Love Colored Magic's Ratings and Reviews
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Lost World by TROM [SM Exploration], rated by Love Colored Magic on Jul 26, 2023 (Star Star Star Star Star )
106% in 14:28
First time completion on version 2.0

I'd definitely rate the difficulty as Veteran. Besides the standard tricks of walljumping and midair morph, this hack will also test your movement skills in general, familiarity with enemy behavior, puzzle solving, finding the required paths forward (sometimes invisible to X-ray), some tricky grappling, getting horizontal distance on bomb jumps, fighting ninja pirates in awkward constrained spaces, space jumping up narrow vertical shafts lined with spikes, your patience, and more that I've probably forgotten since finishing this hack several months ago. There's a couple of places where quick charging speed boosts is required. But for those willing to meet the hack's skill requirements, it felt very rewarding to explore and complete.

Was internally debating whether this is a 4 or 5 orb hack. It felt like a 5 orb hack while playing it. when I wasn't getting frustrated at some particularly tricky segment, I was really getting immersed in its world. On the other hand, there is technical jank to be found here and there, such as randomly getting stuck in terrain right after obtaining a suit upgrade. Such jank is infrequent enough that memories of it has generally faded but if it strikes when having not saved in a while, it gets discouraging.

In the context of realizing a vision of a strange and unfamiliar world, this knocks it out of the park. Custom graphics are used well here to create that effect. To add to the effect of a vast world, map stations appear late and only after having covered a significant amount of ground in a region. Then one looks at the map and sees vast stretches of not-yet-explored areas. Really feeds the idea of massive regions. Generally, there is a large amount of ground to cover between major upgrades to feed the atmosphere. Many areas will be visited multiple times whether it's because of the paths to major upgrades frequently overlapping or just item hunting with new tools to reach items that were previously dangling out of reach.

On top of the amount of exploration it takes to reach required upgrades, there's also plenty of expansions to track down. They tend to come in 1s and 2s and the max capacities are high so those who are inclined to poke around in every corner will uncover a lot. While some passages that require speed, grapple, wave, or boss kills are marked on the map (a useful custom addition), having a good memory will still prove valuable in bolstering Samus' ammo counts.

I did get stuck in several spots to varying degrees. I couldn't work out where to go after finding the morph ball and resorting to searching an outside playthrough to reveal where to go. Botwoon was a difficult fight that required me to step up my skill to make it through at all and I can picture people used to vanilla difficulty just giving up in frustration here. Ridley killed me many times before I came out the victor. I got turned around when going for the final beam upgrade. Was actually on the right track but thought I'd reached a dead end and didn't look closely enough at first.

There's also a gate hunt which I have mixed feelings about. On the positive side, it's more time spent with full upgrades. Given how long it takes to obtain all the upgrades, I can understand a desire to spend a longer portion of playtime with them and that aspect was welcomed after the long journey to that point. On the negative end, it takes the exploring for hidden areas which I'd been enjoying and turned it into work. While I found most of them straightforward to locate and often a simple matter of recalling where a previously blocked passage was, your experience will vary. Ultimately, I found all but 3 on my own. And one of those 3 was one I had found the path to earlier but forgot about it later.

Even with the long playtime, (20-25 hours if factoring in all the reloads) I felt engaged for the bulk of those 14+ hours. If one is in the mood for a meaty hack, this delivers. If looking for something with a similar playtime to vanilla, this isn't it. There is a feel of a magnum opus to this one, as if Trom crammed every remaining level design idea into this hack as if it was to be a final sendoff to SM hacking. Given the wide variety of obstacles I encountered, it's an impression I got. I actually haven't tried other hacks since this one; what could match up to the scope? If it becomes the last hack I play in my time with Metroid hacks (hardly a given at this point), this is a very high note to go out on.
Phazon Hack by A_red_monk_called_Key [SM Exploration], rated by Love Colored Magic on Dec 04, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
81% in 5:54
Clear stats are from after playing Phazon Hack 0.3 twice so I'm already mostly familiar with the progression.

Short review: If you have completed version 0.3 recently, there isn't really enough different to warrant playing through 0.4 unless you really enjoyed it.

Since I'm going to make a comparison anyways, might as well as cover some of the changes. Compared to 0.3, 0.4 fixes some permastuck situations and a few bugs from the previous version. Some rooms are redesigned too so they're less annoying. The hint rooms for Phazon Particles are much easier to locate; no more finding passages invisible to X-ray to find them. Some exploits from 0.3 are gone and there's a new key system where different beams are needed to open certain doors ala Metroid Prime. There are a couple of minor bugs (such as a power bomb door being recolored into a metal door) that weren't in the previous version but on the whole, this is a more polished release.

So what to expect if you're new to Phazon Hack. First, the world is big. This is both a strength and a weakness. There's a lot to explore and lots of items to find but can feel slow to crisscross the map and can get overwhelming. To ease things a bit, there are navigation rooms that indicate the direction of the next major upgrade. A Warp Zone also opens up at some point which cuts down on travel time between regions. And the changed graphics really do make it feel like a different world. The tilework gives a unique feel and most of the enemy roster has different appearances to better fit the new world. The quality of the enemy sprite changes does vary quite a bit, ranging from so-so to clever but I don't remember anything that sank below mediocre.

It's littered with references to other Metroid games, mostly Prime. From the fact you're controlling Dark Samus, to the renames of some of the items, and even some references in the environment and the enemy resprites.

Physics and movement are mostly vanilla though beam damage has been a great deal. It's worth experimenting with different combos to find one that suits your playing style due to sometimes big differences in firing rate and damage output. Enemy behavior is nearly entirely vanilla (other than the few times it isn't) so the strategies that serve you with dealing with enemies normally will still apply when you recognize which enemy the new ones are replacing. It generally doesn't require any advanced movement skills to complete the game which makes it more surprising the few times walljumping is required to advance.

The item order is rather unique. In particular, Bombs show rather late in the sequence so observation and paying attention to the environment is more important to find hidden items and passages.

There's a key hunt to enter the final area. It's not that difficult to find the keys; they're not locked behind particularly tricky to find secrets. There's also the optional Phazon Particle hunt. There are 50 scattered throughout the world. There is a reward for finding them all but as there doesn't appear to be much difference between finding 2 or finding 43, they will probably not be a factor for the first time playing this hack. There are hint rooms which will indicate how many are in each region and which ones have been found but that's all the ingame help provided. And you need to find them. (as mentioned, it's much easier to find them now)

And a couple of exploration tips for a less troublesome journey.

Energy recharge stations work much slower (something like 5 Energy a second) and energy drops are unchanged from vanilla. So other than finding a new Energy Tank, recharging your energy stock if it's depleted is going to be slow. So if you don't want to spend ages farming energy, don't run around recklessly taking damage from easily avoided hazards. Enemy damage is often higher to so it improves the pacing if you're paying more attention to not getting hit by easily avoided patterns.

It's rarely necessary to fight tanky enemies. With the beam damage revisions, some enemies can really take a beating and/or lots of ammo to kill. Often, with a little extra effort, one can avoid dealing with them entirely. While it is sometimes desirable to fight a tanky foe (enemy locked door, for one), I find looking for ways to avoid them preferable.

In the end, various little annoyances add up to lean me towards giving this 4 orbs rather than 5. Most have already been mentioned but there's also a late boss which takes shot after shot without stopping which can prevent a player from finishing the hack at all. There also a doorcap that changed colors from 0.3 but is opened the same way which threw me off. (and it's needed for one of the keys) It's still a higher quality hack and there's a lot of effort put into it but I'm not as inclined to recommend it unless one is already at the skill level to deal with its pacing.

There is an alternate world on file 2 but this review has already become massive so I'll hold off on that for now.
Metroid: Falling by TN [SM Exploration], rated by Love Colored Magic on Nov 03, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
101% in 3:59
Completion stats are from the second playthrough. Got 99% the first time and took quite a bit longer.

At the most superficial level, this is a straight vanilla hack with a new map. Find the four bosses, find the statue room, clear Tourian, win game. No custom graphics, no custom ASM, purely vanilla physics. It does have a number of traits to differentiate it from other vanilla hacks.

First off is that there's a number of long drops as part of the path of progression, hence the name Falling. Second is an unusual item order that remains memorable even after having touched the hack in years. Third is how massively open the hack gets after a bit. Almost the entire map is available without fighting any of the major bosses. So the player is free to explore and hunt for stuff before challenging the four generals. And very few items are gated by the big four so the player can amass quite an arsenal.

It's important to explore for upgrades because boss damage got a major buff. (and their HP but that's not as significant) Not every attack got buffed but contact damage will cleave off over two Energy Tanks with Gravity. They still feel fair assuming enough power but it becomes more important to pay attention to defense. (Thankfully, Ridley's tail still does vanilla damage otherwise he'd be a nightmare.) So there's no shame in retreating if a boss feels overwhelming and coming back later when better equipped. I still put up a decent fight against Kraid semi-underpowered. With 9 E-tanks and Varia, 3 hits meant death. Charged Plasma provided the offense and I feel I could have won with those parameters if I hadn't messed up and smacked into too many of the flying claws near the end.

My first playthrough was very frustrating. After finding Power Bombs, seemed stuck in a loop and with no suit upgrades. And I'd found crumble blocks hinting at areas beyond but was not finding the passages to them. It was a long time over multiple attempts at findin
Super Metroid Biohazard by Mentlegen, SMILEuser96 [SM Speedrun/Race], rated by Love Colored Magic on Sep 30, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
64% in 1:48
There are a couple of unique features that stood out for me in this hack. One is the custom soundtrack, which is apparent within moments of starting the game. The other is the anti-gravity gimmick. Soundtrack will be a matter of personal taste as to whether it will be enjoyable but either way, the original compositions make for a unique atmosphere. The anti-gravity gimmick is restricted to a few rooms (understandably since it takes twice the effort to design spaces for two orientations) but isn't overly obtrusive and it's goofy and fun to play around with.

Rest of the gameplay is the familiar Super Metroid loop. Find items to open up new areas to reach more items and repeat until the end goal is complete. Resources and access felt restricted at first until Super Missiles are obtained. At which point, most of the rest of the map opens up and Samus' power level massively spikes. Then it becomes a matter of grabbing stuff in whatever order you please, beating up the occasional boss, until eventually the key hunt is complete. Went from 2 E-tanks to 7 in a short period and once I'd tracked down a suit, didn't feel threatened by hazards for the rest of the game.

The near absence of secret passages supports the category of a race hack. This is one of the least confusing hacks to navigate I've ever played (out of around 20 or so) which could be very welcome for the type of player who struggles with puzzles and/or finding hidden passages. It's not very demanding with the advanced techniques either which makes this approachable to someone without a lot of SM hack experience.

My actual playtime is probably about an hour longer than the listed completion time. Still, this is a quick and compact hack with some unique features to distinguish itself from the crowd.
Super T-Metroid by kokoakki2 [SM Unknown], rated by Love Colored Magic on Oct 07, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
70% in 2:34
Tried this hack out after watching a playthrough and thinking to myself "I could do better." Felt I succeeded too, winning without ever resorting to savestates.

This is very much an early era halfhack. Map layout is vanilla though individual rooms are very different (or not). The T in the hack title likely stands for trolling given the frequency and placement of crumble blocks that cause the player to lose progress or worse, drop them on 60 damage spikes. Expect to die quite a bit until reaching Varia given how abundant 60 damage spikes get. Also don't trust sand pits; they probably conceal more spikes. This hack can feel malicious with the trap placement at times.

At least Spring Ball is given early on which makes the crumble block traps bearable. And the spike placement, while excessive, is generally fair. (save for the occasional blind fall onto them which hopefully only catch you once) They do ask for greater precision movement. But given how old this hack is, nothing technically demanding. Oh, and in addition to being very vulnerable before Varia due to the spike hell, the beam upgrades all show rather late. Got to make it past about half of the bosses before being able to access any of them. This hack is going to make you work for your firepower.

This hack is very skippable. I may be generous with my rating here. Giving it a little bit of credit for being winnable without savestates or anything too technically demanding (though still managing to be annoying) And there is a degree of satisfaction from beating this. Otherwise not really anything here to recommend.