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#275 - NBA Jam

#274 - NBA Jam Tournament Edition

#273 - College Slam

#272 - NBA Hangtime

Remember NBA Jam?  Of course you do.  Hell, you're probably pissed that this isn't in the top 100.  Maybe it's in your top 10. Not mine though, clearly.  Different strokes as they say.

I'll still never forget the first time I saw an NBA Jam cabinet.  I was wandering through my local Aladdin's Castle (I was poor and couldn't afford to actually play anything, so I just had to watch), when I noticed some kind of crazy basketball game tucked back near the line for Mortal Kombat (or maybe it was Street Fighter II).  Keeping in mind that this was back in the midst of the NBA's heyday, when myself and millions of other kids religiously followed the sport.  And what did I spy but my favorite players windmilling 50 feet into the air, slamming flaming basketballs into the hoop while an excitable announcer called the action.  The impression made on me was immediate.

When my friends and I rented the inevitable SNES port sometime later I finally got to try it out for myself.  And it was fun... initially.  I wasn't the biggest fan of sports titles at the time (I'm arguably still not), but I was willing to overlook most of my usual boredom with the genre in the name of flaming basketballs.  Mostly, it was fun just trying to figure out how to trigger the various crazy dunks.  We spent hours playing it, not caring who won or lost, but just trying to make the flashiest movies.  Of course by the end of the night I had pretty much had my fill of the slamming and jamming, with no real desire to play it any more.  The game showed me what it had to offer, and I was satisfied.

Twenty-five years later, I can still see the core appeal of the game, and I occasionally bust it out for game nights.  It's something of a crowd pleaser, though I'm not sure if that's due more to the gameplay, nostalgia, or alcohol.  Probably some combination of all of the above.  We also tend to shelve it after a game or two, before it can wear out its welcome.

NBA Jam Tournament Edition was of course one of the many lazy cash grabs that publishers started to experiment with during the era, a strategy they've seemingly latched onto ever since, unfortunately.  After all, why release a sequel or brand new game when you can just tack on a "new" mode and call it a day?  So, for the sorts of people who really love NBA Jam, but also really wanted to be able to hold some sort of mock tournament with their buds: this is the game for you.  No one else need apply.

I should also mention that, as a part of my original SNES game collection, NBA Jam T.E. was easily one of the least-played carts. If not for Mechwarrior, it might have been the very least played.

College Slam on the other hand, is probably one of the laziest cash-ins on the entire system.  Maybe in the history of gaming.  Acclaim took the popular NBA Jam T.E. formula, replaced the NBA stars and franchises with most of the power (or power conference) Division I basketball programs, and... actually that's it.  That's all they did.  Instead of playing with Karl Malone and the Jazz, you can play as the Maryland Terrapins and their faceless shooting guard.  That's it.  No fight songs (I think), no pomp, no March Madness, no new modes, nothing.  Just the same tournament setup, the same silly cheat codes and options, and the same high flying dunks and shenanigans.  A totally wasted opportunity, and if I was ranking these games based on what they actually bring to the table, this one would be bringing up the rear somewhere.

Finally, NBA Hangtime is the first true sequel of sorts.  Taking the core NBA Jam gameplay, Acclaim has this time added a "create-a-player" mode, upgraded the graphics with more detailed character and courtside sprites, and very slightly expanded the movesets.

And you know what?  None of that matters.  It still feels like the exact same game to me: silly dunks, lots of fast breaks, and mindless action that is really only suited for game nights when your buddies and you want to laugh at each other and down beers.

So, have these games aged very well?  I don't know, but probably not really.  The gimmick has been outdone by other games since, and the core gameplay is fun, but nothing spectacular.  People loved this game back in the day, and those same people will probably still appreciate it now, but if I want to play basketball on the SNES, or want deeper, nuanced play, I'm headed straight to the NBA Live franchise.

Did I beat NBA Jam?
No.

Did I beat NBA Jam TE?
With these games that would be quite a commitment.

Did I beat College Slam?
That doesn't mean it might not happen some day.

Did I beat NBA Hangtime?
But it sure as shit hasn't happened yet.


#271 - Xardion

How many of you remember seeing this game on store shelves back in the day?  And if you do, did you immediately have a reaction to that sweet box art with the stylized giant mecha?  Because I know I did.  Back in 1992, for 7-year-old me it had to have been just about the most Japanese ďthingĒ Iíd ever seen, and as far-removed from the likes of G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as it got.

Of course I never did actually play the game back then.  I was, after all, very limited in rental/buying opportunities, so mostly I just stared at the boxes anytime I happened to be at the closest video store or the local Software Etc.  So Xardionís time never came.  Luckily, as an adult with exponentially more disposable income, such things can finally be corrected.  And when I got back into SNES playing and collecting, Asmikís game was near the top of my list.

I donít know what sort of game I thought Xardion was gonna be, but ďcinematic action RPG with Metroidvania elementsĒ is certainly not the first thing that came to mind.  And before you start salivating over what I just said, know that Iím deliberately making it sound awesome for dramatic purposes.  I could have just as easily have said ďNES-ish mess of platformer and adventure elements with wonky-ass progression and difficulty curve.Ē  Both lines describe the game with equal accuracy.

Storyline-wise, I have absolutely no idea where to even begin, partially because itís been at least several years since my last playthrough of the thing, and partially because the story makes no sense.  Something about a bunch of animaloid robots/cyborgs/mechas/whatevers needing to stop some big bad alien being from doing some big bad horrible thing.  Thereís plenty of dialogue and ďcharactersĒ along the way, but your guess is as good as mine as to what any of them are blabbering on about.  Letís just call it a storyline that was lost in translation.

Gameplay follows a pretty interesting (on paper) progression.  You will typically move through standard, Mega Man-ish, levels, blasting mooks and aiming to keep your health and ammo levels topped off.  Each level typically ends in a boss fight of varying quality and challenge.  Most of them are easily cheesed.  Along the way youíll also come along various upgrades that will either give you new abilities or add new armaments to your arsenal.  Or maybe you start with everything.  Again, my memories are starting to fade a bit here.  But each character has his own inventory of gear and weapons, specializing them in a sense.  Towards the end of the game youíll even earn a new playable character that is more powerful than the starting trio.  Spoiler-alert: his name is Xardion.

As far as Metroidvania elements (yes, many of you hate that term, no, Iím not gonna stop using it), theyíre pretty mild.  Really, itís a stretch for me to even use them in the context of this game.  But there is a world map, and you will need to revisit previous levels in order to use newly acquired abilities in order to access new areas.  So Iím sticking with it.  Even if the comparison pretty much ends there.

There are also some RPG elements at work.  Well, ďelement.Ē  You see, your posse of characters acquire experience with every kill, letting them level-up as you move through the game - something I strongly recommend you exploit sooner rather than later if you want to blunt the difficulty of some of the cheaper bosses.  But thatís really the extent of it.  And itís a system that is easy to abuse since there isnít really anything stopping you from maxing everyone out right away.  Or at least I assume thatís the case.  Again, fading memories, so feel free to send me angry messages about how WRONG I am about all of this.

Anyway, after a couple hours of blowing up giant robotic monstrosities with barrages of missiles and lasers, and mindlessly leveling up your robot panthers and crustaceans, the game is over.  Itís not very long, and the unlimited continues means you can easily brute force your way through it.  Many people wonít care for it.  Even I can admit that itís not the most thrilling ride, and Iíd be hard-pressed to call the gameís design really anything special.

But you know what?  I like the game.  Iíve played through it many times, and I always enjoy it.  Maybe that's because Iím a sucker for the genre.  Maybe Iím a sucker for giant robots.  Maybe I like anything that even remotely resembles Mega Man.  Maybe Iím a sucker for weirdo hybrid games with big ideas.  I dunno, but for me Xardion is a keeper.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, quite a few times.


#270 - Dino City

Man, I really loaded this installment up with platformers, didn't I?  It's one of those things that I donít plan on, it just sorta... happens.  Maybe that's my brainís way of telling us just how many good - but not great - platformers I think there are on the Super Nintendo.  Or maybe it just tells us that there are millions of them and that I've been forced to load up on them with every single installment of this project.  Someday I'll go back and crunch the numbers.

Dino City, from our good friends at iREM, is a game that probably has more memorable box art than it does memorable gameplay.  I don't mean that in a disparaging way either, just that they really did a good job capturing the early 90s with that... thing.  I mean, the dinosaur buddy, the shades, the shoes, the skateboard, the acid-washed jeans, the jacket... all of it.  It's the complete radical package.

Not that I want you to take that the wrong way, as if I'm dumping on the gameplay or anything.  Because I'm not; the game plays totally fine.  It's rather fun, in fact.  But that cover art... man, that's legendary.

Anyway, the game offers up two different playable characters.  Or I should say, two different sets of playable characters.  There are two human children, one male and one female, and one accompanying dinosaur companion for each of them.  And though it may not be readily apparent, your choice of character(s) actually serves as a de facto difficulty selection as well.  Since the males have but a short range punch attack, whereas the females have a much more versatile ranged attack, you can think of them as representing the "Hard" and "Medium" difficulties, respectively.

Gameplay is your typical "progress to the right until you reach the exit" flavor, the type of thing found in so many platformers.  And just like is usually the case, you'll do all of the standard platformer stuff like jump over hazards, defeat enemies, avoid pokey things, and collect various items.  Nothing unique there.  I'd say the only really unique mechanic is being able to ďpop offĒ your dinosaur (the kid is riding them for the duration of the game).  This allows for some occasional puzzle solving since the tiny kid sprite can enter smaller areas, reach greater heights, etc.

Each area also ends with a boss battle, though I found their overall balance to be somewhat wanting.  Especially when youíre playing with the male characters.  Some bosses and sections are wickedly hard with them, and a complete breeze with the females.  Definitely a lack of testing and fine-tuning.

The game also suffers from some pretty crippling slowdown throughout.  If thatís the sort of thing that makes-or-breaks a game for you, youíre not gonna have a good time here.  I can usually overlook it to some degree, but there were sections where even I was frustrated.

The gameís sprites and art design are also very basic.  In fact, this is yet another game that I would say looks like something that could have come out for the NES.  Which kind of makes the pervasive slowdown even more perplexing.

The sound effects and music are also not my favorites.  Normally that is not something I go out of my way to touch upon in these reviews.  That is, not unless I find the offerings to be especially good or especially bad.  And here I did seem to mute the game more often than not.  Thatís not a good sign.

Still, as uneven an experience it is, I always enjoy my time with Dino City.  In fact, I seem to come back to it quite a bit.  Maybe thatís because Iím drawn to simple platformers that can be completed in an hour or less. Maybe because Iíve been seduced by that box art.  I dunno why it is, but thatís kind of the ultimate gauge for some games: how much I want to play them, and how often it keeps happening.  So Dino City climbed my ranks.  Ahead of some more prestigious titles.  Itís not for everyone, and I canít say it offers much that a million other like-minded games donít.  But I think itís fun to play nonetheless.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, I've gone through it a number of times.


#269 - Ghoul Patrol

Okay, so everyone is familiar with Zombies Ate My Neighbors, right?  The 16-bit cult classic, developed by a team at LucasArts (the same guys that were later responsible for Metal Warriors) and delivered by video gaming heavyweight Konami (almost needs no introduction).  From the ridiculously campy box art, with a design straight out of the 1950s, the huge assortment of enemies and monsters, to the sublime cooperative play, fun weapons, and huge campaign, the game seemed to offer it all.

Most gamers will agree, the game is a stone cold classic.

Well, did you know that ZAMN got a sequel?  Sure you doÖ MORE Zombies Ate My Neighbors, right?  I dunno who made it, or if itís a romhack or an unfinished licensed game, or just some custom creation, or what, but itís out there.  You can even order carts of it from your nearest Chinese bootleg boutique.

Of course thereís also that other sequel...  The one that people donít talk about.  Possibly because they donít know it exists.

The game Iím referring to is Ghoul Patrol, and it is possibly the least-celebrated follow-up in the entire SNES catalog.  Seriously, Iíd bet that more people know about Bubsy II, Clayfighter 2, and Joe and Mac 2, than know about this guy.  Which is pretty amazing considering how much of a tentpole title its predecessor is.

So what is Ghoul Patrol?  More ZAMN, basically.  Same setup and everything.  You still play as some guy (or girl), wandering through large squarish areas as seen from an overhead perspective, blasting various evil entities.  Youíre still saving the local populace from having their brains eaten.  And youíre still hoarding weapons and powerups, while carefully trying to manage your remaining lives.

So what has changed this time around?  Well, everything, and nothing.  You see, on paper, itís the exact same game.  And when you first start playing it, youíre gonna get a feeling of dťjŗ vu.  But the more time you put in, the more you realize this game is not its forebearer.

For one, you have a new move: a dashing slide type of deal.  That may not seem all that important at first, but trust me when I say it makes all the difference in the world.  Because, once you get the hang of this new move, most of your basic mooks cease to be a threat.  And this game is mostly made up of basic mooks.  Which means the difficulty starts to drop off a cliff once youíre zipping around, dodging everything, easily evading their basic patterns. Is that a bad thing?  Thatís hard to say.  Iím of the opinion that ZAMN is insanely hard (or at least, insanely hard to complete), so Iím not sure that either game really nailed the difficulty.  But GP is at least in the ballpark of where it needed to be. So Iíll give it kudos for that.

Second, the arsenal of weapons has been totally revamped.  You probably remember how ZAMN armed you with all sorts of normal household items.  Weed-whackers and exploding cans of pop and whatnot. But here, you just have an assortment of boring science-fictiony guns and rifles.  Some more useless than others.  Itís a lot less fun, and a lot less balanced towards situational usage, which sucks.  Iím not sure why they felt the need to fix what wasnít broken either.  Why not just reuse the existing stuff, and add one or two new things?

Boss fights also now cap off every area, with the number of levels in each area ranging from 2-5 (if I remember right, which Iím probably not).  This means youíll have ample opportunity to restock your hoard of weapons and items between fights.  And the bosses are certainly impressive looking.  One is a gigantic pirate ghost monster, one is a giant samurai ghost monster, another is a large devil ghost monster, etc.

The bad news?  These boss fights are a total clusterfuck.  Besides having an absolutely ridiculous amount of health and firepower, they take up so much real estate on the screen that avoiding them is almost completely futile.  Especially with the rather limited moveset.  The dash is great for evading some zombie.  Not so great for getting out of the way of some boss that takes up the whole screen.  And thatís just bad design.  This sort of stuff makes sense in a twin-stick shooter where you have complete control over your character.  Not in a game like this.

Not that it matters anyways, because EVERY boss can be 100% cheesed by one of the items youíll regularly come across in your journeys.  So once you figure that out, none of them matter.  Itís just a slight bump in the road that youíll have to endure.

*cough*

Anyway, there is also a lot less ground covered, thematically, this time around.  In ZAMN, every level could present its own retro theme and charms.  Whether it was the Friday the 13th-inspired chainsaw killers, the giant burrowing (sand)worms, the giant babies, the body snatchers, the Grundle fliesÖ ZAMN was constantly surprising you with references to classic horror.  It was arguably the best part of the game.

With GP on the other hand, you will work through themed areas, but they contain the same few generic enemies.  Mostly ghostly things, or monstrous zombie things.  Itís way lamer than ZAMN.  Way lamer than most games at that.  Again, why fix what wasnít broken?  Youíre practically throwing away the best parts of ZAMN with these changes.  The mind boggles.

Other than that, itís pretty similar.  Blast, rescue, escape, repeat.  Overall, I know the game has something of a dire reputation, and Iím obviously ranking it lower (much lower) than Zombies Ate My Neighbors, which I will cover in the distant future.  But I still enjoyed my time with it.  Boss ugliness, and generic enemies aside, itís a solid little package, with tight action and fun graphics and gameplay.  If this game had absolutely no relation to ZAMN, it could easily have been in the conversation for being something of a hidden gem, or cult classic.  Well, probably not, but in my mind it could have been.  Instead itís just a forgotten sequel, offering almost nothing over its predecessor, and presenting a pretty lost opportunity.

Did I beat it?
I did.


#268 - Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

I'm assuming most of the people that find their way to this website are familiar with the Ys franchise.  Maybe that's a foolish assumption, but I feel like anyone who has enough interest in old games to read about some stranger's thoughts on Whizz has already had an Ys game pass through their hands.  For the one or two of you that haven't heard of them, here's a quick history lesson... that I'm completely making up on the spot.

The Ys series got its start on the... MSX, maybe?  Some old Japanese favorite anyway.  That first game was an overhead action RPG, where you led the red-haired Adel and his best friend Dogi on a long quest to defeat something or other and save the day.  And the follow-up Ys II was another overhead action RPG, except this time it put you in the shoes of some lady.  A lady who must travel across the land and defeat something or other and save the day.  Notable gameplay elements include the stubby little butterknife sword youíre forced to use (which you donít even so much as swing in the first two games - you just ďrunĒ into people with it), and the elemental rings that enable you to cast magic.  Kill dudes, gain levels, use magic, equip gear, all the usual stuff.  Since people loved these games, the franchise has lived on ever since, seeing nearly a dozen different sequels and spinoffs in the ensuing decades, even to this day.

The black sheep of the franchise is the 2D sidescroller action RPG, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys.  The developers (Falcom), I guess, wanted to change things up, and give the game more of a platformer vibe.  Or maybe they thought Nintendo kids were more comfortable with sidescrollers.  Who knows.  Judging by opinions held across the internet, most people were not down with this move, which is why the third game is commonly thought of as one of the worst games in the series.  Falcom certainly never came back to this style.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like the Ys series, but that I don't love it.  Never have, probably never will.  I've played through six of the different games (including the reboot of III), and I've always had a good time with them, but I would never count any of those experiences as among the best I've ever had for their respective platforms.  They're just... good.  And my sentiments on III are no different.  It's a fun game that provides simple pleasures, but not much more.  And it certainly ain't among the best of this type of game on the Super Nintendo.  Not by a long shot.

Now, I can also admit that the game probably never got a completely fair shake from me.  After all, I got the cart when I was young, not long after my playthroughs of games such as Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger, and A Link to the Past.  No game would ever be able to follow in the footsteps of those three and come out smelling like roses.  So you could say I was just a tad underwhelmed for perfectly justifiable reasons.  But I did play through it, and I've played through it a number of times since.  And it's always been an enjoyable ride.  Just not an amazing one.

Did I beat it?
Many times throughout the years.


#267 - Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-Man.  One of the first entries in gaming's long, long line of lazy sequels and shameless cash grabs.  A video gaming tradition as it were.

Okay, that's not (totally) true.  Ms. Pac-Man was very well received upon release, and still today is considered one of the best old school arcade games ever made.  Everyone loves this game, because the gameplay is as timeless and addictive in 2020 as it was in... whatever year it originally came out.

Now, do I even need to explain anything about the actual gameplay here?  Like how the Pac-Man formula works?  Or what this sequel brought to the table?  And do you care about whatever tiny little additions the SNES version may have brought to the table?

No.  So instead I'm gonna give us yet another little anecdote from my life.

When I was in preschool, I was invited to a birthday party for one of my classmates.  I don't remember much about the party, except that my dad is the one who took me, and that at one point he and I found ourselves in their den where I noticed our hosts had an NES hooked up.  If you don't remember any of my stories about that era of my life (found in previous write-ups),  I'll reiterate how I never had my own "Nintendo", I never had many opportunities to play those belonging to other people, and that my first experience with Super Mario Bros. had left me with a lingering obsession with the thing.  It was a constant tease, present in everyone else's living room, but not my own.

Lucky me, my dad actually let me sit down and play some games that day.  Normally he'd do everything in his power to direct me elsewhere, but for whatever reason I guess he was feeling generous that day.  Looking at their meager game collection, I was instantly drawn to a cartridge for Mickey Mousecapades, and its promise of ship-based shenanigans (I've always been a sucker for detailed cover art).  There was also a cartridge for Ms. Pac-Man (I'm pretty sure it was the Tengen version), something I was eager to disregard.  After all, I had seen Pac-Man games in the arcade, seen what they had to offer, and been duly unimpressed.  I wanted to know what secrets this Mickey game held.

Now, I can only assume my dad - the gaming neophyte that he is - still recognized the Pac-Man name/character, because he suggested I play that instead of some silly Disney game.  So I did, to humor him.  I desperately wanted to play Mickey's game, but I was content to play the boring old Pac-Man game instead.  After all, he had let me actually play something, so why bite the hand that feeds, right?

Well of course after 5-10 minutes my time was up and we had to go.  And my mind railed as I realized I had blown my chance to finally play the sort of game I'd been waiting an eternity to play.  I've still never played that game in fact.  Damn that Ms. Pac-Man!

Now where am I going with that?  I have no idea; I guess it has no point.  Just that one of my earliest gaming memories involves me being bitter towards Ms. Pac-Man.  Eventually I got over it.  After all, it's an all-time classic.

Did I beat it?
Yes.  If clearing every board counts for beating a game like this.


#266 - Stargate

Oooh, Stargate.  Remember that franchise?  I mean, before all those new-fangled TV show spinoffs took the nerd-dom world by storm.  Iím talking about the OG movie, starring a super serial Kurt Russel, and David Spader, in a rare role where he wasnít downing cocaine by the shovelful and fucking everything that moves.  Then again, I guess he could have been doing those things in Stargate as well.  I never did watch the deleted scenes.

Stargate (1994) was a pretty forgettable summer blockbuster that was brought to us by the creative duo that was later responsible for Independence Day and that dreadful Godzilla reboot.  While I would never profess to be a fan of their work, I would say Stargate is at least among the better offerings they ever gave us.  It told the story of some sort of ďgateĒ being uncoveredÖ somewhere (I forget, probably in Egypt).  After dragging it back to the good olí US of A, some scientists eventually figure out how to ďtriggerĒ it, and create a portal to another world.  So of course the best course of action is to send in a group of killer soldiers in order toÖ secure it, I guess.  And they bring James Spader along for the ride to do... science-y things, I suppose.

Once through the portal they find themselves in an alien (but human) world where the native peoples worship a group of space-faring alien humans that travel in pyramids and wear large hawk and dog-themed helmets.  As in, these guys are the basis for all Egyptian mythology.  Also, their leader is the lady-man from The Crying Game, sans the full-frontal nudity. Probably.

The game places you in Kurt Russelís shoes, and has you traversing various areas of Space Egypt in order to rescue civilians, track down the rest of your platoon, destroy the legions of Ra, and even partake in a vehicle level or two.  Which means lots of running, gunning, throwing grenades, and grabbing and climbing ledges.

Thereís a number of different firearms and explosives you can pick up, all reasonably balanced and serving various utilities.  Typical stuff: rifles, better rifles, even better rifles.  You know the drill, we donít need to waste time talking about it.

The game engine appears to be the same one that was used for Judge Dredd and Demolition Man.  Not that I fault Acclaim for using and abusing this thing, because I think it has a nice look and feel for the most part.  The levels are large and detailed, the characters' sprites look nice and animate well, and the controls are solid (if maybe just a tad too busy).  If there is one thing Acclaim did on the Super Nintendo, it was produce a very workable action game engine.

The boss fights are pretty challenging for the most part, but still reasonably fair.  Pattern recognition is the name of the game, which is never a bad thing.  As long as cheap attacks are held to a minimum Iím usually happy.  The final boss is probably a tad too difficult for my liking, but overall itís a solid group effort here.

The game does throw a nasty little curveball at the end.  See, if you donít find and collect all of the nuclear doodads throughout the game, instead of getting the credits you are given a nasty Konami-style ďtry againĒ message, and dumped back at the title screen.  Something like that doesnít really affect my opinion of a game.  I mean, who really gives a shit about whether you got to see credits or not.  But it is kind of a middle finger to the player, since as far as I know there is no real emphasis in making this known to the player beforehand.  Oh well.

So yeah.  That gets us through the one and only Kurt Russel game on the Super Nintendo, one that I was pleasantly surprised with, and made multiple trips through.  I donít like it quite as much as its very similar brother, Demolition Man, but feel it was a pretty big step up from Judge Dredd.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, I got through it, got the bad ending, and then went through the entire thing again while collecting all of the nuke pieces.  I'm hardcore like that.


#265 - Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits

Itís the other compilation of old arcade classics.


Defender - Eh, I have to be honest when I say I don't see the appeal of this type of game.  You know the type I'm talking about - the "horizontal looping shmup" thingy.  Where your ship is constantly circling back to the same starting point after moving a certain distance to the right or left. We saw its emergence briefly during the 1980s with stuff like Defender, Fantasy Zone, and... probably a few other games.  But you never see it now.  Ever.  Why is that?  Presumably because it was a novelty, or an evolutionary gaming dead end.  As in, once people realized there was nowhere (fun) to take these mechanics, it was forever ditched.

(cue people pointing out to me that there are a billion games nowadays that keep Defender's legacy alive in some manner)


Defender II - Yeah, all those things I just said?  I say them here too.  I think thereís some new enemies and stuff, but I couldnít bring myself to play this a whole lot.


Joust - So I'm gonna compare this game to Balloon Fight because, well, they're basically the same damn thing.  Assume control of a flying guy, flap his wings (or arms) so that he can climb slightly higher than his opponent(s), and then try to skewer them/poke their balloons before they can do the same to you.  And avoid doing any of that too fast lest you lose control and fling yourself into a hazard.  That's it.  Itís arcade gameplay at its simplest, and Iím sure itís loaded with depth for those who like competitive multiplayer.

But I have to say that I prefer Balloon Fight.


Robotron - This is the game.  This is why you play this collection.  Robotron's gameplay - left stick to move, right stick to shoot - is timeless, and continues to influence the medium even to this day.  What is Nier Automata, but a refined version of Robotron?  What is Enter the Gungeon, but more Robotron?  Smash TV?  Owes everything to Robotron.  This is the godfather of the run Ďn gun as far as I'm concerned, and I still bust it out from time to time to this day.  Granted, there are certain aspects to it that are more than a little creaky.  And yeah, the average run lasts about 2 minutes.  But it's still a blast, now and forever.


Sinistar - I guess I'd call this the game I respect the most, while also being the game I enjoy actually playing the least.  Like, the idea they came up with here is absolutely brilliant.  Set a player loose in a large Asteroids-like arena, and then add in an enemy force that is collecting resources so that they can build their metallic god, Sinistar.  A god which will, when completed, promptly chase you around the arena, taunting you (complete with sound bites), and trying to devour you.  Was this the world's first horror game?  Because I imagine more than a few people nearly shit themselves the first time he crashed their party.

Of course the actual gameplay feels pretty rough to me.  Everything moves at approximately Mach 1000, all of the time, and the viewing distance feels way too limited to me, reducing the "fights" against the titular villain into exercises in frustration.  Youíre unable to see what you're hitting, unable to see where you should go, and unable to outmaneuver whateverís chasing you.

Still, it is a really cool idea.


So that gets us closer to wrapping up the ports/collections of ancient arcade games.  Or maybe that was the last oneÖ in any case, itís held aloft by Robotron, a gaming classic.  Play it for that.  If youíre the sort of weirdo thatís really into Defender, I guess knock yourself out.  And try out Sinistar at the very least for the novelty of the experience.

Did I beat it?
I beat all of the laughably terrible high scores.  So... maybe?


#264 - Inspector Gadget

You know what I havenít really covered yet?  Hudson Soft games.  Well, I mean other than a few token sports games... and a racing game or two.  And that unfortunate Beauty and the Beast gameÖ

Okay, letís try that again.  You know what I havenít covered yet?  Any of the good Hudson Soft games.  Which is most of them.  Seriously, a significant number of the remaining games left in this project are going to be from a select group of publishers, and one of those publishers is Hudson Soft.  You can probably guess who most of the rest are.

The Inspector Gadget game for Super Nintendo is a platformer.  Of course.  The games based on these sorts of properties always are.  But IG overcomes that lack of inspiration by doing so many things well.  Things that a platformer needs to do well to be a successful game.  Things such as controls that are solid (mostly), a set of levels that are fun to play through (mostly), boss fights that are fun and challenging (mostly) without ever dipping into the realm of ďunfair,Ē and graphics, animation, and an overall presentation that isÖ eh, I guess just alright.  Mostly.  But definitely not bad.

I havenít seen the original Inspector Gadget television show in a million years, but I think we all know the gist of it.  Gadget is some sort of middle-aged cyborg, heís in the employment of some sort of spy agency, and he has to use his gadgets (most of which are contained within his body), with the help of his niece Penny - and some dog (Brain?) - to defeat the forces of... CLAW?  Is that what they were called?  I know Dr. Claw was the leaderÖ bah, it doesnít matter.  You know where this is going.

The central gimmick to the gameplay is that Gadget can collect different types of hats which enable him to use different abilities.  One gives you rotating helicopter blades, so that you can hover, slow your descents, and move across large gaps.  Another fires large rods into walls, which can be used to climb to previously inaccessible areas.  Bombs will blow holes in the ground/floor, and so forth. It's a pretty nice arsenal.

Thereís also a bunch of other power-ups that I donít know or remember what they do.  One is a little dog icon, another is a claw, or helmeted face or something.  Who knows.  I didnít google it, and if I figured it out years ago, I donít remember what I discovered.

OH.  Gadget also has a little bit of an ďArthurĒ thing going on.  You see, thereís no lifebar, or HP indicator anywhere.  Instead, you lose your clothes when you take damage, and then you die.  Shameless plagiarism from a certain infamous Capcom series, but who can fault them?  If youíre gonna steal, steal from the best.

Chief complaints?  I don't really have many.  Thereís more than a few cheap deaths sprinkled throughout the levels, but it never gets out of hand.  Gadgetís main attack can also be a little finicky, especially when youíre trying to hit something just above you.  Youíll see that on display within moments of starting the game.

Altogether, these things add up to give us a rather pleasant experience.  And such subdued praise shouldnít be discounted, because that is a rather tough thing to pull off.  The many, many platformers that Iíve already covered all failed to do at least one of these things in some respect.  IG almost represents the watershed moment in these rankings where the problems are either muted (or nonexistent) enough to be easily outweighed by the good.

So while I would never call the game great, Inspector Gadget is well within the ranks of ďgoodĒ in the Super Nintendo library.  It isnít among the best platformers, or among the best of Hudson Softís offerings, but itís the sort of game I can play through every couple years and have a good time for the entire duration.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I have played through it a couple times.


#263 - NBA Give 'N Go

Yes, I put this higher than NBA Jam and its ilk, and yes, I stand by that position.  While NBA Give 'N Go was a much less groundbreaking title at the time of its release, and one that is practically unknown today, especially compared to Midway's arcade smash hit, it's the game I'd rather be playing in 2020.

Will most people disagree with that sentiment?  Almost certainly.  In fact, I bet every single person who reads this will think I have it backwards.  And they'll have a point, because how do you beat triple flip dunks?  But I never started this project with the intention of pleasing people, and I'm not gonna about to start compromising things now.

As the title and cover art indicate, this game is fully licensed with all of the professional NBA teams and players, which is always a boon with sports games.  We were pretty lucky in that regard, as late in the system's lifespan pretty much every title seemed to have ditched the fictional teams and players.  Thank God.

The play options present here are decent enough, though pretty standard.  Of course there's your usual exhibition mode, season mode, playoff mode, and tournament mode.  But there's no fancy minigames or three-point shoot-outs or anything like that.  I don't know if that sort of thing matters to you, but as far as basketball games go, they were never a big selling point for me, so I didn't really mind their absence.  I just want to play the actual games.

The viewing perspective is very atypical for the genre.  Again, just look at the screenshots up above and you can see what I'm talking about. And, unlike games such as NCAA Basketball where the Mode 7 camera will rotate so that the offense is always moving towards a basket in the background, the view here is static.  So you're constantly switching between moving towards and away from the camera.  On one hand, this helps keep the action fast and furious, as you can immediately head down the court for fast breaks and quick strikes.  On the other hand, I'd be lying if I said this didn't take some getting used to, or that it seemed completely fair to the team defending the "near" basket.

Gameplay is also very, very arcadish.  Arcadey?  Arcade-like?  Someday I'm gonna google that.  Anyway, this means that playing defense translates into relying on wild swats at the ball or desperately trying to get a flying body directly in the path of any big men going in for a dunk.  Of course I'd also say that playing defense...er, plays out almost exactly the same way in NBA Jam.  So no harm, no foul (no pun intended).

As far as graphics go, the sprites and animation are pretty nice, if nothing amazing.  They're probably also not as fun or fluid as NBA Jam (I'm gonna have to keep making that comparison), and they have a lot less personality to them, but they still make this amongst the best lookingb-ball games on the system.

If there is one thing the game suffers from, it's that it doesn't offer much in the way of replay value.  Once you understand the mechanics and get into a groove you can pretty much have your way with the AI, so there's very limited mileage there.  That's probably true of most sports games, especially basketball games, but it's doubly true here.

Thankfully it still remains super fun to pop in for just a quick game or two, especially with other people.  I know that's true because I busted it out at a game night, and people did seem to be legitimately having fun playing it.  Not as much fun as they had with NBA Jam, but again, these are my rankings, not everyone else's'.

So if you like NBA Jam and want to try out something that's kinda similar, this is your game.  It's not as over-the-top and ridiculous, and there's no "big head" codes or Bill Clinton characters, as far as I know.  But there's plenty of arcade slam dunk action, and plenty of fun to be had.

Did I beat it?
I did.  With, I dunno, the Rockets or someone.


#262 - PGA Tour Golf

So, in a little bit I'm going to be going through this whole song and dance about losing my Phantom 2040 review (scroll down to see it).  Kind of like when you canít find your TV remote, and then you eventually figure out you put it in the fridge for some scatterbrained reason.

Well I did legitimately lose my PGA Tour Golf review.  For even more stupid reasons, believe you me.

You see, once upon a time I had this game grouped in with the sequels, PGA 96 and European Tour, because I had initially overlooked them in my rankings spreadsheet, and years went by without addressing it.  Then, when I started writing the sequels up last year, I realized my mistake, and had to quickly rerank some things.  So I moved my HTML code around, shuffled some games backwards to fill the void, and moved on.  Easy peasy.

Well, thatís all fine and dandy, except when I did all of that, I permanently overwrote everything I had typed up for this game, without noticing it.  And of course I didnít get all of this site's data loaded into an online repository until AFTER this happened, so I canít even go through previous revisions to find it.  So itís gone.  My whole long diatribe about PGA Tour Golf, a game I grew up with, permanently dust.  And I really donít have the heart to do it all again.  So Iím not going to.  Instead Iím just gonna say that this is a game that is near and dear to my heart, that it still plays well today, and that ranks among the best golf games on the system.  Or at least, among the golf games that were released in the States.  That donít feature Kirby...

Still, thatís pretty good.

Did I beat it?
Yes.  Mostly because the game has built-in save states.  Also, I beat it all the time as a kid on PC.


#261 - Bonkers

Is this the first Capcom non-sports title I've covered?  It can't be... can it?  Gaaaaaah, think brain think... shit I don't know, Iíll have to go through my list and check.

*a few minutes later*

Hmm, someone remind me at some point to add some indexes to my reviews so I can easily gather this information with a push of a button next time.  Also, yes it seems this is the first Capcom action/platformer/sidescroller/beatemup to grace our presence.  Which is A) pretty impressive, especially considering how far into the library we are by now, and B) probably makes Bonkers seem pretty lackluster by comparison.  It's not.  It's a totally competent and fun game that does exactly what it needs to.  It's just not great, like many of Capcom's games are.

The star of the show, Bonkers, is a... uh... let's go with bobcat, who is employed as a security guard police officer.  Shenanigans ensue at the local museum late one night, and he is left chasing down a group of thieves who have stolen several different priceless heirlooms, all of which originate from classic Disney films (e.g. the wizard cap from Fantasia).  Eventually the game takes him up into the clouds to confront Father Time himself... uh, apparently.  Or, maybe youíre confronting God himself?  Who knows, the story is nonsensical.  Whatever the case, you (as Bonkers) will race across various parts of Los Angeles, gathering the valuable stolen stuffs, and beating up various anthropomorphic animals.  Keep in mind this is all based on an (alleged) Saturday Morning Cartoon back in the mid-90s, but I'd never heard of it, so I canít really give us much more context than that.

Gameplay is basic, but rock solid in that special Capcom sort of way.  Controls are airtight, levels are tightly balanced and full of fun optional stuff to collect, boss fights are memorable and challenging, but without ever feeling too easy or too unfair, and the whole game perfectly captures the feeling of a cartoon.  Not that I ever watched the cartoon, but I'm sure this feels just like itÖ *cough*

Bonkers has a pretty good assortment of moves and attacks too.  Most of it is pretty usual stuff: run, jump, throw bombs and... you know what, it doesn't matter.  I get tired of listing off movesets, and you probably get tired of reading about them.  So Iím not gonna bother.  Just know that the moveset gets the job done, and is never too simple, and never too complicated.  It's totally perfect for the tasks at hand.

I will say that the game is a tad easy, but mostly in a good way.  After all, this is a kidís game.  That's one thing I think Capcom really nailed with their Disney games, as these were intended for children, and should be balanced that way.  As opposed to the non-Capcom Disney titles from the likes of Virgin and Sony, all of which I have eviscerated in one way or another for being stupidly hard for an 8-year-old.  I guess it's also telling that every single one of those games is ranked lower than every single title that Capcom put out.

Anyway, Bonkers is for sure a solid little platformer, and one I have had a fun time going back to throughout the years.  Yeah, it's a bit easy, and yeah, itís a bit short.  And no, I don't know anything about the property itís based on, and I donít care to find out.  But none of that stops it from being another feather in Capcomís cap.

Did I beat it?
Yes, quite a few times.  I've been saying that a lot recently, haven't it?


#260 - Big Sky Trooper

Another weird one. Anyone want to guess what it would look like if you crossed Zombies Ate My Neighbors with Star Trek TNG: Future's Past?  Did you say Big Sky Trooper?  No?  What do you mean you've never heard of this game?

Well, that's okay, because no one else has either.

Brought to us by the fine folks at LucasArts (courtesy of JVC) I can only assume Big Sky Trooper (no relation to the state of Montana) was created with the ZAMN engine, and presumably came from some of the same development team.  After all, it has the exact same sense of humor, the same "feel" to the gameplay, and a number of other esoteric little things that reminded me of Konami's horror opus.

Now, as I said, this is a very weird one, and trying to explain the gameplay is gonna be trying.  So bear with me...

You play as a boy or girl (it's your choice) who gets drafted into some sort of intergalactic military force that is waging war against a race of evil sentient slugs.  After joining, your recruitment officer administers a quick test of your abilities, and then promptly promotes you to a 21-Star General, with your very own... uh, space cruiser dog thing... complete with dog AI advisor (don't ask).  Then they set you loose to liberate a series of systems from the evil slug menace, which means setting up a bunch of relay stations so that your ship has ever greater range.  Also your commanding officer may or may not be a three dimensional television image. Still following me?

To set those relay stations up, you'll need to enter a system, play a quick game of "Asteroids" where you need to blast any slug ships that are in orbit, and then hop on down to the planet's surface and kill more slugs.  Of course your "relays" are limited in supply, so later on you'll need to go back and collect some of them for re-use, or figure out how to build more.  It's pretty annoying.

Eventually you'll work your way to whatever planet your next objective is located at, where youíll need to free someone (or some thing), blow something up, unlock something, etc.  As you progress further you'll come across/earn various gadgets and thingamabobs that allow you access to even more areas of the game.

Occasionally you'll want to place some fast food franchises on the planets of your choice so that the slugs are scared away by the advertising (yes, really).

Finally, you'll discover a "face planet" which will consume your ship and...

Yeah, you know what?  I think you get the point by now, so I'll stop there.

Now make no mistake, if I just made the whole game sound like some sort of intergalactic ZAMN with all sorts of epic shit and Metroidvania elements... eh, go ahead and nip those thoughts in the bud right now.  Big Sky Trooper may have high aspirations, and succeed in reaching a few of those aspirations in some ways, but it ain't remotely as grand as I just tried to make it out to be. And it's not nearly as cool as it could (should) have been.  High concept.  Mediocre execution.

For one, the gameplay never really feels totally optimized.  Ever.  Combat is kind of a mess since your character has such a massive sprite that takes up way too much real estate on the screen, and most of your foes are rather quick moving.  And your main ďlightningĒ weapon is stupid.  Shades of Festerís Quest/Addams Family Values, if you catch my drift.  So most missions end up feeling like a race to kill everything before you yourself take too much damage.  Super unsatisfying.

Most of the planets are also super boring, with no real features, or landmarks.  Just lots of borders and walls and doors.  By the time youíve completed a dozen planets youíll be begging for a change of scenery.

The game starts to turn into a slog roughly halfway through as well, as you're repeating the same activities over and over again, and the planetside levels start to get longer and more elaborate.

It can also be hella confusing trying to figure out what you're supposed to do, where you're supposed to go, where you are on the map, where anything is located on the map, and so forth. Prepare to spend many a session not making progress.  By the end of the game I pretty much had to completely rely on an online guide because there are so many items in your inventory, so many systems on your map, and so many "thingsĒ to try and make sense of, that it kind of all implodes upon itself.

Still, warts aside, I enjoyed my time with the game.  All in all, I have to say it's pretty good.  Not great.  The sort of game where a remake or remaster, in the right hands, could really unlock its potential.  Of course that will never happen, because no one knows this game exists, so there's no one clamoring for any such remake.  But there was greatness buried in here.  Somewhere.

Did I beat it?
I got about 80% of the way through it, got confused, and took a break.  And then at some point I "upgraded" my cart, and accidently shipped my save file to god knows where.  So I used an endgame save on my new cart to see the final part of the game.  So the answer is about 90% yes.


#259 - The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie

Did you know that The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse got a sequel?  Did you know it got two sequels?  I certainly didnít.  At least, not until I started hoarding hundreds of Nintendo tapes, which I eventually started digging into.

When I first ran across this title, my knee jerk impulse was to write it off as something similar to Mickeyís Ultimate Challenge: some kind of minigame-athon meant for children.  I donít know why that is, maybe because the silly name and box art hold no clue that there is any relation to TMQ.  Whatever the case, I tossed it back into the pile and paid it no mind for several more years.

Eventually, after starting to form the idea in my head about actually playing through all of my games so that I could write about them (which eventually morphed into the idea behind this website), I actually popped the cartridge into my console.  And lo and behold, I had a Capcom platformer on my hands.

Now, I already made it clear in my Bonkers review that I think Capcom did good work on the Super Nintendo.  Great work, for the most part.  They were on top of their game back in the 8-bit and 16-bit generations, and that was never more clear than with their Disney games.  Okay, it was probably more clear in games like Mega Man 2, but you get my point.

I donít know what it is about these games, but they just feel right.  Despite being designed and marketed for children, the gameplay is always tight enough that they remain enjoyable for adults to play.  Even if the challenge level is low. And trust me, itís very low here.  Practically nonexistent.

The same ďcostumesĒ (or perhaps theyíre ďsuitsĒ) gimmick from TMQ is still here.  These allow you to transform Mickey and gain new powers.  Itís a fancy way of giving powerups, no more, no less. Suit powers this time include the ability to climb walls, or shoot guns.

Now, if there is one other thing that defines this series, itís that the games are both extremely short (in addition to being extremely easy).  As in, ďbeat in one sittingĒ short.  Not that I often hold that against many of these games, especially when Iím trying to work through so many of them at any given moment.  Short = my life is made easier.  But these two titles are almost too short.  It would be something if they offered some sort of optional collectables to go after, that were off the beaten path or something.  But there isnít much of anything like that here.  You just zip along until you reach the end.

Still though, itís another solid Capcom platformer.  Yeah, itís meant for younger games, and no it isnít close to being among their best work.  But it is an enjoyable little romp, that you can enjoy for an afternoon and play through with your kids.  Just donít expect it to stick around.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, you'd had to go out of your way to not beat this one.


#258 - RoboCop Versus The Terminator

You know, I hadnít really thought about it in awhile, but the RoboCop and Terminator franchises really havenít done so well in the world of video games, have they?  Like, almost to a game, they've been subpar at best.  In over thirty years of gaming history, theyíve produced bomb after bomb after bomb after bomb, with maybe this one game that Iím about to go over representing the lone bright spot.

As far as SNES goes, I think my rankings speak for themselves.  And in case you forgot where I had everything (or youíve just recently joined us) they were:

RoboCop 3 - #695
Terminator 2 - #692
The Terminator - #653
T2: The Arcade Game - #587

Pathetic.  The games for NES, Genesis, and Game Boy didnít fare much better either, at least, if their reputations are anything to go by that is.

So how did Robocop vs. The Terminator buck this trend?  Hell, it didnít even buck it, it obliterated it.  Weíre talking hundreds upon hundreds of spots difference here.

Well, itís simple.  It tightened up the controls, it flattened the difficulty curve, and it made the gameplay actually, you know, fun to play.  Three things that are just kind of important for an action platformer.  And yet so many of them couldnít get those things right.

I donít really know the history of this crossover, but Iím assuming it originated from a comic series.  They always did.  And Iím saying that without doing any googling or anything, so donít yell at me if Iím wrong.  Anyway, you play as Alex ďRoboCopĒ Murphy, and youíll be destroying legions of Terminators and other Skynet forces.  I mean really, this should be called RoboCop vs Skynet.  Levels will take you across the slums of Detroit (or at least, I'm assuming thatís where this is happening), and even into the apocalyptic future (I guess you find a time portal or something).

Now even though I praised the game for having a much fairer difficulty curve than that found in any other game from either of these franchises, make no mistake, this game is tough.  Tough enough that I still havenít beaten it yet. But it is super beatable, and it is completely fair throughout.  Thereís even passwords (or was it a continue system?) to help you push on through.  Such a novel fucking idea. The Terminator for SNES is a terrible game, yet I guarantee I would have pushed it up at least fifty spots if it had a continue system of some type.  But I digress.

The controls are solid, like I said.  Shoot, jump, move, etc.  Youíd think that would be the first thing youíd try to iron out when making a game like this, but as Terminator 2 proved, itís apparently beyond the skills (or resources) of some development teams.

Graphics are also pretty dang good, with nice animations, super-sharp spritework, and good-looking levels.  Bosses in particular do a nice job of capturing the look of the source material, with many familiar-looking robots from both franchises making an appearance.  Really, I donít have a ton of complaints.  The game does everything pretty well.  It doesnít do anything particularly amazing, but I have no real gripes that I can come up with.  Thatís gonna be the case more and more here as I dig deeper into this project, because at this point Iím pretty much an unabashed fan of everything left.

So, yeah.  If you like this type of game, or youíre a fan of either one of these franchises, this is the game to pick up.  Go ahead and ignore every single other offering that we got on the Super Nintendo.

Did I beat it?
Almost, but not quite.  Consider this one still on the bucket list.


#257 - Madden NFL 95

#256 - Madden NFL 96

#255 - Madden NFL 97

#254 - Madden NFL 98

Alright, here we go: the last batch of Madden games for the Super Nintendo.  Hell, the last of all of EA's football games for that matter.
And for those keeping score (which, hopefully at least some of you are), we have so far covered:

College Football USA '97 - #714(dead last)
John Madden Football - #441
Bill Walsh College Football - #383
John Madden 93 and 94 - #311/310

After getting through all of those, we finally reach the clear highpoint(s) of the series with these last four games.  Games where EA successfully found a good balance of tight gameplay, good graphics, a ton of features, and good, steady performance.  These aren't the best football games on the system, not by a longshot, but they're definitely some of the few titles I can unequivocably say are worth playing.

Going back to my original review of John Madden Football, I blasted its passing game while calling the whole package a "far cry from the juggernaut franchise it would eventually become."  When EA came back the next year (and the year after that), they produced two follows-ups which added the NFL license, a more refined graphics engine, and much improved passing, but left us with some continuing problems with player collision and a lackluster running game.  Still, both games were very clear upgrades over the original.

The 1995 edition of Madden marks another step-up, and improves on almost everything that was wrong with the 93/94 duo.  Most importantly, the player models have been completely redone once again to be thinner, faster, sleeker, and far less likely to get "caught" on one another.  This in turn really opens things up on both offense and defense, as you spend less time trying to run "around" players, and more time running "past" them.  That's a good thing.  A very good thing in fact.  Mostly because it makes the flow of the action feel much more like an actual football game.  Receivers can now run their routes, backs can now hit their holes, and defenders can try to make plays on the ball, or close in on the ballcarrier without getting stuck on every nearby body.

My main criticism for 95 is that the defensive AI doesn't seem to have quite caught up to those new refinements in speed and maneuverability.  Which means the games always feature a LOT of offense.  The most in any EA football game, and by a pretty good margin too.  Bombs and long developing pass plays are nearly impossible to cover, especially if you're playing as a good team, lending to lots of high-scoring shootouts.  That's not a terrible thing; shootouts can be fun.  But it can be frustrating getting torched again and again, and it does take away from the challenge of single player if you know you can always send Jerry Rice on a fly route if you need a quick and easy score.

Madden NFL 96 then swings the pendulum in the complete opposite direction, with the stingiest defenses in any game in the series.  I can only guess that the devs were trying to fix what was wrong with 95, and ended up wildly overcompensating instead.  I don't know if that's a bad thing, because now you really have to work for your points, as the game forces you to get smarter with your play calling and your decision-making.  But even that's not always enough as wide open receivers have to wait for slow travelling passes, and linebackers immediately extinguish holes in the line.  So, EA was getting closer, but weren't quite there yet.

...that happened with the last two games: Madden NFL 97 and Madden NFL 98 (which I'm going to effectively call the same game).  These two are easily the best of the bunch, bringing every one of the series' refinements forward, while also giving us the most balanced offensive and defensive play.  Now you can run, pass, defend, make plays, and stop plays.  It only took six tries after all.

This batch of games also introduced the "create-a-player" mode (or maybe it was introduced in 96, I forget).  It's actually reasonably cool, and ahead of its time too.  You see, instead of just filling out a name, body type, and position, with some rough stats, you actually have to put a guy through something akin to the NFL Combine.  That means running a track-and-field style 40-yard dash, running the cones, and even going through passing/receiving/coverage drills.  The whole gamut.  And all of these minigames are actually pretty fun and challenging.  I sunk hours into it back in the day, and at one of my birthday parties (when I was a kid) we turned it into a party game of sorts and had a blast.

Closing thoughts?  The Super Nintendo is where I got most of my enjoyment from the Madden franchise.  Starting back when the series was still reasonably new and fresh and there was a novelty to controlling NFL teams and professional superstars, and continuing on to this day.  Of course I'm also not the hugest fan of modern sports games, I'd never assume that anyone who is hardcore into the newer iterations of the series would be able to go back to stuff like this.  But I'm the sort of person who can still have fun with the old stuff.

Did I beat 95?
Yes, a number of times.

Did I beat 96?
Yes, once.  After a million tries.

Did I beat 97?
Yes, once.

Did I beat 98?
Yes, once.


#253 - Phantom 2040

I just pulled this review up in google docs to do some work on it, maybe even finish it, and got a surprise of sorts.  You see, the only thing that came up in my browser was an empty document.  Which begs the question: did I ever actually start the writing?

I honestly have no idea.

Over 450 reviews in, this might be a sign that Iím officially starting to lose it.  It was bound to happen sooner or later.

In fact, not only do I not know if I did the work, but I have no idea when I would have done it, or how much of it I actually did.  I know for a fact that I thought about writing this review.  I may have even mentally brainstormed some rough ideas about the direction I wanted to take it. Maybe I even completely wrote it (in my head), albeit at a high level.  But did I never actually do any of the work?  Maybe?  This empty page tells me thatís probably the case.  God help me.

So, since exhaustion is setting in and I really loathe the idea of writing something from scratch when I thought I had already done it, Iím just gonna say ďfuck itĒ and wing it.  Which means writing the entire thing here in one go.  Totally off the cuff.  I feel like itís been a couple installments since Iíve done something like that, so we were overdue anyways.  Without further ado, here goesÖ

Back in the 1990s there was this movi-


...


Goddammit, I DID start this review!  I know for a fact that I did, because I remember going on about Billy Zane and that dumb movie.  So the only question is, where in the world did I leave it, and am I completely crazy?...

*a billion years later*

Ok, found it.  Iím an idiot.  So here goes for real:

This is another game I struggled with finalizing a ranking for.  I mean, I struggle with all of my rankings to one degree or another - constantly second-guessing the order I've come up with, and whether or not Game A is truly better than Game B.  Iím endlessly rearranging things up until the very last minute, trying to get it just right.  But Phantom 2040 presented me with some extra challenges.  You see, after playing through the game over a consecutive number of (long) nights, and finally reaching the end, I dropped the controller, sat back, and tried to process what it was that I had just experienced.

For a little background, my understanding is that the Phantom was a very old comic property, which must have seen some sort of minor resurgence in the 1990s.  Or at least that seems like the only explanation for that dreadful Billy Zane movie, the cartoon series that this game is based on, and of course this game itself.  Not that I've ever met anyone who has seen that movie, watched the show, or played this game.  Whatever was happening with the property, they didn't seem to do a very good job of capitalizing on it.

Now, I never watched the Phantom 2040 cartoon, but it appears to be set in the future, with a pretty large cast of good guys and bads.  Why do I say that?  Because the game has a shit-ton of cutscenes, where a bunch of dudes and dudettes blather on about whatever.  So for anyone whoís really into this franchise, thereís a lot of fanservice, er, served up.  Assuming such a person exists.

Gameplay-wise, what we have here is something of a nonlinear(ish) Metroid meets Mega Man meets Batman type of thing.  In fact, if you reskinned this as a Batman game (and Batman used guns), it would be an almost perfect fit.

As the Phantom you have a huge city to explore, a million enemies to destroy, and a gigantic arsenal of gear at your disposal.  In order to make the job easier youíll need to hunt down various upgrades to your life and "energy" (ammo) - both of which are represented by the two bars at the top of the screen - as well as upgrade the length of your grappling rope.  Thereís also well over a dozen new types of gear and weapons that youíll periodically earn by either hunting through every square inch of the huge maps, or by defeating the many different bosses youíll encounter.

Now, like I already said twice now, this game is HUGE.  The amount of ground you need to cover is almost overwhelming.  If you donít believe me, go check out the various online maps for the game.  It's also pretty nonlinear, with multiple paths often present, open-ended levels that allow you to go in a number of directions, and a world map that opens up as you get further into the game.

The controls are very solid.  Besides your standard jump and attack functions, there is the aforementioned rope ability which lets you climb walls.  While initially frustrating to use due to its short length, after several upgrades it becomes an integral part of your toolbox - letting you climb up to previously inaccessible areas.

There's also an ability to lock your character in place so that you can fire in any direction - something you'll rely on heavily for most of the boss fights.  This should be standard in all games like this.

Biggest cons?  There is definitely a lack of refinement, especially to the difficulty curve.  This is one of those games where youíll be constantly taking damage, and constantly healing yourself.  Iíve never been the biggest fan of that type of gameplay, as I think any skilled player should be able to get through a new area blind, without taking damage.  Thatís not really possible here, as enemies will constantly spawn and swarm onscreen before you can react, or damage you from offscreen.

Slowdown is almost a recurring issue, especially during some of the more ďbusyĒ levels. Itís never anything as overwhelming as what you see in titles like Gradius III, but itís still a constant annoyance.

The game can also get very, very confusing.  Have you ever played a Metroid game that doesnít have a map? Like maybe the original Metroid? Thatís this game.  Huge-ass world, coupled with no in-game map.  Expect to do lots of backtracking, lots of wandering, and wasting lots of time not knowing where to go or what to do.  Which is exacerbated by the fact that this game only dishes out passwords when you clear different sections of the game.  So you need to get through a couple hours of gameplay if you want your upgrades to stick, or else you better write down where you found them in case you need to replay that section of the game again.

The game also desperately needs unlimited continues or something.  Anything to blunt the impact of the endless frustrating deaths.  Again, the game does offer passwords, but those track the number of your remaining lives, so it's often a dead end if you play poorly.  Once you know where you're going it's a lot easier to manage health and lives, but that only happens through playing the game for hours and hours.  Until that happens, youíre gonna spend most of your time replaying the same few beginning parts, getting your ass kicked.

So overall, I love the idea behind the game, and I love that the developers really went for broke.  Something especially commendable considering the no-name property they had to work with.  But the game is just too rough around the edges to call any sort of unmitigated success.  While I think there is a lot of good here, and a lot to recommend, only hardcore Metroidvania fans probably need apply.

Did I beat it?
I did.  I cheated and used a guide to point me in the right direction a time or two, but I got through it all.


#252 - Mortal Kombat II

Oh man am I late with getting this set of games finished up and pushed out the door.  Thanks a lot COVID-19!  AndÖ other factorsÖ like writerís block.  And turning our office into a kidís bedroom.  And buying a new house.  And a maybe just a little bit of being a lazy ass.

Anyway, at this point I just need to get this stuff wrapped up.  So Iím finally tackling one of the Super Nintendoís great sacred cows: Mortal Kombat II.

*collective gasp*

Yeah, I know, I know.  First Mortal Kombat 3, then Maximum Carnage, then NBA Jam, and now this?  I'll really just playing the role of contrarian lately, aren't I?

You might consider this a top ten game on the system.  Maybe top five.  Maybe this is your singular favorite video game of all time.  And who am I to say you're wrong?  After all, who is everyone else gonna agree with?  You?  Or me? Probably the former.

So Iíd be lying if I said I didnít have something of a creative crisis when it came to tackling this.  After all, if this is ďmyĒ list of games, fair and balanced as I may think it is, it should reflect my completely honest and untainted opinions.  And since Iíve made it no secret that Iím not exactly the worldís biggest fighting game fan, how could I possibly justify having this anywhere near the top of my rankings?  It's not like its that different from its predecessor, a game I hold no great love for.  And itís not that different from its sequel (along with Ultimate MK3), both of which were covered pretty recently.  I mean, do I honestly consider Mortal Kombat 2 to be a vastly better game than either of those?  No, because that wouldnít make any sense. So the rankings have to reflect that.

However, I shouldnít have to explain any of that, because really only one thing matters.  And thatís the fact that, from the beginning, I have basically thrown out things like a gameís cultural ďimpactĒ and ďlegacyĒ.  Iíve tried to make it clear from day one that this is not only my list, reflecting my own thoughts and opinions, but that the only possible way I could measure all 714 games against one another, is by how they all play right now.  At this moment in time.  Not back when they first came out in the early 1990s.  It wouldnít make any sense to selectively prop up some games based on what we thought about them 30 years ago, but not do that with other games.  The entire foundation of my premise here would erode.

So that leaves us with me, a self-confessed fighting game noob and hater, playing all of these games - mostly against myself - years after their prime.  And if I said that there werenít 250 other Super Nintendo games that I wouldnít rather play than Mortal Kombat II, I know Iíd be lying.  And if I tried to pass off such a lie with this project, Iíd be only cheating all of you, and myself.  So I didnít do it.  I dropped it down here.  Below the likes of Demolition Man and American Tail: Fievel Goes West.  It wonít be a popular entry in this list.  In fact, Iím sure Iíll get more than a few angry/flummoxed comments about it.  But itís the honest truth.




And besidesÖ deep down, most of you know this series never played that great. :D

Did I beat it?
No.  I have never beaten any Mortal Kombat game.


#251 - Syndicate

Besides being one of the most obscure (and rare) games on the Super Nintendo, Syndicate has to be one of the most improbable of releases as well.  I mean, how in the world did Bullfrog manage to get a classic PC cbyerpunk strategy game that involves mass-murdering cyborg junkies onto a Nintendo console?  Had the Big N already relaxed their strict limits on adult content by the end of the SNES's life cycle?  Did they overlook this game because they were more focused on the launch of the N64?  Did they even know they greenlit it?

The game opens up with one of the world's grainiest cutscenes.  Later on you'll experience more of them after completing or failing a mission.  All in all, they're so bad that you have to wonder why Bullfrog even bothered.  I'm sure they were super impressive when originally released on a CD-ROM, but after being squeezed and compressed onto a tiny cartridge, the results are no doubt laughable in comparison.  And each one is so short and without any sort of context that they serve no real point anyway.  So... who knows why they wasted the time trying to cram these things in.

Next up, you are sent to the main menu where you're confronted by a number of nebulous icons and menus you'll need to understand and manage.  It's at about this point that most casual players are gonna immediately throw their hands up and move onto something else.  Something that's a little more familiar and just a little bit less confusing.  Something like a Donkey Kong Country.  Anyone who has the fortitude to stick with it is just gonna have to learn how things work through good old fashioned trial and error.  Well, that or they can read an online guide like I did.

From that main menu you can see a world map where all of the land is separated into 50 different areas, each representing various countries and regions.  Everywhere from Alaska to Madagascar.  At any given moment, one (or more) of these areas will be flashing, indicating a possible mission that can be undertaken.  Each one of these has super flavorful text descriptions (i.e. rescue a kidnapped judge's son from extremists), and upon completion will award you one new liberated area to be added to your "territory."  New incoming cash flow included.
At this point you can feel free to jump in head first and start kicking ass and taking names.

...or...

Instead, you can head over to your squad and gear management menus, and make your job just a tad easier.  You see, when I said Syndicate is a strategy game, what I really meant is that it's a tactical game.  A squad tactics game, to be specific.  Each mission is gonna give you access to a team of four "agents" who are gonna be loaded down with all sorts of heavy weaponry, and you need to make sure that they can not only lay waste to everything that moves, but you need to make sure they can take a rocket or five to the face as well and still come home alive.

One thing you can do is give your agents new gear.  Except of course that you don't have access to anything at the game's start. So you need to acquire it.  Which brings another menu into play: your technology research management.  As you complete missions, you earn cash (or maybe it was credits).  That cash is used to buy gear and upgrade abilities, but also to unlock the gear and abilities in the first place.  So you'll need to pump cash into various weapons and techs in order to unlock them for usage, and to unlock the ability to research more advanced weapons and techs.  It's very ambitious for a Super Nintendo game, and exactly the sort of thing that helps give a game depth.

Besides the various weapons (everything from gauss rifles to miniguns), you can also upgrade the actual body parts of your agents.  Torsos give you enhanced durability, eyes give you accuracy, legs give you speed, etc.  Each of those have multiple tiers of effectiveness as well.  Which brings me to another point: permanent death.  Your supply of agents is basically unlimited, but you are investing lots of cash into them, so it's in your best interest to keep them alive.

Finally, when you are ready to tackle the actual mission, you are greeted with another rarity on the system: load times.  This is one of the few games on the system with honest-to-god load times. Long ones at that.

Missions take one of several different forms: hunt down a target, capture a target (you do this with some sort of brainwashing gun), pick up some sort of item, and several different variations of each of those.

Agents can either be controlled as a group, or individually.  99% of the time you'll control the entire group.  Typically you will need to head across the map, keeping an eye on your radar to know which direction your current target is, while blasting the holy shit out of any and all enemies that get anywhere near you.  Ammo isn't usually a concern so you're almost always better off shooting first and asking questions later.

You also have access to three different stimulants that your agents can start taking in order to increase their performance.  Though really, you're almost always better off just using all three at once, as often as possible.  And no, I'm not joking about any of that.  This is the one Nintendo game you'll ever play that encourages rampant drug use in order to fuel your murderous rampages.

Oh, and did I mention that some of the missions' goals are to wipe out as many civilians as possible?  Gunning them down in the streets?  Most likely with shotguns and/or uzis?  You cannot make this shit up.

Anyway, after murdering all of the enemy agents/robots/nearby civilians, you'll usually need to make a beeline back to an exit point in order to complete the mission.  Sometimes you'll need to make the getaway in a vehicle of sorts.  You can also attempt a "driveby" in said vehicle if you really want to complete the mission in style.  Again, I'm not making any of this up.

Now if all of that sounds super complicated, know that it really isn't.  At least, not once you get into a groove.  A typical gameplay loop might only take 5-10 minutes, and encompasses all of the following:
  •   Ensure you have ongoing research.
  •   Replace any agents that may have died in the last mission.
  •   Load down agents with weaponry if necessary.
  •   Check to see if you have acquired or can afford any body enhancements.
  •   Head out for a short mission.
  •   Repeat.

After fifty iterations through this loop, you've beaten it.  Roll credits.

So what did I think of Syndicate overall?  Well, I'd be lying if I said I had anything other than a blast.  It's a super repetitive game for sure, and there's some really annoying issues with bad pathfinding, dumb AI, and a number of different glitches that I ran into.  And yeah, the controls and mechanics can be hella confusing at first, and some of the missions' completion parameters are super obtuse.  And sure, the perspective is super awkward at times, hiding enemies or pathways behind (or even inside) buildings, forcing you to rely on the tiny little crappy map/radar in order to tell where you are and where you need to go.

But none of that really mattered.  I played the hell out of it and beat all fifty missions in just a few play sessions.  Yes, it's a rough experience, and no it is not for everyone.  But I had never played anything like it, and I'm super grateful that it somehow found its way onto a Nintendo console.

Did I beat it?
I did.  It took awhile, but I had a good time throughout.