical statement about the concept of difficulty in games if you scroll to the last few pages of the "how to play" section. I feel like it would be easier to swallow if it weren't written in a style that suggests the author thinks he's God's gift to "true" gamers. It's funny that he claims that what sets his game apart is attention to story. A venerable old classic, the original Ninja Gaiden for NES, was famous for being driven by a story, and it definitely also meets the qualification of being the sort of game you have to practice at and memorize in order to beat.

Finally, in terms of the actual difficulty, I don't think the guy quite captured the type of challenge offered by the Nintendo classics he cites as inspiration. The hard parts in this game are very straightforward. It's clear what you have to do, it just requires exact execution of a particular move. In a game like Gaiden or Mario, however, the difficulty relies a little more on knowing what's coming next... for instance, it's more likely that you have to string together a few relatively simple moves rather than perform a single very difficult move. (E.g., you're more likely to have to memorize the exact sequence of safe spots in a screen full of rotating fire gates than have to jump through an extremely small space between two fire gates.)

This is an important distinction, I think, because the more precise you make the required move, the more it becomes not just a matter of practice but of luck. The sequences of easy moves in Mario allow you to think and correct on the fly to complete a given challenge, and if you make a mistake sometimes it's possible to save it especially if you know the level well enough. In a game like this, however, you have to aim exactly perfectly, and when the window is too small it becomes impossible to do it correctly every time. Then the repetition is less about practice and more about waiting for the one time you happen to execute everything perfectly in a row. I think there is room for both types of challenges in a single game, but the precision challenges are decidedly less fun because practice and knowing the level factors in less.

And again, I probably wouldn't be inclined to nitpick so much if the dude didn't toot his horn for a FULL PAGE in the instructions about how younger gamers don't know their roots and don't understand the concept of increased challenge = greater satisfaction. There are ways to increase challenge that are fun, and there are ways to increase challenge that are annoying. The satisfaction derived from beating a game doesn't require that you hate it first.

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Anonymous June 19, 2009 3:53 PM

Hard = Nostalgic = Fun
Therefore,
Hard = Fun
Flawless logic!

Was fun up until one particularly thinly-spaced set of save points. Challenge may be fun, but repetition of all the bits leading up to the challenge is, in fact, boring. I admit, however, that I have very little patience - I want to see where everything's going, not be a master of the parts I already know.

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Gobsmacked Author Profile Page June 19, 2009 4:48 PM

Well, maybe I'm onto something with "Game Designers are all perverted masochists who enjoy making us suffer and don't actually want their games to be fun" theory. This guy certainly seems to talk that kind of talk, anyway.

Seriously, though, I've actually played harder platformers (not for very long, mind you, but I have). That's not to mitigate how keyboard-smashingly maddening this game is, because it WILL cost you your keyboard, sooner or later (I buy in bulk).

It's almost refreshing, though, to see a difficult game that is, actually, Difficult. Not Cheap, not Cheatly, just designed to be hard.

The levels are vicious, but at least they are designed that way. You will die because it's very, very hard to hit that jump or react fast enough. You will NOT die because the collision detection is so bad that an enemy or spike killed you from half-a-sprite-width away, or because the controls just seem to cut out randomly at the worst times, or because the enemies are invincible and you haven't been given any weapons or defenses, or because you're outnumbered 500-to-one... like in almost every other modern game.

Kudos on making it old-school difficult.

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Dr. Worm Author Profile Page June 19, 2009 5:22 PM

This is a really good game. It reminds me of Megaman in a few ways.

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I was hoping for Metroid and I got more Mario. I'll admit it, I hate platform games. But this looked cool so I tried it, then I got to the ladder jumping ghost level and just decided to go play another defense game.

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Definitely a fairly well designed platformer, but the boss is... well, ridiculous. I don't care how "olde-schoole" you're trying to make your game, a crazy-hard boss should always have a savepoint right before it.

I do love the main character though. The characterization is great. :D

Also, I agree with elemeno up there. He knows what he's talking about. And hopefully the creator of this game reads what he has to say, as it is very insightful and can help make the next game in the series much better.

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Anonymous June 19, 2009 5:51 PM

so, am i missing something from this game? is there not a save option in this game? or is it just me?

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No save, just checkpoints. If you quit you gotta start from the beginning. A la games run on machines that didn't have disk space to store saves :)

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Cyndane Author Profile Page June 19, 2009 9:37 PM

Well, I started it, and I had the same problem I had with most other platformers. I need a controller. Keyboard just doesn't cut it for me. I trained for many a year with controllers on platformers. Keyboards just feel clunky to me.

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Neonaxus Author Profile Page June 20, 2009 2:02 AM

I'm almost sure that at least one jump here was completely impossible to do. If you've played it, you might remember the bit where there was a room with the floors, walls, and ceilings were almost entirely covered in spikes, where the platforms were occasionally separated from each other by walls with small gaps to jump through...I closed the game there, but I know it was somewhere around the 1-11 to 1-15 area.
Anyways, the first two platforms both move up and down, but in opposite directions, that is, one will be going up while the other goes down. However, you have to jump through a gap in the wall that is situated too low to reach the next platform, or at least making it near impossible to correctly do.. I tried at it multiple times and never came close. You can't get through without taking a hit, which would make it impossible on hard mode. I stopped playing after that, so if the jump CAN be made, well, I guess that shows me, but it seems at the moment to be a fatal flaw in a game that I had already found rather unimpressive.

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Neonaxus: I know the spot you mean, and it is possible to make that jump if you are standing close to the edge of the first platform before you try it and the two are close enough to each other. In practice, though, I did it basically only once or twice out of 20-40 tries, so you aren't too far off the mark. It basically requires you jump at just the right moment so as to not miss either the bottom of the column nor the platform.

I wanted to like this game, but the backgrounds are so very bland, and I have lost much of my patience for games without true saves. It's possible, as the review says, and it isn't IWBTG-crazy-hard, but the whole ranking thing made me think it would be broken up into levels with scores for all of them rather than one giant area with multiple sections, so when I made it to the first purple continue after trying to make my performance on earlier levels better... I really lost interest. I just couldn't seem to have *fun* with it, and it's hard enough to maintain interest in a game when it's just not fun; if it's difficult and longish too, there's no real reason to keep playing.

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PandaKnight Author Profile Page June 20, 2009 11:24 AM

Neonaxus, I know exactly what you're talking about and I can hit it perfectly every time.

Just walk off the right side of the platform at its apex.

As for this game, as a devoted fan of I Wanna Be The Guy, I'm just going to say... this game is not fun.

IWBTG is an affectionate parody of the most awesome caliber. The challenges are silly, the deaths ridiculously gory, the levels hilariously disproportional at times. The fun of IWBTG comes from several points.

First is unpredictability. IWBTG continuously subverts your expectations in new and unimaginable twists with EVERY SINGLE SCREEN. I distinctly recall being horrifically terrified of the moon at one point because I thought it was going to kill me. I experimented with it and nothing happened. I moved on. Four screens later, it fell on me and I laughed so hard I cried. Every death in IWBTG is its own form of entertainment, and it's meant to be like that - which is why you have the Death Counter.

Second is that once you have a screen or sequence down, you can reliably do that pretty much from then on. Thus, you can trial-and-error your way forward a challenge at a time, without having to worry about four lives remaining and three health on your current life or whatever.

Raider, by contrast, makes death a chore. You lose valuable health points if you make the slightest error. You have no choice but to continue and hope you get good drops from the enemies - which is random. If a game maker is going to try to make his or her game Nintendo Hard, the developer has a DUTY, an OBLIGATION, not to force the player to EVER rely on random chance. It's like if which blocks held what was random in the original Mario and you might get 6 Fire Flowers or you might get nothing.

Finally, in IWBTG, if picking up another hundred or more deaths on a challenge is more than you feel like dealing with, you can save, quit, and start where you were later. Raider's developer has absolutely NO EXCUSE for excluding a proper save system other than that he eats fun and excretes nostalgia. Going against the Level 1 Boss, losing all 9 of my lives in five minutes, and going all the way back to the HALFWAY CHECKPOINT was the straw that broke the camel's back for me.

...

I'm going to go play I Wanna Be The Guy.

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I can deal with a challenge, but there is one thing in htis game that really got at me, an is now afficially on of my pet peeves.

Spikes. Do. Not. Hurt. When. You. Hit. The. Side.

Look at the sonic games. You run into the side of a bed of spikes its awall. You can push against it. only the top of a bed of spikes is dangerous. If you want a square that urts to touch from any side, then it shouldn't be spikes.

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Anybody get S-rank yet? On Intermediate mode I got all four relics, died 4 times, finished in 19:37, and that was worth a B.

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Schmorgluck Author Profile Page June 21, 2009 2:44 PM

What is the trick to jump four tiles up? No matter what I try, I can't, and I'm completely stuck. So I guess there's a trick. But which one?

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The one thing that infuriates me to no end about this game is that getting hit by anything mid jump will drop you like a stone. This is especially annoying when below is an inescapable pit of spikes. That being said, I'm still not annoyed enough to stop playing.

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Cartier July 23, 2009 4:31 PM

If you're trying to get to the trophy thingy, there's no way to jump to get it. The door is there for a reason. Think.

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This is one tough game! I beat it on easy, and then came back on medium... and boy had the difficulty cranked up. Finally got it on medium, don't know if I'll be trying hard any time soon. :D Could someone post where to find the relics? I've managed to find two so far (golden fig and trophy).

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Jacob_Xanth September 3, 2009 8:45 PM

Since nobody has posted the locations of the relics:

Trophy: In room 6, fall down the second hole. Follow the path.

Sword: In room 17, keep going up the ladder. Dodge the spikes, get the sword, then come back.

Fig: In room 21, kill all the laser guns. Climb up the ladder on the left side, And jump off it, aiming to land in one of the spaces where the guns once were. Only the top three and the bottom one (the fifth) will get you in. Once there, kill the walking robot in your way, climb up the ladder, and claim your prize.

The fourth one, I am missing. I assume it is somewhere between room 6 and room 17.

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Well, this is odd. The game isn't loading for me. It did a few months ago

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I just fixed the links, Gabe.

The author moved the pages around and changed the URLs and didn't bother to create a redirect to the new page.

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I don't know why there are all of these IWBTG comparisons... this game isn't even CLOSE to being that hard, and shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence as that game with regards to difficulty.

Furthermore if you claim to have beaten that game, beating this should be a piece of cake. The controls are very fluent and each jump is relatively obvious and often times more lenient than one thinks.

It's platformers like "super mario galaxy" that indeed spoil us. Instead of making a smaller amount of challenging levels, they now make 120 levels that pose almost no challenge at all, making the game boring.

But if you grew up AFTER the old school platformers, then this is certainly going to dominate your skills and cause a ragequit, because it IS hard and it isn't going to coddle you. Although, nobody has a right to complain about the difficulty if they haven't put it on easy mode, since Pseudolonewolf specifically says to try it on easy mode first.

His RPGs are a lot easier on the otherhand, so if you like his awesome writing and art skills, then check those out. And like in all JRPGs, if you suck at them then you can just grind.

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