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#300 - Midway Presents Arcade's Greatest Hits

One of the many releases made up of old arcade games that were thrown onto the SNES near the end of the console's lifespan, and one of two different arcade compilations brought to us by Midway, this "Greatest Hits" collection features a number of classic and well-known titles. How well known? Everyone and their grandmother has heard of Asteroids, and your mother probably played a game or two of Centipede. You've probably also played around with Missile Command and Battlezone at some point. So the legacy and impact of said titles is well-trodden ground at this point, and not something I probably need to spend much time explaining.

But I'm not tracking how groundbreaking these titles are: I'm measuring how fun they are in the 21st century. Just how fun are these dusty relics? It's a mixed bag.


Asteroids - Probably the biggest and most famous title here, and a landmark game in the history of the genre. But since I'm not judging games on their mark on gaming history, that doesn't mean a lot for our purposes. And this is not a game I like to play. It's too simplistic, too repetitive, and not very fun in any real sense. I will admit that the controls and sense of inertia are perfect even to this day - probably some of the most influential of all time. But I've never sat with it for longer than ten minutes and felt the desire to play it again.


Battlezone - I can only assume this game was always a novelty, because it's not fun now, and I can't see how it was even back in the early 80s. There's just absolutely nothing to the gameplay. Other than the novel "dual stick" system for controlling your tank treads.


Centipede - Okay, this is a "good." Gameplay that has stood the test of time, a reasonable amount of depth and challenge that will keep you coming back for more, and an addictive nature as you try to best your high score. The only possible weak point is the controls (which were designed to be used with a trackball), as the movement is a tad iffy.


Missile Command - Ugh, this one feels more like a math problem than it does a video game. I could see why people would enjoy this, and it definitely has unique gameplay, even to this day, but I don't really like playing it. One of the earlier examples I can think of where the main word that comes to my mind is "anxiety."


Super Breakout - Pretty much unplayable. The graphics look like an Atari 2600 title, the controls (which were meant to be used with that "dial" thingy) are not fit for a D-Pad, and the gameplay is painfully basic and repetitive. Maybe I'm just used to the vastly superior Arkanoid titles, or maybe this thing was always a turkey, but the gameplay has never been able to hold my interest for more than a few minutes.


Tempest - The other "good." Again, it suffers from having controls that were not meant for a D-Pad, but I think the game handles pretty well regardless. Much more natural-feeling than Super Breakout, that's for sure. I also think that the graphics have aged well, as the wire-frame vector stuff going on is pretty unique and stylized, even to this day. In fact, I'm kinda surprised more people haven't tried to do modern variations of this graphical style (cue people pointing out the hundreds of times people have done exactly that).


So overall we've got two games I like to play, three I cannot stand, and another that's alright. Which kind of makes it a mediocre package overall, but one that I can still have a good time with, I guess, as long as I'm playing the games I actually want to play. So I'm giving it something of the benefit of the doubt in these rankings. Which means, yes I'd rather play Tempest and Centipede than I would Aerobiz or Young Merlin, so it gets to be higher than either of them. That's pretty much how it shakes out.

Did I beat it?
I did get high scores in all of the games. Take that as you will.


#299 - BlaZeon

Shmup number... three? I think? And from beloved Atlus no less... slumming it up here near the bottom of the shmup ranks... tsk tsk.

Okay, I know I love to be hard on those guys, but this isn't a terrible game. Far from it. It's just that BlaZeon (aka The Bio-Borg Challenge) happens to be one of the lesser games of the genre on the system. Still top 300 though. That's commendable in some sense, right?

The central gimmick here is that you can capture certain (mech-shaped) enemy ships, and use them as your own. Like your ship is merging with the enemy vessel. I'm no shmup expert, but the closest equivalent in another game I can think of is G-Darius, which came out a few years later. But not nearly as cool as that game. See, the mechs you capture really just give you slightly different firing patterns (with some mechs having different firing configurations possible), and act as a shield of sorts, giving you extra HP to work with. But beyond that there ain't too much going on with them, gameplay-wise.

The graphics are okay. Nothing mind blowing. A few of the bosses are probably the high point as far as sprites go, with some cool designs and fun effects. Most basic mook enemies and the level backgrounds are pretty nondescript though.

The sound effects, on the other hand, are highly annoying. Aggravating enough in fact, that I'd recommend turning them off. On the bright side, the music is at least okay, if not particularly memorable.

Other minor things to note or quibble about? Eh, I dunno. There's occasional stretches where nothing much seems to happen? The mechs are kinda cool looking? I like the cover art? Reaches I guess.

I suppose that's really all there is to it. The game isn't especially challenging, and the unlimited continues from mid-level checkpoints mean anyone can blow through it in a few hours. The game continues to loop from there as well, but I can't really see anyone bothering to go through it multiple times. Overall it's an enjoyable enough experience, and a harmless one for the most part. But I don't think many people are gonna be getting super excited about it either.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, once or twice throughout the years.


#298 - The Death and Return of Superman

Okay, even though I cannot find anything on the internet that links the two games, I swear to god that The Death and Return of Superman is some sort of follow-up to Batman Returns by Konami. Mostly because the gameplay is EXACTLY the same: punch guys in the face, kick guys in the face, ram guys' faces into each other, and throw guys face-first into the background. Hell, even the graphics and animation appear to be cut from the same mold. If nothing else, this game wears its inspiration on its sleeve.

Unfortunately, if this is an imitation it's a poor one, as Superman's flagship title on the Super Nintendo isn't really fit to hold Konami Batman's jock. For many reasons, really. Like how the difficulty curve (something that was already pretty iffy in BR to begin with) is now wildly out of whack. Usually wheedling (is that a word?) towards the "unfair" end of the spectrum. DaRoS tries to compensate for this by giving you unlimited continues to work with, but that's not exactly an optimal tradeoff in my opinion. I'd rather just have a balanced difficulty in the first place.

The action is also much more repetitive this time around. The Batmobile levels - passable in BR - have been replaced by some flying sections where Superman is constantly scrolling forward, shmup-style. These levels are not very fun at all, and very repetitive. It should be very obvious to everyone who has ever played a game that a huge sprite does not work for that style of gameplay, yet it seems to be a mistake that is constantly made.

The boss fights are also super annoying. That's a common complaint I have with beat em ups in general, though I do at least feel it's for understandable reasons. After all, when you have limited mechanics to work with, how do you design a tough but fair boss without resorting to cheap tricks and gimmicks? Well, most games couldn't figure it out, and this one is no exception.

There's also a super bizarre mechanic where Superman can fly upwards in many sections, scrolling the level up away from the ground level. Presumably so you can find secrets or engage flying enemies. But this is so underutilized as to be nearly pointless, and I'm not sure why they bothered.

If that all sounds like a whole lot of complaining, just know that it's for good reason: this game should have been a slam dunk. All the development team had to do was take Batman Returns' gameplay, and not fix what wasn't broken. Plus, the fact that Blizzard (yes, THAT Blizzard) gave us such an unimaginative and derivative title is... well, kinda shocking, honestly. They should have known better, even back then.

Still, I'm always down for a round of busting guys up, and this game does deliver satisfying face-punching and beatdown action. The graphics are well done too, if you care about that sort of thing. I can't say I'm a particularly large fan of the property, and I'm going to ignore the fact that basic mooks appear capable of hurting the Man of Steel (a constant problem throughout his gaming history, no doubt), but I've definitely played worse superhero games. Like every single one I've already talked about in the last 400+ reviews.

So, if you are a big Superman guy, a big beat em up guy, or a big fan of Batman Returns on Super Nintendo, you could do worse than check this guy out. I doubt anyone is gonna love it, and most people will probably find it as frustrating as I did, but it gets the job done just enough to pass muster.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, I got through it on at least several occasions. With the first time taking me an entire night.


#297 - Tetris 2

Hey, remember that time the world famous Tetris, touchstone of the gaming world, was supplanted by its revolutionary sequel? The one that took an already immaculate formula and somehow squeezed something even better out of it? Improving upon what was thought to be just about perfect? The sort of experience that went on to shape the genre for decades to come?

Of course you don't, because it never happened. The original Tetris changed video games forever. Tetris 2, however, came and went with a whimper. Barely noticed at the time, completely forgotten about by now.

Firstly, this game is barely a Tetris title. I realize that doesn't mean much of anything nowadays, as the brand has been mutated into fifty billion different incarnations over the years, with an endless array of different spin-offs and what not. But that avalanche basically all started here. And I mean it when I say this thing barely plays like conventional Tetris. If anything, it more closely resembles Nintendo's own Dr. Mario than it does its own predecessor, match-three gameplay and everything. The only real difference is that you're matching red/yellow/blue blocks instead of red/yellow/blue viruses and pills.

Well, okay, that's a lie. There are big changes at work here. Mostly in the way the game centers around "flash" blocks. The idea behind these is that instead of trying to fill in entire rows in order to clear blocks (like in regular Tetris), you're now trying to cause chain reaction clears of specific colors by getting matches that incorporate these blocks (which look slightly different from regular blocks).

So if you want to score big points you need to think ten steps ahead so that cascading clears will clear more and more blocks out. I'll also have to be honest and say that I find this sort of 4D strategy mostly beyond my capabilities, and something that is fairly confusing to track during the thick of the action, as I find myself more focused on placing my falling blocks accurately than I am on which ones are slightly different in appearance.

Besides the typical high score and versus modes, there's also a puzzle mode this time around, something that would become common with Nintendo puzzlers going forward. This mode is pretty short and sweet - just thirty puzzles in total - but it adds a lot of value to the package as I found them to get pretty tricky. I easily had more time with it than I did the main mode.

So yeah. If you like puzzle games, and you like Tetris, you can find some entertainment here. Just don't expect the second coming (of Tetris). There's a reason that the Tetris name is still going strong over thirty years after the original release, but it ain't because of games like this. Tetris 2 was an evolutionary dead end, and its gameplay more-or-less died with it. But it's still a pretty fun dead end.

Did I beat it?
I have not.


#296 - Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures

Here's another weird one. A super weird one...

If you had to guess - going strictly off of the name of this game (and the cover art) - what sort of game do you think Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures would be? An arcade game? A platformer? An arcade platformer hybrid?

Because it's none of those things. It is in fact a point and click adventure... puzzle... thing. Maybe it has no genre. Maybe it's a dressed-up psychological test. Maybe it's just super hard to explain, as I can't say that I've really ever played anything else that's quite like it.

The game begins with daddy Pac(?) sitting around his house, when he realizes his baby Pac is out of milk. So off he goes to rob the nearest dairy farm, dodging deadly spiders and dogs, and the occasional piece of falling fruit. After that he has to procure a flower for his wife (or maybe her friend), which sends him up onto the nearest mountaintop via treacherous underground mines. Before you know it he's swept up in a grand adventure to rid the town's factories of ghosts. Or something. I dunno, it's like watching a silent movie, but without the cards that tell you what's happening onscreen. For some people that is about the worst sort of hell you could possibly imagine.

Now, odd story aside, that probably sounds straightforward enough. Billions of games tackle the exact same theme of going places to retrieve things; fetch quests are not exactly new. But, see, the rub here is that you don't actually control Pac. You just sort of... guide him? Point things out to him? Make suggestions? Reward him for doing well? I guess those are all accurate, somehow. I think.

By that I mean you control a cursor, and point things out to him. And then he might decide to go check those things out. Or he might look at them and then give you a clueless look and shrug his shoulders. Or he might ignore you completely and do whatever the hell he feels like. See, this isn't a game you play so much as you are just along for the ride, where the best case scenario is the idiot Pac decides to let you steer him in the right direction on occasion.

Problems mostly come in two flavors:
1. Getting through the game can require a whole lot of convoluted puzzle solving. How do you get through the locked gate? Who knows. You'll probably have to stumble around for an hour or five until something happens.

2. (This is the big one) I swear to god Pac-Man is the most stubborn asshole in the world, and getting him to do the very specific thing you need done in order to progress can be an exercise in madness. I have a theory that there is a behind-the-scenes measure of his temperament, and that if you don't baby him enough he'll temporarily get pissed at you and go off the reservation. But who even knows. There's no transparency to what is happening on screen. You just need to hope for the best.

Still, problems aside, I have to respect the game for trying new things. And it is a fun experience. You just can't take it too seriously, or have too many expectations with the game catering to your demands. So just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Did I beat it?
Yes.


#295 - Tecmo Super Baseball

Tecmo Super Baseball is the first of the final four baseball games I have left with this project. And since I was rather fond of the last two games that I covered back in the 300s, I'd say that tells us there are roughly six good baseball games on the Super Nintendo; six games that I think are worth most people's time, with each successive title valuing your time just a little bit more than the game that came before it.

Hopefully that makes any sort of sense at all.

Though the name "Tecmo" probably brings thoughts of an arcade-like experience to mind, that isn't really true here. Instead, TSB plays things pretty conventionally, with relatively standard pitching, batting, fielding, and base-running. Super standard really; there's nothing here you haven't seen in almost every other baseball game on the system. The difference is really just the execution.

Batting - A bit tough, and something I still have yet to master. Of course that kinda seems to be the hallmark of the genre: make you work to earn those runs. Luckily that's the way I like it, because if things are too easy at the plate, it can rob a baseball game of challenge super quickly.

Fielding - Set up a tad different than usual, as this is played from the fielder's POV. Kinda similar to what we got in Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball. The difference being that fielding was impossible in that game, and it's totally fine here. You also have line-of-sight on where the ball is heading thanks to a handy marker that appears on the grass, which means botched plays are a rarity.

Pitching - Opts to use the "press a button to select a pitch type" system, and then also allows you to "shimmy" the ball in mid-air after it leaves your hand. I like these systems, and I think they combine well, letting you be strategic with your pitches in two different facets. In fact, this probably the major reason I'm giving this game the nod over Nolan Ryan Baseball and Super Baseball Simulator 1.000.

Baserunning - Totally fine. You have to micromanage everything your baserunners do, but that's no different than every other baseball game on the system. At least they seem responsive enough.

Graphics and sound - Pretty good. Definitely in the upper tier of baseball games. Players look and move great, and the sound is... okay, I guess. Nothing that's gonna blow your mind, but it gets the job done.

Other things? It's a Tecmo sports game, so it's pretty challenging, especially when you get further into a season. The tougher teams also have a nasty tendency to string together extra-base hits if they feel like cheating or destroying your ass. Prepare to get shellacked at times and write it off as one of those things that's gonna happen. But overall I think it hits the sweet spot pretty well.

So, that's about it. I adore the sport of baseball, and I had a lot of fun here. While most of the baseball games on the Super Nintendo ended up being a pretty big collective disappointment overall - especially some of the stranger titles like Relief Pitcher - the top six titles do a good job of carrying the weight. Tecmo Super Baseball represents the sport well.

Did I beat it?
No. Tecmo sports games are hard.


#294 - Boogerman

Back when I used to post these reviews on a certain video game forum, I had the perfect thread title for this current batch of games: Volume X: Electric Boogerloo. I was pretty proud of myself with that one too, even if every asshole and their grandmother has been running that joke into the ground anymore. I mean, seriously, there can't be that many people out there that are binge-watching Cannon shit. Do most of them even get the reference? Alas, it is what it is.

Boogerman, famous (at least, in my head) for being that disgusting game that came out late in the SNES life cycle, is a pretty silly little gimmick of a game, wrapped around a decent little platformer. While it has to be said that the game is a novelty, first and foremost, the actual attached game is probably better than it had any right to be.

Obviously the main thing to talk about here is the theme, of course. A theme of boogers, snot, farts, mucus, toilets, picking your nose, burping, ejaculating... okay, maybe not the last one. But you get the gist of what I'm saying. This is basically "Grossology: The Game":



And if you think that sorta thing is childish, or disgusting, or not the sort of thing you want to spend hours reveling in, then go ahead and write this game off right now. It's not for you, I can almost guarantee it.

Like usual, the controls are what make or break a platformer, and what we have here is pretty good for the most part. Some of the movement might be ever so slightly loose for my liking, but it's nothing gamebreaking or anything. This may just be nitpicking, but it feels like the sort of thing where an extra tweak or two could have really helped make them perfect.

The moveset centers around your base ranged attack: picking your nose and flinging the booger. There's also a burp attack which can be charged for a more powerful blast. Both of these moves have limited "ammunition." Ammunition being the bars that indicate how much snot and... uh, whatever fuels a burp, are left. Enemies can also be defeated by jumping upon them; a nice change of pace from the usual pattern platformers seem to follow where you can do one or the other, but not both.

Boogerman also has the ability to climb and swing across the "ropes" of snot he comes across. It works better than you'd think.

He can also dig through any piles of trash you come across - keeping with the whole filth and depravity motif - as well as strike a pose and loudly exclaim "BOOGER" if you want. I'm not sure what, if anything, this accomplishes, but knock yourself out with it.

All in all it's a pretty good set of moves and abilities, never limiting your options or making you feel like you're just doing the same thing over and over again.

Graphics and animation are pretty good too. One of those benefits of being a late title on the system: people had plenty of time by then to figure out how to get the most out of the Super Nintendo. Boogerman himself is full of personality, and could be called charming, despite the theme of the design. Watching him hold his belly before "burping," or watching him gracefully throw his entire body into his jumps show the kind of love the designers had for the character.

As for blemishes, or perhaps nitpicks in this case, I have a few. For instance, I wish you could see slightly further in every direction. That's a common problem with this genre on the SNES, and one I have brought up many times, but I really do think the game feels a tad claustrophobic, and that the added resolution really could have helped out at times.

Levels are also pretty conventional in their layouts. There's always lots of stuff to "do," and things to pick up, but the enemies are pretty braindead for the most part, and every level's goal is to simply run in one direction (more or less) until you come across the exit.

Also, for how much I feel like I just praised the game, no one is ever gonna mistake this for the series that I think it most closely resembles: Earthworm Jim. Like, there is absolutely no comparing the levels, characters, or sheer insanity of either EWJ game, with the relatively pedestrian affairs of Boogerman. Which is why those games will appear later on, and Boogerman, despite its strengths and charms, is merely a sub-300 game in the SNES library.

After just recently playing through the game a second time here, I still had plenty of fun with it, and I wouldn't mind playing through it again in a few years. It's a solid little title, with core gameplay that allows it to succeed regardless of (despite?) the theme, which may or may not be a turnoff for some people.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, a couple times.


#293 - P.T.O. II

Okay, remember when I covered the first P.T.O. game a couple installments back? Somewhere around the 350s or so? Well, reiterate everything I already said about that game, but then imagine that the entire experience is ever so slightly more fun and more refined. That's the short summary for the sequel, P.T.O. II.

I don't know what it is about Koei games, but I swear that every single one of them that happens to involve the United States military ended up being an overly-layered, byzantine affair. And keep in mind that these are Koei games I'm talking about. That's kinda what they're known for. But the P.T.O. series (and Operation Europe, and Liberty or Death) seem to turn everything up to eleven. Iím completely serious when I say that only the most hardcore of gamers need apply when it comes to these four titles, because an extremely slow pace, menus upon menus upon menus, millions of detailed little mechanics within mechanics, and a huge learning curve all reign supreme with this group of games.

Like in any Koei title, the name of the game here is managing resources and the positioning of units. In this case, those things include your fleets, battalions of marines, air forces (which might be found with the carriers in your fleets), your shipsí tech, the resources being produced, the resources being stored, espionage missions, monetary incomes, your budgets... hell, you can even design and customize new ships. Menus upon menus for days, in other words. So if youíre the sort of crazy person that likes the complexity found in games like Operation Europe, but you also want a game that actually works, PTO II is probably the Koei product for you. You insane bastard you.

Graphics are quite a bit improved this time around, for whatever thatís worth, because I know that Koei games are hardly known for being graphical powerhouses. Such things don't really matter a whole lot when you spend most of your time studying tactical maps or lists of resources. But the first game was among the worst-looking titles in the entire Koei library - barely looking better than an NES game. Things are at least a bit more refined in this one.

"Strikes" have also been greatly streamlined this time around. In fact, Iíd say theyíre almost automated now. This is a HUGE time-saver compared to the first game, where you'd get stuck in endless monotonous battles whenever you had any sort of engagement. Battles were hardly one of the game's strong points. Taking them (mostly) out of the picture is a huge boost, allowing you to focus more on the big strategic picture. Not the tactical minutia.

Monthly conferences have also been added (or maybe just expanded upon?), where you now "play cards" in order to boost specific policies. It's a pretty cool idea, and one that really appeals to the inner board-game geek within me, but I'd be lying if I said this portion did anything other than confuse the living hell out of me. I guess my general advice is to go all in on arguing for whatever thing you feel the strongest about? I dunno. Chalk it up as another poorly-explained Koei mechanic that left me befuddled.

As far as drawbacks go, itís a Koei game so of course a few come to mind. As I mentioned above, the excruciating pace is what gets me the most. Seriously, I can't tell you how many times I sunk a few hours into a scenario, carefully positioning armies and coordinating attacks, just to see everything unravel in an instant thanks to bad luck, or an ill-timed maneuver. When that happened Iíd have to take a night or three off, just to mentally recover. And even when I was playing, I had to have Netflix playing in the background, or a book in hand, just so I had something to do as the millions of planes, ships, and Marines all executed their moves and attacks, one by one. Again and again and again... I'm not joking when I say some phases can last over 30 minutes, with the player sidelined as the action unfolds on its own, bit by bit.

Or just, you know, turn all battles off, and banish them to the background. That removes half of the game's excitement, but it will save you your sanity. I ended up doing that after about a week, partially to get this writing back on schedule, and partially because I just didnít have the patience for everything.

Still, overall, I found PTO II to be a pretty nice improvement over the first game, and an exponentially better experience than the supremely ludicrous Operation Europe. The pace and overwhelming number of mechanics are what really holds the game back from being among Koei's best efforts, and I still prefer all of the "Eastern" Koei games, but I did have a nice time during the two weeks I spent with this game. Of course I donít know that I'll be begging for a P.T.O. III anytime soon.

Did I beat it?
Once again, I have only (so far) completed the Pearl Harbor scenario, which is almost impossible to lose. Someday I'll find the time/brainpower to complete the entire campaign.


#292 - FIFA International Soccer

#291 - FIFA 96 Soccer

Finally, Iíve reached the "good" FIFAs. You knew they were coming because I've probably mentioned these two games approximately twenty million times across each and every one of the soccer reviews I've already written. And that's for good reason too: this is where one of the most successful franchises in the history of video games got its start. You can call it humble beginnings, but I'm calling it a solid little set of titles, besting most every other soccer sim on the Super Nintendo, including the offerings we got from powerhouses like Nintendo, Capcom, and SNK.

In my opinion, two things sunk most of the soccer games on the system: relentlessly annoying AI, and poor controls. In fact, most soccer games - many of which I placed in the bottom 100 - were pretty miserable affairs, devoid of fun because youíd spend the entire time either fighting off the relentless mobs of opposing players, or fighting the ludicrous control schemes, if not both. It's why games like World League Soccer and Champions World Class Soccer are such dreadful experiences that Iím loath to think about.

Controls are, as I said, air-fucking-tight. Maybe thatís just the nostalgia bias kicking in (did I mention I grew up with the original FIFA?), but I swear that what EA cooked up here was perfect right from the get-go. Will others disagree? Maybe. I dunno.

Gameplay is something of a solid combination of arcade and sim qualities. While decidedly slower-paced than something like World Soccer '94: Road to Glory (getting all of these titles confused yet?), it still feels much more action-packed than usual. Scoring generally comes easily enough once you know what you are doing, but youíll never see the sort of offensive shootouts that you will in other titles. Overall, itís a balance I dig.

You may also remember my review of FIFA Soccer 97, waaaay back in the sub-700 ranks. As in, one of the absolute worst games on the system. And what sunk that game? Unbelievable, no-good, terrible, game-breaking slowdown, complete with some of the laggiest controls Iíve ever experienced. Seriously, that game is completely unplayable, and ranks among the worst sports titles ever made. Or at least, of the ones Iíve actually played. So it kinda goes without saying that neither of these two earlier FIFA games suffers from such a debilitating handicap. Why is that? God only knows. EA just royally fucked a lot of pooches in 1997 for some reason.

As far as modes go, these games offer a pretty good assortment of features and modes. There's league play, tournaments, and playoffs to all play around with. Pretty standard stuff, but nothing Iíll complain about.

AI is, as I said, balanced pretty well. A tad aggressive at times, but nothing remotely close to the likes of Soccer Shootout. I already mentioned this didnít it? Well, it bears repeating, because I HATE swarming soccer players.

The follow-up,FIFA Soccer 96 is pretty much the exact same game as the original, so far as I can tell. The features are the same, the gameplay is mostly the same (the goals look slightly smaller, which may or may not lead to less scoring), and the experience feels the same. The only differences that I can see are very slightly enhanced player sprites and animation. Kinda like how the Madden and NBA Live series very slowly improved their player sprites from game to game, the difference here is noticeable, but not something that really changed how I felt about the game. Hence these two being bundled together like this.

Now, at the end of the day, I feel like I raved about these games, praised the features, gushed over the gameplay, and offered little in the way of real complaints. So why are they merely ranked in the 250s?

Because I'm not a soccer fan.

It's really that simple. As good as these games are, I don't love them. I don't play them as much as I do many other games, I don't think about them as much as I do other games, and I couldn't bring myself to rank them higher than many other games. That's just the nature of the beast. I've made this list as objective as I possibly can, but at the end of the day I'm still just one guy who's using his own perspectives on gaming to help shape the project. And the simple truth is, I play much more Joe and Mac than I do FIFA. Even if some people wanted to call FIFA an objectively better game.

So if you love soccer, or you just love soccer video games, you should definitely check these two out. If you donítÖ well, maybe check them out anyway. Theyíre not the cream of the crop (I still have a few titles to get to), but theyíre darned-good efforts.

Did I beat FIFA International Soccer?
Yes I did. Many times.

Did I beat FIFA 96?
Yes, just the one time.


#290 - Inindo: Way of the Ninja

Okay, I was going to do that thing where I gush about a high concept game, describing it with nothing but amazing superlatives. Mostly to make the game sound amazing (on paper), and maybe even get a number of you salivating in the process. Then I bring us all back down to Earth by tearing apart the poor way those same high concepts were actually implemented. Itís one of those things I seem to like doing.

But Iíve already done that more than a few times (WarpSpeed, for example), and Iíll be doing it a few more times not so much further down this list. So Iím gonna try and be a little creative and take a slightly different approach this time around...

Do you love ultra-grindy JRPGs? The sorta experiences where you spend 50% of your total playtime mindlessly slogging through endless random battles, slowly building your stats up so that you can even stand a chance during the next boss fight?

Do needlessly complex Koei games do it for you? The sorta experiences where you have to keep track of a bunch of different areas/provinces, trying to make the people happy while constantly staving off invading armies and/or civil unrest?

Do you hate good graphics? Do you instead prefer barely animated 8-bit-ish sprites that are very crudely drawn? So crude that you canít even tell what half of them are?

Do you also hate deep rosters of likeable characters with clearly-defined personalities and motives?

Do you love backtracking across huge maps full of samey-looking locations? Ones where you are constantly getting lost or disoriented?

Did you answer Ďnoí to all of the questions above? You did? Then congratulations, youíre not crazy and/or disturbed. And, also, welcome to Inindo: Way of the Ninja. Your own personal hell. Only the most hardcore (or mentally unbalanced) need apply.

First off, this game is FU-GLY as hell. Certainly in the running for ugliest RPG on the system. The wretched sprite design makes the likes of Secret of the Stars, Paladin's Quest, and Super Ninja Boy almost look like high art in comparison. I donít know what it is about Koei games and their amazing ability to look like NES titles, but I swear their entire library musta been ported straight out of 1990. Not that you play a game like this for the graphics (at least I donít), but good-looking art and sprites never hurt anyone. It could only have helped here.

Describing the gameplay is also very tricky. See, the thing is, Inindo is a bizarre mix of conventional JRPG, with a heavy emphasis on dungeon crawling, and of Koei strategy gameÖ

By the way, that sound you hear is your own mouth, either salivating at the gameplay possibilities I have just hinted at, or screaming in sheer terror. Possibly both.

Three tenets of JRPGs

A Coherent Storyline and Characters with Depth
I'm giving Inindo a (mostly) passing grade here. The story is incredibly simplistic (or maybe I should say minimalistic) in nature, casting you as a lone ninja, whose village is wiped out by the evil Lord Nobunaga. Seeking revenge, you travel across all of Japan (literally, the entire country is represented on the world map), visiting various training "mountains" in order to learn secret ninja skills, and recruiting various ninja/priest/wizard/samurai allies in order to topple Nobunaga's armies, reduce his territory, and finally, invade his home castle and assassinate him. Not your typical high fantasy in other words. So say goodbye to magic crystals and whimsical teenage party members; this game is all business.

Unfortunately, that's about the extent of the storyline for the entire game. Village dead. Get revenge. Roll credit. Five minutes of narrative groundwork, followed by 30+ hours of battling and grinding. Speaking of which...

A Fun Battle System That Stays Engaging
I'm also giving a (mostly) passing grade here. The combat is decently strategic, using a hexagonal-tiled battle system where you can maneuver the three members of your party in order to engage enemies in hand-to-hand combat and cut them off from engaging any healers/mages/etc. Your main abilities are ranged and melee attacks, as well as various magic spells that are based upon class type. It's an interesting risk-reward system where you can try to rely on low-damage (but high critical hit chance) long range weapons, or go in for the kill with your swords and clubs. Unfortunately, the system does wear a bit thin thanks to the absurdly high number of battles you're gonna need to fight if you want to see this game through to completion.

Challenging Yet Fair Gameplay
I'm torn here. The game is definitely challenging, but I'm not sure it's fair. The game is very miserly with damage output. So much so that even basic mooks can require turn upon turn upon turn in order to defeat, soaking up a ridiculous amount of damage, or using extremely heavy defense that blunts most of your attacks. And even after spending hours and hours grinding and leveling up to improve your stats, the scales barely tip in your favor.

In fact, almost every dungeon seemed to fall into the same pattern for me:
  1. Sit and grind levels for a couple hours.
  2. Race through the dungeon as fast as you can, limiting the number of battles you'll need to fight as much as possible (ďFleeĒ is your friend).
  3. Get to the end and warp out ASAP, lest you accidentally get ganked by any basic enemy with a lucky few critical hits, forcing you to load your save and start from scratch.
Now, I should confess that I only suffered one or two actual party wipes over the course of my entire playthrough, so I don't want any of that to come off as an exaggeration. But it is a demanding game that never takes it easy on you, and will punish you if you ever let up.

It probably also has the lowest encounter rate on the world map of any JRPG in the history of the... uh, world. But then the dungeons more than make up for that with an absurdly high encounter rate. Go figure.

Of course this isn't strictly a JRPG either, as I already mentioned in my intro. After all, it wouldn't be a Koei game without some sort of resource or land management, and in Inindo it takes the form of the various "daimyos" fighting for control of Japan. Seeing as how you are trying to get to Lord Nobunaga himself, you need to buddy up with his rivals so that you can use their armies to smash his forces. And how do you arrange that? By building up their trust. Mostly by travelling around the country and taking on ďspying" missions that they may or may not be willing to contract out to you.

Later in the game youíll also start taking control of entire armies for large strategic fights. This is also where many of the ďskillsĒ you worked so hard to acquire come into play. Think of a cross between the combat in Fire Emblem and Nobunagaís Ambition, and youíre halfway there. But it takes such a ridiculously long time to reach this part of the game that 95% of players will never see it. This goes back to the whole ďhigh concept, bad executionĒ angle that I warned about to start this review.

And thatís kind of what defines Inindo in a nutshell. So many great ideas, and so many poorly done mechanics. Put a game like this in the hand of a skilled development team at Squaresoft, and weíd have had a bonafide classic here. Instead, itís a very deeply flawed game, that has a lot of content, a lot of charm, and an abundance of great ideas. Just expect a lot of pain if you actually play it for any length of time.

Did I beat it?
Well, I was actually actively playing through it when a couple different things happened. One, we moved. And two, COVID-19. So my playthrough has been sitting at 90% done for several months now, and I have been unable to finish it. But Iíll make sure and update this when I finally do.


#289 - Mortal Kombat 3

#288 - Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Oof, this is gonna be an unpopular choice... right? I mean, I know people love Mortal Kombat II, even to this day, but what about the third game in the MK franchise? Is that as highly regarded? Is it highly regarded in 2020? I guess I'll find out soon enough.

It's no secret that I don't care about fighting games. I've mentioned that in pretty much every write-up I've done for every one of them, which have to number in the dozens by now. And I was super critical of the SNES port of the original Mortal Kombat. I stand by the same opinion that I've held for over twenty-five years at this point: it's an overrated game full of shoddy mechanics that only got popular because of its gimmicks.

The MK sequels on the other hand, are significant upgrades over the original. Stuff like control and tight input (you know, the things that are just KIND OF important in a fighting game) actually do their job now. Guys actually kick when you want them to kick, and duck when you want them to duck. The hit detection is... well, still another story. But hey, beggars can't be choosers!

The cast of characters is significantly changed by this point too. We now have a couple of... uh, cyborg... things. They're pretty silly looking. There's also some sort of stereotypical Native American dude, presumably added in the name of diversity. Sub-Zero is also unmasked now, for whatever reason. Even series mainstays such as Raiden and Scorpion appear to be missing in action. Not that you should be missing them because it's a pretty sizable cast we've got to work with here.

I still find the single player modes to be as cheap/impossible as ever. No surprise there, as the AI, even on the easiest settings, is perfectly capable of countering every single one of my moves and stringing together combos that appear to be nigh impossible for a human to pull off. I can barely be bothered to play this mode for more than a few minutes (read: defeats), which is about par for the course for any fighting game.

But no one is playing these kinds of games for the single player. They're playing in order to rip their buddies' faces off, and maybe throw in a fatality (or babality) or two. And that's really the core appeal of this series: over the top violence, ridiculous moves, and laughing with your buddies. And maybe turning someone into a baby.

In that regard, the game is something of a success. This is a title I've busted out a time or two at different game nights, and people have a good time with it. Not because it's a great game, or because it has a great fighting engine, but because it's entertaining.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (because why not release as many versions of a fighting game as possible) does the usual thing we see with these kinds of "souped-up editions." Which means adding a few more modes, a few more moves, and a few more characters. For instance, I noticed the return of the likes of Reptile and Scorpion, as well as a shiny new tournament mode. Wikipedia also claims there's some other stuff in there, like the moves, but I'm not nearly skilled enough at this sort of thing to care about something like that.

All in all, if you like Mortal Kombat 3, this just gives you more of a good thing. And it at least packs way more content than the lame "Tournament Edition" we got for Clay Fighter.

So, while I don't think this is the best game in the series, it is infinitely more playable than the first game, and still worth your time over twenty years later. No Mortal Kombat is ever gonna challenge the likes of Street Fighter II, but Midway did do a commendable job of putting out a fun and silly little package here.

Did I beat MK3?
I get destroyed on the easiest settings.

Did I beat UMK3?
Ditto.


#287 - Spider-Man Venom Maximum Carnage

I know what you're thinking...



Hey, I just covered everyone's favorite ridiculous fighting game franchise, so why not make it three unpopular selections in a row, right? Call me a glutton for punishment, or an attention whore if you must, but I swear, these are my honest (and well-informed, I hope) opinions. If I bumped Spider-Man Venom Maximum Carnage (Spider-Man games always have the most unwieldy titles) up in the rankings just to appease people I'd be doing myself, and this project, a huge disservice.

So let's just get this out of the way: everyone loves this game. Everyone. You do, your neighbor does, your dog does, your mailman does, even your grandma does. I don't know why. Maybe because of that flashy red cart. Maybe because you were all huge Spider-Man fans, and growing up you had really slim video game pickings for your favorite webslinger. Which is totally true, because it was between a garbage NES game, a garbage Genesis game, that frickin' maddening Spider-Man X-Men game... or this. And when you look at it from that perspective, Maximum Carnage is the clear winner.

Or maybe people are just nostalgic for games that they grew up with, and I swear everyone had this thing back in the day. Again, I guess between the sexy blood red cart, the cool cover art, and the fact that Venom and Carnage were red-hot properties at the time, everyone was dying to snatch this thing up. The hype was real.

On the other hand, I can only see this game as yet another suboptimal licensed game from LJN. One with a brutal difficulty curve, silly-looking sprites and levels (yeah, I know you disagree), ridiculously cheap bosses, tons of trial and error, and core beat-em-up action that seems to leave me wanting. Or maybe I just like the gameplay in some of the other franchises more.

Anyway, I'm not sure what the storyline is here, but something about Carnage and the other symbiotes wreaking havoc on New York City. Spider-Man (and Venom, I guess they teamed up for some reason) are out to stop them by... busting up a bunch of street punks and robots. For reasons, presumably. You'll defeat thousands of the goons across the streets, rooftops, and sewers of NYC, across well over a dozen levels. This is not a short game.

Controls are solid, mostly. I hate the wall climbing and web slinging. And the "optimization" of the moves seems a bit... off to me. Like, you know how most brawlers have a money move or two, that you'll want to rely on for most of your attacks? Yeah, I don't know if this game has that. It feels like everything you do leaves you open to attack. Maybe that's a good thing, forcing you to play more strategically and on the defensive. I just find it aggravating.

There's also no cooperative play, which makes zero fucking sense. How do you make a brawler starring Spider-Man AND Venom, and not offer multiplayer? Shouldn't that be a no-brainer? I mean, I know this is LJN we're talking about here, kings of the braindead game design, but that seriously seems like a total missed opportunity. They did come to their senses with the sequel, Separation Anxiety, but in the process (or perhaps the rush) they forgot to not make every other part of the game worse in the process.

Still, the game is certainly not bad. In fact, it's rather fun, despite all those shortcomings. And it's roughly a million times better than the two SNES Spider-Man games that were released ahead of it. Or maybe Spider-Man: The Animated Series (or whatever it's called) was released after this. Not that it matters. Just know that this was his best game.

Did I beat it?
I have not. This fucker is tough.


#286 - Ultima: The Black Gate

Where to even start with this one...

Okay, are you familiar with the world famous Ultima series? The one that began life on PCs back in the early 80s, brought to us by ubergeek Richard Garriot? The guy who actually named his own in-game character "Lord British?"

Because if you are, then you know that the Ultima franchise saw nearly a dozen releases that spanned nearly twenty years, and that many (if not most) of the games are still hugely revered to this day as some of the greatest in the history of computer role playing games. Especially the seventh installment, The Black Gate, which is often considered the highpoint of the series (and computer gaming in general). It's a gargantuan title that features a huge open world (making it one of the pioneers of that particular type of design), a truly massive number of quests, a ridiculous number of ways to interact with the environment, and dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay. It's the sort of game you play to get lost in.

This is not that game.

First, a little background. There were three Ultima games that were released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Perhaps you are familiar with them - I am not. But I'm guessing that they are fairly faithful ports of some of the earlier PC games in the series, mostly because that seemed like a popular thing to do on the console. And with how ubiquitous copies of the first one (Quest of the Avatar) are on the second-hand NES market, I can only assume it was a fairly large success sales-wise. Hence us getting the two follow-up titles.

MCI then attempted to continue to milk the series' console success on the Super Nintendo. First up was Ultima VI: The False Prophet. Now, I haven't played the original PC version of TFP, but it's obvious to me that FCI was trying to port over a huge sprawling epic as completely intact and true to the original as they could possibly hope. And what they gave us is a very commendable effort. TFP on Super Nintendo is every bit the big sprawling PC-styled epic it's source material was (I assume). And considering a controller with some buttons and a D-Pad isn't exactly the optimal way to experience those sorts of games, my hat's off to the job they did. It's not a great game (or I should say, it's not a great version of a game I hear is great), but it is a lot of fun to play.

Not much later, MCI brought us another Ultima title: Runes of Virtue II. This is not a port of one of the PC games in the mainline Ultima series, but instead a port of a Game Boy game. Yes, you read that right, and yes, that is the only example of someone doing that that I'm familiar with. And RoV2 is a very, very different type of game from The False Prophet. In fact, the two may as well be unrelated, which totally makes sense when you consider where both games originated from. The biggest difference is that RoV2 isn't even really an RPG. Instead, it's more of an action adventure/RPG hybrid with very simple systems, and lots and lots of dungeon crawling. Sorta like The Legend of Zelda (you even have hearts instead of hit points). Furthermore, there's no party of characters to lead around (an Ultima mainstay), instead you are travelling solo as the Avatar. More Zelda vibes.

The other big difference is the dramatically reduced scope of your adventure. Instead of traversing a huge continent and all of its accompanying islands, exploring different towns and their accompanying wilderness, you're instead traversing... well, a continent and its accompanying islands... but with no real towns. Everything has also been scaled down enough that the entire thing has to be at least ten times smaller in size, with all of the landmarks densely packed together. Which totally makes sense because, again, it was a Game Boy game.

Finally, MCI's last effort to bring Ultima to Nintendo consoles came in the form of the biggest and baddest game in the series. Ultima VII: The Black Gate, one of the crown heavyweights of the PC role playing scene. Too heavy for the SNES though. They could give us an approximation of The False Prophet, but they didn't even try to bring TBG over in any sort of faithful rendition. So we got something entirely different. And just what exactly would that be?...

I guess the best way I can describe Ultima: The Black Gate (the "VII" was dropped for SNES), is that it is like a combination of the ports of The False Prophet and Runes of Virtue II. In fact, that's exactly what it is. As in, it's an action RPG dungeon crawler, much in the vein of RoV2, but it's also set amongst the trappings of a large open-world computer-styled RPG where you are pretty much free to go wherever you want, while tracking down hundreds of NPCs, completing dozens of quests, hunting for mounds of exotic gear and treasure, and generally getting lost. I don't know why MCI went this route, but it's what we got. Perhaps they intended to give us the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, it's my pick for the worst of the lot. I feel like the entire experience is desperately trying to tap into the strengths of both of its predecessors, but that the end result feels like it's less than the sum of its parts. Runes of Virtue II is perfect for what it is. Moving immediately from dungeon to dungeon kept the action fast and furious. Here, you're just constantly lost, trying to figure out where in the huge world you're supposed to go to. And then when you finally do figure out where to go, you get lost in the needlessly large dungeons too.

But then it also pales in comparison to The False Prophet because it feels so dumbed-down in many ways. Like, yeah, you have this huge world to explore, but it's actually still relatively small and simplified compared to the one found in TFP, leaving you barely any reason to explore most of the key locations. Go big or go home is my motto. And to give you a rough idea of what I'm talking about, here's the maps of Brittania for both RoV2 and TFP for you to click on. Notice the extreme difference in scale? Because TBG is somewhere in-between the two of them.


(yes, that lurch you may have just experienced is related to the size of that map, and no I haven't decided whether or not I'm going to do something about it or leave it for dramatic effect)


And honestly, The Black Gate just has tons of rough edges that are constantly hounding you too. Such as the ceaselessly spawning enemies that mob you whenever you're in the wilderness. Almost as if every tree or shrub is a monster generator - spilling them out one after another. Or how there's no karma system, a staple of the series. It's been completely cut. So with no consequences to any of your actions you can feel free to rob everyone of everything all the time. Not that you should bother because most stuff you come across is pretty worthless, and your inventory size is tiny (compared to The False Prophet). Plus you rarely need more than a ranged weapon, a melee weapon, and a few random key items. Everything else is throwaway.

Or how you have to manage a "set of keys" in order to open generic locked doors, as if they were another resource alongside gold. Whose bright idea was that?

Or how magic is automatically earned a few spells at a time as you level. Not that it really even matters since I feel like most of the spells are pretty worthless. You'll more-or-less just lean on the heals, torchlight, and the two "unlock" magics.

And there's a million other things to complain about. Like how world travel is accomplished by using a "magic boat" that you can use at any dock, completely throwing away the series' lore centered around Moongates. Or how entering a dungeon traps you inside until you find an exit. Or how most of the bosses are pathetically weak.

Now, all of that being said, I do like this game. I mean, sure... it is the inbred, high school dropout cousin of the original source material, and purists will no doubt scoff at any amount of praise. But I'm not ranking all of the Ultima games and their many ports. I'm ranking all of the Super Nintendo games. And in the SNES library, The Black Gate is an above average title. For despite the warts and bizarre design decisions, it remains a fun game, and I had a blast tearing through dungeons, knocking out bosses, finding new gear, and slowly working my way through the main quest. It's not the sort of game for everyone - none of these computer RPG ports are - but it is the sort of game for people like me.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I banished the giant face guy back to... wherever it is he came from.


#285 - Ka-blooey

Hmm... yeah, running low on inspiration on this one. So I'm going with another list.
  1. Ka-blooey was originally called "Bombuzal" on the Amiga. I'm not sure which name I hate more.
  2. Charlie's Blast Territory on Nintendo 64 is the sequel to this game. Or, at least it's a part of the same series. I'm not sure which main character I hate more.
  3. The game (Ka-blooey) looks like dogshit. Not that you're playing something like this for the visuals.
  4. I typed that out as "godshit" at least three times. I'm not sure what that says about me, or what it says about my fingers' muscle memory.
  5. The general goal in each level is to explode every bomb without dying.
  6. This is usually done by standing on the bomb, arming it, and then walking away and hoping you don't get blown away in the blast.
  7. Complicating that seemingly easy goal are bombs of various sizes, disintegrating platforms, bouncing enemies, invulnerable enemies, hidden switches, mines, ice, rotating clock hand thingies, and dozens of other hazards and tools.
  8. This game is LONG, with well over one hundred levels.
  9. As is usually the nature of this genre, the puzzles start out easy, and then gradually ramp up to brain-bustingly hard. Or maybe that's bull-bustingly hard. Both?
  10. ...hard enough, in fact, that I couldn't complete it. Usually I can lean on an online guide as a crutch, because I'm a wimp like that, but as far as I know none exist for this game.
  11. It's possible that later levels require something trickier and more elaborate than merely exploding all the bombs, but I couldn't figure it out.
  12. The game is addicting, and I spent hours on some of the trickier puzzles, refusing to relent until I had them solved.
  13. ...of course I eventually did relent because I was in danger of delaying this entire batch of writing over this one review.
  14. The game tracks lives (and awards more of them as you complete levels), but a game over merely forces you to restart where you left off via the title screen. So what's the point of the lives? High scores, uh, I guess.
  15. Sometimes the goofy-ass main character (who resembles a handicapped Grimace) would take off in the wrong direction on me. Now, was that the game's fault, was that user error, or was it the result of me using a controller with a ravaged D-Pad? Who can say.
  16. ...and Christ Almighty, I swear I always plan on doing twenty-five different "things" in these lists, and then inevitably start to stall out in the teens. This one was no exception.
  17. Did I mention that the game looks like ass? Really, it has to be one of the poorest looking games on the system. Everything about the art design of the game (if you want to call it that) looks boring and amateurish, and the color scheme is just gross as hell.
  18. Overall it's the sort of game I had a good time with, along with being something I really wanted to see through to the end.
  19. ...but I never loved it. And I wasn't good enough to actually see the ending.
  20. Fans of The Brainies and Push-Over (assuming they exist) should check it out.
Did I beat it?
No. I got really far into it, but eventually came to a dead halt and couldn't progress.


#284 - Kendo Rage

Kendo Rage. What does that mean? Who knows. Just call it a candidate for one of the most misleading box arts on the system. It really is funny how once upon a time American companies felt compelled to Westernize anything remotely "anime-ish" that they brought over from Japan, isn't it?

The immediate comparison I want to make with this game, is to the Valis series. I'm not sure if that's completely fair, or accurate, as the only Valis game I've actually played is Super Valis IV on Super Nintendo (the rest were released on the Genesis and god knows what else). And why do I think that? Because both games feature some anime chick running around and swinging a sword, across a series of shortish levels that always end in boss fights.

Now, I should mention that there is some sort of story happening here.. I think. You begin and end levels talking to some dude about... whatever, and you're travelling around in a sort of magical mystery van, beating up on a cartoonish rogues' gallery of giant fish and transforming mechas. But hell if I was to be able to connect any of the pieces, or why any of it was happening. Maybe it's one of those things where you need to read the manual. Or maybe this is part of a larger series that never got localized.

Basic gameplay is very simple. Run from left to right (and occasionally up or down) and swing your sword at anything that moves. Enemies like to pop up right in your face so you always have to stay on your toes, especially since you can only take four hits before you lose a life. Luckily, health powerups are usually sprinkled liberally throughout each level, and nearly every enemy will die in 1-2 hits. In fact, there may be no exceptions to that rule; theyíre pretty soft overall. Most mooks really only have the element of surprise to threaten you with.

The most notable gimmick happening, is the "PSV" meter above your health. This is more-or-less a charge bar, that lets you unleash more powerful (and longer ranged) attacks the longer you wait between swings. Think something like the charge system in Secret of Mana, but less stupid.

You also have access to something of a panic attack: a move that briefly turns you into a charging fireball, but at the cost of health. Meaning it's the sort of move you only want to bust out in an emergency. Or more likely, never.

The game also features a constantly clicking clock, that is always counting closer to... something. I can't say that I have any idea, really. The game makes sure to constantly remind you of where it stands upon completion of each level, tracking the breakdown of how fast you completed each level. Maybe this is for time attack purposes, maybe it affects the ending; I have no idea.

Controls are totally rock solid. The... uh, main girl, can attack up, down, she can crouch, and is ultra-responsive at all times. I have zero complaints here.

Boss fights are fun for the most part, if a little too reliant on pattern memorization. And the sprites are all pretty large, which can make things feel a bit crowded. Maybe that's just part of the challenge.

I do have to point out the final level, which features a completely ridiculous boss rush. This might be a candidate for one of the top 10 hardest levels on the entire system. Beating it on easy is hard enough. Beating it on normal took me many, many, many nights. And since the game features limited continues, that means a whole lot of slogging your way through the early stuff again and again just for more attempts at it.

So yeah, it's a "good." Anyone who likes Japanese action platformers, or specifically, the Valis series, should find a good time here. It's probably too challenging for some people, and if you're turned off by weird anime shit you should probably never even bother.

Did I beat it?
I did, after about nine billion tries on Level 7.


#283 - First Samurai

First Samurai. One look at a screenshot tells us this is an Amiga game. But this time it's a good Amiga game! Is that the first opportunity we've had to say that? I can't remember for sure. I mean, I guess Wolfchild was alright. And Ka-blooey's pretty cool. And for all I know some of these other recent games are too. So, okay, I guess I've covered a lot of pretty good ones at this point. But this guy's the best yet.

I have no idea what the storyline is here (it's probably relegated to the manual), but the deal is you are some sort of, uh, samurai, and you're... I don't know, killing everything that moves with your floating magic sword. *cough* Okay, I don't pay attention or remember sometimes, so sue me. But that's all I got.

Anyway, you're going to do this across half a dozen or so levels, each complete with a big bad boss. In order to gain access to said bosses, you have to collect a bunch of collectable thingies found throughout each level. And... umm, that's kinda it.

Okay, this review is kind of sucking. Blame it on the alcohol. And let's just jump through some bullet points:
  1. The controls are good, with solid movement and responsiveness. Jumping has a lot of "height" to it, but it still feels pretty good, and gives you full control over your movement throughout, without ever feeling floaty.
  2. Your magic floating sword also doubles as extra health. Take enough damage and you lose the sword. Keep taking damage and you die. A bit similar to a mechanic in Wolfchild.
  3. The sound effects as a whole are not so hot. In fact, they're pretty terrible. But the voice clips do crack me up, and I love how opening up a treasure chest or food cache causes the game to erupt into a jubilant chant of 'Hallelujah.'
  4. You can climb some of the walls, but this ain't no Ninja Gaiden, so hold no illusions in that regard.
  5. Like I said, the goal in each level is to track down the five glowing symbol thingies, and then head for the boss's area... wherever that may be. Levels are nonlinear in general, and you can expect to do a lot of searching and backtracking.
  6. The boss fights are fun and well designed. Mostly. The first one is a bit sloppy, with some erratic hitboxes, and one of the later ones is a bit too easy, but it's an enjoyable set of battles overall.
  7. Respawning enemies can be a pain in the ass. Especially the ones that just love to soak up hits before keeling over (or, I should say, exploding). Just another reason to avoid backtracking at all costs.
  8. You're gonna need to rely on trial and error if you hope to get through the whole game. You'll probably have to spend a continue or two on most of the levels just learning where all of the key items are, and then another to study the patterns of the bosses.
So, yeah. Good game. Very good for an Amiga game. Not my proudest review. But these things happen when you're 450 deep into them.

Did I beat it?
Yes, long ago.


#282 - The Flintstones: Treasure of the Sierra Madrock

What if I told you that The Flintstones: Treasure of the Sierra Madrock (love the reference by the way), was a platformer video game? Would you just be so shocked? Was that like a twist straight out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie?

No, of course you wouldnít be shocked. Every Flintstones game in the history of the universe (and every other Hanna Barbera game) has been a platformer. In fact, almost any old game based on a vintage cartoon television show is a platformer. Hell, nearly every other damn game on the Super Nintendo is a platformer. Weíre drowning in the damn things.

Of course, that doesnít mean a platformer canít throw us a curveball. In this case, TotSM is a platformer... mixed with...

A board game.



Or maybe itís a board game platformer. Either way, itís unlike anything else Iíve ever played. And Iíve played a lot of damn games.

You see, instead of doing the usual thing where a player is ushered from level to level, or is allowed to to choose new destinations from a world map, TotSM has your characters (Fred and Barney) roll a prehistoric die, which then determines how many ďspacesĒ that character can move. The spaces of course representing conventional levels, bonus areas, shops/cafes, minigame areas, boss fights, Mode 7 races, and so on. But more on all of that in a second. And what these mechanics mean is that there is an element of luck to your progression. So if you want to head to the shop directly above you, for example, you might just be SOL that turn. Instead, youíll just have to wait and come back around on your next turn and hope you have better luck that time.

I should mention that Betty and Wilma are also moving across the map, and if they catch up to their husband they will drag him back a few spots. Uh, I guess because Fred and Barney are supposed to be at home or somethingÖ? Who knows.

Upon entering one of the main levels, the game switches from the overhead world view to a 2D sidescroller (Iím stating the obvious, arenít I?) Here you will run, jump, climb trees, and smack things with your club. Fred and Barney also have the cartoonish ability to kick their legs really fast in order to ďflutterĒ a bit and slow their descent. Think of it as a hover ability.

Scattered throughout the levels are various collectable thingies such as stars, which can be used to earn extra lives (if I remember correctly), shells which are used as currency that can be redeemed at the store ďspaces,Ē health upgrades that temporarily give you a boost, and various other things.

At each levelís end you can also earn a ďnumberĒ based on the remaining amount of time, which can be used to fill out a bingo board of sorts. Think of Super Mario Bros. 3, because this too will award out extra lives when it is full.

The park locations I mentioned above serve up a bunch of different minigames, though the one you get to play is left to chance. Not that it really matters because I never found any of them very exciting, or fun to play.

Boss fights occasionally pop up, but none of them are particularly well-designed or challenging. Some of them have a nasty habit of repeating, and the pterodactyl in particular represents some subpar design. So not one of the gameís strongpoints, but not an emphasis either. Youíll breeze through most of them and be on your way without giving them another thought.

Overall, I rather like the game. Hell, Iíve played through the whole thing three or four times throughout the years, and Iíd happily do it again. Itís not very challenging, and the action never really changes up from what you see in the first hour, but itís one of those games you can ďchill outĒ with, without having to get too worked up or frustrated. Could it have been better? Yeah. Could the boss fights have been better? Definitely. But Iíd still recommend the game for anyone trying to dig deep into the library.
Did I beat it?
Yeah, on a number of different occasions.


#281 - Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.S.

That other Super Nintendo game brought to us courtesy of an Images Comics property (the more well-known one being Spawn: The Video Game), Jim Lee's WildCATS is a franchise I've never heard of, created by "some guy", that was adapted into a game that's basically been forgotten to time. You've never heard of it. I'd never heard of it. Nobody's ever heard of it. So let's dive in.

So what separates WildCATS from the billion other brawlers on the SNES? Not much. I guess the biggest thing would be the central gimmick where you have three different heroes at your disposal, each with their own set of levels they need to fight their way through. Not that this is an especially novel gimmick, because many other beat-em-ups on the system did the exact same thing. Off the top of my head: War of the Gems, Mutant Apocalypse, and Spider-Man X-Men, to be exact.

Each of the three heroes (whose names I cannot remember; we'll just call them generic superhero guy, Wolverine-like guy, and Hulk-like guy) has his own strengths and weaknesses, and his own unique moveset. So the "clawy" guy can climb walls and hit enemies with his long reach, the bruiser is slower and hits harder, and the 'other' guy represents a more rounded combination of speed and strength. Or at least that was the idea on paper since it doesn't quite work out that way in practice, as your best bet at having success means finding the move that works best for each guy, and cheesing the hell out of it. That may be the bruiser's quick shoulder charge or the claw guy's close range attack, which kinda goes against what I think the devs intended. Whatever works, right?

Controls are super solid throughout. The movesets are easy to pull off, everything is super responsive, and best of all, no insanely finicky special moves ŗ la games like Spawn. All in all, I can't say there's really any issues to report on my end.

The graphics are also pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but I think the character sprites and animation get the job done. Granted, a number of the levels do lack imagination. Lots of corridors, tunnels, and subterranean areas to walk through. But overall I think the game gets a passing grade here.

The game also has a pretty good range of enemy types. There's typical mooks, flying mooks, armored mooks, and giant mooks, but each one of those things comes in a variety of strengths and flavors. At no point during any of my playthroughs did I feel like I was stuck in a pattern, punching and kicking the same guys for an eternity, which is more than can be said for many other of the genre's games.

The boss fights aren't especially great for the most part. That isn't an uncommon complaint of mine, though most of the time I feel that way because they have a tendency to be cheap damage sponges. The main issue here is on how much trial and error they demand. Especially the final boss, a battle of endurance that I can only describe as a "complete nightmare," demanding pinpoint play for an extended amount of time after spending an attempt or ten just figuring out what you're supposed to do. Definitely not one of this game's highlights.

Overall, I had a pretty good time with the game. I definitely warmed up to it a bit, as my first attempt at a playthrough was not as enjoyable as my last attempt. As to why that is, I cannot really say. But it features pretty good mechanics, a solid length, enough variety to keep things fresh, and all in all presents a respectable enough package.

Did I beat it?
Yes. I'm pretty sure it was on the last life of my last credit too, which got pretty intense.


#280 - Pac-In-Time

Son of a bitch. This is another review where I could have sworn that I wrote it. And then, 20 months later I come back, and *poof* itís nowhere to be found.

Did I write it but then accidentally overwrite it?

Did I save it under the wrong name?

Did I delete it?

Did I hallucinate the whole thing?

Itís a sad thing to say that Iíd put money on the last one there. Itís what tends to happen after you sink enough hours into something.

Anyway, since I thought I had written it, and I clearly donít have it in front of me anywhere, Iím doing it again, right now, in one take. I donít even know what Iím going to say. Whatever dumb things pop in my head, probably.

Pac-in-Time isÖ not a Pac-Man game. In fact, this game has less to do with Pac-Man than Pac-Man 2 did. And that was a frickiní point-click adventure about hitching a ride into the city so that Pac could rescue all of the Pac children from having their gum stolen from the evil witch who runs the local factory. Think about it!

So what is this game? Pac-Man does Umihara Kawase, basically. ErÖ probably, Iíve never actually played any of the UK games, but Iím calling that an educated guess. And thatís because the main element to the platforming in Pac-In-Time is using a rope to propel yourself to new areas. Like I said, God knows what that has to do with Pac-Man. But it certainly makes for fun gameplay.

Thereís also a number of conventional platformer elements at play. Jump over pits, spit fireballs at enemies, collect random fruit that is floating in the air for some reason, etc. But the interesting element that the game adds to the equation (besides the reliance on your rope), is incorporating a lot of puzzle-solving into the levels. Especially later in the game. You have to manage an inventory of items that all give you access to different powers, which in turn let you access different areas. Itís actually rather well done.

The controls are pretty smooth for the most part. Maybe the tiniest bit slippery, but nothing really to complain about.

The difficulty curve is also pretty fairly maintained. Things can get a bit dicey towards the end of the game where you need to get through challenging sections that will put your skills to the test, but itís nothing that ever veers into the realm of cheap or frustrating.

The graphics arenít especially impressive, but itís a Pac-Man game. Graphics are always secondary to gameplay.

Lastly, now that I think about it, this is the final Pac-Man game I will cover for the Super Nintendo. Which means itís the go-to Pac title. So, by all means check it out if you want an unorthodox platformer, or if you want something even remotely similar to Umihara Kawase. I canít promise itís even close to being as good (since I have no idea), but I think most people will find it a pleasant surprise.

Did I beat it?
Yep.


#279 - Mr. Do!

Here we have another of the old (ancient) arcade ports that made their way to the SNES late in its lifespan, and this time it's just regular ol' Mr. Do!... no compilation of other games, no bonus materials, no extra modes... nothing. I guess it's a testament to how much fun I can have with this creaky old bastard that I'm comfortable ranking it higher than an entire set of games that included the likes of Tempest and Centipede.

I don't really know how to explain the gameplay, because I don't really know what to compare it against. Is it similar to Dig Dug? I'm not sure - I haven't played a game of DD in at least twenty years. Is it similar to Pac-Man? I mean, I guess you could say that... in the loosest possible sense. Maybe I just lack the expertise in old arcade games to do such a thing justice, so instead I will try to describe the game on its own terms.

Mr. Do(!) is some type of clown guy who's deep underground or something (work with me here) and you have to navigate him through the tunnels and dirt while nabbing various pieces of junk food while using falling apples to crush the critters that are furiously hunting him down. To do that you have to time your digging so that the apples are "dislodged" when an enemy is below them. Miss, and you're in deep shit. It's tense stuff, especially as the enemies grow in number and start to close in, using your own tunnels to catch up to you. Which means you really have to be strategic with the path you take, the apple traps you set, and the escape plans youíll inevitably need to fall back on.

And uh... that's pretty much it. Get through a couple dozen levels and then start back at the beginning. The whole thing is less than twenty minutes long. But it's one of those "easy to learn, hard to master" games, which gives it legs. And it is very challenging. It probably took me at least fifty tries before I could so much as complete just one loop. The game made me earn my success.

But I also enjoyed every minute of those fifty tries. Something about the gameplay is just very satisfying, even to this day 35+ years after its original release. That's about the nicest compliment you can pay a game like this, isnít it?

So yeah, that's my review. If you like the classics, check this out. If you don't, check it out anyways. You may not dig it [heh - editor] as much as me, but it's worth a shot.

Did I beat it?
Yes, after many, many tries.


#278 - Prehistorik Man


For those keeping count, here's our cave-man game tally so far:
The Flintstones - #642
Chuck Rock - #423
The Flintstones: Treasure of of the Sierra Madrock - #282
Prehistorik Man - #278

Prehistorik Man, from my good buddies at Titus, is a better-than-average platformer, that nonetheless seems to carry a pretty bad reputation. I'm not exactly sure why that is either. I mean, it seems like a perfectly competent game to me; super tight controls, fun mechanics, fair and varied levels, goofy character sprites, fun bosses... what's not to like?

As the titular "Man" you are out to collect food for your (presumably starving) village. Or something like that anyways. I have to admit it's been a while since I played through the entire thing, or paid attention to its story. Something about gathering food for your villageís elder. Anyway, in order to secure the goods, you'll need to pillage all the land, murdering billions of indigenous spiders, bears, mountain lions (or maybe they're saber-toothed tigers), and whatever else dares cross your path. All in the name of getting those sweet, sweet melons and hamburgers.

The controls are, as I mentioned, super smooth. I feel like that is one thing that poor Titus, for all their faults, seems to get right more often than not, because I almost never have issues with the controls in their games. Other than maybe with Oscar. But with every other one of their games the sense of weight and inertia just feels spot on. Kudos to them.

I also dig the overall look to the game. Everything is very detailed, very nice and colorful, and is drawn and animated well. I have zero complaints on this front. I mean, I know that caveman games in general check most of these boxes, thanks to the whole bright and fun prehistoric jungle motif, but I like what they did here nonetheless. I've said "nonetheless" twice now already, haven't I?

Our "man" has a basic club attack, and though it has a pretty short range, it's not nearly as bad as the stupid "stomach punch" in Chuck Rock, or Fred's pitiful club in The Flintstones. It gets the job done. There's also other limited-use weapons that you'll occasionally come across; they also get the job done. Finally, you also have access to an AOE "scream" attack, something you'll want to save for bosses. And funnily enough it actually kinda looks and sounds like Charlie Brown when he's doing his whole "flustered yell" thing.

Some levels also give you the use of a hang glider of sorts. Usually I despise stuff like that since it handles so poorly, but they nailed it here. It basically just steals from the Super Mario World "cape," but I'm not gonna fault them for it. If you're gonna rip someone off, you may as well aim high. They did a good job with it, nailing the feel.

There's also occasionally a skateboard you can ride. This "vehicle" on the other hand, is not so much fun. In fact, I don't know if I can think of a single game with a skateboard mechanic in the entire SNES library that is anything other than subpar. At best. Not to say that PM's version of it is horrible, like Radical Rex. But it's certainly not great.

Each level also tasks you with finding the letters B-O-N-U-S in order to trigger a bonus area. Another fun addition.

Finally, at the conclusion of each level the game tallies how much food you ended up finding. But I honestly couldn't tell you what this does, other than affect your score, and possibly the number of bonus lives you get. You'd think something like this would lend itself towards a game having multiple endings, but as far as I can tell there is only the one. So, I guess go for all of the fruit if you want the challenge (and possibly the lives), but know that it's mostly pointless.

So if you're into cavemen... then you're kind of a weirdo. But you're also set for Super Nintendo games. And this is definitely one to check out. Prehistorik Man ain't no Bonk, and there's no two-player shenanigans a la Joe and Mac, but it's a good time, and easily worth a playthrough.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I played through it in my first sitting.


#277 - The Pirates of Dark Water

Remember The Pirates of Dark Water television show? If you're under the age of 30, I figure the answer is most likely "no," but those of us who did grow up watching it seem to have mostly fond memories of following Ren, Ioz and Tula as they sailed the seas of Mer looking for the magical McGuffins that would stop the mysterious "dark water" from consuming the world. It was a pretty sweet concept, executed well, had great characters, and fun stories. Like so many other notable cartoons that have come and gone, it was also cut short thanks to cancellation, before the writers could wrap the narrative up and give us closure.

It also seems to have something of a small following to this day, which tells me it must have some sort of endearing legacy. I hesitate to throw the word "cult" around, but I'm pretty sure PoDW qualifies as being a cult hit.

The Pirates of Dark Water for Super Nintendo, on the other hand, is a very, very, by-the-books brawler. You may as well call this "Final Fight: Pirate Edition." And that's not a bad thing. Sometimes a typical brawler is exactly what you want to play.

The game gives you a choice of three different playable characters. Those three, as you can probably guess, consist of the series' main characters. Ioz is the prototypical "heavy," with high damage and low speed. Tula is the quick fighter who sacrifices power for speed. This leaves Ren as the balanced character with every attribute landing right in the middle. Pretty standard stuff.

The roster of enemy types is fairly conventional too. You've got your normal base guys, big guys, longer reach guys, quick little guys, arrow guys, tank guys, and so forth. If it ain't broke, don't fix it I guess.

Your characters' movesets are pretty nice. You have access to a normal light punch, a slow and heavy weapon attack, a dash attack, a jump attack, a dashing jump attack, a grab attack, a body slam attack, a spinning "clear out enemies but damage your own health" desperation attack, and even a block. Lots of options to help keep the hordes at bay.

And I do mean hordes. This game loves to pile on the enemies, and pad the length of levels. It's not The Tick levels of ridiculous, but this is definitely one of the longer beat em ups on the system.

Boss fights are also relatively fair, for once - an unusual move for the genre. Gone are the typically unreliable hit boxes and windows of vulnerability, cheap attacks that can't be countered, or excessively lengthy lifebars. In fact, a lot of the bosses are basically just souped-up mooks. One could see that as being a good or bad thing, but I'm leaning towards good here. Maybe I was just happy for the change of pace from the usual frustrations. Of course most of this goes out the window towards the end, especially with the biggest exception to this rule - the final boss. Not only is that bastard fairly challenging, but he has an absolutely ridiculous amount of health. So, the challenge is there if you want it, but not until the end of the game.

Overall, if you're a fan of the genre, and a fan of the property, this one is a no-brainer. It's not gonna blow anyone away with amazing gameplay, or clever mechanics, and if you think games like Final Fight are boring and repetitive, this one ain't gonna change your mind. But you can have a lot of fun with it for a playthrough or three. Especially if you're playing with another buddy.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, on a couple different occasions.


#276 - Wario's Woods

I swear, no video game has ever made me feel as stupid as Wario's Woods does. This is a puzzler for the 4D chess types. You know that famous scene in Rain Man where Charlie drops the box of matches and Raymond quickly counts every single one of them in seconds? That's who should be playing this game. Autistic savants who can survey the chaos of the playing field, instantly knowing what needs to happen, where it needs to happen, and then they make it happen.

To this game's credit, it has to be one of the most unique puzzlers that has ever been created. I mean, how does one even begin to explain the gameplay? That, instead of controlling a cursor, you control a squatty Toad, and that he is running around the stacks of bombs and monsters trying to pick and rearrange them on the fly so as to better line up combos? All while having to obey several restrictions to his movement, in a scheme that is more reminiscent of a platformer than a puzzle game. Or, how the stacks of "things" he's currently carrying (which can stretch to the top of the screen) can also dynamically affect the board, even letting you "catch" falling objects for combos before they even hit the ground? Because that's what this game is. A very complex platformer + puzzle hybrid with an extra measure of depth and challenge for those looking for such things.

Normally that would be me, but here I am out of my depth. I can barely handle Tetris at higher speeds, much less the insanity going on in the later parts of this game. And I'm not even going to publicly admit to how many hours it took me to work my way through it. But suffice it to say, it was more than a few late nights.

And if none of that wonderful description made any sense to you, well, the only thing you really need to know is that this game is a hardcore puzzler's wet dream. If you want to be pushed to your puzzle limit, moving on the fly, thinking in many dimensions, and mastering a complicated moveset, this is the game for you. It's not the game for me. Or at least I'm not a good enough gamer for it. But I sure as hell respect it.

Did I beat it?
Nope. I tried and I tried, but to no avail.