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#375 - The Mask

Another platformer, once again licensed from a hit movie, released late in the system's life. This time it appears it was brought to us by... *scans box art*... I dunno. Whoever Black Pearl's handlers were. In any case, I loved this stupid ass movie - and all of Jim Carrey's library - when I was a kid, but time has slowly soured most of those opinions. So should it be any wonder that my initial expectations for this game were somewhere between "low" and "abysmally low?"

Yet, somehow, some way, this game is not too shabby. Fun even. Who'da guessed? The graphics are nice, the animation's well done, the controls are completely and utterly rock solid (cue me fainting from shock on that one), and the challenge stays consistently fair. Before I sat down and played this thing, I would have bet anything that several of those criteria would have gotten failing grades. So you can imagine my surprise when I found a game that not only checked all the right boxes, but managed to hold my attention long enough to warrant an entire playthrough while I was at it.

Now I should probably slow down here, because none of that should read as glowing praise. It's not, and this is not a great game. Mostly, I'm lavishing the game for being so much better than it had any right to be. While it may be much better than similar brethren like Beavis & Butthead or Aaahhh Real Monsters!,it's still a strictly "above-average" affair overall. And while it gets many things right, it flounders quite a bit in more than a few other areas. Level design, for one, could have been more inspired. The movie had some great setpieces, many of which could have been milked for some "outside the box" levels. Instead, what you get is the usual maze-like stuff where you wander through random apartment buildings and city streets, where you go around searching for doors, cracked walls, teleports, and all the other usual stuff, hoping to find the level exit. None of them are worth remembering.

The boss fights are also a giant letdown. Every single one of them is a massive damage sponge (though to be fair, so is your character), with many of them requiring a beatdown via brute force as opposed to anything resembling finesse. Dorian, the final boss, is a particularly egregious example of this.

So chalk this one up as something of a pleasant surprise, even if it never reaches any exceedingly lofty heights. Once again it's not something I'd ever be especially quick to recommend - there's still hundreds of other better games that would get that honor - but I wouldn't bat an eye at someone trying to claim it as a sleeper hit or hidden gem. And I know people hate those terms, overused as they are, and I myself will be pulling them out more and more here in a bit, but that's the simple truth.

Did I beat it?
Yes, quite a few years ago now.

#374 - Harley's Humongous Adventure

Hi Tech Expressions? Good god, when's the last time I covered something from these assholes? Like four installments ago, right? *checks internet* Okay, they put out the Carmen Sandiego games that I just wrote about. I guess I forgot about that, and I guess that means HTE can't be all that bad... but it's still a pretty sad sign when an entire publishing outfit could barely muster a presence in the middling ranks of the Super Nintendo library. Still, we're deep into volume eight now, approaching the halfway point, and they've popped back up with this unabashedly fun entry. I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.

First off, just going off some hazy memory of something I once read, I'm gonna say that this game is from the dude(s) who brought us Claymates and Lester the Unlikely. In other words, one game I haven't covered yet (which must mean I think it's pretty okay), and another that I had fun with, despite it's AVGN-induced reputation. All three games share the goofy art style (in this case, originated from clay models) and silly-looking characters.

The storyline is about... I dunno really. Lester shrinks himself for some reason (presumably a case of being a giant dumbass), and then has to get big again. You'll have to excuse me, because it was years ago that I played through this, and that's roughly the same time that I started this review. So there's gonna be a few lapses in memory. In any case, tiny Harley has to work his way back to his lab by navigating through the other sections of his house, including the front yard and the roof. Think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids but with a lot more slaughter of insects, demons, and troll monsters.

Gameplay is very, very conventional. Run, jump, shoot, collect things, and so forth; you know the deal. But it's all very solidly done. The controls are tight and responsive, with a decently sized moveset available. The levels are nicely designed, often pushing you to explore, while never feeling overly byzantine. The graphics and animation are colorful and fun, especially the large bosses, where the clay models especially shine. And most important of all, the game's just plain fun to play. Frustration is always kept to a minimum.

Of course I can't hold a game this far back in the rankings if I don't have some holdups with it, and Harley is no exception. And the biggest thing holding it back, I think, is that it doesn't do any one thing to set it apart from the billions of other similar platformers. Everything is competently done, but there's no "wow" factor. The bosses look cool, but the actual fights themselves are fairly pedestrian. And the entire experience is brief enough that it's basically over before you know it. These aren't uncommon problems in this genre, but they're the sort of things that separate the fun games from the great games.

So there you have it. A fun game, a well-made game, but not necessarily an exciting one. I was never compelled to come back to it, or feel especially moved to recommend it to others. It's merely a pleasant experience, soon forgotten, and lost in the shadows of the hundreds of better games on the system.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I popped it in on the strength of an interview Mr. RVGFanatic did with its main developer.

#373 - War 3010

Here's another one I wrestled with as far as deciding on a final ranking goes. War 3010 is one of the few traditional turn-based strategy games (I'd call Koei games a whole different animal) that I enjoyed from beginning to end; full of tense missions, tightly balanced battles, and surprisingly deep gameplay. But it's also a rather roughshod experience, full of gaping weaknesses and missed opportunities. Something that could have been just as good as the Famicom (Advance) Wars series, but unfortunately falls short in a couple key ways.

This is also a sequel to another little-known game on the SNES called War 2410. No relation to a series of PC games that came out a few years later as far as I know. And while its predecessor focused on land campaigns, and pitting mechanized troops and tanks against each other across a series of alien landscapes, War 3010 takes place in space.

Now obviously I have not covered War 2410 yet, which clearly means I think that its sequel is the inferior game. And the reason for that boils down to one simple fact; I HATE that the units in War 3010 are represented by abstract little shapes instead of pixel art. Granted, I could understand how it would be difficult to make a small 20x20 pixel bomber look different from a fighter or a transport or a heavy fighter, but the solution they came up with is not good enough. At all. I'm not exaggerating when I say I spent half of my playthrough of this game trying to remember which shapes were which units, something that is not helped by the fact that many are nearly identical. And not in any sort of consistent manner either.

Aside from that (major) shortcoming, I enjoy most other aspects of the game. It seems very simple at first glance; generally there is very little to do other than maneuver the units provided at mission's start. Occasionally you'll come across bases where you can build a limited number of additional units, and sometimes you can discover new technologies, but neither thing happens especially frequently. The true meat of the game lies in the tactics of the combat though. Trying to defeat an overwhelming enemy force with limited resources. Some of my favorite games of all time use this model, and I think it shines through wonderfully when done well. See almost any Advance Wars game and you'll know what I'm talking about. And while I think War 3010 gets close to tapping into this strategy promised land, it never does quite get there. The action is fun, but never tremendously so.

The game is also TOUGH. As in bash your head against the wall until you figure out a solution tough. And that's not necessarily a bad thing as it did help give the game some legs for my playthrough. And it does almost adds an element of puzzle solving to the gameplay. "How are you going to escort these weak ships across this system when the enemy outnumbers you four-to-one?" "How can you take this base in just a few turns?" If you're into that sort of thing, this game can offer you a lot.

So yeah, like I said, I rather enjoyed this one, but I don't think I could ever call it a great game. I probably can't even call it good without qualifying that statement in some way. Because the fun I had with it aside, it can't stack up against the depth of many of the Koei titles the SNES got. And I did enjoy War 2410 more. And no one would ever, EVER mistake this thing for an Advance Wars title.

Did I beat it?
Yes, back-to-back with its prequel.

#372 - Wing Commander

#371 - Wing Commander: The Secret Missions

I consider myself pretty well educated on video games. Like... 99.9 percentile in the general population, and probably somewhere between 90-99 when surrounded by fellow nerds. What do I mean by that? As in, what exactly does "educated" even mean in this context? Well, I guess I'm saying that I'm extremely familiar with gaming's culture and history, earned through thousands upon thousands of hours playing, reading, writing about the damn things.

So when I say that I'm not intimately familiar with the Wing Commander franchise, that's only telling part of the story. Mostly, that (until now) I had never actually played one. Any of them. On any system. But that doesn't mean I wasn't very "familiar" with the "idea" of WC. You see, I have read dozens upon dozens of articles and reviews on every game in the series. I remember reading about the tie-in movie being trapped in preproduction hell, and the way it finally showed up, with a limp, and then disappeared forever, banished to the $4.99 DVDs bins in K-Mart. I remember when Chris Taylor Roberts left Origin to found Digital Anvil studios, and the massively hyped (and completely unrealistic sounding) Freelancer. I remember when it finally came out years later too, barely registering a ripple in the market. I remember staring at the PS1 copy of Wing Commander III in my local rental store, finally understanding what had happened to Mark Hamill and why he never seemed to star in movies anymore. And finally, I remember learning that two of the games (well, one game and a mission pack) got ported to the Super Nintendo. I had grown leery of PC ports after the disappointment that was Mechwarrior, but I was still intrigued. Could a story-based space flight combat simulation work on a 16-bit console?

And the answer is "mostly."

I'm not going to bore us with too many details here, but those of you who did not grow up with gaming PCs in the early '90s, Wing Commander is a heavily cinematic soap opera sci fi flight combat simulator franchise. You're a new recruit pilot who needs to unravel a mystery stop a war win a war do something or other (I forget what exactly, it's been quite a few months now). The series was a smash hit, and spawned numerous sequels, and that ill-fated movie I mentioned up above. And those games I would say are mostly known for two big things:

- Awesome production values, and a heavily "cinematic" feel to the atmosphere. There is a running storyline with a ton of characters, lots of cutscenes and things to keep track of. The very things that made this series famous in the first place.
- A campaign that branches after each "area." In other words, depending on what happens during each mission, or who gets killed, you will start heading towards one of two different conclusions for each chapter of the game, thus affecting what future missions you see, and ultimately what ending you will receive.

Both things were vastly ahead of their time, and help give the game legs even to this day. I don't know how many hours it would take to see every mission in this game, but trust me, it would be a longass time...

(each one of those is a series of missions)

...and yeah, the gameplay itself isn't too shabby, with solid controls, sharp graphics, interesting missions, and more than enough challenge, etc. etc. The point is, if you've ever been curious about the series, or you enjoy stuff like WarpSpeed but just wish it had a little more meat to its bones, you could do much worse than check this out. It's not the same thing as playing it with a joystick on your old Super VGA-compatible PC, but it's not a bad alternative. And if you get through the entire thing and find yourself wanting more, get the expansion/mission pack follow-up.

Did I beat Wing Commander?
Nope. I've gotten through a decent number of missions, but never got around to finishing the thing off. Perhaps when I'm done with this project and have the bandwidth to return to games in my rearview mirror I'll make this one a priority.

Did I beat Wing Commander: The Secret Missions?
Also nope. That would only happen after I beat the first game.

#370 - Wordtris

Wordtris. The game where you play as a circus performer who must use the power of comedy - and spelling - to help imprisoned children learn to laugh again. Very ahead of its time, the game has some laughs, some tears, and teaches some valuable life lessons. And then at the end everyone dies in the gas chambers. It's very tragic.

Wait, that was that Jerry Lewis clown gestapo movie. Obviously this clown game is one of the millions of variations of Tetris... but with letters. And a circus motif for some reason. I think. I have to be honest and admit that it's been a long while since I played this one, and laziness has prevented me from going back and refreshing my memory of its mechanics. Sometimes I can get away with that, but I don't think it's gonna work here because I'm drawing a blank as to how exactly the game works in practice.

*a short while later*

Okay, so that title is kind of a misnomer. It's not so much "Tetris with Letters" as it is... what's the game where it's kinda like Tetris but not? You know what I mean? Some other game in the Tetris-verse? Fuck I don't know. The only thing that matters is that it's a puzzler where you get letters instead of shapes or colors, and you have to use them to spell out words. You do that by dropping them one at a time into nine different columns, trying to spell out different words horizontally or vertically (but not diagonally). As words are cleared out the letters in your columns shift back up. That's the best I can explain it.

And it gets real hard, real fast. Mostly because this game is real stingy with the vowels - most likely by design since it would be too easy if every other letter was an e - and the speed cranks up as soon as the third or fourth level. Unless you're some sort of spelling savant who can quickly figure out where your best odds at placing a C, W, and B are, you're gonna struggle to make much progress here. I know I did (at first). Still, struggles aside I have to admit I've had a good time with the game each and every occasion I've sat down with it.

So if you're the sort of person that enjoys a game of Scrabble (or Words with Friends to you millennials) or Boggle, this is the perfect puzzle game on the Super Nintendo for you. Mileage will most likely vary for everyone else.

Did I beat it?
No. I never quite got to letter J (the level). Either I'm too stupid dumb, or this game is hard. Probably both.
Yes, I figured out you can exploit the pause button to study your potential moves. Take that Wordtris!

#369 - 3 Ninjas Kick Back

Remember 3 Ninjas? It was one of those ultra silly ninja movies that came out in the wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon. This one was about three young boys who - under the tutelage of their grandfather Victor Wong - train in the ways of the ninja in order to... I dunno, defeat some bad guys or something. Leslie Nielson might have been involved (or was that Surf Ninjas?). It's been over twenty five years since I've seen it so all I really remember is the scene where the one kid is dunking a basketball somehow. Anyway, apparently the movie was successful enough to warrant a bunch of sequels that no one watched, and since the cover art doesn't boast Hulk Hogan I'm gonna assume this thing is adapted from the second film.

The plot, if there is one, is totally incomprehensible. Something about the Breakin' reject in the first screenshot trying to get some corporate guys to get something mystical from Egg Shen Grandpa Wong. Later on there are gigantic nurses and sumo wrestlers involved for some reason. I'm sure it makes sense within the context of the movie, but I never saw it, and the wikipedia summary is one of the most baffling things I've ever read.

Gameplay is better than you'd think it would be. Or at least it is after the game gets off to something of a rough start. The first couple levels are basically micro levels. I'm not joking when I say they're roughly ten or twenty seconds long apiece. Hell, right off the bat you're getting ganked by giant boulders and teleporting enemies with ranged attacks. This would be a horrid introduction to any game, and I'm not sure what Sony were thinking here.

Eventually you'll figure out what you're doing, figure out the game's tics, and settle into a groove. And this is where the game gets pretty fun, as you move through challenging (but never unfair) levels that mix up the action, platforming, and simple puzzle-solving. The second half of the game can get pretty hard, but never to the point where you're gonna want to throw your controller or anything.

All in all I think 3NKB is something of a minor success. It is better than most of the movie games on the system, and it is certainly better than it had any right to be. If you can get past the sloppily-put together introduction, and stick with it, the game will open up to you and provide some good times.

Did I beat it?
Yes, it took some persistent effort but I cracked it late one night.

#368 - World Heroes 2

Jesus, another fighter. How many times can I reiterate the same exact few things? Because it feels like I've done it at least twenty times already. Here we go anyway..

What we have here is a commendable improvement over the first World Heroes. While it seems like that game is somewhat beloved by the retro community, I find it to be a mostly genericStreet Fighter II ripoff. Not that they're not allStreet Fighter II ripoffs. But at least this time around we have a slightly less generic Street Fighter II ripoff that even I will admit is put together rather well, and provides some honest-to-goodness fun times. For a fighting game at least.

The roster has now been expanded to fourteen different combatants, including holdovers from the first WH such as Hanzo Hattori, the SS war criminal, and Rasputin. Joining them are new fighters including Captain Kidd, Erik the Viking, and Joe...uh, Montana. I guess that's barely worse than the inclusion of Hulk Hogan. Barely.

The fighting, the only thing that really matters, is crisp and responsive for the most part. That's something I can pretty much say about every fighter in this installment, as I think this group really represents the genre well, technically. They may be low on inspiration, but they get the mechanics right for the most part. The fighters in the last two installments were all held back by some shortcoming or other, but I can't really say that's the case with any of these guys.

The graphics and animations too, are all nice. In fact I would say this game has some of the best background stage art design of any fighter on the system.

The music on the other hand, is not so great, but I only say that because I have to hold everything up to SFII, especially as I get closer and closer to it. And SFII has a bitchin' soundtrack.

And much like is gonna be the case with Power Instinct (which is coming up here shortly), part of me just has to love the inherent silliness in this game. I mean, where else are you gonna get a pirate attacking the "Super Shredder" version of Joe Montana with a great white shark? Nowhere, so I'm in.

So yeah, another pretty good fighter, in an installment full of pretty good fighters. You could almost swap the order I put all of them in and it wouldn't make a difference. If you have fun with one of them you'll have fun with the rest.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, my buddy Hanzo led me to victory once again.

#367 - Aero the Acro-Bat 2

As you no doubt remember, Aero the Acro-bat was one of the billions of mascot-ready rodent platformers that came out in Sonic's wake. Like was usually the case, it meshed together a dumb gimmick (he's a circus performer!) with cartoony graphics, hop-and-bop action, and a generic quest full of boring levels, iffy controls, and forgettable characters. Not super notable in other words.

Aero the Acro-bat 2 actually does its best to remedy most of those things. The controls are significantly better, with miles more responsiveness, and an overall scheme that makes loads more sense. The levels are also much more interesting, content to abandon the circus theme that - while good intentioned - did not really serve to keep the first game interesting. And I feel like the graphics and animation have a bit more charm and polish to them. The first game felt so lifeless that they really needed to do something to keep things from getting boring, and I think AtA2 succeeds in doing this for the most part.

That all being said, the best I can say for AtA2 is that all of these various fixes and finetunings that helped turn something broken into something much more playable, have nonetheless still left us with a platformer, in a sea of platformers. It is, after all, still just a circus bat jumping around empty castles attacking other rodents, hunting down doodads and fighting occasional bosses. What they did was good enough to put this among the better of the Sonic copycats, but still leaves us miles away from the platform's elites.

So, if you liked Aero the Acro-Bat... then you're a crazy person, and you should give up video games (I kid, I kid). But if you wanted to like it, and couldn't, try this one out. It at least takes that stupid idea and puts actual functioning gameplay behind it. And you'll be set up for the final (and vastly superior) installment in the series...

Did I beat it?
No, it's somewhere on my to-do list, but I haven't gotten around to finishing my half-completed run.

#366 - Super Scope 6

Dedicated Super Scope game number two, with, let's say... four to go. They get better, I promise.

Super Scope 6 was a pack-in game that haunts every single one of those SNES lots you see on eBay. Tens of thousands of copies, orphaned without the sibling piece of plastic they were sold with, doomed to be forever resold as box filler, again and again and again...

Anyway, what exactly is this worthless brick that keeps passing through your hands? Besides the owner of the laziest cover art in the history of video games. Well, as the title implies, it's a collection of mini games, all designed to show off that toy bazooka that crashed the Christmas of millions of unfortunate children back in 1992.

Shooting those mole things from 'Super Mario World' - Like Whack-A-Mole, but even more violent.

Shooting down missiles that are trying to blow your face up - So hard that I refuse to believe anyone has ever beaten this without suffering permanent spine damage from hoisting The Scope for hours on end.

Shooting Tetris...stuff - Ever play a puzzle game and wish you could use a ten pound light gun instead of a controller? No? Well this game has you covered anyway!

"But guy, that's only three games. This is Super Scope Six." Yeah, they're cheating a bit here, and using slight variations of the above three modes to get to that magic total of six. Sly bastards.

Anyway, it's not bad, and it all has that typical Nintendo polish that you'd expect. But it still seemed pretty lifeless and forgettable, like Nintendo was pretty much just phoning it in. And I'd much rather play any of the other SS titles that I will be getting to in future reviews.

Did I beat it?
Umm..... if I did I used the mouse. So, one way or another, the answer is "no."

#365 - Super Soccer Champ

If you had to name one good "arcade" title on the Super Nintendo for each of the major sports, what do you think you could come up with? Most people would probably immediately rattle off NBA Jam and Tecmo Super Bowl. A few might even name Super Baseball 2020 or Hit the Ice. But what of soccer? Mega Man Soccer is no doubt the first game that comes to most people's minds, but that game kind of sucks and makes for a poor representative of the sport. My own personal choice might be Super Soccer Champ, brought to us from SNK via Taito. Undoubtedly based off of some old arcade cabinet that used to haunt the world's pizza parlors.

Similar to the recently covered Head On Soccer, SSC is one hell of a fast-paced game. Hell, torridly paced may be a better way of putting it. For me, strategy mainly consisted of making a beeline for the goal, juking the defenders, and letting rip on the goalie. And if the opponent gets possession of the ball I dive for their ankles repeatedly until I get it back. Rinse and repeat. It's that simple, and it's consistently fun.

Graphics are decent, though obviously a step down from the SNK arcade game it's based on, which should always go without saying. I wish the animation was a little more detailed, but that's not usually a major concern for me with sports titles. As long as the controls are tight, and the gameplay satisfying, everything else is just a bonus.

While I did have fun with the game, the simplistic arcade gameplay can start to wear a bit thin after extended playtime. Once you learn the most effective tactics, start to outsmart the AI, and score roughly a million goals, there isn't really much of anything else to get out of it. I played through it a while ago, and had a good time, but my second playthrough for the purposes of this review turned into a bit of a slog as I kept going through the same motions, again and again. So while I still think it is one of the better soccer titles on the SNES, the lack of true depth does hold it back from competing with the top-tier games.

Did I beat it?
Yes, most likely with Brazil or Italy. I forget who exactly.

#364 - The Combatribes

The Combatribes is a game of surprising emotional heft. Instead of tasking you with something as simple as rescuing your kidnapped girlfriend from your estranged brother, or rescuing the kidnapped mayor's daughter from an evil street gang, the game offers a much deeper plot. Here, you play the part of three blood brothers caught between the lives they want to lead, the dying wishes of their foster mother, and the legacy of their dead father. That man, Chief Tuck, hoped for them to follow his unrealized dream of becoming a professional roller hockey player. An evil gang had ruined that dream by injuring him during a game early in his career, before disappearing themselves, unseen for decades. Now a chance series of events leads to the stunning revelation that dad might not be so dead after all...

In the end you must choose between the life of your father, the life of your mother, or the life of your brothers. It's basically the Sophie's Choice of video games, but in reverse. Heavy stuff.

Yeah I'm fucking with you. Again.Combatribes is about three muscley dudes bashing in people's skulls because some robot lady wants to rule the city or something. There's no plotline.

Gameplay is simple to describe. Simple even for a brawler. You punch, you kick, and you occasionally grab onto enemies to either pound their face in, or throw them at their compadres. The levels are even simpler. You enter an area, fight a few thugs in that area, and then a boss appears. Then you move on to the next area where another group of enemies appears, followed by another boss. After a couple of those you move on to the final level which acts as a boss rush of sorts, and then you beat the game. All in all it's somewhere between 20-30 minutes long.

Okay, so it's a brawler, you didn't expect a plot, and you expected simple, if not shallow, gameplay. The only thing that really matters is "how does it play?" And the answer to that is "pretty good." Better than it could have been, not nearly as great as it should have been. Bashing guys' skulls in is satisfying, but gets a bit old. And the tempo of the action is a bit off. Enemies are constantly getting cheap little hits in, which is balanced by your dude being able to withstand about a billion hits. But that also prevents you from ever getting into a good rhythm.

Anyway, all in all I was initially disappointed with the game, expecting something that could stand up alongside the genre's best. Then I was frustrated as I ran into the game's cheapest boss. Then I had fun again as I figured out the game's flow and cruised through it. Then I had fun again when I revisited it for polishing up this review. So I still think it's a pretty fun game, that could have been better.

[I just realized that of the three fake stories I made up for games in this thread, two of them were based off of Holocaust dramas. That was not an intentional move on my part, but apparently my brain likes to keep going back to the same well of absurdity]

[...and I didn't actually make up the third fake story. It was the plotline of 'Prince of Thorns']

Did I beat it?
Yes, it's a tough one, but I managed to scrape a victory out.

#363 - Super Chase H.Q.

Eh... I'm sure I could write up all sorts of stuff about this game. Could, but can't, because I played through it years ago and I cannot for the life of me figure out where my cart is... seriously, 715 Super Nintendo carts piled up and this is the only one that is MIA? Did one of the people who were being shown our house steal my copy of Super Chase H.Q.? Seems pretty unlikely; why would anyone in the history of the world want one? I mean even if some retro game collector did happen to be in here, I accidentally left Mr. Nutz out in plain sight too, and that one's worth a hell of a lot more. Hell, even the Donkey Kong Country cart would have been more tempting.

Anyway, I'm gonna have to work with the outline I started a couple years ago, and the rest is gonna have to be going entirely off of my memory here, so take some of these fine details with a grain of salt...

Super Chase H.Q. - presumably the follow-up to some game called Chase H.Q. - is an arcade car chasing racing combat thing where you are some sort of police type of guy whose job is ramming his car into criminals over and over again until someone is totaled, and before he gets shot or rocketed in the face by anything else that happens to be driving or flying by. It's a pretty okay time. Bashing into other cars is fun. Swerving around erratically to avoid enemy bullets and missiles can be intense. It's Taito, they generally were pretty good at putting these things together.

But the flaws at work here... god are they numerous and annoying. Like the complete vision for this game was still one iteration (or maybe one sequel) away from being realized.

Chief complaints?There's basically no gameplay "balance" at work here, no functional difficulty curve to ease you into the action. Each level basically comes down to one of two results. Either you beat it and lose a life, or you work hard to master it so that you don't lose that one life, and therefore have a better chance at getting further into the game. It's always that binary.

There's also a pretty big lack of depth here. Hit car with car, avoid projectiles. That's it. And that can be fine in short bursts, but when you're playing the game, trying to get better and better, it can start to wear real thin, real fast.

Still... it is fun. This is Taito we're talking about after all, one of the few companies on this system that has a near sparkling resume as far as I'm concerned. And bashing into shit is a good time, hence the prolonged success of the Burnout series.

So yeah, fun game, exciting game (at least for the first playthrough), but a disappointing game. I'd call it a "Car chasing, criminal busting, helicopter-for-some-reason-attacking-me-and-then-getting-shot-down-somehow'ing" experience that manages to be less than the sum of its parts, that isn't nearly as fun as it should have been, but still provides a decent enough time as long as you can look past its many flaws.

Did I beat it?
Yes, after half a dozen tries or so.

#362 - Fighter's History

I have to be honest, a part of me is counting down the remaining fighting games. Sports games aside, they are turning into the hardest ones to write about, mostly because there are only so many ways to spin a review that covers the same exact storylines, the same mechanics, and the same looking graphics, without it turning into a total bore for both you to read and me to write.

Well, I guess I'm also counting them down because I don't really want to spend a ton of time with most of them. In general, I just want to speed through them, only occasionally coming back when I need to refresh myself on some of the finer details, so that I can bang out the reviews, and move on. And while the numerous fighters I'm covering in this installment are all pretty good little games that deserve any fighting fan's attention, all of those things still ring true. I just want to get through them so that I can get back to whatever RPG or Koei game I'm currently banging out.

So what's there to say still that you might want to actually hear and that I want to say? Graphics? Street Fighter IIish, with some nice animation. Even the backgrounds of the stages are animated in the exact same manner of SFII. Controls? Nice and responsive; hence this thing being ranked higher than the likes of Fatal Fury. The pace of play is a bit slower than I'd like on the default difficulty, but there is a slider so it's not much of a complaint. Character roster? Super generic. There's no dinosaurs or Schutzstaffel here. Just a bunch of Zangief and Ryu wannabes. Depth? No idea, ask someone who plays fighters competitively. I just know it feels like Street Fighter II in this regard as well.

So there you go. The most Street Fightery Street Fighter ripoff this side of Fighting Street [Fighting Street is Street Fighter - editor]. It checks all the boxes, hits all the notes, but comes up with diddly squat for inspiration or creativity. Call it a love letter, call it a well done homage, or call it plagiarism. Just know it's better than most other fighters.

...also, this game? Totally this.

Did I beat it?
Yes, a couple different times throughout the years. Including tonight. Tonight being whenever I wrote this.

#361 - Stunt Race FX

A couple of installments ago I wrote about reminiscing over how I used to borrow different SNES games from my neighbors, and that it didn't really matter if those games were any good, much less great. What mattered was that I had new games to sink my teeth into, something I could never get enough of. You see, when you're a kid with all the time and patience in the world you will happily memorize every single map of a game like Super Battletank, or study the physics of Side Pocket down to a tee. It didn't matter if the games weren't that great, you just wanted to play stuff.Stunt Race FX is one of those games that I borrowed, and - for lack of better things to do - it's one of the mediocre games that I spent hours upon hours fully mastering. Did I enjoy that time with the game? Sure, I knew it wasn't the second coming of Super Mario Kart, but I still had a blast playing through every mode and track. I even convinced a friend to turn the versus mode into a deathmatch of sorts.

Coming back to the game decades later I could quickly see that it wasn't a particularly great game, and I knew that I had little to no interest in spending as much time with it as I once did. But I did enjoy the time I gave it. I even played through most of the main campaign again over the course of an evening. I didn't finish it off, mostly because I don't have the patience I did as a 10 year old, especially for games I've already "checked off the list." But it was a fun and nostalgic night all the same.

So, if you want a racing game that has the typical Nintendo polish, and you've already exhausted the likes of F-Zero and Super Mario Kart, you could do worse than Stunt Race FX. Yeah, the controls and frame rate are okayish at best, the graphics are not exactly pretty nowadays, there isn't much in the way of charm or personality to anything, and the franchise disappeared without a trace afterwards for very good reasons. But the gameplay still stands up well enough, and the tracks are fun for a spin or two for the most part.

Did I beat it?
Yes, a number of times many years ago.

#360 - Power Instinct

...or as I call it, "Grandma fighter." Or maybe "Too Many Grandmas"[Simpsons did it - editor]. No seriously, this is a game where you get to kick old grannies in the face. And they deserve it too, because they are some merciless damn crones.

So when I was doing my usual prep work for this whole thread - mostly sorting out what games were gonna be finalized in what spots - I spent a number of nights replaying World Heroes 2, and Fighter's History, and Power Instinct. All in the name of trying to convince myself that I preferred one over the others. In the end I basically got nowhere. All three games play similarly enough, and I'm not a serious enough fighter enthusiast to really be able to dissect them in any sort of deep manner. So I ended up just kind of going with an order that rewarded PI for being the most outlandish (in my opinion). Because, really, you could shuffle all three up in my rankings and it would be just about as accurate.

A few notable things I should mention:
Life Battle - An extra mode where you take on a gauntlet of foes on one life. It's a cool idea, but the foes are rendered so incompetent here that it's almost not even worth playing. Check it out as a curiosity, and never then touch it again.

"Extra" areas- These are found on the side of every stage, and can be opened up by knocking your opponent into the barriers that separate them. What purpose does this serve? None. Seriously, I have no idea why they even bothered.

That cover art - What in the hell were they thinking? Was the artist facing down his deadline at the 11th hour, and cribbed from the nearest thing he had available; a copy of Power Moves? Because that is the only explanation for why they didn't use the cart artwork

So yeah, that finishes up the "good" fighters. Next installment will start to wind through the "good-to-very-good" ones. I don't know how many total there are left, but I feel like I must be at least halfway through them at this point.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I'm pretty sure there were unlimited continues, so even fighting halfwits like myself can push through.

#359 - Legend

Knights of the Round, but without the good stuff.

Okay, now how many times have I made this exact same joke? Twice at least? I promise this is the last time, and that I'll come up with some fresh material.

Legend is indeed something of a poor man's Knights of the Round though. While imitation is often the sincerest form of flattery, in the process Seika seems to have lost the latter's fiendishly challenging, yet still fair, difficulty, the extremely deep (for the genre) combat system, the ridiculously awesome-looking bosses, and the cool, if superficial, upgrade system. What does that leave us with? I guess the "legend" of a guy who slowly swings a sword, fights off endless generic bandits, and defeats larger generic boss bandits, while still offering up a fun little mid-tier brawler.

First off, I want to get through the usual nitpicks and/or grievances. Just to get them all out of the way in a laundry list of sorts:
- The game is quite repetitive. Brawlers usually are, but this one piles it on extra heavy.
- It's also pretty dang long, which goes hand-in-hand with my first complaint. Not that brawlers can't be a few hours long, but you better have gameplay that can stand up to that sort of prolonged exposure. I'm not so sure that Legend does.The Tick is probably the only longer one on the system.
- Slow, "deliberate" attacks. This sort of system can work. But here it feels a tad too sluggish.
- Tricky bosses. Some of these fuckers can go f themselves in the a.
- You auto-pick-up any items you walk over. This is bad, bad, bad.

Now the good stuff:
- The game looks great.
- Deliberate sluggishness aside, the controls are pretty solid.
- It's legitimately fun. I know I'm kind of a beat 'em up apologist, but hitting dudes with swords or jumping into their face with a boot is usually satisfying, and Legend passes with good marks here.
- There's co-op. That should be standard for brawlers, but too many of them skipped out on it.

So while Legend did not end up being as good as I had hoped (when I first started putting this thing together--a decade ago--I had anticipated this being a potential "top 200" game), I do still like it. And I had fun returning to it for this write-up. Yeah, it goes on too long, and yeah, it doesn't have any of the showstopping levels or bosses that you see in the great titles, but most people will have a good time with it.

Did I beat it?
I.... umm... shit, did I? I don't know, I've finally gotten to the point where I'm starting to lose track of stuff. Thank God for backloggery. So the answer to that is... *checks real fast*... sortof. I guess I beat it on easy because the game tricked me by making that the default difficulty. Goddammit.

#358 - Rocky Rodent

Is this the first appearance from irem? If so that's impressive, as even the likes of Konami, Capcom, Enix, and Nintendo have had some piles of crap already written up by me. Nevermind the fact that irem only put out like four games on the system, it's still a commendable feat.

(yes I know they put out GunForce, and yes its absence will make sense soon enough)

...oh wait, they did Street Combat. So I guess they were just as shitty as everyone else in that regard. Oh well...

Anyway, Rocky Rodentis one of the legions of Sonic wannabes that flooded every system under the sun in the early 90s, though this one is at least markedly better than most of them. Why is it better? Mostly because there's no emphasis on going super duper fast, a mechanic I fucking hate more than life itself. Hell, if anything the default walking speed is slower than hell. Something like that might normally have tested my patience, that is if games like Radical Rex hadn't mostly ruined going fast for me already. No, instead the focus here is on combat. Combat that is well done, with solid mechanics, nice variety, and a stiff but fair challenge.

The central idea the combat is built around? Rocky's hair. Yeah, instead of grabbing fire flowers, or guns, or yoyos or whatever, RR acquires different haircuts, which enable different types of attacks. The mohawk grants you the ability to attack with it acting as a boomerang, the spikey "do" lets you stab anyone in front of you, the rattail lets you attack from long range and so on. And weird gimmick or no, it works. The different attacks all have their own strengths and weaknesses, making combat something to look forward to as opposed to something you dread and avoid at all costs. It's a welcome change of pace for this style of game.

Beyond that, the game also offers a balls-ass bizarre storyline and the accompanying set of levels that goes with it. I can't even begin to do it justice with this explanation, but basically the mafia has kidnapped some guy's daughter and because you have a large tab at his restaurant you decide to chase the gangsters (and their VW van) across town and into the local chili factory and beyond in order to track her down and become debt free. The American dream.

Aside from that, I don't really think the game has much in the way of glaring weaknesses. Everything is done well enough. Control is a bit looser than I'd like, but you get into a rhythm pretty quickly. And there is an annoying little period after each sprint where momentum keeps you going forward, but you almost never need to actually use the run ability. So I guess the game's biggest shortcoming is that it has the misfortune of being on a system with hundreds of other games that I also enjoy playing. Most of them in ways that are superior to what's here. So I guess now that we're over the halfway hump, I can unequivocally say that I like every game going forward, even if some of them absolutely drive me nuts. Or if they are completely and utterly broken like GunForce is... but I'll get to that soon enough.

Did I beat it?
Almost, I've been near the end a number of times but haven't managed to bring it all together for an entire run.

#357 - Doom

There are probably three games in the history of the medium that don't need to be explained to any gamer, past or present. Well, any living gamer... that's over the age of 25. Doom, the legendary shooter from id Software is one of those three games. This thing was so huge, spawning millions of sequels, spinoffs, and ripoffs, alongside novelizations, a movie, and even a wonderful nonfiction book about the making of the game.

The earliest game "system" I had was an old PC that my dad brought home one day. I don't know why, as he's never been much for any sort of computery nerd-dom, or has ever had any interest in playing games. Of course I've always been into both of those things, so that machine became my shareware box. Commander Keen, Duke Nukem, Mayor Stryker, Bio Menace; everything I could get my hands on. Sure, I had a few other full-fledged retail games that my dad must have bought at some point, but mostly I just played the episode one demos that my grandfather gathered up on 5.25" floppies and mailed to us. Wolfenstein 3D was one of those games, and one I was super psyched to try out after spotting it in one of Apogee's catalogs. Except it didn't work. I don't know why exactly, possibly because I've forgotten or possibly because it was beyond my dad's and my modest troubleshooting abilities, but it refused to boot up. So I didn't get to play it. At least, not until I found out it was successfully running on my father's work machine. Why did he have Wolfenstein on his office PC? Again, no idea. Presumably because he loved his son and he knew it would make me happy. So I played that sucker every chance I got, which was like twice. But the game was burned into my brain. It was so visceral and intense, a far cry from any of the other games I had played up until that point. A far cry from anything that even existed.

So a year or two later (it seemed like much longer, then again time seems to pass much slower when you're young) I discovered that W3D got a release for the Super Nintendo. And lucky me, I had gotten a Super Nintendo for Christmas in 1993, my first game console. Luckier still, I found out my local video store had a copy to rent. I must have rented that mother at least four or five times.

Anyway, meandering story aside, Doom was Wolfenstein 3D on steroids. And it took the world by storm. I still maintain that the game hasn't aged a day, and plays just as wonderfully as always even now. Call that a testament to the power of its design, and the sublime enemies, guns, levels, music, and tightly balanced challenge that still put most other games to shame. I actually remember plotting how I could acquire a Sega Genesis and 32X just so I could play it. Possibly because I was just some fool kid, possibly because I wasn't aware of the Sega Saturn or Sony Playstation (or perhaps those didn't exist yet, it's hard to say when exactly all of these things happened). Either way, Doom nearly convinced me that I needed one of the stupidest systems/peripherals in video game history. That's how powerful a force it was.

...so of course it goes without saying that the Super Nintendo got a version of it. I'm not sure how or why, but it did, and if I remember Masters of Doom right, it was Carmack himself that coded it. It also goes without saying that it runs and plays exactly like you'd think it would. In short: horribly.

So, similar to the conundrum that SimCity 2000 presented me with, I have to gauge what I think about the worst version of one of history's best games. After all, is it playable on SNES? Yes. Playable enough that I actually played through the whole thing as a kid? Yes. With no save support? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not.

So there you have it. The worst version of one of video game's crown jewels. I had no idea where to rank it right from the beginning, so I placed it at the halfway mark. Years and years later, I still haven't come up with a convincing reason to move it. If you're the sort of crazy person who has never played Doom, run, don't walk to your nearest video game depository and buy or download it. But probably don't get this version of it.

Did I beat it?
Yes, once on the SNES, and a dozen times across other platforms.

#356 - Realm

Look at those shades, and that floppy mullet. We really were pretty stupid as a culture in the early '90s.

Realm, from Titus, is one of those games that you've never heard of, that you don't know what to make of from the screenshots, and you probably gave up on ten minutes after popping the cart in. And you shouldn't be blamed for any of those things; it's a silly little also-ran that tries to mix Contra and Duke Nukem, with a crushingly unfair difficulty, a silly looking main character, and highly derivative gameplay. But none of those things means the game can't be pretty fun to play.

Controls are simple: jump, shoot, change weapons, and lock in place so that you can aim in any direction. They're solid too, with nice responsiveness and platforming that is never too demanding. Which is a good thing because the emphasis is and should be on combat.

The difficulty though... man is it relentless. Even the early bosses (and minibosses) are total bullet sponges, soaking up hit after hit while slowly sapping away your health. Which means the only way you're gonna progress is if you put in the time, learn the patterns, and slowly work your way through each area, bit by bit. It's a brutal grind, that will reward only the most dedicated of players. It's not Jim Power bad, but it's not too far off either.

The game also has a severe lack of checkpoints, forcing you to replay sections over and over again. Which isn't to say that most of the levels are very long (at least the ones I was able to get to), but it does get rather old having to try and work your way back to a boss with health and ammo intact, again and again, just so you can take another crack at learning his patterns.

Punishing difficulty and derivativeness aside, it is fun though. That seems to be the theme of this volume: games that don't have an original bone in their body, but partially succeed despite that. Despite how many times the game kicked my ass I kept coming back to it again and again. Partially because I wanted to be the first person on this site to conquer it, and partially because I had to admit I was having a good time.

In fact, looking at the run-and-gun shooter games on the system holistically, I can definitely say that Realm is in the top half of those titles. But not by much. And while I would say it is a better game in many respects than a couple of the ones coming up that I'll be covering in Volume IX (it'll make sense when we get there, trust me), it also has much less character than those games, and less... I dunno, ambition, I guess?

So if you're looking for a challenge, and you've already conquered Contra III, and you're not quite ready for the madness that is Jim Power, Realm might be the game for you. Just don't expect anything amazing. After all, only crazy people like me generally dig Titus games.

Did I beat it?
No, this game is balls hard. Balls hard.

#355 - Lagoon

Having just cleared the halfway point of this whole "ranking the entire SNES library" endeavor, it should be super obvious by now that I'm something of an RPG guy. How obvious? Well, 357 games in and so far I have only written about 6 RPGs. Specifically, Lord of the Rings Volume One (just god awful), King Arthur and the Knights of Justice (physically painful to play), Super Ninja Boy (constantly annoying), Paladin's Quest (the most generic pastel proto-Harry Potter ever made), Tecmo Secret of the Stars (look at that cover art!), and Obitus (a game that every other person in the known universe hates). Which, for those keeping counts, leaves roughly 37 more titles to go, depending on how strict you are with the definition of the genre. In other words,I think 37 out of 43 Super Nintendo role playing games reside within the better half of the library. Something I think most people agree with. After all, there is a reason the Super Nintendo is still, to this day, celebrated for its contributions to the genre. And that's not even considering the legions of stuff that never made it to the states.

Lagoon,though, is a game with which I have something of a love-hate relationship. Well, "like-hate" maybe. I mean, I am a HUGE sucker for action RPGs. Swinging swords, exploring puzzle-filled dungeons, evading large bosses; I can never get enough of any of that crap. Hell, I've played through six different Ys games, and that's despite the fact that I generally find that series to be fairly mediocre overall. But I keep playing them anyway, because I can't seem to ever quit them. Lagoon is the same way.

In fact the Ys comparison really is an apt one because - as you no doubt already know - the goofass in this game has a sword swing that suffers from some severe butter knife syndrome. Is that a coincidence? Were the developers at Kemco also huge fans of that other series? Was this a popular thing to do in Japan in the late 80s to early 90s? I don't know, but this game may as well be someone's love letter to Ys or Ys II.

It's not just combat either, because you will also be traveling through a series of dungeons, finding treasure, grinding experience, killing enemies via death by a thousand papercuts (literally), and then fighting hulking bosses. If you have played any Ys game, you've played this. Which isn't a terrible thing, because most people dig that series, shortcomings and all.

Of course many of those shortcomings are very, very annoying. You probably know what I mean. So prepare to fight bosses, die, lose your progress, trek back through the dungeon, fight them again, die, lose your progress again, grind levels, die, and so forth, over and over again until you finally break on through and move onwards.

Also like in the Ys games (something I've said about fifty times so far in this review) there are a number of different abilities at your disposal in order to make questing easier. Specifically, as you move through the game you will find four different magic staffs, and four different magic crystals. When combined, they will grant you different spells that do everything from send out homing attacks, heavy lightning bolts, or even screen-clearing nukes. It's pretty cool, even if most of the combinations seem rather useless. There's also different rings that you can equip to grant stat bonuses, some passive, and some that must be activated in order to grant larger temporary increases. Again, rather cool.

So like I've already iterated a number of times; I'm an RPG guy. They have to screw up pretty badly for me not to enjoy them. Lagoon doesn't screw things up, but it does its best to push it. I'd even say it puts a strain on the relationship between game and player. But some part of me still enjoyed it anyway.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, I like to complete my RPGs.

#354 - The Untouchables

Ocean finally breaks through with an enjoyable game. In fact, they will actually have a few different games start to pop up over the next couple of installments. Maybe there's hope yet for the likes of Acclaim, LJN, Mindscape, and all the other bottom feeders that polluted the lowest tiers of these rankings, because apparently even the most hopeless cases could occasionally show that they knew what they were (kind of) doing.

I didn't realize this at first, but The Untouchables video game is not based on the classic Brian De Palma movie. Instead, it was trying to cash in on a short-lived TV show from the early '90s that I had never heard of. You would think that the lack of Kevin Costner or Sean Connery on the cover art would have tipped me off. No, instead I had to play the game for half a dozen hours before realizing that the Al Capone on the game over screen is William Sadler Forsythe and not Robert DeNiro. I guess I can be pretty dense at times. Plus you'd be excused for thinking this was a port of the NES game (which was based on the film), because the two games look and play almost identical. In fact it seems Ocean merely dusted off the existing game and made the smallest of changes to fit the new adaptation.

Anyway, you probably don't care about any of that. The only thing that matters is what the game plays like. Well, it's what I can best describe as a series of wildly different stages showcasing a bunch of different types of gameplay, thrown together willy-nilly style. Similar to something such asThe Rocketeer or... uh, probably some more famous game... what's another game where all the levels are different from one another? I'm sure it will come to me the instant I post this thing to the public.

Shooting gallery - Both the first and third levels, each of which play similar to games like Cabal or Wild Guns where you are trying to take down enemies or vehicles while ducking behind cover and racing over to grab dropped items. The boss of the second level also switches over to this mode.

Sidescroller - The second level, you guide Elliot Ness and his tommy gun through some warehouses, blowing the hell out of everyone, and fighting several bosses equipped with miniguns. Pretty sure they were taking a few liberties with the property with that last bit...

Overhead shooter - The fourth(?) level, this one plays out similar to something like Ikari Warriors, but in a more nonlinear style akin to a game likeTrue Lies. Here, you need to quickly move through a building and several basements freeing hostages. This is probably the roughest of all segments, requiring the most practice to overcome. Luckily, it's not too hard once you finally figure out where you need to go.

Final boss - The final showdown with Capone, this mimics something like Time Crisis (or perhaps I have that backwards, strangely enough). You will pop in and out of cover, trading shots with Al across several different areas. Despite being the final level, it may actually be the easiest of the bunch, and it ends with Capone plummeting off a tall building. I guess they took liberties with that part of the plot too...

So while I initially found the game too hard, too annoying, and too.. all over the place, changing the gameplay up on me every level, I gradually grew used to it, and started having fun. By the time I had worked my way to the end I was very happy I had stuck with it, instead of ditching it like I usually do with Ocean's games. It's not gonna give most of the games I mentioned in this review a run for their money, and no one is gonna call this one of their favorites, but I think it is a good game. It may be hard to see the good, at first, but it's there.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I threw Forsythe's ass off a building. Presumably he got better and died of unrelated syphilis at a later date.

#353 - P.T.O. Pacific Theater of Operations

Koei game number two (out of around twenty), and the holder of one of my absolute favorite pieces of cover art on the entire system. Seriously, just look at the thing! I don't know which lucky bastard owns the original painting nowadays, and has it hanging in his/her office, but damn am I jealous. If I was worth eight figures you can be damn sure I'd be getting Tecmo Koei on the line and trying to track it down so I could acquire it.

Anyway, P.T.O., or Pacific Theater of Operations, covers the war in the Pacific during World War II between Japan and the Allies. The game is broken up into eight small scenarios which all cover specific battles, and then one larger one that encompasses the entire theater of war in a campaign mode of sorts. As seems tradition in Koei titles, some of these missions even let you continue directly into that larger one if you succeed. Victory conditions also generally fall into the "defeat all the enemies" or "destroy x targets" categories.

As one of the earliest games they put out on the system, it's also traditionally Koei in that it's a pretty ugly thing. Similar to Gemfire and Uncharted Waters, this may as well have been an NES port, because it certainly looks the part. I realize no one plays these games to be wowed by the sprites or map designs, but it would have been nice if they had at least tried to take advantage of the SNES' 16 "bits." And really, I don't even need to elaborate beyond that, because the screenshots speak for themselves.

The basic flow of gameplay in any of the scenarios (at least the ones I played), goes as follows:
1. Start out by allocating your budget. On the lower difficulties you can basically max everything out.
2. Next, you will roll your officers' skill points (think D&D), similar to how you had to set up your field marshals and generals in Operation Europe. Except, while in that game you would take control of half a dozen guys at most, here you have a metric shit ton of them to deal with. That is not hyperbole, I measured it myself. Metric. Shit ton.
3. Most scenarios have you starting with a naval fleet at one of your ports. After moving into the open sea, you will target an island or fleet with a naval or air attack. When the battle starts you switch over to a "battle map" that is composed of 19x12 rectangles.
4. During these battles, combat is very simple. In short: select a unit, move it, and then select a nearby enemy. Koei games aren't usually known for the intricacies of tactical battles, and this game is no exception.
5. There is a rock-paper-scissors system of sorts. Guns for attacking enemy planes, torpedoes for attacking enemy ships, bombs for attacking enemy land targets.
6. Attacks can do "minor" or "major" damage, which of course means a decrease or increase in its effectiveness. You can also start fires, which the enemy will have to actively extinguish. They seem like a minor nuisance at best most of the time, but it's still pretty satisfying to set an entire fleet ablaze.
7. After you run out of turns the combat ends and you return to the larger strategic map, where you can rearm, resupply, repair, etc. And in typical Koei fashion there are mountains of fine details and other miscellaneous logistics that you'll need to keep track of, if you wish. Everything from the amount of resources dedicated to various components of your armed forces, to various kinds of unit and commander morale. If you've ever played a Koei game you know exactly what I'm talking about.

There are of course a few complaints I have to lodge, as usual. First and foremost, I really despised any battles involving submarines, especially when enemy destroyers were a part of the picture. I'm not even gonna elaborate, because anyone who plays this game long enough will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Another issue is that luck often seems to play too big a role. For example, any flak attacks will usually destroy just a handful of planes. But occasionally it will annihilate a dozen or more, completely derailing potential attacks, if not the entire engagement. Why? I have no idea. Call it the equivalent of critical strikes, similar to the catastrophic bomb/torpedo hits that happen from time to time. But this so completely screwed me over enough times that I began to dread depending on large groups of planes in congested areas.

The AI can also be super dumb. For example, focusing their attacks on fighters while they are getting torn apart by bombers, or heedlessly chasing distant ships, often to their doom. Normally I welcome such breathers in difficult games like this, but this one just had me shaking my head.

Anyway, there are a billion other things I could talk about, like the various types of flagships you have at your disposal, or the way you develop technological and industrial improvements. I could easily make this thing a ten thousand word summary. But I'm trying to make a conscientious effort to return to something resembling brevity, so I'm cutting myself off here. Just know that there is an ocean of game here if you want it. Though most players will probably drown...

In conclusion, the fact that I've covered so few Koei games up to this point should make it obvious that I'm a rather large fan of theirs. Hell, the superlatives I pile onto the genre every time I cover any strategy game should have made that obvious by now. And while P.T.O. is a fun game, I think it's pretty much a unanimous opinion that this is one of their weakest offerings on the system. It's just not quite as streamlined as some of the others, or as addicting as some of the ones that I truly love. And, the sequel makes a lot of improvements that kind of makes it hard to return back to this one. So, if you like Koei and/or strategy titles, check it out, but you're better off with almost any of the other ones they put out.

Did I beat it?
Sortof. I beat Scenario 2 (Pearl Harbor), which upon completion segues into Scenario 1 (the entire theater).

#352 - Super Strike Eagle

One thing I may have mentioned already (depending on how my rewrites go) is that the very first "gaming system" my family owned was an old DOS computer. The sort that had a 5.25" floppy drive, and a hard drive that could hold at least several megabytes on it. One of my favorite games on that system was Sid Meier's F-15 Strike Eagle II, complete with joystick. I played the everliving hell out of that thing. I'm talking every medal, every promotion, and every optional target to discover across each of the huge maps. I did it all, for hours on end, and still think back fondly of those times.

Super Strike Eagle is, apparently, that series' arcade bastard cousin twice removed. Who knows if Sid was even involved. And when I say arcade, I mean this was literally an arcade game, found in the world's pizza parlors and mall arcades, which kind of blows my mind. Anyway, the idea was to take this hardcore flight sim series, and remove most of the more complicated/slower-paced elements, replacing it all with simplified alternatives. Each mission has you take off from your carrier, then cruise around a large map, taking down enemy MIGs in dogfights, and then switching over to an overhead view whenever you start the attack on any of the land targets, including tank depots, air bases, SAM clusters, nuclear power plants (?), large cruisers, and various other installations. Finally, you'll return to your carrier or other friendly bases to rearm, resupply, repair, or just to complete your mission.

And I gotta say that it's all a lot of fun. It kind of reminds me of Air Strike Patrol in a way, but just better in every facet. Clearing out the map, area by area, trying to survive long enough to get back to base, while a MIG hits the afterburners to intercept you... it's tense stuff. In a good way. And though I did have fun with games like Wings 2, most of them feel rather spartan. Usually just you against one or two other enemies. Here, I feel like I'm taking on the entire Libyan armed forces. Because I am.

Now, even though this is supposed to be the simplified version of its PC big brother, this game is unforgiving. As in, one life, no continues, don't crash your shit unforgiving. The sort of game that only hands out a fresh password after completing a mission, and each mission is longer than the previous one. So it can get really tense when you're near the end of a longer sortie, your damage bar is near full, ammo and fuel are low, bogeys are on your six, and you need tonotfuck up the landing, lest you crash across the bow of your ship. That is, unless you don't sweat having to redo the last sixty minutes worth of work.

Of course I'm gonna have some complaints, and chief among those is that things can get quite repetitive here. The missions all basically play out the same, and the dogfights and bombing runs are never really that different from one another. Sometimes you might have a two-on-on fight, and sometimes there may be flak coming from the ground instead of enemy missiles, but variety quickly runs short. By the time I reached my fourth or fifth area I was starting to get a bit burnt out.

Second complaint, which is something I basically already went over, is that the game is too damn hard, and too cruel going about it. A steep difficulty is not an innately bad thing, I just wish SSE gave a little bit of leniency at times. Some extra lives, or a "continue" option so that I don't have to keep entering passwords into the main menu. Even Lock-On was nice enough to throw you a few bones in the form of extra guys and continues. Suffice it to say, anyone who can beat the later missions in this game either has the patience of a saint, or has spent a lot of hours with it.

In the end, this has to be one of my favorite flight combat games on the system (not that the competition was especially fierce). And yeah, that probably seems like faint praise considering we just crossed the halfway point, and I wouldn't call this a great game by any length. But I enjoyed my entire run with it.

Did I beat it?
Not quite. I got most of the way through the campaign, but the brutal difficulty really starts to take a toll. Countless runs were ruined by accidentally crashing on the carrier during a resupply.

#351 - Super Baseball Simulator 1.000

Super Baseball Simulator 1.000! Follow-up to some NES game, and presumably Engrish for "Super Baseball Game with a Perfect Batting Average!" And though it has a ridiculous title, looks like an NES game, and comes from fab developer Culture Brain (cue sarcasm), it's actually a pretty dang good time. A great time in some ways. Which means we have finally reached the baseball titles that I can say I unabashedly like, without qualification or hesitation.

Though the game's main mode is called "simulation," what's offered here is definitely more on the arcade side of things. That should be evident right off the bat [heh - editor] when you choose between a couple of super cartoony team logos - all completely unlicensed of course - including a number of them that make up the "Ultra League." What's the Ultra League? A special set of teams in a sense, these let you dole out "ultra ability" points, which let you do things like crush the ball with your swings, make extremely strong throws from the outfield, or even perform spectacular jumps to snatch the ball midflight. Fortunately all of this can more or less be toggled on and off, in case you prefer your games slightly more serious. I appreciated the change of pace.

Gameplay is pretty tight for the most part. Batting strategy is strictly limited to moving your player around the batter's box and timing your swing or bunt. Though that may seem simple, it's a system that I have always been fond of, and it works well here. It gives you a lot of freedom to try and crush balls down the line, force the pitcher to work the inside or outside corners of the plate, and the ball physics on contact are very satisfying. In a lot of SNES baseball games, the ball's flight after getting hit feels like it's on one of several predetermined paths, but here every hit feels organic, which feels immensely better.

Fielding is also handled pretty well. For instance, one of my usual pet peeves is awkward camera angles or a lack of perspective on where the ball is going, which makes any attempts to make a play feel handicapped. There's no such problem here. While there is no actual indicator of where the ball is going to land (other than a late shadow as it drops), your view is zoomed out enough that you should always have ample opportunity to make a play if possible.

Pitching is pretty fun too. It's another game where a single button will throw the ball, and then the D-Pad will control the ball in-flight. Again, simple, and old school, but effective. You throw the pitch you want, the way you want, where you want. My one major complaint would be that your pitchers tire out entirely too fast, especially if you are relying on heavy ball movement (which you will want to), as it seems to drain their arms' endurance at an alarming rate. Hell, starters are often completely fatigued just three or four innings in, and you're lucky if relievers make it through one.

At the end of the day (or I should say, the completion of this volume) I utterly enjoyed my time with the game. While I never found it to be "amaze-balls" or anything, I'd easily recommend it to any baseball fans. If nothing else they should at least take it for a stroll. They may not like it as much as me, especially if they're the sort that already swears by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. Presents, but anyone who enjoys the sport in an oldschool NES style will probably find something here.

Did I beat it?
Yes, but only because the game gives you the option of playing a five game season. I even "mercy ruled" poor ol' hapless Detroit. But it was pretty sweet because I came back from down three runs in my last game and forced a tiebreaker game against Toronto. And then I came back in that one and then won on a sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. Super satisfying.