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Guilty Pleasure #1
#350 - Super High Impact

At last, we have reached the "guilty pleasures" section of this project. You have no idea how long I've been wanting to get to these 10 9 10 games, because I've worked on curating this little selection of titles since well before the first few write-ups were posted a couple of years ago. Actually, the only other thing that has really changed in all that time was their placement. I've shuffled them from an original set of spots at the #250 mark, moved them down to #300, and finally, landed here at #350. Why the constant changes? I guess you can blame the growing number of games I enjoy on the Super Nintendo, which has caused me to keep shifting everything "upwards." If you follow what I'm saying. Or maybe I just like too many games.

Super High Impact is basically a proto-NFL Blitz of sorts. As in, lots of ridiculous action, bone-jarring hits, cartoony characters and nothing resembling a real football game to be found anywhere. Both titles also originated in the arcades, where simple controls and fast-paced gameplay are the rule.

Now, I do have to admit that the game is painfully limited in scope - no doubt a carryover from its arcade roots - because all it offers are a small handful of teams to choose between (all of whom appear to play exactly the same), and the sole option to play single games. No seasons, tournaments, playoffs, create-a-team, nothing.

So why is this thing being honored (perhaps dubiously) with a "guilty pleasure" tag? I guess because of how ridiculous it is. The screenshots (and the photograph of my CRT at the end there) tell most of the story. It's 90s 'tude to the max, mixed with a gloriously silly and over-the-top presentation, and wickedly fast gameplay that makes little sense in motion, but always provides plenty of hilarity. Even the player animations are (purposely?) stilted in the weirdest way. It's all a great time.

Now of course there isn't much going on here other than all of that ridiculousness. The actual football is very basic and there's not enough meat to its bones to really make you want to keep coming back. Anyone looking for balanced gameplay is playing the wrong game. But it's the perfect cartridge to bust out for game night, when it's more important to have everyone laughing and having a good time.

Did I beat it?
You can only play single games, so... yes?

Guilty Pleasure #2
#349 - GunForce

Okay, let me just go right out and say it...

This game is shit. In almost every way. The control scheme is horrid, the framerate is abysmal, the sound is a total mess, the level design is weak, there's no balance whatsoever to the difficulty curve, and the entire playthrough lasts all of ten minutes. Maybe fifteen if you suck.

So why do I keep playing it? Well, before I go any further, let me show you a screenshot of GunForce II, an arcade exclusive:

Look familiar? Like, really familiar? Because anyone who knows their video games should recognize a Metal Slug whens theys sees it (people talk like that, right?). Which means - you guessed it - GunForce, released in the arcades and then shoddily ported over to the Super Nintendo, is something of a Metal Slug predecessor. As in, you can think of this as Metal Slug 0.1 or something.

I don't know if I would say the Metal Slug series is the preeminent run n gun shooter franchise on the planet (that would probably be Contra), but it's close. Neck and neck really. Because almost every single part of what makes up an MS game is sublime. The controls, the graphics (those sprites are to die for), the animation, the humor, everything. It's probably the best thing SNK has ever done.

GunForce, on the other hand, is what would happen if I figured out how to code in hex, and tried to make my own 16-bit Metal Slug. And I didn't do such a great job of it. Take every single part of one of those games, and make it worse, and less reliable, and sloppy, and unfinished. That's this game. Which is kind of endearing in a way. Almost like a "demake." Who wouldn't want to laugh at an amateur version of A Link to the Past, or Super Metroid?

So while this is probably the weakest of this crop of games, the novelty of playing this poor man's Metal Slug game always manages to bring me back. It's so short and painless that I can't help but revel in it every so often. And I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said I didn't enjoy every minute of it for some reason.

Writer - How many times did I mention Metal Slug in that review?
Editor - Like a thousand times.
Writer - Cool.

Did I beat it?
Yes, many times throughout the years.

Guilty Pleasure #3
#348 - Stone Protectors

So if GunForce is a hideously broken game that more closely resembles an alpha build rather than a finished product, what does it say about Stone Protectors if I claim it's even more of a trainwreck? Should that even be possible? And what sort of gamer could possibly like such a thing?

For those who don't know (and that included me until recently), Stone Protectors was apparently a Trolls spinoff; a complete product line that was meant to be marketed towards boys, while also throwing in a dash of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Shockingly, it came and went without making much of a splash, limited to a television series that lasted all of one season, an action figure line, and this game. Which means the minute those things were off the shelves (and off the air), the entire franchise was collectively forgotten by Western society. Luckily, we have insane people like myself to dredge such things back up so we propagate their legacies.

Gameplay-wise, this thing is a brawler, no different from the millions of Final Fights, Double Dragons, and Golden Axes we've all played a hundred thousand times. You kick, punch, throw, pick up health and weapons, and so forth. There are five playable characters, as seen above, each with their own special music-themed weapons and special attacks. More on the special attacks in a minute.

The storyline, such that it is, is about some green bad guy who has come up with some dumb evil plan. Typical B-grade Saturday Morning cartoon nonsense, if you care to follow it, which you won't. You'll attack that bad dude's minions across half a dozen stages, which offer typical video game settings like the city, the beach, a mountaintop, the inside of an enemy fortress, some lava pits, up a massive elevator ride, etc. Nothing you haven't seen a million times. None of them really offer anything unique in the way of hazards or setpieces either, making them all feel pretty much the same.

Enemies aren't particularly varied either, and mostly fall into categories of small, medium, or large. Bosses are found at the end of every stage, but don't offer any particularly memorable encounters.

The controls are also quite slippery, almost as if you're playing everything on ice skates, with special moves that feel extra unresponsive. Or maybe they're just overly finicky to pull off. Whatever the case, nothing about this game feels very good to control. Issues abound.

So if this sounds like so many of the bad games that I've covered over the last couple of years, and it is (mostly), why in God's name would I call this thing a "guilty pleasure?" Well, it's because the intricacies of its madness only reveal themselves with time...

For example, your main punch move looks like one of the stupidest, puniest attacks in the history of video games. If there was an "Ys butterknife attack" of beat-em-ups, it would be the punch in this game. And yet it's almost unstoppable. It moves at mach speed, and most enemies are incapable of overpowering it. Or outsmarting it. You can basically butterknife punch your way through this whole game.

...but then why bother doing that, when you can just use the screen-clearing AOE attack that lays waste to everything; insta-killing regular enemies, and heavily fucking up bosses? The one that has unlimited usage, no cooldown, and that you always have access to? Nothing.

Suffice it to say, this is one of the few games I've ever played where you can either play it like it was meant to be played, and die horribly, or you can abuse the system and never die. And rapidly game extra lives. It’s as if you always have cheat codes turned on.

So there you have it. One of the weirdest properties I've ever heard of, adapted into a really weird game, that is completely and utterly broken. I play it all the time.

Did I beat it?
Yes, many times. That is gonna be a reoccuring theme with these guilty pleasure games.

Guilty Pleasure #4
#347 - Timecop

Before I became aware of the existence of this game (sometime this decade), I only knew of Timecop from the mid-90s action movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme as some sort of time-travel-stopping enforcement guy, preventing crooks from going back and winning the stock market, and Ron Silver from going back and impregnating his wife. Looking at the cover art of the SNES game, however, made it super obvious that there was some sort of comic book behind all of that. Hence the guy who looks a lot less like JCVD, and a lot more like the love child of Cyclops and Judge Dredd.

...of course, the actual game graphics opt to, instead, use a digitized image of a JCVD look-alike, so I have no idea what this was supposed to be a tie-in to. Maybe JVC didn't either. Regardless, what we have here is one of the absolute silliest games on the system. Think Batman Forever, but even more ridiculous. I know that sounds like a bad thing, and maybe it is, but bear with me as I explain why this game is secretly one of the funniest things I've ever played.

The first level starts in "Washington" (let's assume DC), where your JCVD stunt double is in some sort of... uh, plumbing supplies factory by my best guess. The first thing you should notice, aside from the horrendous graphics, is the controls, which have the dubious honor of being one of the few instances where I can call a game both "stiff" and "loose." Don't ask how, because I can't explain it. You just have to experience it.

The next thing you'll notice is the animation, which is probably even worse than the controls or the graphics. Probably worse than both put together. I don't know if the "actors" they got to stand in front of the green screens were just interns from around the office or what, but it's clear that none of them knew what they were doing. I mean, the screenshots speak for themselves, and if they don't, this one does:

Nice job guys. A+ for effort and execution.

Next, we have the incredibly janky gameplay. As you move around, fight guys, and fall through floors or jump across chasms, nothing feels right, or balanced, or smooth. It's almost like you're playing a bad CDi game. One that got ported to the Super Nintendo, but then they ran out of time and money most of the way through the conversion effort and just threw it over the wall. So there are no death animations, just sprites blinking out of existence. For that matter, none of the animations seem to move at the correct speed either, so the devs must have just said "fuck it" and sped everything up to compensate. Hell, by my eye, even the screen isn't aligned correctly. How do you mess that up?

But you know what? I don't hold any of that against Timecop. Because in this case, I'm calling it a game that is so bad it's good. If Pit Fighter or Batman Forever were actually playable, they'd be this game. If Bebe's Kids weren't so goddamn frustrating, it would be this game. If... well, you get the point. What I'm saying is, this is a bottom 100 title that I love to play anyways.

So yeah, this guy is totally worth a playthrough or two. Even if it's just for the "lulz" and nothing more. And if you're the one person in the world who loves Batman Forever... well, this is your new God.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I destroyed the gigantic 1920 Chicago gangster robot, the huge octopus, the floating nerd, and all the rest!

Guilty Pleasure #5
#346 - The Hunt For Red October

Pop trivia time: what is the only thing that is more ridiculous than Jean Claude Van Damne wearing an old-timey diving suit while jump kicking gigantic octopuses in the face?


“But what's the next best thing,” you ask? Why, Soviet submarines commanded by Sean Connery and Sam Neill that are shooting gigantic octopuses in the face, of course. It's so obvious when you think about it.

Anyone who has ever seen the classic John McTiernan film The Hunt For Red October, or read the Tom Clancy novel that it was based on, should immediately realize that massive liberties were taken with this property. After all, one only has to look at those screenshots up above and ask themselves, "what the hell does a military thriller about a renegade submarine have to do with gigantic water monsters or shootouts with aircraft carriers?" Well the answer is "nothing." They have nothing do with anything. So what is this game about? Hell if I know, but you're a submarine traveling around the world and blowing shit up. The sort of thing where you shut your brain down and just enjoy the ride.

I don't know that you can call this game a shmup, but it's basically a shmup. Kind of similar to cult classic In the Hunt, but even more unconventional. You guide the Red October through submarine and gunboat infested waters, avoid mines and stalactites, and destroy legions of gun turrets that some idiot put on the ocean floor with your magically unlimited supply of torpedoes. Occasionally you'll rise to the ocean's surface to do battle with various ships and aircraft in some light gun and Super Scope-compatible segments that seem sorely out of place, but nonetheless play pretty well.

In fact, the game does all of those things pretty well. For being a ridiculous title from the hapless folks at HiTech Expressions, it's surprisingly fun in all facets. The gameplay is tight, the challenge good, the controls solid, and the action fast and furious. I generally try to remain optimistic about any game when I first pop it in, but I'd be lying if I said my expectations for this one weren't exactly soaring before first playing it. Yet by the end of that session I already knew I had a hidden gem of sorts on my hands.

Of course, I have to call out a few of the game's biggest weaknesses while we're at it. Namely, the fact that you only get one life and no continues with which to complete the entire game. You die, you get booted back to the main menu. I hate when games do that, especially unforgiving ones such as THfRO. Not that it's the hardest or longest game in the world, but it is challenging enough that you're gonna be restarting a lot. A simple continue option, or way to earn extra lives would have been nice.

I also really hate the escort mission partway through the campaign. I mean, think about that. An escort mission... in a shmup. Who has ever even heard of such a thing? It's hard enough keeping yourself alive in these types of games, especially when you have but a single life. But keeping some braindead idiot alive on top of that? It’s sadistic. Luckily, the whole stage only lasts a few minutes, and nothing like this rears its head again in any of the later missions. The difficulty curve is also slightly wonky at times. Nothing too terrible, but it still could have been refined a bit. The escort mission is a perfect example of this, as it's easily harder than anything that came before, and is arguably harder than anything that comes after.

So if you've played every shmup on the system and want something a little more unique and off the beaten path, check this bad boy out. It's really, really stupid, but fun anyways. And it has that sexy Sean Connery cover going for it. What have you got to lose?

Did I beat it?
Yes, several times. Never with a Super Scope though.

Guilty Pleasure #6
#345 - Ultimate Fighter

Okay, now what is the only thing weirder than Sean Connery fighting a gigantic octopus, Jean Claude Van Damme fighting a gigantic octopus, or a Trolls-for-boys rock band? Did you say, “a video game that combines fighters, beat-em-ups, wrestlers, and turn-based RPGs? And also Power Rangers or something?” Because that's this weird-ass game. Maybe the singular weirdest on the system. And it's not half bad to play either.

So I don't know the full history of this game, other than that Ultimate Fighter is part of a long running Japanese franchise, one that also saw localized installments on the NES and N64 (shooting from the hip, I'm gonna say their names were Flying Heroes and Flying Dragon). And it's very evident when playing this game that there's a lot of backstory to the various characters and hijinks going on. Not that you'll be able to follow any of it because, of course, it's all horribly translated, and you're never given any real context to anything that's happening.

A typical level involves Rick - our floppy-haired hero - talking to other people (presumably friends of his) about some horribly translated and completely indecipherable something or other. And then he walks across town beating the holy hell out of the random ninjas and thugs who pop up to stop him. Eventually, you'll find your way to the beach where you will, I guess, uh... compete in boxing/wrestling/fighting tournaments for some reason? And then after that (or really at any time at all), armored alien guys will pop up and whisk you away to another dimension where you will fight to the death with lightsabers and power armor. And then you go to the next level and repeat this cycle. Sometimes an evil demon guy talks to you.

So yeah, obviously I have no idea what is going on in this game. And it's all the better for it. Instead of being some retread wannabe Final Fight, it's a retread Final Fight with constant crazy shit happening. And I love crazy shit. So here it lands in my guilty pleasures. Not a game for everyone, but a game for people who want to turn their brains off and laugh.

...oh, right, the turn-based RPG stuff. Yeah, that's another option from the main menu. I'm pretty confident in calling this the only turn-based fighting game I've ever played, and I'll just leave it at that. Seek out the game to experience it for yourself, just don't get your hopes especially high.

pic here

Operation Mode? Cosmic saucer? What the f-

Did I beat it?
Yes, several times through the main mode.

Guilty Pleasure #7
#344 - Operation Thunderbolt

Okay, I want to make a few things clear about Operation Thunderbolt right off the bat...

- This is the sequel to Operation Wolf. Whatever you think about that game, you're probably gonna think something similar for this one.

- This game is pretty dang fugly. I don't know if the original arcade version was so graphically demanding that they had to severely chop it up in order to get it to run on the Super Nintendo, or if it was just a really old game to begin with, but the SNES version looks like ass and a half.

- The gameplay is extremely simple. Shoot and bomb. That's it. Anyone who is used to any of the post-1980s advancements that came to this genre is going to be in for a rude awakening.

- It's very repetitive. Shoot the guys that run out, shoot the vehicles that pop up behind them, shoot the powerups that someone is throwing across your line of sight for some reason, and don't shoot the good guys. That's it.

- The whole experience is very brief. That kind of goes without saying with these kinds of games, but this one is extra short.

Now, does that all sound like the makings of a pretty bad game? It probably does, and it should, because in many ways, this isn't a very good title. But I enjoy it anyways. I don't know why - maybe because blasting terrorist scum in the face is such a simple pleasure that I'll happily do it over and over again. Maybe because the goofy graphics have way more charm than something like Lethal Enforcers. Maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about.

So if you want to blast shit with a friend, don't have a Super Scope, and have money to burn... you should probably go with Shien's Revenge. But if you can't find a copy of that, this is an acceptable alternative. Perhaps it will grow on you like it did for me.

Did I beat it?
Yep, I blazed through it a few times.

Guilty Pleasure #8
#343 - Time Slip

I know you've never heard of this game, so let me make this extremely simple. Look at those screenshots. Really Look at them. Notice anything? A tinge of recognition perhaps? Maybe a sense of deja vu?...

What am I getting at? This game is Contra III. As in, some groups of dudes played a ton of Contra III, and then tried to make their own version of it. Right down to the sprite design and animation. And they failed. This game isn't within a mile of that classic. Hell, it's not within a mile of friggin' Neo Contra. But it is a decent little curiosity piece, for those looking for one of the stranger titles on the system.

Now, what exactly prevents this game from measuring up to its big brother? A balanced difficulty for one, as this might be the hardest game on the system. And if you think I'm exaggerating; I can get further in Jim Power than I can in Time Slip. That's really all that needs to be said about that. And it's not even the "good" kind of difficulty. It's the "cheap attacks and unfair situations" variety. The bad kind in other words. Half of the bosses are such ridiculous bullet sponges, that I'd almost bet money on them having ten to twenty times as much health as any Contra boss. That's also not an exaggeration.

The controls scheme is kinda weak too. You can shoot, and you can lock your attack in one direction, but those are set at Y and A, with no remapping possible. This is needlessly awkward when you go back and forth between the two attacks, which you will need to frequently. I don't know why they didn't think to use the L or X buttons, but that's a miss.

Level design is also pretty bad for the most part, as are most of the level graphics. The jungle level later on might be amongst the ugliest on the system. It's certainly the busiest.

Can you see your guy? He's the green thing.

I will admit that some of the sprites are pretty cool though. Especially some of the later bosses. Granted, 99% of the people who have played this game (so like 40 people) would never have gotten far enough to see any of them, but I'll still give the artists credit.

Beyond that, it's still just a low rent Contra imitation, with all of the baggage you'd expect from such a thing. So if this is such an amateurish, ill-balanced, ugly game, why do I like it? I don't know. Maybe because I love Contra III so much that I can't help but find myself fascinated with a rip-off. Maybe because run n gun games, even when botched, are more fun than your average platformer. Maybe I'm just a crazy person.

So if you're like me, and you find yourself prone to those same feelings, you should definitely check this weirdo out. You won't love it, and you probably won't play it more than once or twice, but you might be glad you did.

Did I beat it?
Nope. I'm confident that will never happen.

Guilty Pleasure #9
#342 - Drakkhen

Let's describe this wonderfully bizarre little RPG as a series of events that are likely to happen as you play through the game.

- You begin the game as four sad-sack heroes (literally wearing sacks), who are tasked by the nearest large benevolent dragon to go get a bunch of gemstones from all of the other prince and princess dragons in the area.

- Gazing out across the incredibly blocky 3D polygonal landscape you notice a nearby castle, and head in that direction.

- As you approach the castle, the game switches from a 1st to a 3rd-person perspective. Controlling a single member of the party at a time, you head for the drawbridge.

- A gigantic great white shark flies out of the moat and eats you before you can reach the door. You reload your game.

- A crocodile suddenly scurries across the land and bites your ass. You murder him with extreme authority.

- After finding your way into the nearest castle, you wander around, clueless as to what you should do. Sometimes dragon butlers attack you, sometimes they say mean things and leave you be. Occasionally bats fly into your face. At the end is some sort of royal dragon who asks you to go murder his cousin's ass.

- You head back out to the overworld, where a large flying creature darts back and forth across the screen at Mach 5. Unable to hit him, you flee like a bunch of cowards.

- You open up the map...

...and feel all your confusion drift away. Or possibly multiply.

- You bump into some sort of buried jug in the ground. In retaliation, a gigantic killer dog head suddenly pops up and wastes your party and destroys your gear. You reload your game.

- After finding your way into the nearest castle, you wander around, clueless as to what you should do. Sometimes dragon butlers attack you, sometimes they say mean things and leave you be. Occasionally bats fly into your face. At the end is some sort of royal dragon who asks you to go murder his cousin's ass.

- You head back out to the overworld and realize you have no idea which direction to go. You head back into the castle, wander around, clueless as to what you should do. Sometimes dragon butlers attack you, sometimes they say mean things and leave you be. Occasionally bats fly into your face. At the end is some sort of royal dragon who asks you to go murder his cousin's ass. You make a mental note of what to do this time, and head back out.

- A gigantic starman climbs out of the ground and promptly slaughters your party and destroys your gear. You reload your game.

- The gigantic starman gets you again. You reload again.

- You realize you've been heading in the wrong direction because the only way to tell where you're going is to pause the game and look at the map where the compass will give you a rough bearing on which way you're facing.

- A random herd of rats is vanquished by your blade, revealing a powerful mace/shield/helmet/pair of greaves underneath. How in the world were the rats carrying such a thing?

- A gigantic space worm leaves the nearest constellation and swarms down on you, wipes out your entire party and destroys your gear. You reload your game.

- After finding your way into the nearest castle, you wander around, clueless as to what you should do. Sometimes dragon butlers attack you, sometimes they say mean things and leave you be. Occasionally bats fly into your face. At the end is some sort of royal dragon who asks you to go murder his cousin's ass.

- Five merchants ambush your party in a row, all trying to sell you the same four pieces of gear. You politely decline, but you do sell them the magic potions that the most recent herd of rats just dropped.

- A gigantic dragon falls from the sky and lands on your party. He one-shots everyone and destroys your gear. You reload the game.

- A gigantic space dog worm drops from the heavens and tries to kill you. You rapidly tap L and R so that it'll leave you alone. As a parting gift it one-shots your priest and destroys his gear. You reload the game.

- You return to one of the noble dragons you talked to earlier. He/she attacks and kills everyone and destroys your gear. You reload your game. And then you kill his/her ass and gank the gem from his/her forehead.

- You wander around some more. After a while you consult an online guide.

- You win the game because you killed everyone and stole all of their head gems.

Did I beat it?
I got surrounded by dragons who congratulated me for perpetrating genocide against their kind, so I think so.

Guilty Pleasure #10
#341 - Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror

I'm gonna wrap up my guilty pleasures here with the darling pick of the bunch. A game whose cover art and still shots look, frankly, amazing. They bring to mind a sort of gothic body-horror version of Castlevania: the lone Japanese pikeman dodging traps, fighting hellish monsters and apparitions, with the sort of finely detailed graphics that people like me will happily lap up.

Unfortunately, this game is not nearly as good as that first impression hints. It's a Castlevania-like game alright, but one that is hamstrung by awkward controls, terrible balancing, severely limited mechanics, some grievously ill-thought-out level design, and an overall experience that often teeters into the range of "disaster." And yet, some part of me adores this game. I don't know why exactly, perhaps I'm a glutton for certain types of punishment. Perhaps the unlimited continues let me look past the glaring flaws as long as I'm allowed to bash my head against them until they're overcome. Perhaps I just like profoundly odd games. The answer is probably a bit of all of those things.

I'm not exactly sure what the storyline here is, but you're some Japanese soldier who, after leaving a battle, finds himself in what I'm gonna call "Hell on Earth," with ghosts, demons, and tons of undead. It's the sort of thing that is no doubt steeped in Japanese mythology, but I have to profess near-total ignorance on that front.

Controls are not great, I'll just be blunt about that. This is another instance of a game that has a Legend of Kage-like jump (read: you fly way up high), which I always find disorienting. The attack is also awkward, bringing Simon's whip attack to mind, but not in a good way. And the spin attack thing is useless for 99% of the game. I'm sure SETA loved the idea of that thing, but it's way too weak to be of any real use. The movement speed is also too slow for my taste, especially with how much of a reliance on platforming this game has. There's one level in particular that will probably break most players, mostly thanks to the tricky jumps it demands of them.

Worst of all though, is that at some points I found it nearly impossible to progress unless I was willing to not use my continues, so that I could start a stage over again. That's pretty dang sloppy, and I'm struggling to think of many other games that I've played where I had to do anything like that. Luckily, stages are always less than ten minutes in length, so it's not the biggest dealbreaker in the world. But it can get super annoying having to repeat stuff.

Beyond that, there's not much else to say. It's a weak imitation of a much better series. One that is gonna push most players away, but also one that I find quite charming. If you're into odd games, or curious what a D-grade Castlevania is gonna look like, you should check this sucker out. The blemishes are gonna try all but the most stubborn of players, but I swear there is something here for those who stick with it. I may not 100% know what that "something" is, but it's there, I'm telling you.

Did I beat it?
Yes, several times.

#340 - Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers

Once again, I'm gonna have you take a look at the screenshots above. Remind you of anything? Maybe something with Marios or karts in it...

I didn't grow up with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I mean, I did, but I was never into it. By the time the show exploded in popularity across America I was already way too mature to care about silly kid's shows with dumb rubber monsters and inane school sequences. Never mind the fact that I was still playing lots of video games, something often seen as just as childish. I guess younger me never saw the irony in such sentiments.

Anyway, the point is, I'm not into Power Rangers. Not now, not then, no nostalgia, nothing. But they made for some pretty decent little Super Nintendo games. I would have bet money against that being the case before I actually played any of them, but I'm happy for the pleasant surprise.

Battle Racers, presumably based on Power Rangers Zeo (whatever that is), is the weakest of the MMPR Super Nintendo games. But it's still a pretty decent racer. Taking heavy inspiration (if not committing outright theft) from Super Mario Kart, it is one of the earliest "kart" racer rip-offs that tried to take the landmark Nintendo game and add its own spin to the gameplay. In this case, the spin is "being really damn hard." But then again, you know I say that about every racer, so you had to have seen that coming.

Now for the bad things. Something is very wrong with the balancing of this game. While things start out fun enough, frustration gradually mounts as the tracks get trickier, the AI gets meaner, and the action gets tougher. I don't know if it's just my sucktitude at racers finally shining through, or if there is something legitimately wrong with the action, but I suspect it's the latter. It's as if the controls were only tested and fine-tuned enough to handle the easier half of the game. As things start to escalate, the controls just can't keep up with the tracks, leaving you with impossible turns to make, and nigh-unbeatable enemies.

In the end, I feel like we're left with half of a good Super Mario Kart clone. One that is fun enough on the easier tracks, with solid controls (as long as they're not demanding too much from you), sharp graphics, and plenty of tracks and racers to choose from. But things tend to unravel as you get to the trickier races, holding the game back from really breaking into the upper tiers of SNES racing games. Definitely check it out if you're a fan of SMK or the MMPR franchise, but know that better things are still coming.

Did I beat it?
No. I've tried a number of times, and gotten a good amount of the way through the game, but never quite managed to close it out.

#339 - Yoshi's Cookie

Have you played Yoshi's Cookie on NES? Because if you have, you've played this version too.

I don't know what drove Nintendo to flood the puzzle game market during the middle years of the Super Nintendo's lifespan, but flood they did. We got Kirby's Avalanche, Wario's Woods, Yoshi (on NES), tons of different versions of Tetris, that Japanese game that turned into Tetris Attack, and of course, Yoshi's Cookie. I guess the Big N just really seemed to think we needed every variation of the puzzle formula possible. Or maybe Tetris and Dr. Mario (the original releases, not the "combination" game they came up with later) were such massive successes that they had no choice but to let easy puzzler money flow into their coffers. In any case, every single one of those games seems to be viewed pretty fondly by the gaming community in general. And who can blame us? They all have that typical Nintendo polish and production value. Some of the games are even bona fide classics.

Not Yoshi's Cookie though, which I'm gonna call the weakest of the bunch. In fact, it's rather annoying.

How do I explain the gameplay here? I don't really know, but I'll give it my best shot anyway. Chef Mario is baking cookies. Yoshi has to eat all of said cookies, evidently, so Mario flips them onto the playing grid where they can be rearranged so that an entire row or column is made up of matching cookies, which then clears them all out. If the entire playing grid is emptied, you win. Pretty standard match-and-clear kinda stuff.

That's it.

Of course, all puzzle games are that simple in nature, depending on how you look at it. It's the layers of depth that separate the winners from the losers. And I never found Yoshi's Cookie to be especially deep. Mostly it just seems like you're constantly racing the clock, trying to make moves as fast as you can. I don't find that especially fun most of the time, just nerve-wracking.

Clearing the board when you're down to just a few cookies left is also a needlessly frustrating hassle. I feel like you're usually left with two stray cookies, and you never seem to get the drops you need to give you a clean finish. Instead, you have to constantly tussle with small combinations, going back and forth until you just happen to get the right pieces. Maybe I just suck at the game, or maybe it's a weakness in the formula. Maybe it's both.

Presentation is of course sharp. Not that I put an especially large amount of stock into those things in this genre, but it does make the playing the game a little more pleasant I suppose. It's nothing on the level of Tetris Attack (the finest looking puzzle game on the system in my opinion), but it's leagues better than the BreakThrus! and WildSnakes of the world.

So yeah, that's pretty much it. It's an okay game I guess, in short play sessions. The graphics and sound are pleasant, the controls are fine, and the difficulty curve for the single player modes is well balanced. But I find the gameplay pretty repetitive. Not that this genre isn't repetitive by design, but here I never really felt the "just one more game" syndrome that so famously accompanies other games like Tetris or Tetris Attack. And getting stuck in that holding pattern, feverishly trying to finish off stray cookies at the end of any session can get really, really annoying. So this is my pick for the weakest of the Nintendo puzzlers. Mileage might vary, and I know this game has its fans. But I'd rather play any of the other ones. Even Wario's Woods, and that game owns me.

Did I beat it?
This is how bad my memory for these things is starting to get. I know I beat it for either NES or SNES, I just can't remember for sure which one it was. They both play exactly the same, so I'm considering it cleared for both.

#338 - The Lion King

This is another game that I went back and forth with as far as its ranking goes. At various points over the last couple years, I flip flopped between spots as "good" as the low 200s, and some as far down as the mid 400s. Is The Lion King a sloppy platformer with bad hit detection and even worse hitboxes? Is it a tough but beautiful gem in the Disney game library? Is it a generic licensed game that brings nothing new to the table? Is it all of the above? Something in between? The answer is probably different for everyone.

I personally am going with the "in between" option." It's a pretty good platformer, with pretty good graphics, with some nagging issues (i.e. the hitboxes and hit detection), and an incredibly rough difficulty curve. But none of those things really define the game. Rather, it's the sum of all those parts. Does that make any sense whatsoever?

Not that I need to tell any of you this, because I'm sure everyone and their sister played this back when they were kids. That was a time when Disney had just recently regained its mojo in the feature-film world, with a series of animated hits that had pulled them out of the 70s/80s funk after a string of flops had endangered their entire animation studio. Coupled with the strong performances of films by rival company Don Bluth Productions, it marked one of the toughest eras for the house that Mickey built. But by the time The Lion King arrived in 1994 they were back in full-on "Beast Mode"; creating a series of cultural behemoths that dominated the theatrical screens, the small screen, music players, and of course the video game world.

In hindsight, this game isn't really memorable enough to warrant all that attention. It's not much different from something like Pinocchio or The Jungle Book, both of which were much less ubiquitous in the game market at the time. Strip back the hype generated by the film, and you have a game that is at least somewhat similar to the Radical Rexes of the world. You play as Simba (first as a child, later as the Matthew Broderick version), and do typical platformer things like jump on enemies, cling to ledges, grab powerups, and all that usual jazz. Occasionally, the action is broken up by a quick "bug drop" minigame, a log ride, or the Mode 7 wildebeest level. Most of the game is conventional sidescroller action though.

Controls are solid for the most part. I wish Simba was a tad looser when getting momentum going for jumps, but that's nitpicking. And some of adult (teenage?) Simba's moves are a bit cumbersome to use, but you'll only need to use them in a few key situations.

The annoying bits start to accumulate though, the further into the game you get. The spiders, the hippo swinging, the falling rocks, the waterfall of insanity, the cheetah dens of insanity, the lava caverns of insanity, the hyena ledges of insanity, the Scar fights of insanity... this is the sort of game you want to play if you feel like developing a migraine.

Hitboxes really do start to get pretty annoying in the second half of the game too. It's probably the game's biggest weakness.

If Virgin could have just shored up a few things, The Lion King could have been something of a minor classic. Instead, it's stuck just on the "good" side of the platformers divide. Still, overall I think the game has a little more going for it than the likes of The Jungle Book and Pinocchio. While some of that appreciation could be rooted in nostalgia, and it probably is, I had a good time coming back to it.

Did I beat it?
Yes. It took a billion tries, and I had the guidebook on hand, but I did it.

#337 - Nolan Ryan's Baseball

Don't let that cover art fool you, Nolan Ryan's Baseball is very much a fast-paced arcade Chibi (?) baseball game from Japan. Brought to us from the makers of Kendo Rage and Cacoma Knight no less. And when I say fast, I mean this is by far the fastest-paced baseball game on the system. A seriously blistering speed of play.

The obvious comparison to me, is Super Baseball Simulator 1.000. That's a good thing. The two games are very similar (hence why they're so close in the rankings), offering the same style of gameplay with roughly the same amount of quality.

I'm fairly confident this is the only baseball game I've covered so far where the AI is competent at covering your baserunners. Like, really competent. You're not gonna get away with any of the usual shenanigans here. Mostly. I guess I pulled off a few shenanigans, mostly with some tricky situations involving multiple baserunners pulling multiple stunts. But it's still way better than almost every other baseball game on the Super Nintendo.

On the flip side, the fielders have to have some of the weakest arms I've ever seen. Which sounds bad, but I actually really dig it. Mostly because it really opens things up for your offense. Doubles are relatively common, hitting it to the shortstop is almost a guaranteed single, and what would normally be routine plays at first or second base suddenly become close races against a noodle-armed throw. It keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Like most old sports titles, this thing has its fair share of oddities too. For one, I played through an entire eleven game season, and neither team in any of those games hit a home run. Not one. I had a few balls hit the wall, and a couple others reach the warning track, but that was it. The computer also has a bizarre tendency to hit your batters, something I was more than happy to exploit when I needed a boost to offense. In one of my games I think I got four or five runs almost exclusively off hit-by-pitches.

You also can't check your swings. In fact, if you even begin to move the bat, it's a strike. End of story. It's pretty annoying.

The way the "season" mode is set up (here it's called "Pennant Mode") is also super bizarre. Not only is it not obvious what the current league standings are, but you don't even really own a team. You just kinda decide if you want to play as someone each day, or skip ahead to the next set of games. Very, very weird.

Yeah, other than that it's a normal baseball game. Move around the batter's box and time your swing, control your pitch with the D-Pad, and all the other usual stuff. It does it all well enough too.

So overall I dig the game. Obviously the closest comparison is the very similar Super Baseball Simulator 1.000, but I gave this one the slight edge because I thought the mechanics to the fielding and baserunning made for a more interesting game. Or at least made for one that stayed fresh longer. Either way, if you dig one of these games you'll probably dig the other, even if it may be a toss-up as to which one you like more.

Did I beat it?
[Yes, you did - editor]
Oh, right.

#336 - Sonic Blast Man

Oh man, I'm sitting here and I can already tell that I'm gonna have a hard time coming up with something for this one. What does one write about Sonic Blast Man? That it's one of the least innovative brawlers - a genre known for pushing its boundaries (sarcasm)? That despite the lack of innovation or originality, it has solid mechanics and controls? That it has awesome cover art? That the incredibly silly main hero doesn't actually ever really do any silly things? I honestly don't know; I feel like the game gave me absolutely nothing to work with. So you're gonna get this vanilla little recap. I apologize.

- The cover art boasts that this is based on "The Arcade Hit," but that's a complete misnomer. There is no Sonic Blast Man arcade beat-em-up. However, there is this...

Why in the world did Taito think this thing needed a console spin-off? Or that they should bring it to the States? Who knows. You may as well ask why Capcom thought Captain Commando could carry a game, or why anyone thought Stone Protectors was a good idea. The mind boggles thinking about the decisions these publishers made, but I can only guess it was because the mid-90s were a time of bland dorky heroes.

- The gameplay is super routine. So routine that I don't even want to get into it too much. Punch, kick, throw, super-power-move-that-is-limited-in-quantity-and-or-takes-your-health, throw some guys, beat bosses, and all the usual jazz. There is nothing here you aren't already familiar with.

There's just a few stages in total, all set among nondescript settings like a city, a rooftop, a space station, and whatever else. Are you falling asleep yet?

Eh, and that's it. The game is just... not interesting.You could (and should) go so far as to call it the paint-by-numbers brawler. One that I have run out of stuff to talk about. Well, except for one last thing...

It's fun. Despite all of that flak I gave it for having no identity, I had fun playing it. It gets the mechanics right, it's fair, the graphics are bright and colorful and catch the eye, and even the stupid music is kinda catchy. It should be telling that I've played through it multiple times and enjoyed it every step of the way. It just does it in such a safe, take-no-risks manner.

...actually, the game does get out of its comfort zone in one single way. The giant robot boss guy near the end. He is seriously one of the most broken-ass fights I've ever encountered. You almost have no choice but to cheese your specials to get past him, and just pray that you reach him with all of your lives. It's a pretty stupid fight, but it's not a big enough deal to warrant anything more than this little footnote to my review.

Did I beat it?
Quite a few times.

#335 - Venom & Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety

Did you know Maximum Carnage got a sequel? I certainly didn't, and this game flies under the radar well enough that I'm sure I'm not alone in that regard.

I will be getting to the first Spider-Man/Venom/Carnage game soon enough, but I'll spoil my thoughts on it just a little bit here so that we have some context as to why I think the things I do about Separation Anxiety. In short? MC is a decent brawler, if not an overrated one, that looks pretty silly and is way too hard. Not the good kind of hard either. And while I assume most people think highly of it because they either grew up with the game or are big Spider-Man fans, I also can't fault anyone for enjoying it either.

The developers must have thought the same thing, because the follow-up swings the difficulty pendulum in the complete opposite direction, to equally poor results. So while the game is just as silly-looking as its predecessor was, the stifling challenge has been almost completely neutered. It's such an extreme difference, that while I have yet to be able to complete MC, I knocked out SA almost immediately. Possibly on my first try. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've knocked it out in one try every time I've played it. Hell, I honestly have no idea if the game offers continues, because I've never run out of lives.

Demerits? One of the strengths of Maximum Carnage is that it varies the action quite a bit, with some levels being more conventional than others. That is not the case in Separation Anxiety. Every part of every level is pretty much the same: goon after goon after goon. You even have to fight the same boss battles again and again throughout the game. And worst of all, many of the levels have you retrace your steps for no real reason, other than to seemingly take shortcuts on level design. It all points toward a game that was quickly thrown together and shoved out the door to capitalize on the success of MC.

That all being said, the Maximum Carnage engine is a pretty decent one. Both games are fun, the controls are solid, the repertoire of moves and attacks is nice, and it definitely gets the comic book feel down.

So, overall it's an alright game. It's not the game I wanted - neither one in this series was - but considering how maddening the other two Spider-Man games on the Super Nintendo are, I'll take it.

Did I beat it?
I've gone through it several times. You'd almost have to fail on purpose to not beat this game.

#334 - Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing

[note - I wrote this in a single take, late one night after hitting up the bars. This is the (mostly) unedited stream-of-consciousness review I spontaneously came up with]

A little while ago, I wrote about a certain Newman-Haas Racing. I don't know who either of the assholes in the title are, but they made an insanely difficult game. One that mercilessly crushed my ass into dust every time I played it.

Turns out that was a sequel to another racing game: Nigel Mansell Championship Racing. I think. It was some sort of combination of words like that. Look at the top of this review to get the official title.

Also, I don't know why I'm acting like I didn't already spell all of this out in my N-HR review, because I totally did. So I'm just repeating myself here for some reason.

Anyway, this game is that game, but better. Got that? Take the sequel's awesome racing action, but remove the insanely borked difficulty curve and endless frustration. After that, you're left with a pretty sweet racer.

Unlike all of those stupid games like Redline Racer or F-1 Pole Position (or whatever they were called), NMCR has perfect control, a smooth framerate, fair challenge, and tracks that won't have you pulling your hair out. I know I am repeatedly complaining about how hard all of these racing games are, and that my own sucktitude is at least partially to blame, but I swear this is-

*I pause because my oldest just came screaming down the stairs like a banshee, probably from having a nightmare. I get him into our bed.*
-the first Formula One game (Or is that cart racing? Indy Car? What the fuck is this genre even called?) to get the difficulty right.

*The wife asks me to take him (my son, not Nigel) to the potty so he doesn't pee in our bed. After that she asks me what I'm typing about. I don't bother trying to explain. I sit down to resume*

And th-

*One of the twins is crying to us from upstairs. This is not going as planned.*

Ok, so now this has morphed into being the world's first review written by a guy who is huddled in front of a laptop in a bed of four people. You can't make this st-

*...something is sliding down the stairs...*

Ok, the world's first review written by a guy huddled in front of a laptop in bed of five people. The wife has now politely asked that my laptop and I leave.

*A few minutes later.*

Ok, what was I talking about? Nasel Mandell's Something Something?

Umm... so I guess I'm wrapping this up because I'm starting to fade here. In short, the balance of the gameplay is great, as every turn, every lap, every track, feels exactly like it should. This is the game that all the crappy "simulation" racers that I already covered aspired to be. But it's not perfect. Demerits? It's pretty no-frills. Race, tune, race, tune. That's it. The lack of excitement and character leads me to prefer the cartoonish style of the more arcade-like titles such as F-1 ROC and F-1 ROC II. Those games are both sweet.

So, perhaps you'll dig this. Perhaps you'll prefer those other games, but still find this one fun. Perhaps I'm about to get peed on by three children. We shall see soon...

[note - I wasn't]

Did I beat it?
Er... no?

#333 - Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Well this one should generate some discussion. The much maligned Final Fantasy Mystic Quest... that RPG for dummies that Squaresoft brought over to America because they thought us Americans were too stupid and weak to handle a real game. Never mind the rabid hardcore computer gaming RPG or the hardcore pen and paper RPG scenes of the time. Maybe it was just console gamers they didn't respect. Or maybe we needed games like this to shake us out of a rut, and demand more from companies.

Anyway, backstory aside, how does this little curiosity piece handle? Umm, I guess that depends on what you're looking for in a JRPG. Either way it's bar none the worst Final Fantasy ever made. Not counting all those dumb fighting games, cell phone spinoffs, and whatnot. And I never played the online games. Or 13. So I guess it's the worst one that I personally have played.

Three tenets of JRPGs (see my Paladin's Quest review for an explanation):

A Coherent Storyline and Characters with Depth
Uh... does this game have a storyline? Or characters? I played through the entire thing a few years ago, but I'm drawing a blank. Guess I'll have to read the manual, speedwatch a longplay, and maybe see if Hardcoregaming101 did a writeup...

*a short time later*

So, yeah... no. Not so much. There's even a blatant misspelling in the manual's tiny little introduction to the storyline; that's how much of an afterthought it was!

A Fun Battle System That Stays Engaging
Well, I kinda want to give the game some points for trying a few things here, but I'm not sure any of those ideas really work. Or really count for much. At its base, this is the same attack/defend/magic/item system that's been done to death for decades. The few differences are that you always get full health going into every battle, you can retry every battle as many times as you want, and monsters tend to "degrade" in appearance as you pound on them. Kind of a visual indicator as to how the battle is going.

Collectively, that just means the game is really easy, so the system tends to get more and more repetitive as you fight a surprisingly large number of battles that all play out almost exactly the same. This might be one of the few instances where I had wished an RPG was under ten hours.

Challenging Yet Fair Gameplay

See above. Since there is no challenge to be found within the battles, it's hard to stay excited about the gameplay. Most of the game is also basically on rails too, with the overworld literally being on rails. Which means you just feel like you're being shepherded from one battle or plot point to the next.

Oh man, that leaves us with three "fails" overall, doesn't it? Even Secret of the Stars kinda managed to almost pass one of those things. So why is Mystic Quest better than that old clunker? Or Paladin's Quest?

Because the soundtrack is one of the absolute best on the system. That shit's bomb, as the kids probably say.

Did I beat it?
Yeah. I'm pretty sure you could randomly press buttons for 100 hours and the game would eventually get beaten through sheer chance.

#332 - X Zone

Familiar with this one? No, not Project X Zone, just regular X Zone. Still no? Well don't worry, because neither is anybody else. Only those foolish full-set collectors of the world would have any reason to track down one of these cartridges, but luckily for all of us, I am one of those fools. And I just happen to have a copy of this game.

...except the cart is worthless to me because this is another one of those evil Super Scope games. Which means I was forced to emulate on my laptop. So keep in mind that this was played with a futuristic optical mouse, granting me a HUGE advantage over those players who took this thing on as it was meant to be played.

...or at least I would say that if I hadn't still gotten destroyed every time I played this game. Over and over again. Within minutes. It's that hard.

Now, there isn't really much I can say about the actual gameplay. Kinda like in Bazooka Blitzkrieg, you just shoot things before they can shoot you, until you get to the end. That's it. Just balls-to-the-walls blasting. The graphics aren't even particularly awesome. Just kinda... pastel and bland. The mechanics are simple, so there isn't really anything to differentiate it from any of the other light gun games out there. Overall, the actual game is as generic and forgettable as both its cover art and its title. The complete package.

But it is fun. Lots of fun. I don't even know why. Maybe because shooting things is such a simple pleasure. Maybe because it's so challenging or maybe because it's so relentless. But if I ever get around to tracking down a Super Scope (and my wife doesn't kill me for doing that), this will be one of the first titles I pop in. I'll die in two minutes and move on, but that's beside the point.

Did I beat it?
Not even when I cheat with a mouse.

#331 - Mickey Mania

Funny story: When I was a kid, and all my friends would always talk about how much they loved The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, I assumed they were talking about this game. I mean it SO CLEARLY SAYS “MAGICAL QUEST” ON THE CENTER OF THE BOX, right? Kids are silly.

Similar to that silly little game The Lion King, Mickey Mania is a sharp-looking platformer that's fun to play, but is partially handicapped by a severely wonky-ass difficulty. As in, there are levels in this game that no child could ever beat. I stake my... uh, editor's life on it. Or at least none of the children I knew could touch this beast, including me. Seriously though, why are half of all the Disney games so ridiculously hard? The mind boggles.

I don't know what the storyline here is about (how many times have I said that? A hundred at least?), but the idea is that Mickey finds himself in levels that are each based on one of his many classic cartoons. And by that I mean across the entire Mickey canon, from Steamboat Willie and The Mad Doctor, to Lonesome Ghosts and The Prince and the Pauper. This gives the developers a wonderful excuse to explore the various styles of animation used with Mickey throughout the decades, while also letting them come up with some clever level designs that riff off of many classic Mickey moments. Oh, and did I mention that this game was originally planned as part of the celebration of Mickey's nth year in existence? Yeah, so it's basically a Mickey retrospective in video game form.

As far as gameplay goes, it's typical platforming. Jump, throw things, jump over lots of other things, you know the drill. It is good about mixing things up, with sections that have you climbing Mode-7 towers, running away from giant spiders, and riding an out-of-control gurney through a gauntlet of buzzsaws, but none of them is really what I would call amazing or anything. Solid is the better word. It's a solid game, with solid levels.

Like I said though, the biggest thing holding it back is the difficulty curve, which is usually a notch or five too high. Nothing terrible most of the time, but with enough sections that just had me shaking my head. I'm not saying games have to be easy, and I'm not saying that I'm not a wimp, but it really seems like people had no idea how to make a game for kids back in the day.

So yeah, solid game, that in typical Disney fashion is too difficult. And I do have to say that I favor Capcom's Mickey titles. Those have their own separate set of issues - which I'll get to when I get to them - but they're still the more fun games to play.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I went through it a couple of times.

#330 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters

Go back and look at my rankings for #400-350. See how many fighting games I covered? And remember how I felt that the order I put them in was almost interchangeable - that it was arbitrary in some sense and would all come down to personal preference?

Well this is another game in that group. Or, I should say, just outside of the group. It's another above-average Street Fighter II imitator that just happens to have the benefit of A) one of the biggest licenses in gaming, and B) Konami as a developer. Both of which mean all of the little things, like killer production values and excellent sound and music are all present.

Seriously, copy and paste my review from World Heroes 2 or Fighter's History into this one, and you'd be most of the way there. So how do I talk about yet another fighting game that plays just like so many others? I guess by pointing out a few of the things I found somewhat interesting about it:
1 - This game is hard as shit. Yes, I'm terrible at fighting games, and yes, this is from Konami, purveyors of all things sadistic. But man does this one take it to some extremes. Beating this thing on even the default difficulty is an exercise in patience, nevermind the harder difficulties.
2 - I am assuming this roster is made up of characters from the cartoon show. I've always been a casual Turtle fan, even as a kid, so I wasn't able to place the gigantic shark, the robot guy, or the dinosaur thing. Maybe it's based on something else, I don't know.
3 - Just like with Double Dragon V, there are multiple types of single player "modes" to play through, but they're basically the same thing. So why bother?
4 - Did I mention that this thing looks and sounds awesome?
5 - Always play as Shredder. Shredder was the coolest - it's science.

For fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Street Fighter II, this one is probably something of a no-brainer. The action is fast and satisfying, the graphics are sharp, the gameplay is finely tuned (to my eye at least, take that for what it's worth), and the entire experience is legitimately fun in typical Konami fashion. Just don't come looking for one of the absolute best fighters on the system, or anything remotely resembling a fair single player experience.

Did I beat it?
Yep, a long, long time ago. And probably only on a lower difficulty.

#329 - The Addams Family: Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt

Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt, brought to us by our friend from across the pond, Ocean [... - editor], is something of a missed opportunity. While the first Addams Family game that was released on the Super Nintendo is an interesting take on a (somewhat) open world platformer (I hesitate to throw the term Metroidvania around here), and Addams Family Values is the follow-up to Fester's Quest that aspired to be the world's next great Zelda game, this third AF game is nowhere near as ambitious as either of its siblings. Taking its cues from the first game, PSH is also a platformer, but one with much more conventional (read: boring) gameplay, a much more linear world (though you can do each set of levels in the order of your choosing), and a much rougher difficulty curve. Too rough in fact. Together, it makes for a flawed experience, that nonetheless isn't half bad. Especially for an Ocean game.

Judging by the cover art this thing was no doubt based on some Saturday Morning cartoon version of "The Family." Shocking really, I mean is there anything that doesn't get an animated spinoff nowadays? I never watched it, but it no doubt came hot on the heels of the two films. Or maybe just the first one.

Anyway, the game is centered around Pugsley (obviously) and his quest to... I don't know. I don't care. He's searching for various things for his family for whatever reason, which means traipsing around the (ridiculously huge) house to track each and every one of them down. Various doors from the main hall each lead to a different set of levels, where you need to do lots and lots of jumping, climbing, triggering switches, and not dying. The last one is the tricky part. After ten or so rooms, you'll reach a boss. Kill them and you go back to the main hub where you can select another level. If you die, you begin at the beginning of your current area. Lose all your lives, and you move back to the main hub. Continues are unlimited.

It's not a bad system, and while I do wish you didn't have to restart an entire area from scratch after losing all your lives, I'd be lying if I called the game anything other than forgiving. It's not enough though. The game is hard. Too hard. I thought the first AF game nailed the balance of difficulty right on the head, and this one swings things a little too far towards the hard end of the spectrum. Not that this would be the toughest game in the world to beat, but there's enough difficult sections and cheap hits or pits to fall into that it quickly adds up to a pretty taxing experience. Another game where persistence and memorization (as well as patience) are the name of the... uh, game.

Difficulty and ambition aside, it's not a bad title overall. Controls are super smooth, never too tight, never too slippery. Granted, all you ever really need to do is move, run, and jump, but it does all of those things well. I should mention that there is a rather annoying "feature" where holding up on the D-Pad, even slightly, prevents you from moving at all. It's an easy enough thing to adjust to, but I'm not sure why they felt the need to add that.

So yeah, Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt is the weakest of the three Addams Family games, barely, but it's still a commendable enough effort from Ocean. I mean, the bar with them is pretty low, but whenever a game is fully-finished and legitimately playable, I have to give them some props.

Did I beat it?
No. It's on the list, but I wasn't able to get to it in time for this review.

#328 - Todd McFarlane's Spawn: The Video Game

Remember Spawn? He was EVERYWHERE in the 1990s. Comics, movies, games, McDonald's toy tie-ins (okay maybe not that last one); the dude practically stole the comic book throne from Spider-Man and Batman. For a few years anyway.

Now, I'm not much of a comics guy, but in hindsight the Spawn juggernaut seemed very much like a product of its time and place. It wasn't long before the need for edgelord antiheroes passed (or maybe went temporarily dormant), and Spawn retreated back into the confines of obscurity - lost amongst the Furbys and Chris Tuckers of pop culture. Is that because his storylines were shallow? The illustrations crappy? The general idea behind him being inherently stupid? I have no idea. Again, I'm not a comics guy. Maybe none of that really happened. But that's my perception of the franchise.

Spawn: The Video Game for Super Nintendo is something of an action platformer/brawler hybrid. Shocking, right? The best comparison I can make is that it plays kind of similar to X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse and War of the Gems from Capcom. You'll guide Spawn through legions of grunts and mooks, fight through dingy cities, hellish caverns, and underground mazes, and perform lots and lots of light platforming, all while taking on a series of big bads in some rather intense one-on-one fights. And, just like in the Capcom games, your trump card is the special moves you can pull off via Street Fighter II-styled combos. The main difference being that in this game the special moves are pretty tricky to execute, requiring precise timing. Like, really demanding timing. Still, overall I think it's a system that works. The combat never feels like a chore, Spawn's got enough moves to handle all of the platforming with ease (mostly; more on that soon), and there's plenty of challenge throughout the game, without ever feeling unfair.

The graphics are kind of a mixed bag. Many of the sprites and levels are pretty simple, and could have used more detail, but some of the larger enemies and bosses are pretty impressive. Especially the Gradius-style ship boss later in the game. The levels set in Hell (I assume it's Hell) are also quite neat, though way too brief. It’s a shame that so much of the game takes place in boring rundown buildings and alleys instead of more exotic and fun locations.

The game has a pretty nifty continue system too. Hell, it's probably one of the better ones on the entire system. You see, Spawn has some sort of "9:9:9:9" gauge in the corner of the screen (fans of the comic probably have some sort of context for what this means). When you die, this gauge decreases. But here's the twist. Using your powerful special moves also uses up the gauge. So you're left with an extremely high risk and high reward system of weighing your reserve of lives against using your more destructive abilities. One that is painfully devious when you get further into the game and have to make tough decisions on just how much you are willing to gamble on the many intense boss fights.

Now, the controls are good for the most part, but there is something of a learning curve to getting used to them. By that I mean, Spawn can often feel unresponsive when you're trying to do a set of actions remotely rapidly, as if you need to wait for every animation to end before you can input another move. It's probably my main complaint for the game, and by far the biggest thing holding it back from a higher perch in this project. I don't know if this general unresponsiveness was intentional or not, but this basically forces you to be very deliberate with all of your moves: everything has to be planned ahead, and with purpose. This is not a "twitch" game.

Hit detection can also be a problem. Again, I don't know if this was by design or not, but many enemies have animations where their hitboxes seem to change. If they go into attack animation x, you're not gonna hit them. While frustrating, it basically forces you to be even more precise with your actions, and to always have a plan of attack.

So while the game is much better than I initially thought, and easily one of the better things Acclaim had their name stamped on, it's still the sort of experience that's gonna divide a lot of people, and annoy many of them. The nature of the controls is gonna be a dealbreaker for some people, and the game probably does suffer for it, but it still does more than enough right to remain an enjoyable experience regardless.

Did I beat it?
I did. I feel like it's one of the few Acclaim action games where I managed to pull that off.

#327 - Judge Dredd

Remember the Judge Dredd movie? No, not the one with Karl Urban where Dredd is forced into a hellish climb through the world's worst housing projects; the other one with Frank Stallone's brother. The movie where Dredd has to confront a scene-chewing Armand Assante and some giant robot thing. Sound familiar? It was a huge box office bomb and got ravaged by critics, so I wouldn't blame you if it didn't. Of course I'll confess that I kind of dig it, but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone because I am a self-confessed huge fan of most 'roided up 80s and 90s action movies. Anything with Stallone, Arnold, Van Damme, Lundgren, Norris, or any of the others is alright by me.

But the first Judge Dredd movie really tests me. Not because it's bad (it is), or because it's a terrible adaptation (I'm told it is). No, it tests me because of Rob "Fucking" Schneider. That man is walking, talking nails on a chalkboard. A pestilent boil upon cinema. And anything he touches becomes nigh unbearable to sit through.

Anyway, the video game adaptation of said film is okay. It plays very similarly to some other titles from Acclaim, all of which I think are better than this one, but I'll cover those later. Judge Dredd is also by far the hardest of the bunch, which may have something to do with its lower ranking.

A typical level, of which there are many, has Dredd moving through various ravaged slums, prisons, and surrounding wastelands of MegaCity One, shooting and/or arresting criminals, blowing open piles of supply crates (you do this a lot), climbing an endless assortment of ladders (they don't have elevators in the future?), and getting shot in the face. Lots and lots of getting shot in the face.

The general goal in each level is to complete a "primary objective" and find the exit, though there is always a "secondary objective" as well. I'm not sure what completing that does, other than maybe score points, and damage your chances of actually making it through this game intact. I'd recommend sticking to the primary mission.

The sprite and level design are all nice and animate well enough. I guess if there is one thing Acclaim was good at, it was sharp-looking later-gen titles. There's also some Mode 7 speederbike levels later on, but I was never able to reach any of them myself. They certainly look fun, but I guess I am not really in a position to pass judgment [heh - editor] on them.

The actual execution of the gameplay leaves something to be desired though. I don't know if there's any glaring problems that hold it back, but it does have enough small things to make me think it was not nearly as good as it could have been. Death by a thousand cuts in a sense. In fact, I just have to look over at the very-similar Demolition Man as an example of how much better this game could have been. For example, most of the weapons feel like they aren't packing enough of a punch, requiring you to put round after round into even common fodder enemies before they will go down. And the bosses are even worse. What's the point of being loaded down with half a dozen different futuristic weapons if none of them ever make me feel like a powerful justice-spewing badass?

The controls are a bit too "busy" as well. Usually it's a good thing when a character has a varied moveset, but I feel like you're constantly stepping all over yourself here: dashing when you don't want to dash, ducking when you don't want to duck, not shooting in the direction you want, and so forth. All it does is make an unnecessarily difficult game even harder. Other things like getting up, down, or off ladders are also needlessly finicky.

Still, for all those faults, Judge Dredd remains a pretty fun game. I mean, hell, most people seem to like it. It's got a cool license, it looks good, and it's way better than most of Acclaim's crap, so I can't blame them either.

That difficulty though... I had to punish the game a bit in my rankings because of it. It's fun enough that I tried to stick with it, and I really wanted to see it through to the end; I even busted out the old Bradygames strategy guide I had lying around to assist. But it's just too relentless and the password system is a total joke. I'd be surprised if many people made it very far in this one. So overall it's a fun game, with some deep flaws holding it back.

But at least there's no Rob Schneider.

Did I beat it?
Nope. This one's pretty tough.

#326 - The 7th Saga

The 7th Saga aka Elnard aka Grindy McGrindington The Game, is a title of some infamy. Commonly called one of the worst RPGs on the system (if not one of its worst games in general), it is a famously botched release of a fairly experimental game that people love to hate. One that tried its hand at pushing the envelope for what a JRPG could be, to some minor success, while still remaining a relatively paint-by-numbers affair in many different ways.

Three tenets of JRPGs

A Coherent Storyline and Characters with Depth
I guess give 'em points for trying? Because there is a storyline here, assuming you can follow it. Seven "apprentices" are brought before a king who promises them great riches and prestige if they can hunt down seven magical McGuffins in a race against the clock and against one another. Eventually, you'll discover this was all a ruse to free the Evil One™, who then sends you back in time to... uh, let you kill him when he was younger, or something. Seems like a pretty poor plan on his part. Along the way you'll also encounter kidnapped children, scientists that have invented great flying machines, cities at war with one another, guys who need rescuing from dark caves/dungeons, and many other typical JRPG tropes.

The roster of playable characters, such as they are, is comprised of seven different knights, clerics, robots, priests, aliens, and demons. You'll select one, and then encounter the other six throughout your quest, though the depth of their "personalities" is mostly limited to either acting helpful if they're good in nature, or like assholes if they're evil. Each is ostensibly trying to learn more about themselves during this great quest, but the hell if I noticed any sort of character development or revelations for the guy I chose (the white wizard guy). In the end, I couldn't really say what the game was about, just that I got betrayed and traveled through time, but it all turned out alright in the end.

A Fun Battle System That Stays Engaging
I'll go partial credit. It's another typical "attack/defend/spell/item" setup, but there are a few wrinkles tossed in to keep you on your toes. For one, there is a clever defend/counter mechanic that presents a way for even the weakest characters to unleash powerful physical blows if they time their attacks right. Another is the way the different McGuffins I mentioned above actually have built-in combat mechanics, all of which add an extra level of strategy to the proceedings. By that I mean they are powerful items, but you must handle them with care. Or at least the FAQ I used told me to do that. Maybe you can use them liberally. No idea.

The combat does have some quirks to it, that unfortunately rear their head far too often, especially early in the game. Here's an example of one way encounters can go wrong:
1 - Whittle down enemy's health.
2 - Enemy is healed by one of his companions.
3 - Whittle his health down again until he dies.
4 - Whittle down the second enemy's health.
5 - Second enemy revives the first enemy.
6 - First enemy heals the second enemy
7 - Whittle them down again.
8 - Enemies flee.


Challenging Yet Fair Gameplay
Yikes, this is where shit starts to go off the rails. You see, The 7th Saga has acquired a reputation of sorts for two different changes that were made by the US localization team, both of which severely affect (if not hamper) the difficulty curve of this game. First, they dramatically nerfed your characters' stat and level progressions. As in, a straight slice across the boards. You get less of everything when you level up, and you get it less often. What does that mean? You have to compensate with a shit ton of grinding. So you'll need to gain 2-3 levels to gain the amount of stats and spells you were intended to earn, which means spending 2-3 times as much time sitting around grinding before you are strong enough to proceed through any given area. This is super, super shitty. Especially in areas where the difficulty spikes and you're stuck having to grind for hours at a time.

Hand-in-hand with that, they didn't accommodate this stat nerfing anywhere else in the game. Specifically, all of the other apprentices that are wandering around competing against you are still moving upwards at a normal rate. Which means the further into the game you get, the more the gap grows between them and you. This leads to some seriously fucked consequences when you're forced to fight them. If you're forced to fight them. Pray you don't.

So for the three tenets I'll say two partial successes, and one mostly failure. Better overall than the three other JRPGs I've covered to this point, but still leaving us a long, long ways from the system's elite.

A few other things of note:
1 - Early on you are given a "crystal ball" of some kind in order to track down the missing magical items. What does this actually mean? That you will have a "radar" when traveling the overworld which you can use to locate nearby cities and dungeons, and know which ones contain runes, as well as the movement patterns of enemy mobs. In other words, the game doesn't have random combat. You only engage once running into one of the "blips" on the radar.

2 - There are hidden items throughout the world that are completely impossible to find without a guide. Unless I'm missing something, you'd have to laboriously check every tile of every town if you want to find them. I wouldn't advise it.

3 - Prepare to get real familiar with the overworld and battle songs. Yeesh.

So even though I adore the genre, and will generally favor most of these kinds of games, I didn't enjoy The 7th Saga quite as much as I had hoped. It wasn't a bad game, and there were many things about it that I liked, but after 50 hours I was more than ready to be done with the grinding, endless battles, and simple combat. I understand that the game has something of a cult following, and that people still obsessively play it to this day, but only the most hardcore of fans should probably apply.

Did I beat it?
I did. I went decades without playing the copy I found in a pawn shop back in the 90s, and then only toyed around with it for a while before finally sitting down and knocking it out.