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#325 - Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues

Okay, I know I like to bash Ocean, but they actually have a decent number of games in the middle ranks here, don't they? Granted, what I've written about recently represents most of the rest of their remaining SNES output, which means even their best work was only 'okay,' but hell, I'll take it.

Jurassic Park Part 2, not to be confused with The Lost World, Jurassic World: Forgotten Sequel, or Carnosaur 2, is an interesting little package. One that abandons the overhead adventure stylings of the original JP game for a much faster-paced run 'n gun deal. One that is also unrelentingly difficult. I've been saying that about a lot of games recently, and only partially because I'm a wimp, but these really are the ranks of platformers and action games that are primarily held back by their difficulty.

The game opens with one of the sweeter cutscenes in all the Super Nintendo library. In it, evil corporate suits discuss diabolical plans while a squadron of helicopters flies over Jurassic Park. Suddenly, soldiers bark orders and begin their insertion as the title card hits and a raptor claw swipes a "II" across the screen. Very impressive.

One of the better things about the game is that there is a nonlinear procession to everything, allowing you to pick between the six different levels from the start. This sort of flexibility is never a bad thing.

Raptor Attack - Journey through the jungle and then into the depths of some endless building. I'm not sure if I got lost, or if this thing just goes on and on and on, but I never made it out of that damn building.

T-Rex Carnage - Another traipse through the jungle, where I again got lost. Just keep going right; it's a strategy that works for corn mazes, and it seemed to work here. Things cap off with a T-Rex chase, where you act as gunner from the back of a jeep, all while rando mercenaries try to shoot you from the nearby tree branches they're hanging from (wtf?). I never made it past this part since I had no idea what to do.

Blockade - Fight through the depths of Jurassic Park's infrastructure, murdering a thousand human beings before eventually dying because there are NO DAMN HEALS IN THIS LEVEL, evidently.

High Ptera - Climb up into the mountains of Jurassic Park, getting dive bombed by pterodactyls and endless falling rocks. The rocks are bullshit.

Seek and Destroy - Journey into a volcano (again... wtf?) where you will get destroyed by anything and everything over and over again. This level can suck a d.

Protect the Gallimimus - Run through an endless gauntlet of mercs, while trying not to get bowled over by the stupid dinosaurs you're trying to save (ungrateful bastards), while also avoiding hidden mines. This motherfucker never ends either.

Now everything about this game looks great. The sprites are good, the animation is done well, the levels are all solid (if not a bit samey-looking at times), and the dinosaurs look and move like dinosaurs. I have absolutely zero complaints in this department.

The controls are also 100% completely rock solid. Everything absolutely feels like it should: there's no slipperiness, stiffness, awkwardness, nothing. Zero complaints here either.

The gameplay, though, is not refined enough. It feels like you are constantly being bum rushed by enemies - a feeling that never ever relents for the entire game. There's also constant cheap shots, as hazards suddenly go off in your face, or enemies/obstacles fall into your face with little to no warning. It's the sort of thing where you'll either need to play the game enough to memorize where everything is (and this is not a small game), or you're gonna have to move at a slow shuffle, constantly trying to get the jump on everything before it jumps you. That is not my idea of a great time.

Lastly, I should mention the interesting mechanic where you are punished for killing too many of the (non-raptor) dinosaurs throughout the game. How do you play a pacifist in a game where youíre armed with a rifle? By using ďnonlethalĒ ammo, with the rub being those rounds are slower, less powerful, and limited in supply. This makes for a nice balancing act to aggression and self-control, forcing you to play strategically. Granted, I never got through the whole game in one shot, so I don't know how well balanced it remains for an entire playthrough, but I like the idea.

Final thoughts? Good game, very good game by Ocean's standards, but not great. Or as good as the first Jurassic Park game. And not good enough for me to see it through to the end, something very few will accomplish.

Did I beat it?
Easy is manageable enough, but beating this game on "Hard" so that you can see the ending? Good luck.

#324 - Michael Jordan Chaos in the Windy City

Known as that other crossover basketball game, Michael Jordan Chaos in the Windy City might actually be an even worse idea than Shaq Fu was. I mean... MJ climbing through the sewers, freeing his imprisoned teammates so that everyone can make it back for a charity basketball game in time? With magic basketballs? While fighting basketball monsters? Who greenlit this thing?

Thank God it defies the odds and ends up being a pretty decent game, despite itself. For while the premise may be incredibly stupid, the actual gameplay proved to be shockingly rock solid. Way too good for a game like this.

The game begins with Mike and... some guy, talking in a comic-book-style cutscene of sorts. From there, Mike has to work his way across Chicago, traversing dozens of stages while avoiding spiders, bats, zombies, and all sorts of other typically inane video game enemies, while also tracking down colored keys, avoiding disintegrating platforms, beating up legions of paparazzi (seriously), and activating tons and tons of floating platforms. In other words, lots of super generic video game stuff. But it's all done rather well; the controls are good, the balancing and difficulty curve is spot on, and the mechanics all work. Even the boss fights are reasonably imaginative for the most part (I didn't see all of them).

So what does any of it have to do with basketball? Nothing, really. Mike attacks with different types of powered-up basketballs, and you perform a dunk move of sorts to attack enemies from above (or to break open the various hoops that are spread across the levels for some reason). Other than that, this could have been any old Amiga game. Hell, it probably did start out as something entirely different, before the Jordan license was slapped on.

Drawbacks? Besides the obvious lack of any originality with the proceedings - they're mostly limited to a couple little things that I found a bit annoying. The way the game moves, for instance, is the sort of thing where I could see people getting motion sick. I got used to it within a few minutes (mostly), but I generally have a pretty strong constitution for that sort of thing anyway. I know other people aren't so lucky, so if you consider yourselves among them, beware this game.

I also find it endlessly annoying that suffering a death usually causes you to restart a level from the beginning. That is needlessly dumb. Worse, if you do happen to find a checkpoint, the game doesn't really save most of the level's "status" when you respawn. Like, you may spawn further along, and keep any keys you picked up, but enemies have all returned, and it isn't necessarily clear where you were supposed to be going at that particular moment (there's lots of backtracking in later levels).

Other than that, I don't have a whole lot to say. It's one of the billion platformers on the system, it has a stupider premise than usual, but stronger gameplay than most of its siblings. It wasn't quite good enough for me to stick it out to the end (it's a pretty long and hard game, with limited lives), but I still spent quite a bit of time with it. And I was happy with the game for most of that.

Did I beat it?
Nope. I got most of the way through it, but since the passwords track the number of lives you have remaining, I could never put a good run together.

#323 - Mario Paint

Remember when Mario Paint came out, and it represented Nintendo at their most creative? I mean, how many other video game developers had the balls to release a music/animation studio program, and bundle it with a mouse and large paper guide? No one. Everyone else was too busy trying to copy Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now, I never grew up with the game, but if I had, I would have spent hours with it. Mostly drawing obscene animations, or recreating my favorite Metallica songs. When you're a kid, you have all the time in the world to explore such endeavors.

Of course I didn't grow up with it, and I'm ranking these games based on how good I think they are now, not by how much of a legacy they have or how important they were back in the day. And in that regard, Mario Paint is exactly what you think it is: an aged paint program that can only be played with an even more aged peripheral. Seriously, have you tried to use the SNES mouse anytime recently? It's horrible. Nigh unusable.

Music Generator - Compose your own recreation of Lick it Up, via a surprisingly robust suite of instruments and sounds. The interface is definitely showing its age, but it's got all the tools needed to produce whatever crazy crap your mind can come up with.

Drawing - Like MS Paint, but with much more limited options, and some stupid Nintendo stamps at your disposal. Really the only reason to invest time here...

Animation - ...is so that you can produce your own animation of Mario railing Princess Toadstool. ...What? You weren't the sort of kid to do that kind of thing? Maybe most kids weren't as depraved as my friends and me.

Coloring Book - In case coloring something interests you.

Gnat Attack - The "fly swatter" game. Move the cursor to kill the flies, and then defeat their king. People seem to like this. When Iím playing it I can't get over how much I hate the SNES mouse.

So if you're desperate to check this thing out for some reason - most likely to record songs with Nintendo-themed bleeps and boops - then give it a shot. I can't imagine anyone nowadays taking the time to orchestrate a grand score, or produce an entire animation, but if you're that sort of crazy person, knock yourself out.

[Scene from Ninja Gaiden taken from here]

Did I beat it?
I beat the fly minigame ...or did I? Holy shoot my memory is going.

#322 - PGA Tour 96

#321 - PGA European Tour

The eponymous PGA Tour Golf, one of the staples of Electronic Arts' early sports lineups, is one of the games I grew up with on my dad's old PC. I spent hours perfecting my play, mastering every course, or just seeing how far into the ether I could hit my shots, waiting to see if the game would crash. All fond memories.

Of course it got ported to the Super Nintendo, but it wasn't until I popped the cartridge in that I made the connection, realizing that this was the game I used to play so much back in the day. And you know what? I spent a pretty good amount of time with it again, having just as much fun as I remembered.

Well, the two follow-ups that got released on the SNES, PGA Tour 96 and PGA European Tour, while different in a number of ways from the original, can still both be thought of as basically the same game. They have the same controls, same hitting mechanics, same tools to judge the course and the green, and a very similar "feel" to everything. Though they do both offer a much larger assortment of courses - a whopping eight in 96 and six in ET.

The graphics are another one of the biggest changes here, though I don't know if it counts as an upgrade or a downgrade from the original. The pastel VGA look has been traded in for some early digitized graphics with more realistic-looking courses. It doesn't look too shabby, especially relative to other games on the SNES that use the same style, but I have to admit that I'm rather partial to the old look. That may just be because I grew up with that one, but I feel like that older style has more charm and character. For most people, it will probably come down to personal preference.

Driving in these games is very good. It uses the standard three-click system, something I believe was pioneered by the original. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The interface for setting up your shot is simple and effective, and though I wish I had easier access to the overhead map of the hole, the game still gets a passing grade here.

Putting is also good. I feel like it's less demanding here than it was in the original, with more leniency on what will or won't drop in. I do prefer the original game's method of showing you the green before your first putt, but again, this gets a passing grade.

Chipping is still pretty hard though, unfortunately. Probably the series' biggest weak point. There's just no margin for error since you have to work with a very small portion of your swing's power meter, giving you very little time to react. But it is way better than in the original game, which gave you even less time. In fact, that's probably the biggest upgrade present in these two follow-ups.

Now, you probably noticed that I haven't covered PGA Tour Golf yet, and that I didn't lump it in with these two. Which obviously means I think it's the superior title. Is that because I grew up with it and have a soft spot for it? Not really. No, instead it's because...

These games take the original PGA formula, a proven winner, and add a lumbering pace to everything. Seriously, the speed of play for a practice round is about 50% compared to the original. All screens take longer to load, especially when you reach the putting green. Worse, if you play in a tournament, the pace takes another hit, and drops to maybe 25%. That's not an exaggeration. It's bad enough, that I'd honestly recommend only playing the single rounds in these games, and reserving any tournaments for the first PGA Tour Golf. No joke.

Since I still do like this formula, I'm giving the two games an ever so tiny pass of sorts. I mean, golf is a slow game by design. I accept that. I can accept some slowness in its video game incarnations. If I want twitch speed and instant gratification I'll throw in Wild Guns or something. And yeah, for whatever reason, the pace issues seem more pronounced in the tournaments than they do in the single rounds, and that's what I primarily like to play. That's annoying, but not a dealbreaker. After all, if the lagging speed gets to you, there is always the option to play single rounds to help alleviate things.

Overall, some of the better golf games on the system, issues aside. And I did enjoy my time with them. Hell, I have plans to come back and finish them at some point, which should tell you a lot about what I think of them. I'll just need to set aside a decent chunk of time to accomplish that.

But I definitely prefer the first game.

Did I beat PGA Tour 96?
No. Someday. Maybe. I hope.

Did I beat PGA European Tour?
No. Someday. Maybe. I hope.

#320 - WildSnake

For those of you who may not know, I not only compulsively play through as many Super Nintendo games as I can (hence the ill-fated idea that I may as well rank and write about them all while I was at it), but I also collect the actual cartridges. That pursuit partially grew out of a lifelong interest in collecting things - a passion that began with football and basketball cards, and then moved over to books, before mostly settling on games and movies - and partially from the Super Nintendo being the first system I ever owned. That, and it's the console I have the greatest emotional attachment to.

Well, for various reasons, that sizable SNES collection is merely cart-only (it didn't start out that way). And since I have a near-complete set, that means I have lots and lots of stacks of naked carts. Over 700 of them to be exact [That's not exact - editor]. The sort of thing that only very patient and understanding spouses will put up with. And of course when you have a family, you need to start getting creative with how you store or display such things. My wife is all about being "modern" (read: minimalist), so having a bookshelf full of dusty old games in our living room isn't exactly the most feasible setup for me. As much as our various guests would no doubt be impressed by such things, I'm sure.

So I had to get creative. I found a way to have my collection on some shelves, all together, while maximizing the amount of affordable protection for the AAA carts, minimizing the total costs, and having the whole thing appear aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Or at least to my eye. It was a great victory.

Enter my children.

My hordes of books, movies, and games have to be just about the most tantalizing thing in their lives. Everything is well within line of sight, but just out of reach from those tiny, grasping cookie-covered fingers. The forbidden fruit of our household.

Earlier this year the rascals finally managed to outsmart me, for the first of many times, no doubt. They all got up super early, snuck into my game area (they've mastered the army crawl), and wrecked the whole thing. I'm talking everything; they turned the whole area into their own gymboree. And my poor SNES games were in a gigantic pile in a corner of the room, as if tossed into the scrap heap.

Eventually I got everything sorted out, ensured my Super Turrican 2 and Metal Marines weren't scuffed up, counted all my Mega Mans, and put the whole thing behind me.

But now, months later, I'm slowly noticing stuff that's missing. A game here, a movie there. An OCD person would be driven mad by the number of unknowns I'm facing.

Well, wouldn't you know it, I happened to notice that one WildSnake cart was missing when I went to start this review. Vanished, thrown into god knows what bin or deep hole hidden somewhere in my house. So I can't go back and review what I wrote in my old notes or double check any of my thoughts and feelings.

So fuck it. Here's the review:

WildSnake. It's Tetris with Snakes.

Did I beat it?
Nope. I got close, but I guess that ain't gonna be changing anytime soon either.

#319 - Young Merlin

Let me briefly preface this review with the following disclaimer: most people, if they give it a chance, are gonna like Young Merlin more than they think they will. Probably.

[wut? - editor]

Young Merlin, the... uh, action adventure puzzle role playing thingamajig from Westwood Studios, famed creators of the Command & Conquer franchise. It's not half bad. Not half bad at all...

[... - editor]

Yeah, uh, this is another write-up where I'm struggling a bit coming up with much to say. I guess I could talk about how this is one of the few games on the system that kinda, sorta resembles the old school PC point-and-click adventures. You know, like The Secret of Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle? Not that Young Merlin plays anything like those, per se, but it is one of the better comparisons I can make.

The game starts with (young) Merlin, umm, standing next to a waterfall for some reason, and he eventually has to save the land from some evil guy, traveling across some large maps, picking up tons of different items, figuring out where to use them so that he can get more items... items that he can then use somewhere else. Occasionally he'll fight some dudes who really don't want him to have those items for some reason.

[I'm out of here - editor]

Jesus, I'm trying, I swear. This is just a hard one to explain. Again, think old school PC game (even though this was built from the ground up for console), take a dash of action RPG, and that pinch of point-and-click I was talking about. That's this game in a nutshell. And it does all of those things pretty well, while never really being great at any of them either. The puzzles can be pretty illogical, and finicky, the combat is merely okay, though there are some rather cleverly designed boss fights, and actual controls and other gameplay mechanics are passable, to put it nicely.

There's also some minecart-riding sections, where you need to mess with the track switches in order to travel to where you need to get to. It's a bit of a nightmare, and probably the primary reason I'd hesitate to actually play through this whole thing again. Anyone who gets far enough into the game to find this section is gonna spend at least several hours going around in circles, slamming their head into the wall until they get lucky and figure out the solution. Or use an online guide. I'd recommend the latter.

Okay, I'm going to wrap this one up because I'm giving myself a headache. If you like adventure games, puzzles, or weird Western games from the early 90s, give this one a shot. It's not for everyone, it's not amazing, and it has some really annoying bits, but it is a fun game, and worth the effort for those who can stick around to see the good stuff. Which I clearly don't know how to explain.

Did I beat it?

#318 - Claymates

Here it is, the last of the "clay" games. Or at least, I'm pretty sure it is... yeah, it is. Right? Probably.

Claymates is a pretty simple one to explain. It's a platformer, where you jump on things, and throw things at other things. Sometimes you morph into silly-looking things. Actually, that one I need to go into greater detail about, because that's sort of the "thing" this game does. I'm also gonna promise to quit using the word "thing" so much.

At the game's start, your character (named Clayton, get it?) is turned into a ball of goo or something. I don't know why, but I'm pretty sure the "storyline" was written by the same dude who did Lester the Unlikely, because it's basically the same thing. Anyway, that ball of goo has to travel across a bunch of levels, turning into various animals so that he can use their abilities to solve some simple platforming-style puzzles and reach the exit. In total there are five different forms you can change into: a mouse that runs really fast, a cat that can climb trees, a fish that swims well, a gopher that digs, and a duck that can (sort of) fly. These forms also effectively give you an extra hit point.

Levels are the sort of nonlinear collect-a-thon affairs seen in other games like Bubsy or Zool. Which means you usually have the option of either beelining for the exit, or exploring every nook and cranny in order to rack up extra lives. You can also hunt down several "key" items in every level in order to unlock a hidden section within, as well as earn the ability to play a pachinko-style bonus game at level's end, which lets you earn EVEN MORE extra lives. This game loves to pile on the 1UPs.

There's also a strange little puzzle minigame in between levels where you need to direct some robots and... you know what, I'm not even gonna try to explain it. Just know you have to earn the ability to get to the next level.

And finally, the bosses. Just like in Lester the Unlikely, they are pretty dang cool looking, I've got to admit. The fights themselves are relatively pedestrian, but they get all the style points in the world. Plus, anyone who's willing to put a giant clay Zulu warrior in their game is alright by me.

So yeah, it's a fun game. One I was contemplating putting a tad higher. But I've run out of games to cover that I don't enjoy, and something had to fill a spot. Maybe that's a sign that I just like too many games and am too forgiving.

Did I beat it?

#317 - World Soccer '94: Road to Glory

World Soccer '94: Road to Glory, not to be confused with Championship Soccer '94, World Cup USA '94, Champions World Class Soccer, World League Soccer, or any other damn soccer game, is one of the token Atlus games on the system, and one of the few sports games I can ever remember them publishing. Because why bring over Tactics Ogre when you can have this instead? [Are you ever gonna shut up about that? - editor]

The gameplay is very fast, and very arcadey. Arcade-like? Arcadish? Whatever, just know it's lightspeed fast. As in, you can play a full game in four minutes, and come out of it with a 4-3 win and a couple different momentum swings. All crammed in there.

The graphics are pretty terrible, as is obvious if you look up at those pics. I don't know if it just has ugly sprite design or something, but everything always appears fuzzy and washed. Not that a thing like player sprites matters a ton in a sports game, but this is probably the worst-looking soccer game on the Super Nintendo. Er, other than World League Soccer, which is probably the ugliest game on the system, if not the universe. But this is easily the second worst.

Controls are rock solid though, with smooth handling and perfect responsiveness. The balancing of the AI for both your teammates and your opponents is spot-on as well. It never suffers from the sort of "smothering" problems that sank games like Soccer Shootout, and I wouldn't call the AI completely braindead like it was in Tony Meola's Sidekicks Soccer either.

So, yeah. Overall itís a success. I think that leaves just five soccer titles left, which is pretty good considering I barely have any hockey or football titles remaining. At least outside of a certain few franchises. So even though I'm not much of a fan of the real sport, I guess I have to give some credit to its various adaptations on the Super Nintendo. A lot of them weren't so hot, but there was easily half a dozen or more that ended up being worth my time.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I won the "Super Cup" with Italy.

#316 - Addams Family Values

What do you get if you take the Legend of Zelda formula (in the loosest possible sense), and make it into one of the most aggravating games ever made?

Why, you get King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, of course. A pox on gamekind.

But... what if you take the Legend of Zelda formula, and make it into one of the most aggravating games ever made, but also make it ever so slightly fun to play in the process?

You get Addams Family Values. A huge game that seems tailor-made for A Link to the Past nerds, assuming they can maintain their sanity while playing it.

Now, I'm fairly confident that this game is either the direct sequel to, or was heavily inspired by, Fester's Quest on NES. I don't know why I say that, because I only played FQ for a few minutes, so I hardly have the most qualified opinion of it. But from what I can tell, both games have Fester traveling around a huge map shooting lightning bolts from his fingers, so I'm going with it. Anyway, FQ is one of those games that seems to have an equal number of champions and detractors. Possibly because the only people who dig it happened to grow up with it, and can't help but have an infatuation with it, or possibly because its gameplay is very polarizing. Considering my own personal feelings about the sequel, I'm gonna go with the latter possibility there.

When AFV starts, Fester is wandering around in the garden outside the Addams mansion. You're quickly tasked with fighting your way through a small dungeon so that you can recover some key item, which will let you progress further into the game. That's the gameplay loop here: get sent towards some dungeon, fight through it until you get some item, which will let you get through some barrier so that you can find someone else to send you searching for some other item. Nothing too unusual there.

The problem is, every one of those steps gets exponentially more confusing the further into the game you get. Mostly due to the fact that navigating the "overworld" is a HORRENDOUSLY miserable affair. The whole map is very huge, very confusingly laid out, there is no way to ever "see" it unless you consult internet guides, the paths to get anywhere are never apparent, and everything looks the same.

Compounding that issue, later fetch quests get more and more cryptic, require you to cover (or retrace) more ground, and gradually grind your sanity and patience into fine powder. This is not a game for the weak of heart.

The difficulty curve is also whack. Some bosses are a real test of skills, while others practically lay down and die for you. Dungeon toughness is also all over the map, with no real consistency to their challenge.

I should also throw in that the controls really need to be a little looser. Perhaps I'm spoiled by Link's absolutely sublime movement in A Link to the Past, but Fester feels too fat, too slow, and it's too hard to direct his lightning bolt exactly where you want it to go because it more or less travels in a straight line.

Finally, AFV also offers one of the worst password systems I have ever seen in my life. The way it works is, there is a random NPC who can be found several hours into the game (if not longer), tucked away in an obscure corner of the map (the same map that I just blasted for being one of the most confusing I've ever traveled). Assuming you can find and reach him (big if), he will spit out one of those miserably long passwords for you to write down. And then you have to travel back here anytime you need another one. This grows old the first time you do it, and by the end of the game you'll be cursing the gods themselves if you're forced to do it. I am not exaggerating when I say I played through the entire game without turning my system off, strictly to avoid this as much as possible. If Super Nintendos are capable of burning houses down, this was the biggest risk I've ever taken with it.

Together, it all makes for a game that is huge, epic, ambitious, and confusing. And frustrating. And exhausting. I'd go so far as to DARE anyone to beat it without a guide. In fact, I'll offer to pay up money right now to see it happen. Just thinking about what I did to clear the game, and thinking about doing it on my own, makes me want to weep.

So there you have it. One of the few games on the system I would compare to the magnificent A Link to the Past, but a horribly flawed experience that really tests your sanity. I guess it should really be a testament to Nintendo that they managed to make something as ambitious as The Legend of Zelda series work so well, because this game is proof as to how easy it is to lose your way. Check Addams Family Values out, have some fun with it, but don't try to beat it, and don't do it on your own.

Did I beat it?
I did. I had to use a guide (you'd be insane not to) but eventually managed to persevere.

#315 - Desert Strike

For how much I love video games, I didn't get to play the Sega Genesis much when I was growing up. Well... that's not true, I played it all the time - I was very good about sniffing out the opportunity to play something every chance I got. But I never owned a Genesis, so I didn't play it nearly as much as my beloved SNES. I did, however, occasionally get to pick out Genesis game rentals when I was spending the night at several of my friends' houses. Many of them were lucky enough to own both systems so I used those nights to grab titles that were otherwise unavailable to me.

On one of those occasions, I grabbed Jungle Strike. I'm not entirely sure how I knew about the game - probably from some magazine ad or review - but it was a no-brainer for me. I was absolutely in love with any and all "3D" games at the time. As in, not side-scrollers, but stuff with an overhead perspective. So I would rent stuff like The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Mechwarrior 3050, Equinox, Secret of Mana, and other such titles all the time. Something about that added dimension just made the experience so much richer for me. And the local rental place didn't have Jungle Strike for Super Nintendo, so it was now or never for me.

While my friends were busy playing something dumb like Emmitt Smith Football, I hooked up the Sega to the spare television and dove into Jungle Strike. I had a pretty dang good time. The game was balls hard, especially for a small kid trying to come to grips with that strange-ass Genny controller, and I didn't get close to being able to complete any of the missions. Luckily for me, this was an era of rampant cheat code usage, so I was still able to see most of the game via a set of level passwords. Then again, beating games wasn't really something any of us expected to do back then. We just wanted to get as much gaming in as possible before we had to return it. So it was no big deal.

Flash forward a few years later, and Urban Strike hits the shelves. This time, my rental place did have it for Super Nintendo, and I rented that sucker over and over again. Mostly because it took the grand ideas present in Jungle Strike, and made the action much more manageable. The difficulty was reined in so that you weren't constantly being shot down, with much less aggressive enemies or enemy projectile speed. The level maps were much more interesting to look at, with a lush variety of locales to explore. And most importantly, I was able to get through it. All of it. It was a game I beat multiple times during my rental nights. I played it all night, over and over again.

Flash forward even further. I'm not sure when, possibly when SNES emulators became a thing. That was the time when I finally got around to playing the game that started it all: Desert Strike, the game that put EA on the map. Or at least, as a kid I assumed that. I don't know why, maybe I assumed everyone loved the Strike games as much as me.

So, after laying out my history with its two sequels, what exactly do I think of Desert Strike?

1 - It's way too hard. Even harder than Jungle Strike.
2 - It's way too small in scope, forcing you to destroy the same few types of targets across several very samey desert maps, while fending off the same few enemy types. 3 - It's way too short, with only four different "campaigns" (read: missions). Skilled players could knock this out in less than an hour.
4 - All that be damned, it's still a fun game despite everything.

And maybe that last one is the important thing. Because regardless of the fact that this series clearly improved over time, as they ironed out the rough edges and added more and more outlandish maps, missions, vehicles, and features, the core gameplay of the series has been fun to play since the beginning. Strafing tanks and missile launchers with an Apache is fun. Blowing up buildings to uncover hidden supplies is fun. Rescuing POWs is fun. This series is plain fun.

So while Desert Strike is easily my pick for the weakest of the Strike series, I still reveled in blowing away the Republican Guard division with my Apache, raining down hellfire missiles on Saddam's SCUD missile launchers, rescuing spies, crashing into buildings, and causing all-around general mayhem.

Did I beat it?
It took me four straight nights of playing it (roughly a night per mission), and heavy reliance on an FAQ, but I did it.

#314 - Looney Tunes B-Ball

Let's do one of these!

1. To no one's surprise, Looney Tunes B-Ball is a lesser NBA Jam, starring Bugs Bunny and friends.
2. Teams consist of two classic characters such as Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester, Sam, and so forth.
3. Each character has his own strengths, weaknesses, and special attacks.
4. The basketball court is littered with gems that can be picked up. Their purpose? Buying special ability uses.
5. Each character has his own special attacks and moves, though most of them seem to have similar effectiveness.
6. The ability to shoot three-point shots seems to be the most important skill.
7. There is a "wacky meter" that you set before playing the game. I'm not exactly sure what this does, other than affect how many gems spawn on the court.
8. If a player scores three times in a row he heats up and goes into "MVP Mode." Sound familiar?
9. The hit detection on the "steal" move is super iffy. Or maybe I just suck at it. I'm gonna say both.
10. I swear the computer cheats like nobody's business. "Oh, you're beating me? Well good luck defending anything anymore!"
11. Controls are smooth, and get the job done.
12. The sprite design and animation are great. It always is with these Sunsoft LT games.
13. I had my best success with a team of three-point shooters. Playing defense is just too unreliable, so I was better off just trying to put up more points in a shootout.
14. Wikipedia claims the ball will sometimes "randomly turn into a dog."
15. I never saw that happen.
16. After a while the games all start playing out exactly the same. Drive, shoot, attack, steal, drive, shoot, attack, steal. This gets really repetitive.
17. For that reason this is a game that is best played with friends.
18. Luckily, it supports the multitap, for up to five-player play.
19. I did bust this out at a game night, but it wasn't exactly a raging success. People just wanted to play NBA Jam instead.
20. It really seems like a missed opportunity to not have some sort of "story" mode or something. Anything to break up the action.
21. Instead you just get a plain ol' tournament. Defeat an opponent, and then move on to the next one.
22. Overall I can't recommend it over the Jam series, but fans of those games should at least check it out.
23. But it is approximately one billion times better than RapJam, Shut up and Jam, or Jammit.
24. Uh... running out of things to say here...
25. Yes, I did this because I'm a lazy mofo and I couldn't immediately think of something else to do.

Did I beat it?
God no. The cheating computer always puts an end to any thoughts of that.

#313 - Mr. Nutz

Remember back when Conker's Bad Fur Day from Rare wasn't a game about a swearing, pissing, hungover squirrel that acted like a gigantic asshole? When it was still just a regular ol' (3D) platformer with a different title and a cuddly PBS-Kids-worthy Conker? That's THIS game. A squirrel hopping around and gathering up acorns like a cheerful boy scout, instead of acting like a raging alcoholic.

And that's more than just a superficial comparison, because I have no doubt this is the platformer equivalent of the game Conker was originally meant to have been. By that, I mean a perfectly competent - but also completely generic and sanitized - game that is intended primarily for children. Not to say it isn't perfectly playable for everyone else, but this is absolutely more of a kids' game.

Gameplay is very basic. Mostly, it boils down to whizzing through linear levels, with a very limited moveset of jump, dash, throw projectile, and then some sort of ducking swing-your-tail move that seems completely pointless. You'll use these to get through baby's-first-platformer-style levels, with near-harmless enemies, easy platforming, and lots of cutesy enemies. Again, think Rare, before Rare was doing N64-era Rare things.

The bosses are pretty frickin' cool looking though, and all of them at least had some thought put into them. Their designs I mean. The actual battles are... eh, above average. Not bad for a cuddly mascot platformer in any case, that's for sure.
Beyond that, there's not much to say. It's a platformer, something I've written about a hundred times already, and something about which I'm running out of interesting things to say. Though, at least I am getting closer and closer to being through them all. Which means Mr. Nutz is among the best of this sort of ilk. We're still not in the realm of "very good" or "great" ones (and there's still more than a few of those left), but we are getting closer.

Did I beat it?
I did, the very first time I sat down to play it.

#312 - War 2410

So, remember just a few pages back when I covered War 3010? It's a spacefaring turn-based strategy game where you guide a fleet of abstract icons against other enemy abstract icons. It was a tough, but fun experience, that's held back by a few little annoyances that prevented me from ever loving it. Well, not loving it, so much as just maybe really liking it.

War 2410 is the first game in that series, despite playing almost nothing like its sequel. In fact, if it weren't for the similar titles, you'd almost have no idea that these games were even related. Instead of flying ships through the vast depths of space, here you command land-based armies of tanks, APCs, and infantry, in addition to several types of planes. And while War 3010's missions resemble puzzles, requiring you to figure out how to outmaneuver and outsmart vastly superior enemy forces, this game is more about... well, outmaneuvering and outsmarting vastly superior enemy forces. Okay, maybe they're not totally different. But they certainly don't look anything alike.

Now, am I gonna once again make the super obvious comparison with the Famicom Wars series? Do I even need to answer that question? Not that I want to give anyone the wrong idea that the two series are remotely equal, because they're not. End of story. Just go ahead and squash that seed of thought right now. Because this game cannot begin to compare to anything in that fabled Nintendo series. By comparison, War 2410 is way too simple, way too limited, and way less challenging. But that doesn't mean I can't like it.

Missions typically involve destroying overwhelmingly large enemy forces (a strategy game standby) across decently large maps made up of long winding roads, dense forests, impassable mountains, and sprawling deserts and grasslands. Fortresses are strategically placed to give you places to hunker down and survive against enemy strikes, providing both regenerative powers and added defense...

[Note - Do they though? It's been a few years since I've played this so I'm not 100% sure on that]
[Yes they do - editor]

The main problem with this game is that it's too easy. Or at least that the AI is too easily duped. 90% of the time you can effectively squat in a defensive position and whittle away stupid enemy troops who decide to wander into range. Or you lead them on wild goose chases so that you can pick them apart as they spread their lines thin. Not that I expect amazing computer smarts from a console game from the mid 90s, but they certainly could have come up with something that put up more of a fight.

The game is also pretty lacking in... what's the word I'm looking for? Chutzpah? Sizzle? Because there's no bosses, no super units, no storyline, no standout missions, nothing. Just your tanks and airplanes against theirs. Those are the sorts of things that separate a game in the 300s, from a game that is considered a strategy classic. The difference between War 2410 and Advance Wars, in other words.
So is War 2410 gonna compete with any of the much deeper Koei games the system offers? No. Is it comparable to a Famicom Wars game? Not really. Has it aged well compared to the thousands of strategy games that have come since? Probably not. But I still like it. It's a much quicker experience than Super Conflict, and a much less confusing one than War 3010. And sometimes I don't want to spend an hour reading a Koei manual before tackling the actual game. I just want simple, brainless play. This game provides it.

Did I beat it?
I did. I'm probably one of the few people in the history of the world who can say that.

#311 - John Madden Football '93

#310 - Madden NFL '94

For those keeping track, I already covered the first (to be released on the SNES) John Madden Football game a little ways back. It was a deeply flawed game that may have showed a lot of promise, but none of it would be realized until later entries in the series. The next two games, '93 and '94, go a long way towards fulfilling that promise.

For one, everything is much nicer-looking and sounding this time around. Both games use the same engine, which features much crisper player models and sounds, with sharp menus, playbooks, and detailed game summaries. The '94 game also brought along the official NFL license, making it the first title on the system to not only hold the license, but actually be worth a shit too.

Second, and this is the big one, is that the action is upgraded, big time, over the original game. Passing the ball is much more feasible now, though still not perfect, and the running game gets a nice bump too. The plays in action start to resemble an action football game, and various offensive and defensive strategies are now much more feasible.

Now for the hangups. The worst of which is, and I don't know the best way to describe it, the offensive and defensive lines present something of a wall. Mostly, they seem to bat down entirely too many passes. Or perhaps the quarterbacks just have a nasty habit of throwing low. In any case, it makes you feel like you're rocking Doug Flutie out there, so you're better off throwing to "out" routes, or deeper balls. Anything short and over the middle of the field is a waste of time.

Related to that issue, is what I can only describe as "thick" players. There's just no give to anything. It's way too hard to run past players, or get through the line because the hitboxes on the various players feel too... squatty. Too fat. Which means you almost always just want to try and run around or hurdle past opponents. This makes the inside run game really suffer. And I think EA must have realized this, because this is something they corrected with later games in the franchise, which I'll be covering soon enough. It's a big setback in these two games though.

As for differences between the two games, it doesn't really matter. I've owned Madden NFL '94 since I was a kid (it was literally the first SNES game, or console game in general that I ever got), so that is where I've spent 99.99% of my time. Going back to John Madden Football '93, it felt like the exact same game. Just with rosters that were one year older, and without the league's license.

So while I think the Madden games in general are definitely in the top half of the system's library... or hell, probably the top 25% considering how many of them I've already suffered through, there is still a lot of room for improvement with them, which we'll get to in a bit.

Did I beat Madden 93?
Yes, probably with the Redskins or Giants.

Did I beat Madden 94?
Many, many, many times.

#309 - Raiden Trad
A shmup! A real, live shmup! I haven't covered one since D-Force a million years ago (not counting HyperZone and The Rocketeer and whatever else) which kinda goes to show you what I think of them collectively. I mean, I know the Super Nintendo's lineup of shmups kind of gets shit on compared to stuff like the Genesis or Saturn (or PS1 or TurboGrafx or... basically everything), but I swear they're collectively a pretty decent bunch. Granted, only a few are truly elite, but most of them are at least fun. Mostly.

Raiden Trad is some sort of Engrish name for a port of the original grand daddy Raiden: the ubiquitous arcade game that was found in every single Pizza Hut you've ever been to, ported to every single system that's ever existed, and still gets follow ups thirty years later. It's kind of one of the games.

So what is a Raiden game? I guess it's a very, very early type of bullet hell. Enemies are constantly pouring in, turrets are popping out, tanks are crawling by, all of them unleashing as many bullets at you as possible. Not that anyone would ever confuse an early Raiden title with something newer like DoDonPachi or Ikaruga, but it certainly seems like some of those ideas started to manifest with titles like this.

Trad's controls are super solid, and simple, like usual. Move, shoot, bomb. You know the deal. There's also just two upgrade paths to take, one being more of a spread attack and the other being a focused forward-firing deal. Again, nothing too complicated there.

Enemies are also pretty basic, and most of them die pretty quickly. We're talking run-of-the-mill flying stuff, driving stuff, floating stuff, and stuff that pops up from underground. There also isn't really anything resembling a miniboss of sorts either. Just basic mooks. Bosses are also generally pretty bland looking. Most of them are basically just large tank-like contraptions or large flying ships. Again, nothing you haven't seen a billion times.

Now the bad stuff. The SNES version is generally considered one of the worst versions of the game, and though I haven't played all of them, I don't doubt it. For one, the game looks and sounds like shit. Only D-Force really comes off worse in the visuals department, but at least that one had the decency to leave us with a fun soundtrack. Raiden Trad just offers some sort of awful "funky" tinny sounding deal that you can't even really hear over the sounds of your guns constantly firing.

The amount of sprite flicker and slowdown is also regularly pervasive. One of the later bosses has so much sprite flicker as to be nearly broken, since it's nearly impossible to tell where his attacks are. In addition, one of the upgraded forms of the "laser" attack (or beam attack, or whatever it is) is similarly hideous. We're talking sub-NES graphics. I'm not sure how something like that gets through QA, but someone dropped the ball with this stuff.

Still... for all the crap I just gave it, Raiden Trad is fun. Every time I sat down to play it, even if I just needed to revisit a small part of it for the purposes of writing this review, I didn't stop until I beat it. That's the sign of a game that is fun to play. It may be a hamstrung version of a classic, and it may be a very aged classic, but it's a classic nonetheless.

So that's two shmups down, and quite a few to go. I think most people will have fun with Raiden Trad, including the purists who would scoff at what a botched port it is. But there is much better to come.

Did I beat it?
Quite a few times.

#308 - X-Kaliber 2097

Ever heard of this game? No? Well, donít be surprised, because no one else has either.

When I finished my playthrough of X-Kaliber 2097 - not to be confused with Excalibur 2555 AD - I was shocked to see Japanese names in the credits. Why? Because I would have sworn that this was a Western-developed game. A Western game that was trying really, really hard to ape its Japanese counterparts, but never really completely succeeding. Turns out itís just a regular old Japanese game thatís aping better Japanese games.

And why did I feel that way? Because if there is any series Iíd compare it to, itís Segaís Shinobi. I guess because It just has that "Sega feel" to the action. Not that I can explain what a ďSega feelĒ is either. Itís just one of those things where I know it when I play it.

Although I should probably pump the brakes here, and clarify that this game is not really fit to hold any of the classic Shinobiís ...uh, ninja jocks. In fact, holding it up alongside such great games only reveals it to be a pale imitation, make no mistake about that. The levels are unmemorable, the combat simple, and the enemies nondescript. And thereís no sign of Spider-Man, Batman or Godzilla anywhere.

Yet, unimaginative second-rate Shinobi-ness aside, I still have fun playing it. A second-rate Sega knockoff is, evidently, still a fun thing. The controls are solid, the graphics are solid, the platforming is solidÖ itís a solid game.

And I really dig the boss fights, which mostly (all?) consist of sword fights against other dudesÖ with swords. Like youíre re-enacting Highlander at the end of every level. Not that this game would be mistaken for Bushido Blade anytime soon, but theyíre a nice change of pace from other games.

So, if you dig the thought of messing around with a poor manís Shinobi, or you like the idea of fencing against bosses, this is the game for you. Itís not gonna be for everyone, and no one is gonna think itís great, but you may have a good time with it. I did.

Did I beat it?
Yep, a couple different times.

#307 - Animaniacs

Animaniacs is another title that has jumped all over my rankings throughout the years, though mostly in a "positive" direction. When I first popped it into my SNES, I was flabbergasted within minutes. "What the hell is that slot machine at the bottom of the screen? Where did my teammates go? I have to replay all of this when I die?" Suffice it to say, it was not a good first impression. And when I realized every death meant having to go back to the same water tower level to rescue your teammates, over and over again, I called it quits.

A few years later I came back to it, played for a few more minutes, remembered why I had quit in the first place, and promptly gave up again.

The THIRD time though, that was the charm. I came in knowing it was my final chance to get anywhere in this game, and vowed to stick with it. And I'm glad I did, because I ended up playing through the entire thing in that same sitting. I could have made a grievous mistake in writing this game off too quickly, which is a primary example as to exactly why I force myself to play every single one of these games many, many times, before I am confident in their placement.

I'm not sure what Konami was thinking when they came up with the design of this game, but they were obviously trying to think outside the box. As you guide Snap, Crackle, and Pop (I don't know their actual names, I didn't watch the show [*gasp* - editor]) through the different areas of a studio movie lot, you are free to enter several different soundstages (in any order you choose), all of which are mocked up as different movie genres. Which means we are treated to my favorite part of this game: movie references. I'm talking about Star Wars, Alien, Terminator 2, Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Neverending Story, and more. They may not officially be the actual characters or monsters from those properties, but trust me, they totally are.

As you traverse each set you use your trio of rascals to fight off simple, movie-themed enemies, solve simple puzzles, and do lots and lots of platforming. Simple, common stuff, right? Well, sort of. One of the major differences from other games is the slot machine that is constantly running at the bottom of the screen. Every time you pick up a coin it starts rolling. If you're really good at collecting them, it's gonna be going nonstop. And what does it do? Doles out random rewards. Respawns your dead allies, temporarily powers you up, gives out extra lives, etc. It's a wild card.

Another difference is in the way you control all three characters at once. But, in what I can only assume is a bizarre oversight, this game has no multiplayer. I just... how does that happen? You have a game that is absolutely perfectly set up for cooperative play, and you don't offer it? That seems like a major miss by Konami.

The game also has some great, highly imaginative boss fights. Instead of just phoning it in like so many other platformers, Konami gave each and every one of them its own personality, turning them all into puzzles that need to be solved. It's the sort of thing more games should do.

Qualms? The water tower stage is pretty annoying. That's where you have to go each time one of your teammates is captured by the security guard, and though it only takes a minute to complete, I had my fill after being forced to play through it half a dozen times. I also find it endlessly annoying that you can't move on the Y axis when jumping. Why do games do that? And the unorthodox design is off-putting, I can't deny it. There is a reason I quit on it the first two times I popped it in, and I have no doubt that many people will not enjoy this game.

So there we have it. One of the first legit Konami games, and probably the first title of theirs I've covered that I actually like. It's not great, and there are obviously dozens more in the pipeline that I have yet to get to - all better than this one. But it's a good start.

Did I beat it?
Yep. Third time's the charm.

#306 - Aerobiz

#305 - Aerobiz Supersonic

Back during my senior year of college, I had to take a course that centered entirely around the simulation of managing a production company. It had an elaborate spreadsheet, and required you to adjust a number of different parameters in order to figure out how to maximize profitability over a long period of time.

These games are that class. Which makes it a college business class in video game form. Take that as you will. So the important question here is "Did I enjoy that course?" Well, I did. So I enjoyed these games. And I guess that's the rub here; can you find enjoyment in manipulating budgets and moving assets around? Do you find the thought of negotiating new airport spots in Lima to be exciting? Does undercutting your foes by slashing prices make you feel tingly all over?

The basic flow to Aerobiz:

1 - Each "turn" is one financial quarter.
2 - You will need to send your team of three managers out to negotiate for new airport slots in major cities around the world. These will take 3-9 months (1-3 turns) to secure.
3 - New flights can be "opened" from any city where you have an office and available slots, to any nearby city where you also have available slots. Longer flights require planes with greater range.
4 - New planes can be bought and old ones sold.
5 - You can set your service, maintenance, and advertising budgets.
6 - Stock can be purchased or sold in various chartering companies around the globe. I don't fully understand the nuances here, but basically, you'll want to invest any extra capital so that it earns interest instead of just wasting away in your coffers.
7 - New offices can be constructed in new cities so that they can act as new hubs for your empire.
8 - Occasionally new plane types are rolled out. I'm fairly sure these follow actual historical dates.
9 - Once you have 30 connections running (the max), the focus turns from expanding your empire to optimizing it. Fighting your opponents for the customers' attention. Optimizing which planes are doing which flights. Running ad campaigns, or building hotels in your destination cities.

And that's really it. It seems daunting at first (all Koei games are), but it's actually rather simple once you get into it. Build, invest, buy, expand, sell, budget, optimize. Rinse and repeat until you have way more customers than everyone else. And, yeah, there are a few other things that I didn't fully understand or get into here, but that really is the bulk of the game.

And it works. The game is fun to play, satisfying to conquer, and anyone with a soft spot for plugging numbers into a spreadsheet is gonna have a ball. You may laugh at that last one, but I assure you those people exist.

Now, is Aerobiz perfect? Of course not. I wouldn't have it all the way down here if it were. And the problems are glaring enough that I was forced to hold it back a bit more than I initially thought I would.

First, the game can get very repetitive. Quickly. I played through it after a couple false starts where I figured out what I was doing, and it was smooth sailing from that point. You just need to do the same dozen things over and over again until you win. By the time I beat it, I had more than had my fill.

Second, the interface has typical Koei console game shortcomings. Want to slash prices on your entire catalog of flights in order to drive the Mexicans out of business? Well get ready to click the A button about one thousand times. And be prepared to spend lots of time looking at the screen doing nothing, or holding down X to (barely) speed up the action.

Finally, as much as I made it sound like there is a lot going on here (and there definitely is compared to most other SNES games), at the end of the day I found the game a bit too limited. Hand-in-hand with the overly repetitive nature of the game, is that I really don't see multiple ways to play it. You pretty much have to come to grips with the sole way to win the game, and then execute it. Which means I imagine every game ends up playing out exactly the same. I'm not sure that is really something I can claim for many other Koei games.

Still, I did have fun with it. And Koei nerds will dig it. And spreadsheet nerds. Most everyone else was already scared off long before they read anything I had to say about it.

For the sequel, Aerobiz Supersonic, Koei... kind of didn't try very hard. At all. It's more-or-less the same game, with a few new scenarios, more cities, more types of planes, covers a bigger span of time, and changes up a few of the mechanics and features a bit, while keeping the same fundamental gameplay pretty much intact.

The biggest shake-up is how the playing field is separated into separate regions now. So now instead of setting up 30 different routes across the globe, and trying to maximize your cash and how many different people you have using your airline, you try to "conquer" the seven different individual regions (North America, South America, Europe, and so forth). You are also now limited to using one city per region as a main hub, which means all flights in said region must operate out of that city. I suppose this is meant to force you to play more strategically, but I just felt it made things more limiting. Half the time I wouldn't even have anything to do on my turn, because I was really only configuring seven different hubs now, instead of setting up flights all across the globe like I was in the first game.

Improvements include changes to how information about your opponents is fed into the game. It's now much easier to tell what they are up to, where they're expanding to, and how they're doing. There is also much less waiting around for them to complete their turns.

Other interface refinements include ticket prices being incremented in 5% blocks, and easier maintenance of existing flights. Modifying 30 different flights was a bit of a nightmare in the first game. Now it's a slightly less meddlesome nightmare.

There are also a few new types of hotels/attractions to build/buy, for whatever difference that makes, in addition to the new different types of advertising campaigns available for you to run, for whatever difference that makes.

Finally, investing is gone, replaced by those expanded "business" options. For whatever difference that makes.

So if you like Aerobiz, you have a game that is basically Aerobiz Deluxe Version. A slightly expanded take on the game, that's probably a wash as far as which one is better.

Did I beat Aerobiz?
I did, from the home base of Tokyo, after several failed attempts from various locales in the US.

Did I beat Supersonic?
I did. It's basically the same thing, so if you can beat Aerobiz, you can beat the sequel.

#304 - Wolfchild

Wolfchild aka Your Amiga is a Werewolf [No one is gonna get that one - editor], is a game that brings up a lot of conflicting feelings within me. On the one hand, it's a game where you get to "Hadouken" people in the face as a werewolf, while some sweet-ass tunes rock in the background. On the other hand, it's super unpolished, as if it was never fully finished, or saw any sort of testing or anything. Which is crazy to me because I feel like this thing got ported to every system that existed in its day. God knows enough people had their hands on it enough times if that was the case.

Once again, I'm going to describe the gameplay is feeling very "Amiga-ish," whatever that could possibly even mean. Maybe it's like pornography; you know it when you see it (or in this case, feel it). And this game has the "feel" 100%.

Typical levels involve lots of platforming and busting guys in the face. Or at least that's what you do when you're in your human form. Most of the time you are powered up into the wolf, where your attacks become ranged, and much more powerful. Almost overly powerful; you can roll through just about anyone when you're the wolf. Not so much when you're the dude. Moral of the story? Always be the wolf [Brilliant - editor].

I also love the sprites, sound, and overall atmosphere of the game. It's a playthrough that just oozes atmosphere. Like how on the world map where you can see that you start out on a flying ship of sorts, and then land on the outskirts of the island before working your way towards the base at the center. That's awesome. I don't know what's going on in the storyline (there's no dialog or cutscenes in-game), but I can only assume the whole setup is heavily inspired by the likes of Escape from New York, which is alright by me. And you can feel it when you're playing the game. Why is our main character a werewolf/wolfman/whatever-it-is? Who knows. Why is he on this island? Who knows. But he kicks some serious ass alright.

The game also has lots of great little touches spread throughout. Like when you infiltrate some kind of factory or lab of sorts, fending off other types of human/animal hybrids. At one point you run across some tanks which explode to reveal... octopus men. Ones that run around flailing tentacles and not doing much else. I cracked up. Or the final boss battle, which takes a page from the Japanese book of game development, and has your foe mutate into some sort of grotesque uber-Wolfchild for his second form. I love that sort of thing.

All that praise aside, the balance to the difficulty feels severely out of whack. Going back to that whole "this doesn't feel tested" thing I mentioned before, the game is rife with cheap hits hiding around most corners, something they compensated for by adding a ridiculous number of heals throughout the game. The bosses are also a collective fail for the most part. They look awesome, but most of the fights are a total joke, as defeating them means finding a single gap in their pattern and cheesing the hell out of it.

So, a fun Amiga game, and an experience that is loads better than previous titles like Zool or Super Putty. But there's still some much better ones left to go.

Did I beat it?
I did. Once you get into a groove it's actually fairly easy.

#303 - Super Widget

Alright, I could have sworn that this game was based on an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. In fact, I was running with that assumption for at least the last decade. All the way until two minutes ago, when I picked up the cart, studying it and trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to talk about. Cue me noticing there is indeed zero HB icons stamped on the cartridge art, and the light bulb finally going off. Maybe I was thinking of the Great Gazoo this whole time.

Well, evidently Super Widget (and regular ol' Widget for Nintendo for that matter) was based on some American cartoon from the early '90s that I've never heard of. I'm guessing no one else has either, but it must have made enough of a splash to warrant the commission of multiple video games. That or Atlus was really dumb. After all, they did bring this to the States, while leaving behind all those Shin Megami games and Tactics Ogre. I'm not saying those were the most bone-headed localization decisions of the era, but they're up there. America's puritanism aside.

Anyway, Super Widget. It's a platformer (aren't they all?). This one is about some little alien guy who can... uh, transform... into stuff... I think? Christ, I can't remember. My notes tell me I was feeling a ranking right around the 250-300 spots, but I should probably revisit it sooner rather than later to be on the safe side.

*a couple nights later*

Okay, now I know why I couldn't remember anything. It's a very standard platformer that plays things exceedingly safe.

One game that kept coming to mind while I was playing it was Felix the Cat for NES. Not because I would say the two games actually have anything in common, but more because they give me similar vibes. Both are relatively easy platformers, with smooth controls, sharp and colorful graphics, and gameplay that is as stress-free as these sort of things get. I'd almost call both of them relaxing. In a good way.

I guess the main "thing" going on here is that Widget can progress through a series of power-ups that morph him into all sorts of ghastly creatures. First, some sort of bird Widget (birdget?), which leads to an upgraded form of insect Widget (complete with upgraded jump). Other forms include some sort of knight guy (upgraded attack), an octopus thing (upgraded swim), a hermit crab thing (???), and so forth.

You also get several rankings, and something called watcher points, after completing each area. I don't know (or don't remember) what these things do for you, but presumably they either award extra lives or continues, or are merely used for earning high scores. Either way, I love when games do stuff like that.

Beyond that, it's a platformer. Hop-and-bop your way through levels, collect a bunch of doo-dads, and kill a bunch of bosses. Standard stuff.

So while the game isn't anything great, it is fun, and I don't really have any major complaints about it. Sure, it doesn't bring much of anything exceptional to the table, but it gets the job done.

Did I beat it?
Yep. Would have done it again for this write-up, but I ran out of time.

#302 - Dungeon Master

Ho boy, here we go: Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. Two of the more intimidating games in the entire library, and probably the first two entries where I'd have been happy to write an entire book going over my experiences playing them, explaining what I think about them, and why I think it. But I'm not gonna do that. In fact, I'm gonna try my darn-tootinest to be as succinct as possible with both of them. We'll see how it goes.

By now, it should be obvious to everyone who has been paying attention that I dig the conventional Western RPGs that were ported onto the system. I mean, until now, the only ones I've gotten to were Obitus, which barely qualifies as an RPG, and the recently written-about Drakkhen. And we're already 400+ games deep into this thing.

But before I get into Dungeon Master, I guess I should bring up two major points...

1 - Is the average person going to enjoy either one of these games as much as me? Not bloody likely. These are VERY old games, with a lot of the baggage that comes alongside ancient role playing experiences. That means creaky interfaces, cryptic hints, a severe lack of maps, unrelentingly harsh difficulties, super long quests, zero hand-holding, and a whole lot of frustration. Good luck with all of that.

2 - You're almost certainly going to be better off playing both of them on a different system. I know I've already made that whole spiel about trying to avoid talking about other versions of the different titles I'm covering, but sometimes I have to point out the obvious. Both games were meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. And graphing paper. And a notebook. And an ancient online bulletin board to talk to the other players around the world. And an insane amount of patience.

I'm not gonna dive into a detailed history of the genre - there are plenty of other such essays floating around on the web I'm sure - but everyone should know that Dungeon Master is considered something of a landmark title in the dungeon-crawling genre. While it technically wasn't the first of its kind (I think that honor goes to Wizardry), it was the first to offer this sort of visceral, fast-paced experience. By that I mean real-time combat, enemies hiding around every corner, lethal traps to fall into, and an ever-impending sense of dread hanging over your head. I can't imagine they were intended for the faint of heart.

When you start your journey, you select an assortment of warriors from some "portraits" that are hanging on the dungeon walls (yes, you read that right). It's not a very good system, and it's an early indicator that outside sources of help are almost a requirement for anyone who is serious about getting into this game.

After rounding up your party of four, you proceed into the depths to stop some guy from doing something bad (I didn't pay attention to the storyline, assuming there even was one). Like in modern dungeon crawlers, that means beating up on bad guys, finding new gear, drinking potions, gaining levels, and solving puzzles. Hey, if it ainít broke, don't fix it.

One of the ways DM deviates significantly from the standards (or perhaps the standards didn't exist yet) is in the way it handles magic. You see, instead of earning new spells as you gain levels, or "memorizing" them like you would in D&D (and hence, how it's handled in Eye of the Beholder), magic is controlled with a rune system. A really stupid system at that. As you can see in the upper right portion of the screenshots, there are five runes visible at any time. The first five assign the "body" of magic, then a second selection focuses on a specific spell, and then a final selection decides the spell's power. As long as you know which runes to select, you actually have immediate access to every single spell in the game right off the bat. Of course that is constrained by two other factors: having enough MP to cast the spell, and actually coming across some sort of scroll or journal that tells you the combination of runes to use in the first place.

Now, while that may sound great and all, it really becomes a pain in the ass in practice. There's no way to shortcut a spell, or keep tabs on which combination of runes are what, so you just have to memorize everything. And since all combat is in real-time, hope that you don't accidentally fat-finger one of them in the heat of battle. Overall, this lends to a lot of frustration in my opinion, with an overly complicated system that is never user-friendly.

Of course, I should mention that spells can be "queued" up ahead of time, but doing so forces you into a hard commit on spending MP, something which is a valuable commodity, especially early in the game, so you really have to know what you're doing before you go down that road.

Another major issue with the game is how much sheer micromanagement there is. Not only do you have to painfully organize and babysit four characters' large and expansive inventories (including chests or bags that hold even more items), but you also have to keep tabs on your hunger and encumbrance-

[Wait, was encumbrance in Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder? Both? The two playthroughs are starting to merge together in my head... no, it was definitely Dungeon Master. Definitely. I think.]

I don't know about you, but there are three things I hate more than anything in the world (of video games): managing fuel, managing weight, and managing food. It's all so goddamn annoying.

The difficulty is also wildly all over the place. Things start out pretty rough as you try to get your bearings and deal with an undergeared and underleveled party. Things then calm down as you amass items to keep you alive, but then hit one of many roadblocks when you get to the floor with the ghosts. Or the one with the lichs. Or the one with the dragon. And on and on. Instead of one smooth upward line, the difficulty curve resembles the DOW Jones: careening wildly all over the place.

The final boss also has to be one of the most frustrating I've ever encountered. On any platform. It's not even a fight so much as it is a puzzle, but it's one that is heavily dependent on luck, and trying over and over again until you get it right. Honestly, I'm not even sure how I eventually managed to finish him off without dying, something that required a perfect storm of events and liberal use of saves.

But for all those complaints (and there were a lot of them), I had a great time with the game. I love exploring dungeons, slowly chipping away at the maps, growing more powerful, and finding cool gear. I love having a tough fight finally come together and result in victory. And this game provides a lot of all of that. Granted, I spent a decent amount of my playthrough wanting to scream at my TV, and I don't think I have the fortitude to ever play this again, but the satisfaction from clearing it was so immense, I wanted to stand up and cheer (I probably considered it, but my wife would have disowned me). So even though I'm not the average person when it comes to patience for this sort of thing, and only the most hardcore of players should even consider popping this thing into their system, I think it's a good game. If you're into old ass RPGs, or old ass PC games, or just want to see where stuff like this all began, there's a lot offered here.

Did I beat it?
Yep. It nearly broke me a few times, but I stuck with it.

#301 - Eye of the Beholder

One of the coolest little sets of video games from the late 1980s to early 1990s has to be SSI's famed "gold box" series of Dungeon & Dragons adaptations. Comprised of dozens of different games that were primarily released for PC, Mac, and Amiga, the series is fondly remembered for its contributions to the role playing genre. The console crowd is probably most familiar with the four AD&D games that were also released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, including titles like Pools of Radiance and Heroes of the Lance. Only one title was released for the Super Nintendo however, and whether it was the fact that those NES ports were poorly received, or because the line started to die out during the 90s, Eye of the Beholder is the sole gold box game that I'll get to cover.

Now, it is no coincidence that I have this guy lined up right next to Dungeon Master, because the two titles may as well be twin brothers. After eyeing the success of the earlier game, SSI must have felt that they could do the genre one better, so they came up with their own take on it. Which means you should think of this game as a spiritual successor to DM; one that is set in the Forgotten Realms (specifically, Waterdeep) and loosely incorporates some of the AD&D rules (or at least that's my understanding of things; I've never actually played D&D in any of its tabletop forms). [Your nerd card has been revoked - editor]

Just like in Dungeon Master, you will assemble a team of heroes and venture down into one massively large dungeon that is the titular beholder's domain. You'll manage large inventories of gear, outfit your characters via a "paper doll" setup, solve puzzles, battle hundreds of enemies in real-time combat, get hopelessly lost, and die thousands of times. All while trying not to starve, die of dehydration, get crushed by traps, succumb to poison, or fall to your death.

Unfortunately - and I don't know if these complaints are specific to the game or just to this version of it - for every two steps forward it takes from Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder seems to take two steps backward as well. For every new idea, or refinement of an older one, there's an issue with how the game runs, or some other irritation. In the end it's almost a net wash between the two. I can't really say one is better than the other, they're just slightly different.

For instance, the biggest issue, far and away, is that this game is s-l-o-w. One of the slowest on the system. Even though I called the game "real-time," it's more like a real-time, turn-based hybrid. Anyone who has played something like Baldur's Gate or Dragon Age: Origins should hopefully have some idea of what I'm talking about. For those who haven't, try to understand that nothing is ever paused, but every action you take is added to a queue of sorts, which the game seems to execute in some sort of behind-the-scenes way. So you'll tell your team to move forward and unleash a series of attacks. The problem is, it might be a while before any of those things happen. A real long time in some cases. It gets bad enough that there were many occasions where I was unsure if my game had locked up, and I set the controller down contemplating if I should reset the system. We're talking 20+ seconds. And then the processor catches up and a whirlwind of things happen really fast. And you probably die.

The system for how enemies respawn is also completely borked. As in, there doesn't appear to even be a system; just a free-for-all of random things happening. It is not uncommon to clear out a nest of enemies, get stabbed in the back the instant you turn around, have another enemy stab you in the back once you turn to face the first one, and so forth, going on indefinitely. This can present some real issues, especially early on in the game, where you can potentially screw yourself with quicksaving in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just assume you're never safe at any time.

Also, remember how I mentioned that I hate having to manage things like fuel, food, or weight? Well, Eye of the Beholder ups the ante even more by adding yet another resource to manage - water. As if all the other things weren't bad enough already. Granted, it's more of a minor nuisance than anything, and later in the game you'll be well stocked with containers to fill up when you come across any fountains or wells, but early on it's just another headache and constraint on your inventory. Thankfully, the game does do Dungeon Master one better by eventually giving you access to a "create food" spell, permanently solving that particular headache. But it's still mentally draining having to constantly check various meters to make sure your team is not about to keel over.

Magic uses the typical D&D system: memorize your wizardry and clerical spells, rest, and then wake up with a finite supply of single-shot casts. It's a classic system, and I think it works well... sort of. The real-time combat means scrolling through a spellbook with a cursor while holding a SNES controller as a mob of enemies stares you down, which means you're quite likely to get royally fucked up while trying to find a spell, but that seems like an intentional design to add to the challenge. I guess, get really good at doing it fast, awkward as it is, if you plan to use it with any real success.

Just like in Dungeon Master, the challenge is wildly uneven at times too. Some enemies are pushovers, while others are gigantic headaches. Some floors are deviously put together, and others are a breeze. Overall, I would say that the game is at least easier and more forgiving, but still wickedly hard compared to other SNES RPGs.

Still, all of these problems aside, I had a great time playing through the game. Yeah I'm an RPG guy, and yeah I'm also a Western computer RPG guy, but these games still hold up in my opinion. You have to look through the dusty interfaces and sadistic challenges, and enjoy the ride. The sort of deep experience that wasn't too common on consoles at the time.

By the end of my run through EotB, I felt completely drained. The whole experience was an awesome one, and one that I'm super grateful I got to experience, but it's an exhausting and demanding one. How many times did I have to reload my saves? How many times was I ambushed by the unforgiving respawn rates? How many times did I want to throw my controller? If you have that sort of patience, or you're curious to see how far this genre has come in the last thirty years, check it out. I make no promises that you'll like it (you probably won't), but those who do, will find a whole lot of game here.

Did I beat it?
I did. I had very low expectations going in, but as with all RPGs I was determined to get through it regardless of how my experience shaped up. It ended up being a very pleasant surprise.