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#425 - Frogger

Umm... yeah. It's Frogger? Like, Majesco literally took the old ass arcade game and threw it, no-frills, onto the Super Nintendo. In 1998. Nearly twenty years after its initial release. How lazy is that?

I briefly considered lumping this together with Mr. Do!, Space Invaders, and Ms. Pac-Man (and possibly the Williams and Midway collections), and just throwing them all together at the beginning of one of these installments. Much like I did with the fishing games, the games based on board games, and the games based on game shows. After all, how do I measure a lazy release of an ancient game (albeit a classic game) against the likes of Chrono Trigger or Earthbound? It's impossible in some sense. And it shouldn't be held against this game, because it's not Frogger's fault it got shoved onto a 16-bit console without so much as extra levels thrown onto it.

But I didn't do that. Even if I wanted to hold them to a different standard, it wouldn't have worked to group those games together because I think they have all aged to various degrees. So while Space Invaders basically plays like shit nowadays, and Ms. Pac-Man is nearly as fun as it ever was, Frogger is... good. Not great. I don't think it was ever great, or as revolutionary as many of its peers. But it's good.

Anyway, enough nonsensical rambling, let's talk about the gameplay. And for the three people out there that may not know, Frogger is a game about guiding your frog(s) to a lily pad cave while avoiding being creamed by traffic, drowning in the river, or being eaten by alligators. Or was it snakes? I forget. I haven't played this in at least three years, so my memory has faded a bit and I am just now getting around to revisiting it. As in, right now, right after I finish writing this sentence...

*one hour later*

Okay, yeah, it was snakes and gators. So the entire gist of the game is:

1 - Move your frog from the bottom of the screen to the top, moving on a square grid.
2 - The first five rows have heavy traffic trying to squish you.
3 - The last five rows have lines of turtles (that submerge) and logs (which may have enemies or female frogs on them).
4 - You must "fill up" five different caves at the top of the level, some of which may have dragonflies for extra points.
5 - There is a timer counting down, but it will fill back up with each successful crossing.
6 - Occasional snakes appear on the logs or shore and gators appear in the caves or river.

And that's it. That's the entire game. Get your frogs into the caves across eight increasingly difficult levels, and then do it all again. That's really it and there isn't much else to say.

...I guess other than that I think the game plays fine even to this day. Controls are solid, the challenge level starts moderate and gets trickier with a satisfying climb. And the game's sound and graphics have certain charms to them. I couldn't possibly rate the game any higher than I did for being such a shamelessly low effort cash grab, but I still have fun every time I play it. I basically said all of that already didn't I?

Did I beat it?
I did actually. It was a while ago, and took me a number of tries, but I did it.

#424 - Whizz

Titus game number four, and a bit of a strange one at that. I mean, most Titus games are strange in some way (usually their core concept). But Whizz is extra strange. You see, you play as a rabbit. Presumably a magician's rabbit, based on his dress. Or maybe he's a rabbit magician? And this rabbit is, uh... having a balloon race with some rat. And then birds attack him and send him plummeting to the ground for some reason. So the starting level is basically a race against the clock (and the rat) to find his balloon again. And then you start the next level the same way... Maybe the birds keep shooting him down? I dunno, the storyline basically makes no sense, but forget it. The only thing that matters is how the game plays. And the answer to that is "okayish."

The gameplay is a bit hard to describe though. Mostly because I'm having a hard time thinking of any other title that plays the same way, and I don't mean on just the Super Nintendo, but across all gaming in general. Maybe Sonic 3D blast? Granted I've never played that game, so that's just some assumption I'm pulling out of my ass. But it seems like it would be similar; isometric platformers where you try to go as fast as you possibly can while dodging spikes and enemies. Anyway, the idea in Whizz is that each level is a race to your balloon, navigating a series of mazelike platforms, collecting blocks (which act as keys) and hourglasses (which act as time extensions), spin attacking various animals and sentient snowballs, managing an always depleting lifebar, while desperately trying to find the exit (the balloon) before you die. It's not a bad concept, and it's pulled off reasonably well here. The problem is that it's very, very limited in scope, which means things never really get any more elaborate than what you see in the first level.

In fact I would say most of the challenge in Whizz lies in knowing where to go. You see the path often branches, which usually leads to the block "keys" and time extensions that I mentioned up above. In addition to that, however, are paths that lead to various items that give point bonuses (if you care about such things), and a series of small rockets that you can find and launch into the atmosphere, though I have absolutely no idea what doing that actually does. There are also random keys that you occasionally run across, and I don't mean the "block" keys that I mentioned above, but actual "key" keys. These will unlock everything from doors to shortcuts to treasure chests, but are rarely essential. However, you'll quickly discover that having success in this game generally means finding the main path and sticking to it. Diversions be damned.

And that's really all there is to the game; know where the exit is, and run towards it. Once I knew what to do I raced through the entire thing in under 30 minutes. Occasionally it tries to mix things up by adding segments where you travel via boat or sled, or play large games of pool, checkers, and chess, but these interjections are so brief (and often fully automated) that they barely even make an impact. Good ideas, lacking executions.

Honestly, I can't even think of much else to say. You run, you jump, you die, you make a mental note of where the keys are, and you do it again until you succeed. It's a decent enough time for what it is, enjoyable in short bursts, and a pretty harmless playthrough overall. I know I'm a Titus sucker, and that I always seem higher on these games than others, but I think most people can find something here, however minor.

Did I beat it?
Yep, a few notes jotted down were all I needed to jet through the dozen plus levels relatively pain free.

#423 - Chuck Rock

One of the five thousand caveman games of the day, Chuck Rock is a serviceable platformer that's low on inspiration and excitement, hardly takes any chances, and has one of the ugliest main character sprites I have ever seen in my life. But it gets all of the mechanics right for the most part. And provides the sort of challenging gameplay that would have fit right in with the NES library, for better or for worse.

The central gimmick of the game, as its title would allude, is "chucking" rocks. Specifically, hoisting large and medium boulders, so that you can squash enemies, use them as stepping stones to higher ground, or occasionally to act as a counterweight on dinosaurs that will launch you up and over stuff, which you can see up above in the middle screenshot. That's also about as complex as the "puzzles" (if you want to call them that) get in this game.

Beyond that the rest of the gameplay is very simple. Mostly just jumping and attacking things. Though the attack is fairly humorous because all Chuck does is slightly extend his (prominent) belly in order to knock enemies back. And while it's short range certainly brings memories of Ys or Lagoon to mind, it's not actually that bad. Partially because it works better than you'd think it would, but mostly because the enemies are fairly impotent in this game.

The game also offers up a number of boss fights, most of which are ridiculously easy. There is a boss later on that is a bit trickier to figure out, thanks to a lack of feedback on him taking damage, but it's still not something that can't be overcome in a few attempts. I also wouldn't say any of these fights are especially memorable, but I have to applaud the ridiculous looking final boss (a T-Rex in boxing shorts and boxing gloves). I never actually made it to that fight, but I did watch it on YouTube, and it looked just as simplistic and easy as most of the other ones. But I still got a laugh out of it.

If there is one major drawback to the game (other than its lack of out and out frills or thrills) is that there are no continues or passwords. In fact I'm not even sure if you can earn extra lives, because I never saw one. So while the game is pretty easy overall, and I bet any decently-skilled gamer could clear it in a few attempts, it can be a challenge to finish it on just four lives. I haven't gotten around to it yet (I got close to beating it on my third go at it), but it might still happen, depending on how my schedule for playing other games works out.

Overall it's not a very ambitious or deep game, but it's fun in small sessions. And it works better than the billions of platformers I've already covered.

Did I beat it?
No, but I got close.

#422 - Mechwarrior

So, I'm gonna do another one of those storytime things here. I hope that's alright. Maybe someone out there really, really wanted me to get deep into what makes this game tick, but I'm not gonna do that. I usually do it, but for games that I have a long history with I more than likely will not, and it will remain that way for the rest of this project. Just a heads up on that. Plus the only thing you'd really need to know is that this is just like Mechwarrior 2, but a billion trillion times more basic, with almost zero depth or real strategy at play in comparison.

Anyway, the story...

My parents divorced when I was young, but did end up staying in the same town, on relatively amicable terms. Eventually they both owned houses a couple miles away from one another, and when I was old enough to do my own thing (basically, by the time I was 12) I'd often walk or bike between them. Partially because there was always stuff I needed to do, or places I needed to be, and partially because this route took me directly through downtown, and all of the rental stores and pawn shops contained within. And even at that age all of my energy went into one thing: finding video games.

Well during one of those trips I stopped by the nearby video store. I don't know why, they never sold games. But I stopped in anyway. I was a kid, I had all the time in the world, right?

But on this particular trip, lo and behold, the place was clearing out all of its old game tapes. Namely, the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis stuff. The Genesis crap was all packed into a single box, with a price tag of $20. The games were all cased, and contained Fatal Labyrinth and Rings of Power among others (I cannot for the life of me remember anything else). I foolishly passed on that box, for reasons I will never know. Probably a lack of money. But the Super Nintendo games I dove headfirst into. They were $4 apiece, and I am not joking when I say I ran back home and hunted down every last stray quarter in my house to pay for them. There may have even been nickels and dimes involved. All I know is there were stacks of coins thrown down onto that counter. I didn't care, I just wanted the games.

And what did I end up hauling away? Super Metroid, Earthworm Jim, Earthworm Jim 2, Ys III, NBA Jam Tournament Edition (with a regular NBA Jam box oddly enough), Street Fighter II Turbo, and... Mechwarrior. I know that place also carried Super Turrican and Ultima: The Black Gate, but I was too late on both of them.

Long story short, acquiring seven games was a pretty ridiculous feat for me at the time. Most kids were lucky to have seven games total in their collection. But at four dollars a pop it was a complete no-brainer. And I have to say that beyond the obvious scores that were Super Metroid and the Earthworm Jims, the games that actually intrigued me the most were Ys III and Mechwarrior. What were these games? Ys was clearly some sort of sweet-ass RPG, even if I was a little skeptical about the whole 2D thing going on in the screenshots on the back. But Mechwarrior? Was this like Mechwarrior 3050? I rented that all the time. Or was it like Mechwarrior 2 on PC? That thing was a beast, easily one of the most graphically impressive games of the day. I didn't know, I just knew I was psyched to get it.

And let me tell you, man was Mechwarrior a letdown. I played every damn game in my collection to absolute death. Even Out to Lunch. I had to because there was nothing else to play. But Mechwarrior was the exception to the rule. You'd click through some menus, talk to people, look at upgrades you couldn't afford, and then suddenly get flown out to a combat zone where you're immediately bombarded and destroyed. This was well before the days of GameFaqs and longplays and all that, and I was never lucky enough to have a ton of gaming magazines (lack of money and all). So I gave up on it. I gave up on a game, something I never did, despite not experiencing any of it, something I always strongly desired. All because it was just that unpleasant to try and figure out.

Anyway, flash forward a couple decades and I can safely say the game isn't as bad as I assessed when I was a kid. Not that I can blame myself, it is something of a trainwreck, and a spectacular drop off from its sequel. But it's a decent game if you stick with it.

Did I beat it?
I've tried and tried, but have never quite gotten all the way through it.

#421 - Operation Europe: Path to Victory 1939-45

Here it is, the first of the Koei titles. Considering there's a metric fuck-ton of them - and the fact that I'm almost halfway through the Super Nintendo library - well, you can do the math and take a wild guess as to what my general sentiment on them is. Spoiler: I think they're pretty fun. But Operation Europe: Path to Victory 1939-45 is the exception to the rule. Well, the partial exception. It's still fun, but it makes you work for that fun. And the fun is very limited, and very fleeting. Which is a damn shame because this is the only World War II game covering the European theater that Koei released (at least in the West).

I think I mentioned back in my Carrier Aces review that I'm something of a World War II buff. When it comes to the subject matter I've read a number of books, took several classes during my senior year at school when I had some electives to burn, and played every video game I can. Plus I always relish the opportunity to step into the shoes of Rommel, Patton or Montgomery, and I played the hell out of the Panzer General, Close Combat, and Combat Mission games back in the day. And this game provides all of the fan service you could ask for. Multiple scenarios, covering everything from the Invasion of Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge, the inclusion of every notable kind of tank, half track, and mobile artillery that was used by Germany and the Allies, and dozens upon dozens of noteworthy military leaders - they're all here. It's the Super Smash Brothers Ultimate of dusty old Koei games. If you wanted it, it was probably present. Sounds great, right?

But the problems with this game... my god the problems. They are just so numerous and patience testing. And first and foremost is the one that nearly kills the game: the insane amount of time it takes to do anything. I realize that sounds like a silly thing to complain about in regards to a wargame, because it is a genre that's hardly known for its brevity, but this game takes everything to absurd lengths. Just to make it perfectly clear, here are the playtimes for the different scenarios I played:

Blitzkrieg of France - 3:56. Yes, you read that right. It took me four hours to get through one of the shortest and easiest scenarios, where I skipped all combat, avoided most enemies, and made a beeline to my objective. And the majority of that time was spent waiting. Waiting for my turns to commence, waiting for the AI to think through its moves, and mostly, just waiting for anything to happen. Prepare to stare at onscreen text that reads "Enemy is now plotting strategy" for most of your sessions with this game.

Normandy Invasion - 5:45. And I didn't even get through the entire scenario. My German forces were easily crushed relatively quickly, overrun by the overwhelming Allied beachhead. And yet it still took six hours to suffer that defeat. Mostly because of the battles, which I fought this time. One of them actually burned through its entire 99 turn limit, which took 40 minutes. 40 minutes, for one engagement, on one turn! And in case you think I'm exaggerating, I actually logged every start and stop time once it became apparent just how much of a time sink this game is. And that battle started at 10:34 PM and ended at 11:14 PM.

Normandy Invasion (take two) - I don't even know! It was so late that I submitted my work on this post without realizing the site had gone down [note - these reviews were initially posted to a forum]. So that data was lost. But it was a goddamn eternity!

I cannot stress enough the insane pacing of the battles in this game. I played this over four nights and I am not joking when I say I spent significant portions of that time on the other side of my house, washing dishes, preparing dinners, cleaning up toys, etc. None of that is an exaggeration of any sort.

And all of the other problems... Jesus. I don't even have the heart right now to fully get into all of them. But they include...

- Trying to attack enemies that constantly skirt around you, forcing you into fruitless chases.
- Shit pathfinding. Prepare to micromanage the hell out of everyone.
- All of the airstrikes, special forces strikes, supply requests, and other crap, seems totally worthless.
- Units standing around, refusing to follow orders. Is it because they're not rested enough? Too low on morale? Preparing for their next move? Who knows.
- The music will drive you insane with the same few looping notes for hours on end.

I love the genre, I love the subject matter, I love the ambition, and I had some fun playing the game. But the execution just isn't there.

Did I beat it?
I beat one of the scenarios, so I'm gonna say yes. Anyone who wants to tell me otherwise can die.

#420 - Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

#419 - Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?

Remember Carmen Sandiego? The once popular franchise seemed ubiquitous across everything once upon a time. Edutainment computer games, video games, board games, a hit television show, books, you name it. She was everywhere. Including these two Super Nintendo ports. And though one of the games is ostensibly about traveling across the world, and the other about traveling through time, both of them are basically the same game. One just has an emphasis on world geography circa 1990, whereas the other leans on geography throughout world history.

As far as I remember, every game in the series uses the same setup: you're a new "gumshoe" at the ACME Detective Agency. Your superiors send you to hunt various criminals that have stolen valuable and famous national treasures, and you'll need to use geographical clues in order to deduce the cities they're hiding in. Do that enough and you'll catch up to them, throwing them in jail and working on earning yourself a promotion. After earning enough of those you'll earn the opportunity to catch Ms. Sandiego herself.

So how does that work? Simple. You'll start in a major city, already hot on the perp's trail. Here you can question several nearby citizens, all of whom will drop "hints" as to where you need to go. Stuff along the lines of "The perp really loved gladiators" or "He was gonna go get some gumbo." And then you decide which city that sounds like from a list of choices. If you choose wrong you lose time and have to backtrack until you get back on the trail. Take too long doing this and your target escapes.

And that's pretty much all there is to the series. It's very simple, and seems geared towards preteen kids if anything. But even as an adult, I have to admit that I enjoyed both titles. Then again I've always been a sucker for geography (or trivia in general), so that was no surprise to me.

Of course they're not perfect either. For instance, some of the clues seem a bit dated or esoteric. I mean, a "country that is known for producing postage stamps?" Uh... seriously? And the formula does start to wear a bit thin if you aim to beat either game, as they both go on for quite awhile. Plus Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego? does seem like a bit of a lazy release. They could have at least shaken up the formula, or added some more wrinkles to the gameplay. Instead you just get clues that are slightly different in scope.

Still though, if you're like me and you like this sort of thing, or you grew up playing this in your school's computer lab or watching the television show, you'll enjoy this nice blast from the past. Anyone else probably needn't bother.

Did I beat World?
Yes, I completed cases until I caught Carmen Sandiego.

Did I beat Time?
No. I did a handful of cases, but once I realized I'd have to do 70+ to finish the game I gave up.

#418 - Pinball Dreams

#417 - Pinball Fantasies

Here we have the erotic pinball twins (I was super close to using that as the title of this thread), courtesy of Gametek. Together they represent a pretty nice improvement over the older, clunkier, Super Pinball: Behind the Mask - featuring graphics that are much sharper and cleaner, a nice variety of tables that actually play differently from one another, and table/ball physics that seem a little more based on reality. And both sets of tables are - simply put - more fun to play.

But they also feature this other style of perspective that is common to pinball video games, almost like an overhead view, which brings its own set of challenges. For while it makes it much more obvious what is going on with your ball during play, it also makes both games very challenging, and not always in the best of ways. I don't know about you, but I have a super hard time with pinball games that don't show the entire table at any given moment. So it's taking a genre I already struggle with, and further handicaps the player by limiting your view, putting you at a pretty severe disadvantage for quick reaction shots. And just speaking for myself, but I don't have the necessary skills in me to pull off the sort of finesse that either one of these games will ask of you.

Luckily, the game overcomes this (partially) with some very solid design. The tables are all flush with "stuff to do," which is always a must for me with these games. I figure that if you're expected to be spending hours upon hours looking down at a single field of play, there needs to be some depth to what you're doing, and variety to the goals you're trying to accomplish. And I think both games knock both of those things out of the park.

They also get the "feel" of the game down pretty dang good. I'm sure a pinball enthusiast could put it much more eloquently than myself, but what I'm trying to say is that everything feels like it has the correct weight and tuning. The ball goes where you'd expect it to, the flippers flip like you'd think they would, the shoots shoot it where it needs to shoot, and the ladders ladder it to where it needs to... ladder. I don't know pinball terminology, did I mention that?

I do have to point out that I did occasionally encounter some slowdown, albeit very rarely, but that it does count as a strike against the game. Pinball games are generally pretty unforgiving, with a single mistake often costing you a run. And when that mistake happens because the game momentarily chugged it's pretty infuriating. So while it did only happen a few times, it did royally piss me off.

Anyway, both games feature four different tables, which I will try and rank in the order of how much I enjoyed each of them. For Pinball Dreams those four are:

Ignition - A rocket-themed table with a smattering of bumpers, ramps, and tons of targets, but nothing overly ambitious. The emphasis here is lighting up a bunch of words by hitting targets and gaps (I'm sure I'm absolutely butchering pinball lingo here). This is easily the table I put the most time into - fruitlessly trying to get the top score - and is my pick for one of the best across either game. It's simple, but it's fun. (3rd out of 8)

Steel Wheel - An old-timey train themed table. This one is also pretty busy, but is probably my favorite table of the group. (2nd out of 8)

Beat Box - A horrifically ugly table that that is... you know what? I have no idea what the theme is supposed to be. I guess picture the soundtrack to ToeJam and Earl (not that I've played that game in fifteen years and would know what I was talking about), made into a pinball game. For whatever reason this table is also the hardest, as points seem nearly impossible to come by most of the time. (7th out of 8)

Nightmare - A graveyard-themed table. This one is pretty ramp heavy. The color scheme and overlay of ramps kind of makes it harder to "read" than the other tables, yet it still ends up being the easiest one to play on for some reason. Overall one of the weaker selections. (6th out of 8)

Together it's a pretty solid batch, with two stronger tables and two weaker ones. Although I guess it's all relative as I wouldn't say any of them are super terrible or super amazing.

For the follow up, Pinball Fantasies, the developers changed a few things up. Biggest of all, this time the game plays a bit faster, and with a slightly more zoomed out view to accommodate that fact. I also think the table designs are a little better, giving you more options, and leaving you "stuck" in the bottom less often. But the tables are also horribly drawn for the most part, too colorful and full of different ramps and pathways and things. It means actually tracking what is going on is much harder, and coupled with the higher speed of play means it is a much harder game overall. So quality-wise, it's about a wash with the first game.

Also, I should mention that PF actually lets you "shoot again" when you immediately fuck up (or get fucked over), which is a welcome change. PD had no mercy and would never give you freebies like that.

The high scores (if you care about those) are also immensely higher now, providing more challenge if you seek it.

Party Land - Carnival themed. This is another very busy table where it can be hard to know what's going on. I do like the layout, with tons of ramps to hit, and another "cycle" to flip through that will play a big part in earning huge points, just like on Ignition. (1st out of 8)

Speed Devils - A sports car theme. [note - is that seriously the only thing I wrote down for this table in my outline? Goddammit!] (4th out of 8)

Billion Dollar Gameshow - Uh, billion dollar game show themed. This is another busy, and very ugly board. It's probably my least favorite of the bunch just because it is so hard to get a read on anything. (8th out of 8)

Stones n Bones - Another ghoulish theme. Another busy, overly tricky board, but less frustrating than BDGS. (5th out of 8)

So I'll close out the Super Nintendo pinball games with this: I love pinball. Or at least I love the idea of pinball. I just have difficulty actually having a fun time playing the damn game. Partially because I'm no good at it, and partially because the luck factors endlessly confound me. Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies on SNES are no exception. Pretty decent games, that you can have a fun time with, as long as you're not getting pissed at them. Which for me, is quite often.

Did I beat Dreams?
No, I suck at pinball. I got the high score on Nightmare but I can only assume it was a fluke.

Did I beat Fantasies?
No, I suck at pinball.

#416 - Gods

Take a look at that cover art. Take a look at the HUD. Take a look at that character sprite. Now give me one guess as to what sort of game you think this is and where it originated from. Just one.

Did everyone say the Amiga? Of course they did. They just have a look, don't they? Plus that's where seemingly every single one of these Western-developed SNES games came to us from.

So anyway, about Gods, I don't really know what this game is, or what's going on in it. If there's a storyline, it's constrained to the manual, which I never read. If it was set up in an introductory cutscene, I didn't watch it. In any case it doesn't matter, just know you play as some musclebound freak from... let's say ancient Greece, and you're tasked with killing monsters and... well that's pretty much it. Kill monsters and unlock doors. And solve brain-busting puzzles that involve lots and lots of switches. Because God knows early '90s Western devs certainly loved their switches.

Controls for the most part are basic, but solid. You jump, you move, you attack, you pick things up, and you hit switches. So many switches... But it all handles well, with good movement and good responsiveness. In fact I'd say the way it handles kind of reminds me of some killer PC game I played as a kid, but I can't quite make the recollection as to what it was.

The levels also start simple, but get real complicated real fast. Working through one typically involves jumping across lots of platforms, climbing ladders, entering doors (that either take you to a new area or whisk you around the map), avoiding traps, and trying to solve the damn switches. Eventually the mostly linear paths will lead to an exit.

There's also quite a few items and upgrades that you can either run across, or buy if you are lucky enough to run across the shop, which I posted up above in the middle pic. This place lets you stock up on lives, heals, or powerups, or even decide which weapon upgrade path you want to take, all very cool, and giving you the option of pursuing multiple strategies.

Of course there are some bad things. The game wouldn't be in the 400s if that wasn't the case. For one, I feel that the game is overly hard. Enemies just love to constantly spawn in front of you, behind you, and even right on top of you. This leads to hectically firing your weapon while inching along, trying to kill everything before it can gank your ass. The view is also a bit cramped, and your gigantic sprite doesn't really help things. Or make dodging very easy. In fact, you can't dodge for the most part, so don't even try. You do have the ability to duck, but even that is limited in its usefulness. So you really just need to memorize where everything is and kill enemies before they can kill you. Which all leads to a general sense of trial and error. Which means the game, like usual in these cases, is pretty damn hard. I realize that a lot of older games were pretty short and had to compensate for this by jacking up the difficulty, but this is yet another example of the game being harder than it needed to be.

And yeah, those switches... let's just say that later levels often devolve into wandering around back and forth, trying to "trigger" the next event, or key spawn, or door opening. At times I'm fairly sure I soft-locked the game and made the levels unwinnable. Was I wrong and just solving them wrong by hitting switches at the wrong time or in the wrong order? Who knows. Just know I was unable to beat the game on my own.

Lastly, I have to mention how hilarious many of the sound effects are. Killing enemies, and taking hits is hilarious, because the sounds are often so out of place. I'll let you peruse a longplay if you are curious enough to see what I mean.

All in all, it is a pretty fun game, and I enjoyed all of my time with it. It was never too frustrating, even when I got stuck. And these Amiga games do have a certain charm when they're executed well enough. No one would ever call it a great game, and many people wouldn't even call it a good game, but I'd recommend throwing it an attempt or five.

Did I beat it?
No, I always get stuck and don't know what to do. Someday maybe.

#415 - Scooby-Doo Mystery

One of the few games on the system that could be called a point-and-click adventure, Scooby-Doo Mystery is a decent enough game. I'm not the biggest fan of the source material, and the license isn't doing much for me here, but I did enjoy the change of pace as far as game genres go. Admittedly, no one would ever mistake this for a Tim Schafer or Ron Gilbert game, but it's done well enough to be simple fun. Plus, there is always a certain charm to finding items and figuring out out to use them to make progress.

The game is split up into four different "mysteries," each mimicking the general formula found in an episode from the original series: travel to a spooky location, encounter ghosts and monsters, eventually figure out why someone would want to scare everyone off (spoiler, it's always money), and then expose the villain. Rinse and repeat. These four mysteries are:

Haunted ship - A tutorial mission of sorts, here you'll avoid rats and/or mice, jump across high floating platforms above the ship's deck, and foil a ghost pirate's plans by wrapping him up in a rug (the traps were always moronic). It is by far the easiest portion of the game.

Haunted circus - Visit the ice cream truck and the big top, dodge werewolves and more rats, and take a trip down a huge slide, all while an evil clown tries to scare you to death. Discover that he's secretly the recently fired janitor, and he wants payback against his former employer. Then try to ignore the fact that he was a #$#$ing janitor who was pissed about not having to clean up vomit and carny shit anymore..

Haunted, uh, swamp? - Travel across (and under) the bayou, avoiding stinking bogs and killer jack-o-lanterns, while avoiding the mud monster that wants... I dunno, I guess whatever valuables a damn swamp could hold.

Haunted manor - The final and most puzzle-heavy episode. Traverse the bookshelves of the library, dodge chandeliers in the dining room, and expose a Bela Lugosi-lookalike vampire as another poor goober trying to cash in by scaring people.

Each episode is only a couple hours long, with roughly 20-30 areas per location. Puzzle solving is generally pretty simple as you'll never be carrying more than a few inventory items at any given moment. Though it can be unclear as to where you're supposed to use those items. Luckily your companions are usually never far away, ready to give up any hints or tips on how to progress. And finding those items in the first place can be super cryptic at times. I realize that's often the nature of this genre, but you'll basically need to have Scooby "sniff" everywhere if you want to find everything. That gets old real fast. Or you can use an online guide. Midway through the second level I went that route, strictly because I don't always have a ton of time to spend on some of these titles. Especially if it means combing over every pixel in a game.

Also, to further clarify, your various friends each serve a different role. Velma explains the key items that you come across, letting you advance the mystery. Daphne will occasionally give you Scooby Snacks which heal you (did Shaggy actually eat that shit too? I can't remember). And good ol' punchable lovable oaf Freddy will put together the Goldbergian devices at the end of every mission that you'll need in order to catch the villain.

There's also two bonus games that you'll occasionally have to play. One is whack-a-mole, where Shaggy needs to hammer various ghosts, vampires, and suits of armor, while collecting powerups and avoiding his friends. It's not very fun. There's also a sort of plate balancing thing where you'll play as Scooby, trying to "catch" food Shaggy is tossing out of a fridge. Each of your front paws has a plate, and you'll need to balance the weight of the food items on each of them. If one becomes too much heavier than the other you will fail. It's also not that fun, but at least more creative than hammering ghosts.

In the end, I did enjoy the game to a degree. Partially because I haven't played too many games like this in the last twenty years. But I was also disappointed with it. The more I played SDM, the more I kept dropping it in my rankings. Initially I was expecting it to land in the high 200s, then the 300s, then the high 300s, and then finally it landed here.

Did I beat it?
I did, over a couple of nights, after a couple aborted playthroughs over the years.

#414 - Kid Klown in Crazy Chase

Remember that game Kid Klown in Something or Other on NES? No? Well, here's another game that no one remembers; Kid Klown in Crazy Chase. A game about a kid clown racing down hills, chasing... things. Crazily. It's better than it sounds.

I'm not exactly sure how to explain the gameplay here, mostly because I cannot really recall any other games that play this same way. I'm not saying they don't exist, or that this game wasn't directly inspired by something, but I may just not be familiar with any of them. Anyway, the gist of it is, you need to race Kid Klown down to the end of various courses, dodging all types of obstacles and hazards, evading the asshole evil clown that is trying to foil your efforts, all while under a strict time limit. If you fail, the explosives at the bottom of the level are detonated and you have to start again from the top. Think of it as one long downhill obstacle course that is trying its hardest to murder you. But to further complicate things, you'll also need to grab a bunch of hidden collectables along the way. These may be concealed inside objects, or found in secret areas. Furthermore, you'll also need to grab all of those collectables in one try in order to see the game's true, "good" ending. And trust me when I say doing all of these things successfully gets very hard, very fast.

Controls are solid for the most part. I know some people have issues with the isometric "Q-Bert" style of control, but I have never been one of them, and things immediately felt intuitive to me here. All you really need to do is use the D-Pad to move along the path, and a button to jump. It's a very simple setup, and everything is very responsive, which it kinda needs to be in order for a game like this to succeed. Thankfully it succeeds in full.

The graphics are also very nice and colorful, and well animated to boot. It was a late release on the Super Nintendo, so I guess Kemco had finally started to figure out how to code for the thing, since most of their earlier titles kind of looked like ass.

KKiCC is a very short and simple game though. What you see in the first minute of gameplay is what you're gonna see for the rest of the entire playthrough. And a skilled player could theoretically blow through this whole thing in a matter of minutes. Granted, he'd have to spend some time mastering the levels, and memorizing where everything is, but anyone dedicated enough could probably do both things over the course of a couple nights.

That initial high degree of difficulty can make things fairly frustrating though. Prepare to play the same levels over and over again, until you beat them. And prepare for lots of memorization if you want to have any hope at getting the true ending. I wasn't quite prepared for that, and called it quits after struggling just to reach the end at all.

Still, frustration and simple gameplay aside, I had fun with it. Most people should probably check it out, just to see if the novelty of it works for them.

Did I beat it?
I did, but did not get the best ending.

#413 - Utopia: The Creation of a Nation

Story time!

As I had previously discussed back in... some review... was it Bubsy? I'm not sure, but back in that review I mentioned how my household was pretty hard up for games to play when I was younger. I'd get maybe one or two a year for Christmas and/or my birthday, and they were often sports titles. Not that I was complaining too much - my parents weren't exactly loaded with cash, and when adjusting for inflation games cost an ass-ton and a half back then. Nothing like today where games are cheap and plentiful, and why it always makes me shake my head when people complain about some remaster or re-release going for forty or sixty bucks upon launch. I guess people either don't know how good they have it nowadays, or they're old enough to have forgotten. So while I may have been initially disappointed that I got FIFA International Soccer instead of whatever game I actually wanted, I was sure to be very grateful to my dad for spending so much money to try and make his kids happy.

Anyway, the only way to alleviate the lack of diversity in my collection was by renting or borrowing games. You see the secondary market was still a few years away from really being a thing, or at least that was the case in my neck of the woods. So when I was lucky enough to rent a game - which was not often because I myself had no money - I had to be very careful and ensure that I made a wise decision.

I rented Utopia three times.

Looking back, that kind of bamboozles me. I mean I know I've always had a soft spot for two different types of games: strategy games, and isometric overhead games. I just don't really have an explanation as to why that is, only that both things have always been a draw to me, even to this day. And since Utopia was one of the few strategy games that they had on hand at my nearest video store (the other being SimCity 2000), I went back to it again and again. Was that because I loved it? Because I had a great time playing it? Or because I wanted to discover its secrets?

Well I have always prided myself on the strength of my memory (or at least I did before I had kids), but I honestly couldn't say what the answer was. Hell, I didn't even know, or remember, that the game had enemy factions until I picked it back up six or seven years ago. Which must mean I only played the practice mode all those times I rented it. Which also means I was just laying down buildings and infrastructure, at my own pace, in a free play of sorts, that entire time. So maybe that's the answer as to the question of why I kept going back to it - I just wanted a fun little stress-free sandbox to build my little space cities in. No attacks, no game overs, no races against the clock, nothing.

Nowadays, I play the game's actual scenario mode, where mounting frustration with the difficulty along with the now apparent (and glaring) flaws with the design both mean I enjoy the game significantly less than I remember. I'd even go so far as to say this was one of the biggest disappointments in this entire writing project. Would I have been as into the game back in the day if it didn't have the free play mode? Probably; I never expected to have any great success with games back then, I was just happy to play them. But things are different now and just sitting around placing buildings without any threats or setbacks is not enough anymore.

Oh well, at least I'll always have the memories.

Did I beat it?
No, damnable aliens always gank my ass.

#412 - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Crossroads of Time

The second of the system's three Star Trek games, and easily the one I went into with the least amount of expectations. Now, I'm not exactly a Trekkie or anything, but I certainly enjoyed the new JJ Abrams stuff, and find some sporadic older material like First Contact to be pretty good. But I've never seen an episode of Deep Space Nine, and my only knowledge of the series is that it was about some space station and the motley crew of inhabitants that resided within, including some funny-looking alien bartender dude and Colm Meaney. Wikipedia tells me Worf and Herbert West were also involved, but that's all I know. So I initially approached this Crossroads of Time with a sort of reserved optimism.

Unlike in every other Star Trek game that I'm aware of, this one is a sidescroller. But instead of being a traditional action platformer sorta thing, it's more of a narrative-driven Prince of Persia meets Flashback... sorta thing. With... uh, action platforming. It's better than it sounds. Even though I put it so eloquently.

You start the game as the black guy (sorry I don't remember his name or title), where you'll need to walk around a couple areas, talk to various aliens, and then get sent off somewhere to investigate some sort of tomfoolery. And most people are gonna give up on the game right around this point. You see, this first "level" tasks you with hunting down a number of rigged explosives, and makes sure to showcase some terrible platforming, a severe lack of checkpoints, boring combat, and repetitive gameplay. It's one of the worst first impressions the game could have possibly made. It wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't used this opportunity to roll out the absolute worst jumping puzzles in the entire game, while also imposing strict time limits and a confusing end goal. And worst of all, this stuff goes on for three different sections, with no checkpoint in-between the second and third areas. So prepare to play through it over and over again until you succeed and move on. Playmates really dropped the ball here.

Anyway, after eventually persevering over the first damn level - most likely over a dozen attempts or more - the game switches over to something of a shmup-style sequence. Well, shmup-like. The first part of this stage resembles that section in Gradius III where you're trucking through a narrow corridor trying not to eat the wall, and the next part has you trying to disable another craft by hitting it with phaser fire and knocking asteroid chunks into it. The entire stage is pretty easy, and over before you know it, but I found it a welcome relief and change of pace from level one. And then of course after this you never see any more gameplay like this again for the rest of the game. Go figure.

Between each mission you also get to run around the main hub area of the station, talking to everyone until the storyline advances. It's not very compelling, but luckily the area isn't overly huge or easy to get lost in. So fans of the show can get off to cameo appearances from rando alien guest stars and such.

Most of the later levels adapt a more typical platformer setup, tasking you with navigating through alien landscapes, ancient temples, underground caverns, etc.. They also feature plenty of typical platformer silliness such as murderous birds and bats and fire breathing statues and all that jazz. It's all pretty out of place in a Star Trek game.

Towards the end of the game there is a pretty significant difficulty spike. Especially the mission where you are tasked with racing the clock on a ship overrun with the Borg. Honestly, this entire stage is some bullshit, and most people are never gonna get through it without outside help. Here you'll have to navigate through a ton of samey-looking tunnels and rooms, while constantly "retuning" your phaser, trying to find items and crewmembers, toggling the power on and off, and solving some pretty fiendish puzzles. All while dealing with Borg that adapt to your attacks, one-way doors, numerous deadly hazards, and time limit that is ridiculously tight. After half a dozen fruitless tries I resorted to using an FAQ to get through it, and even then I wasn't immediately successful. Following that guide to a "T" had still left me way short on time, twice. It was ridiculous, and the temptation to throw the cart after that second fail was overwhelming.

Another late mission has you taking the mantle of another of the show's characters, whose name I also forget. He's the one who can turn into a rat, which lets you scoot into nearby vents and avoid a few obstacles at times. And then after three minutes you're done with him. Why even bother putting in a second character with new abilities when you play as him for such a short time? Did they have to cut out a significant part of the game built just for him? Regardless, after you discard rat man you then have to navigate another maze of areas with cryptic item locations, no health recovery, and frustration in spades. If there wasn't a checkpoint near the very end I might have lost my shit (again).

And that's it. A handful of missions, some easy, some hard, all over with after a couple of hours. So while the game kind of starts out like shit, and unravels a little bit towards the end, I had a decent enough time with it. Certainly more fun than I had with the "Next Generation" game, which started out great and then tanked off a cliff because of its damn space battles. So call this one a minor pleasant surprise. And that also leaves us with just one Star Trek game left.

Did I beat it?
I did. I led Captain WhatsHisName to victory over the... evil... guys. Honestly I never knew what was going on, but I killed a shit-ton of rats and Borgs and alienoids until I saved the galaxy or whatever.

#411 - HAL's Hole in One Golf

If my short-term memory is correct (a foolhardy assumption), this will be the sixth golf game that I've covered, with four titles left to go. Five if you count Kirby's Dream Course. Which would place it just above the middle of the pack. And I think that is exactly how Hal's Hole in One Golf - and really, almost every game in Volume VII - can be described: slightly better than average. Granted I haven't actually gotten to the halfway point of this project yet, so I'm not sure how I can call the majority of the library above average, but I did it anyway.

First off, this game is fast. Complete polar opposite of Mecarobot Golf fast. There's no fucking around waiting for shots to render, or slowly clicking through different parts of the shot setup, or any of that crap. You aim, you grip it, and you rip it. Those are all good things too, because I have another billion hours of old-ass Nintendo tapes to continue getting through, so I don't have time to wait for an opponent's shot to slowly fly through the air, bounce a few times, roll, come to a stop, and load, before the game finally returns to my character.

The gameplay is also very simple. You get one no-BS course, with simple greens, and plenty of arcade gameplay. That part's a bit more of a mixed bag, because it limits the amount of depth found here, but it still helps you jump right into the game, enjoying yourself within seconds.

Now for the bad things. First off - and this is a big one - is that it's really hard to gauge the distance you're hitting the ball, or how far you need to hit it. This is easily the thing that keeps HHiOG from stacking up against the top tier golf sims on the Super Nintendo because it's a serious detriment to playing at anything resembling a skilled level. And it's a silly problem to have too, because all they had to do was add some sort of indicator as to where your ball is going. It didn't even need to be precise, just an approximation of the general area that it's going to go. Seems like a major miss by HAL.

The putting is also ridiculously easy... at least at first. You see, the front nine greens are basically flat for the most part, and as long as you don't rocket the ball over the hole it's probably gonna drop in. Later greens, however, start adding in some slopes, and the game just doesn't have the information in place to let you play them correctly. So putting is either ridiculously easy, or frustratingly cryptic, with no in-between.

There's also the fact that the game only offers a single course. Now that is about par for the course on the SNES [... - editor], so you can't reasonably hold that against a single game like this. But the one course is so basic and featureless - where every hole feels the same as all the others - that it never has much of a sense of "identity" to it. Mecarobot Golf kind of sucked, but at least its course was a little memorable. HHiOG is just a series of plain overhead maps.

Still, in the end I had fun with HAL's golf game. The faster pace of play makes it so much more enjoyable than the True Golf Classics trilogy I recently covered, and the mechanics are much more sound than those found in Jack Nicklaus Golf or Mecarobot Golf. Its one major shortcoming holds it back from being anything special, and it really could have used some more variety, but it's pretty good for what it is.

Did I beat it?
Hell no. Even finishing under par, which I was able to accomplish twice, didn't get me anywhere near to winning the tournament. And that was on the easiest difficulty setting.

#410 - Lester the Unlikely

Lester the Unlikely, released by DTMC (whoever that is), and infamous subject of an Angry Video Game Nerd episode, is not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be. Which isn't to say it's anything great. But it is a fun little take on the Prince of Persia formula, sticking you into the role of the titular (and cowardly) geek: a doofus who can barely be bothered to get near some frickin' crabs when the game begins. But by the end he'll have overcome ghosts, pirates, giant spiders, and vicious jaguars to rescue the girl and save the day.

The game begins with Lester walking along some docks, getting tired, and then taking a nap on a box that gets lifted onto a ship. It's a pretty shitty excuse for a setup. Eventually he wakes up, finds himself on a large tropical island, and makes off for... wherever. A boat I guess.

The controls are, as I already hinted, of the Prince of Persia/Blackthorne/Out of this World style. Only, instead of being some badass with a sword or shotgun, Lester is basically Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds. Except not a rapist. He also walks with a weird gait to his stride, he pisses his pants at the sight of a turtle or bat, and his only attack (throwing small rocks) brings the dweeb from The Sandlot to mind...

Now the idea is that Lester will slowly overcome his weakness, build up his confidence and abilities, and end the game as the dashing hero who gets the girl. So for example, after first encountering any of the enemies, he will bravely challenge them on the next go-around. And after overcoming one of the bosses he gets a kiss from the damsel in distress, which immediately transforms his slouch into a manly new posture, complete with large pecs and biceps that have suddenly developed in a split second. And that's about the extent of Lester's "transformation." Nothing actually changes. He just stops being such a goddamn wimp. Good idea, lacking execution.

The game is fun though, silliness aside. The levels are reasonably varied, and short enough to never wear out their welcome. They're all very linear, especially compared to other games in the genre, and the puzzle-solving is usually pretty simple, but it all works well enough.

The graphics are also pretty nice looking, with much more detail to the animations than the similarly-themed Skulljager. There are tons of recycled assets throughout the levels, and a relatively small number of characters and enemies, but I still think it's all done rather well overall.

I do think that the game is held back a bit by the limited number of lives and continues that it offers. There is a reason games like Out of this World, Flashback and Blackthorne have passwords or infinite continues - there's too many instant death moments spread across them, which would deter you from wanting to have to restart the game from the beginning over and over again. And you will have to restart LtI after the first time you reach the spike level a third of the way through the game. Or after the quick escape from the jaguar where you need to "Pitfall" your way over a number of water hazards. Total horseshit trial-and-error in both instances. I will even admit that I eventually resorted to using a longplay to help "massage" me through such segments, but only after I had given the game more than a fair shake. I just got tired of the instant death sections that I couldn't see coming. They're fine in Out of this World. They're not as fine when you have limited lives to work with.

I do have a couple other minor grievances as well: while most levels aren't too bad, the river level is a bitch and no fun to play through, and the sporadic vine-swinging is fucked. I don't know if it's as bad as the hippo tails in The Lion King, but it's pretty bad.

Overall though, I had to say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Lester. It's still a pretty limited game, and one of the lesser "cinematic" action platformers on the system, but that's pretty good company to have. I would never call this a hidden gem, or say it was too unfairly maligned by The Nerd, but it's a decent enough time.

Did I beat it?
Yes I did, after a couple nights' worth of attempts.

#409 - Fatal Fury

SNK fighter number three - and another title that left me with mixed feelings - Fatal Fury represents their oldest release on the system. Well, not counting King of the Monsters, because that's more of a wrestling game/pile of garbage.

I'm not gonna bore us with "dates" or "research" or "facts," but I am going to guess that this came out just after Street Fighter II, shamelessly trying to lap up some of that landmark title's success. And who could blame them? Everyone and their sister was playing SFII, so of course companies were gonna try and produce their own Street Fighter killer. Enter SNK and Fatal Fury. A flashy title with killer graphics and sound, great animation, tons of secret special moves to pull off, and a big bad final boss with all sorts of crazy moves and hijinks to put M. Bison to shame.

And they nearly did it. FF is a worthy SFII competitor in many ways. But they fucked up one very important mechanic. Possibly the most important mechanic of them all. You see the controls are as unresponsive as all hell. Is that because this is a shoddy port? Was that a problem in the Genesis version? Because I have no idea. But I suspect it stems from the game itself, and that SNK hadn't quite figured out what the hell they were doing yet. If you have ever played the original Street Fighter (as in the very first one), you'd see that it has the exact same problem, only ten times worse. So my theory is that it took everyone at least one game to figure that shit out.

Like many older games in the genre, you also only have a few guys that you get to pick from in the single player campaign. Three, to be exact, and they're presumably all Bogart boys. I dunno, I forget. I think one is named Joe. After selecting one of them you get to do the standard fighting game thing and move across a map, defeating opponents one at a time, until you get to the big bad. Nothing you haven't seen in every other fighter in existence.

What the game does offer that most others don't, is your typical SNK bullshit. You know, computer opponents that pull off impossible combos that defy the laws of physics, AI that is all over the place, sometimes kicking your ass and sometimes laying down to die, and of course the godforsaken SNK bosses. They couldn't go one game without some of those assholes trying to ruin everything, with jacked up damage and health to make your life miserable.

Still, the game is pretty fun though, all complaining and SNK warts aside. Every fighter in the roster plays pretty different from one another. And like I said, the game does sound and look pretty great. It's not something that can stand up against its far superior sequel (and quasi-sequel), but I did enjoy it more than World Heroes or Art of Fighting. But it is a far cry from the remaining five SNK fighting games that I have yet to cover, all of which are pretty dang good.

Did I beat it?
Yes. Mostly because most opponents didn't know how to handle Terry's fire fisting thing. At least on the default difficulty.

#408 - Brunswick World Tournament of Champions

The second (and last) bowling game I'll be covering, Brunswick World Tournament of Champions aims for a much more "authentic" experience than the cartoony Super Bowling did, to mostly positive results. I will also freely admit up front that the only bowling video games I have ever played are these two SNES titles, and Wii freaking Sports. Which means I'm definitely not an expert on the genre. I also don't care much for the sport in real life, and hardly ever play if I can help it. So I am super aware that I'm not gonna be the best judge of this stuff.

To start, the graphics are pretty fugly, and limited. Hell, even the menus look like crap. But does any of that matter? Not really. You're here to see a ball go down a lane and crash into some large pieces of wood, not worry about whether or not the bowlers have outstanding animation or if the menus are impressive looking.

There's also a decent number of play options. Well, several: various tournaments you can enter, and leagues you can join. Not that I ever tried league play, but it was there if you're interested. And why didn't I try the leagues? Because just winning tournaments was more than enough content for me. Competing in any one of them will require tons of games played, even on the shortest settings.

But most important of all, how does it play? And the answer is "quite good," I think. Granted I don't have much of a bowling (or bowling game) baseline, but everything here seems on point. The ball and pin physics seem accurate. The different types of setups and spin you can apply to the ball all add a good amount of depth and strategy to your play, with plenty of different approaches possible. And it is legitimately fun. Once I got the hang of things and started bowling like a pro, I had a blast.

...or at least I did for a little while. Because bowling is still just bowling. At the end of the day you're doing the same thing over and over again, with slight variations on how to proceed depending on the shot you have lined up. After a couple hours I had had my fill. I had a good time, but I didn't need to play any more (or ever again, most likely).

So if you are a bowler or like the thought of playing bowling games, you'll probably be completely satisfied with what this game provides. It's no frills, but it gets the job done.

My career lifetime scores:
Qualifying tournaments - 66, 138, 138, 162, 211, 172, 159, 196, 232, 172, 204, 190, 214, 194, 191, 190, 192, 199, 220
Brunswick Tournament (harder difficulty) - 213, 225, 170, 191, 192, 188

Did I beat it?
See the scores above.

#407 - NCAA Football

A football game from Mindscape? Seemingly from the same team that brought us the abomination that was NCAA Final Four Basketball? Fucking gross. There's no way this game isn't beyond horrible... bottom twenty material at least.

And yet somehow it isn't. I don't know how they did it, but color me shocked; a Mindscape product that is not only ugly as sin and generic as fuck in its presentation, manages to actually be a pretty good time. Hell, I'd go so far as to say it almost kind of reminds me of a poor man's Tecmo Super Bowl. Granted, so did Football Fury, which was no good. But NCAA Football kinda sorta actually pulls it off a little bit.

Right off the bat you can tell from the cover art that the game boasts the full NCAA license. And yet Mindscape only saw fit to throw in a random assortment of real life programs. And unlike Super Play Action Football you will not be getting any of those hilariously out-of-place Division II or I-AA teams. Not that most people would care about something like that. But you don't even get all of the power programs, it's just a random cross-section of schools. What was the method to the madness? One can only guess.

The next thing you'll notice is that the game kind of looks like shit. That isn't unusual for these arcade-like football experiences, as Tecmo Super Bowl, Super High Impact, ABC Monday Night Football, and Football Fury aren't exactly lookers themselves. But NCAA Football is even homelier than usual. I'd put it just behind Super Play Action for grossest looking on the system. Luckily I'm not a graphics whore (most of the time).

I also just realized that I had started grading all of the football games via a quick breakdown of the different components of a play (running, passing, and defending against both), but clearly forgot about that at some point and abandoned it. Somewhere around Volume III I think. But it's never too late to half-assedly fix your mistakes:

Running game - This actually works rather well. Ballcarriers are speedy and can get to the line before getting mobbed - which you can never take for granted in these games - and handle well in the open field. It gets my seal of approval.
Passing game - A bit finicky, as you have to toggle through receivers, many of whom you won't be able to see (unless you can read that "map" in the corner of the screen - good luck with that), and your QB has to be perfectly still in order to attempt a pass. Plus, once the pass is in the air you're almost guaranteed a reception. Partial credit.
Playing defense - Defending against the pass is problematic (it usually is) because once the ball is in the air it's very hard to prevent the receiver from catching it. Your best bet is jailbreak blitzes to try and get to the QB before he can drop back and get the throw off. The run defense works great though. They nailed running in this game, both on offense and defense.

Really though, none of that matters much. The only thing you need to know is that the game is pretty fun to play. It's also extremely fast paced. Probably the fastest football game on the system. And that's a good thing, because it keeps the arcade experience running at full tilt, with no interruptions, which keeps things fun.

So is this amongst the best football games on the system? No, not quite. It's a far cry from something like Tecmo Super Bowl. But this is the first pigskin title that's legitimately fun, and I've covered most of them by this point. So credit is due.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I won the championship with Nebraska. I think that capped an undefeated season, but I cannot remember for sure.

#406 - Populous

I'm gonna once again shoot from the seat of my pants [you certainly love your mixed metaphors - editor], and say that Populous was a hit PC game from Peter Molyneux (probably known to most gamers as the creator of Fable), and that it was the first major release from famed Bullfrog Studios, makers of Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, and the Black and White series. And if I'm wrong about any of that, well... blame alcohol for ravaging my mind and memory over the years. But this game has pedigree, to put it simply. Or it became pedigree? What's the reverse of pedigree? Whatever it is, this game has it.

Unfortunately that only means so much, because I'm ranking and reviewing all of these games based on how I think they play right now, at this very moment in time. And I'm sure Populous was a great and influential game back in the day. But maybe not so much anymore. And definitely not on the Super Nintendo. So while this is one of the first "god" games, if not the very first, it has aged in many ways that does kind of make it harder to play nowadays.

The gist of the game is pretty weird, and something I had to read a few times through when I was going over the manual trying to get a grip on the gameplay. Basically, you have to "raise or lower land" in order to let your people thrive and grow. Why? I have no f'ing clue. I guess you're terraforming for them. As you lay the ground out for them, they will expand into new structures, upgrade their existing ones, and provide you more peoples through which to further expand your domain.

There's also various powers and strategies you can invoke, from creating powerful soldiers that can lay waste to enemy civilians, to large scale events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. All in the name of thrashing your foes so that you can become more powerful than them. Once you do have an edge over them, you invoke the apocalypse (or something along those lines), at which point every unit on the map converges for one last final battle. Winner takes all.

And as far as I can tell, that's all there is to it. Shape the land to grow more powerful, use warriors and acts of God to attack your enemy, call the final battle when you have the advantage. Rinse and repeat for the next 999 levels after that. And while I had some fun dinking around, killing dudes and growing my villages as large as I could, I wasn't having a good enough time to stick with it for more than a few hours.

Did I beat it?
No, I'm not sure how many of those 1,000 levels you realistically have to beat to play through the game, but it's probably way too many.

#405 - Hit the Ice

Taito brings us the hockey equivalent of arcade classic Arch Rivals (and spiritual precursor to future hit franchise NHL Hitz), Hit the Ice. The goofiest hockey game I've ever played. The cover art should tell you everything you need to know about what to expect here: lots of fighting, grotesque-looking characters that look like they've been beaten to a pulp, and lots of seafood thrown onto the ice to slip over. And the game plays exactly like you think it would.

The options are pretty basic here (it is an arcade port after all). Choose from one of several different teams, select your player, and you're off and running. Easy peasy. Games are three on three affairs, with each team having one goalie and two position players present (is that what they're called in hockey? I have no idea). You will always have control over one of them, as the other will be more of an AI partner who will respond to simple commands such as pass or shoot. That doesn't sound so hot in theory, but it works well enough in practice.

I do rather like the graphics too. As you can in the screenshots, character sprites are big and cartoonish, and nicely detailed. The animation is admittedly pretty shitty, though you'll be too busy trying to bust open guys' heads to notice much.

Gameplay is pretty basic. Basic as in shoot, pass, or attack. The one wrinkle in the formula comes in the form of power shots. These are also just about the only way you can score a goal reliably. And that's actually what I like about this game, and why I scored it higher than Super Slap Shot (a decent, but more traditional hockey title). Instead of playing hockey like you would in another game, both teams are basically just trying to keep the puck away from their opponents' attacks long enough so that they can charge up this shot and overpower the opposing goalie with it. Which is also hilarious - when those shots land they literally launch him into the goal alongside the puck. It's immensely satisfying. So you're not so much playing hockey as you are a glorified game of keep away. But it works better than you'd think.

There's also fighting. Lots of fighting. Like fighting-every-thirty-seconds fighting. And it is decent enough, and better implemented than it was in any of the hockey games I've already covered. It just happens entirely too much. And when you're playing against the AI, all it does is slow the game down. Not that a game like this is meant to be played against the AI, but even against human players they could have toned it down. Especially since all you really get out of it is bragging rights, since knocked out players are barely out of the action for any real amount of time.

And like I mentioned there are a number of other fun details. Like the octopuses thrown onto the ice, which will wrap up any player that gets too close to them. Or the truly horrific-looking sprite for the referee. He looks like something out of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Or the various animations of players being decked, laid out, or knocked out. Hilarious.

So overall I enjoyed my time with Hit the Ice. Not enough to give it an especially lofty ranking, but it did end up being my highest rated hockey game outside of the classic EA franchise that will be coming up in the future. Which, now that I say that, makes it seem like I've been especially harsh on the sport overall. I don't think I was, but any Canadians/North Dakotans/Minnesotans would probably have this at least a hundred spots higher. I'll let them have that.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I went through the tournament with "Green."

#404 - Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D

Who is Jim Power? Powers? Power? Pretty sure it's Power. In any case, I don't know, but I'm guessing it was the Amiga's answer to Apogee's Duke Nukem. And he got this sequel (or maybe it's a remake) on the Super Nintendo. A game that is known for being one of the system's absolutely ball-bustingly hardest games, unrelenting in its challenge and unforgiveness.

Now you may be asking yourself "But Mr. Super Nintendo Game Reviewing Guy, what does 'in 3D' even mean?" Is it a graphical mode you turn on/off that's supposed to be used with those flimsy old school blue and red glasses ala Rad Racer? Well not quite. You see the 3D is a reference to the game's rather unique way of handling parallax scrolling. What I mean by that is, when you move forward everything in the foreground moves backwards (like any other game), while the background moves forward, and while another background layer moves forward at an even faster rate. It's kind of a trippy effect, and most people seem to hate it and find it nauseating. I personally think it's kind of cool, and that it gives the game an extra graphical boost. I don't know about calling it "3D" or anything, but it is pretty unique.

You start the game on a Ghosts n Goblins-style map. It's not much - more of a minor detail than anything - but I always dig these sorts of details, and I love seeing a progression towards the end of the map. Plus, you know right up front what sort of games this is taking its inspiration from.

The bulk of the gameplay takes the form of a side-scrolling action platformer. Think Contra, but as if it were made by Apogee. If you don't know who Apogee are, google it, or read Masters of Doom. Anyway, in most levels you'll guide Jim through some fairly long areas where enemies generally just run or fly back and forth, gathering up powerups, trying to race the clock before it expires. This is also where you discover just how unforgiving the game is. You see, Jim dies in one hit, you only have a few lives to spare, and there are few continues. And the relatively large sprites and fast movement of many enemies mean you can burn through those lives fairly quickly. Still, the set enemy patterns mean that it's not too hard to get into a groove after a few rounds. At least at first. The challenge starts low but will gradually escalate to sadistic levels.

Speaking of levels, there are two other types of gameplay found in later stages:

Shmup levels - These take two different forms, but neither one is very fun overall. The first type has Jim flying with a jetpack, fighting against various bosses. The problem is your sprite is way too big, too slow moving, and there is entirely too much emphasis placed on memorization of the boss's attack patterns, many of which are similar to one another. The second type of stage is even more problematic. They are of a more traditional shmup design where you fly a ship through tight caverns, blasting away enemies and avoiding obstacles, and they are ridiculously hard. All of the sprites are too big - a recurring problem with this game - with overly large hitboxes and not enough room to maneuver, all of which lends to a claustrophobic feeling overall. On top of that, there are endless instant death moments that can only be conquered through memorization and repeated play. Which turns these levels into endless slogs.

Overhead levels - You know the overhead areas from Contra III? That's these levels to a tee, including the "spinny" parts. Hell, the character sprite even looks identical. Except, whereas the CIII levels are relatively forgiving, the ones here are brutal, just like the rest of this game. Pro tip: study the map before you do anything, because using any of the keys in the wrong places at the wrong times will cause you to be stuck in an unwinnable position. However, they did actually try to improve upon what CIII offered in some ways. Like later on there seems to be a vehicle that is added into the equation. I didn't get far enough to see it myself, but I noticed it when scanning through a longplay, and can only imagine it makes these levels even trickier. It's a cool idea either way though.

Now, I really think that unlimited continues could have done this game a huge favor. The game is very hard, and very unforgiving, but it can be overcome through persistence. But when you have to replay the entire game from scratch every time, it really makes mastering each level a massive drain. Still, I have to say that I found it to be a fun and ambitious game. Yes, its reputation is very much deserved, and I seriously doubt most players could muster a serious attempt at clearing it on easy, much less medium or hard. And I do think the difficulty is a drawback that takes away from the game. If the challenge was a little more subdued, or the game a little more forgiving with continues, or providing passwords or something, this game would have jumped quite a bit higher in my rankings.

Did I beat it?
No. I probably sank 6-7 hours into it, and got pretty far into it, but for now it's beyond me.

#403 - Lock On

[this writeup is left partially unedited in order to capture my feelings as I logged my experiences with the game, as they happened. I kept the bizarre formatting as it was the only way I could make it remotely readable]

Mission One
First attempt
Okay, so what sort of game is this? Is it like AfterBurner? Do Afterburner games play like this? Probably not.
*shot down in quick fashion*

Second attempt
Okay, let's try the other plane here.
*shot down three straight times*

Third attempt
*shot down three straight times*
Jesus Christ and a half, alright already. I guess I got what I needed.
*throws the game into the low 400s in my spreadsheet, throws the cartridge back in the pile*

A couple years go by...

Fourth attempt
Okay, what was this game again? Was this better than Turn and Burn? Was it similar? I know I definitely like Super Strike Eagle more. But about Wings 2?
*immediately shot down*
Fucking christ!
*collide with enemy plane*
Well that was some horseshit.
*collide with another enemy*
OOOOOOHHHH, those kamikaze mother fuckers! Ok, next attempt I got this...

Fifth attempt
Oh shit, this plane seems way more maneuverable. I may have figured out the way to go.
*shot down*
Fuck me. I never even saw that one coming, I just heard the alarm for awhile, and then I was in pieces.
*runs out of fuel*
WHAT THE FUCK? Clearly the tradeoff for this thing is maneuverability over endurance. I'm not sure how many enemies I'm supposed to kill but that seemed like a really tight timeline.
*furious dogfight against enemy ace, shot down*
Jesus H. That... that was frustrating. Especially when you're racing against the clock with your fuel. Maybe I should go back to the Tomcat. And why the shit am I forced into picking old-ass Tomcats? Where are the Strike Eagles? Did the Super Hornet not exist yet?

Sixth attempt
Okay, Tomcat for the win. Let's do this...
*blow away a dozen fighters*
So far so good...
*missile shoots me down even though I had a flare up*
What in the assing shit? I guess missiles can still hit you even if you're between them and your flare? That's some garbage.
*enemy ace shows up*
Okay, circling one another didn't work last time, so I need to hit the afterburners and get some distance on him, and then engage in a game of chicken where I unload my vulcans and missiles as fast as I can.
*several salvos later, missile shoots me down even though I have a flare up*
Gaaawwd. Fuck. That. Shit. Son of a bitch must pay.
*I slow to a crawl, hoping he'll drift out in front me. Vulcan fire starts taking me apart. Eventually he shows up on screen just long enough for me to unleash everything on him, exploderizing him in satisfying faction*
Jesus god. Well I'm probably not gonna fucking beat this game at this rate, but maybe I can at least put a dent in it.

Time: 5'03
Hit Rate: 19%
Damage Rate: 234%
Evaluation: Two stars

Mission Two
Okay, now I get to take the Warthog for a run. Or the Tornado if I want, whatever the fuck that is. Wait, the Warthog is equipped with napalm? Was that still a thing in the mid 90s?
*a large Mode 7 island appears in front of me*
Ooooooh, that's cool. Hopefully this is more fun than that stupid f'ing first mission.
*ground textures start to spaz out as I fly in close to them*
What in the fuck is going on? Is the game having a seizure?
*turn around for second pass, start to strafe the glowing orangish spots*
Well, nothing is happening. What am I supposed to do? Is there a map I can bring up?
*hit start and select buttons, no map shows up*
Well, ass.
*goes in for third run, ground is wobbling around like crazy*
Oh my god, are you serious with this game? What is even happening down there?
*comes in for a high altitude dive straight down into the glowing thing, unload with everything*
Is anything happening? What am I supposed to do?
*notices that one of the glowing spots on my minimap is no longer there*
So I'm just supposed to shoot these things until they unceremoniously don't exist, with no feedback? How exciting.
*go in for another run, unloading everything once again, before my plane spontaneously drops from the sky as I'm right over the target*
What the... did I stall out? What the hell happened?

Seventh attempt
Luckily the game is pretty generous with continues so I am still on mission two.
*half a dozen strafes later*
Oh, I see. The glowing areas "flash" another color when they're hit. Assuming you can actually see that over your giant ass plane that is in the middle of the screen obscuring your view. Which I didn't until my twentieth strafing run there.
*final target explodes, screen acts like a nuclear missile hit the island or something*
Umm, okay... what did I just take out?

Time: 1'58"
Hit Rate: 7%
Damage Rate: 0%
Evaluation: Three stars

Special Mission
Ok... wait, what did that briefing say? What am I doing now?
*flies around, nothing in sight*
Ummm, hmm. Wait, there's something off in the distance...
*fly up on two ICBMs*
Fuck, they're moving in a straight line and I still can't hit them. Damn this squirrely ass movement. Just. Hit. It.
*time expires right as I have the second missile in my sights*
*briefing tells me all ICBMs were successfully destroyed*
-uuu... wait, what? Okay, I guess that was a bonus mission or something?

Mission Three
*mission briefing informs me that the enemy (whoever they are) has attacked THE ENTIRE MIDDLE EAST AND GAINED AIR SUPERIORITY*
The entire Middle East? Holy shit. I guess Israel and Saudia Arabia (and Egypt and Turkey and Jordan...) all went on vacation. I understand beating Iran and Iraq's dumpy ass forces, but the US allies? Horse. Shit.
*missions starts*
Okay this is a return to the style of the first mission.
*mow down enemies that keep spawning directly in front of me*
Fuck yeah, that's the way to succeed in this game.
*missile blows me apart as I dodge directly into its path*
Shit. Okay that definitely proves that even with flares you need to get out of the missile's path in order to be safe. Good to know.
*continue shooting down bogeys until a missile blows me to pieces from 3 o'clock*
Well fuck me. I shouldn't have even been anywhere near that one. Am I using flares too early? Now I have one life remaining and there is almost certainly a boss waiting at the end of this mission.
*another missile ignores my flares and disintegrates me*
WHAT IS HAPPENING? Did this game just throw me a massive curveball, or are the demands on flare usage just much tighter this time out? This is definitely putting a damper on my confidence in beating this title.

Eighth attempt
*enemies get chopped apart in rapid succession as I start to hit my stride with the game*
Okay, new rule of thumb. When I hear the missile alarm I watch my minimap and then unload TWO flares once it gets close. Sick of that shit ruining my runs.
*I notice that I'm not actually dumping two flares with each engagement*
So wait, one flare is good enough, you just have to wait until the missile is on top of you before you use it? I feel dumb, because that seems pretty obvious.
*enemy boss shows up, I have yet to take any damage to this point*
Okay, bring it you asshole.
*he immediately peppers me with vulcan fire from my six*
Well that is some cheap ass bullshit.
*long drawn out dogfight takes place*
Wait, you have indicators for the health of each section of your plane? Considering you usually die in one hit, what is even the point?
*enemy ace crashes into me head on right before I run out of fuel. He's fine, I'm dead*
Okay, two lives left. Not time to panic... yet.
*I accidentally do a loop-de-loop somehow*
Whoa. Okay, that's a thing. Should I have been doing that this whole time?
*we fly around for another couple minutes, unable to damage one another*
Wow this is getting annoying. He's moving around so goddamn much, how am I supposed to get a bead on him? If I run out of fuel I'm gonna be pissed.
*he eventually lines him up directly in front of me and I melt him in a barrage of fire*
Oh thank Christ. That was tense.

Time: 6:43
Hit Rate: 13%
Damage Rate: 100%
Evaluation: Two stars

Mission Four
*another ground assault where I need to destroy an airfield*
Okay, this time it's a night mission, which looks pretty cool. In fact, these ground missions are super sweet looking. If only Star Fox had had these sorts of missions. I guess Star Fox 64 sort of did. Fuck, what am I doing, pay attention man...
*I move in for the kill, while the "ground" starts going apeshit just like last time*
Jesus Christ, I swear to god these maps go from looking awesome to looking like they're trying to tear themselves apart within seconds. Is this a bug? Did they not know how to program the Mode 7?
*after I finish up my second pass a percentage displayed in my HUD reads 70%*
Okay, so maybe I need to hit the runaway at a parallel angle so I can tear it up in one long pass?
*on the third pass I tear into the target, dropping it to 40%*
Yep, that's the secret to this.
*fuel drops to 50%*
God I fucking hate fuel management.
*make my fourth run, anti-air fire blazing by me in every direction, lighting up the screen, while the target drops to 30%*
I still have to admit these levels look cool as fuck, even with all the texture tearing or whatever it is that's going on when I get close to the ground. This could have been a great game. I wonder if the sequel is very heralded...
*make my fifth run, but nothing is "taking" and the percentage isn't dropping, ending with a desperation crash into the end of the runaway after pulling up much too late*
Shit. What am I supposed to do? Are the AA guns part of my objective? I'm down to one life, can I really afford to waste a run targeting them?
*I choose to continue going after the airstrip, and unleash my now resupplied napalm and missiles, dropping it to 10%*
Okay, one more run, maybe two. I got this.
*on my next run the runaway is immediately finished off*
Perhaps missiles are the only thing that is effective against it?

Time: 3:23
Hit Rate: 8%
Damage Rate: 100%
Evaluation: Three stars

Special Mission
*kill more ICBMs*
Okay, I know what to do this time.
*I try to line them up in my sights, but only three of the four targets drop before the strict time limit is over*
Man, fuck these missions. Maybe if I had an opportunity to practice them.

Mission Five
*another air battle, this time set at night*
Oh, I can actually see the enemy targets against the dark backdrop now, very nice.
*I maintain my strategy from mission three, focusing on whatever spawns in front of me*
Man these dogfights are already getting repetitive. Could be worse though. I could be stuck engaging each one for several minutes at three frames per second like in WarpSpeed.
*after easily defeating the required 30 enemies the ace finally shows up*
Shit, these dogfights are easy now. And I wasted all those lives and continues early on. I guess I could give this another serious attempt later tonight if I hit a game over. The game is fun enough.
*after a couple minutes the ace takes me down with a missile*
I did not touch him a single time. Shit. Did I just hit a brick wall here? One continue left...

Ninth attempt
*mow through enemies, but at a slightly slower rate this time*
Not good...
*fuel runs out 2/3 of the way through*
What the shit? Was I burning fuel faster? Was my progress that much slower?
*reach the enemy ace again, but after a few minutes he shoots me down. I have yet to touch him*
*I finally get on his six and unleash everything I have*
I still can't hit him!
*he shoots me down*
...*sigh* Fun game, but fuck me.

Did I beat it?
Fuck me.

#402 - The Blues Brothers

Okay, so I had this really terrible idea where I would come up with a poem for one of my reviews. Mostly just to be different; I don't like poetry, you don't like poetry, I don't like to write it, and no one wants to read it. But with 714 (give or take) reviews I need to find ways to keep things fresh. But the poem didn't pan out because I kept putting it off because I didn't want to do it. And then I got to this game, and thought "hey, why not do one of the songs from the movie, but change the lyrics to be all Super Nintendoey or something?" That's kind of like the same idea, right?

So I did that. And the end result was major fucking cringe. Bad, bad stuff. I had lines referncing Rawhide, Carrie Fisher's drug problems, nuns, and demolished malls. It was completely nonsensical, but in a bad way. And most importantly of all, it was not funny. So I made the tough decision to cut my losses once and for all and scrap it.

Of course after doing that I no longer have a review. I'm trying to get this thing posted, and I have absolutely nothing for The Blues Brothers. So you're gonna get the Cliff's Notes version of the game, as I come up with it over the next ten minutes:

- It's a platformer, where Jake and Elwood appear to be traveling through Candyland (or possibly the land of Honalee), trying to recover their missing vinyl records and jukeboxes.
- Occasionally you ride magic dragons for some reason.
- Other times you fight giant mushroom men and giant birds.
- Sometimes you take steroids so you can get all jacked up and invincible.
- Everything I just wrote up above leads me to believe that the game's subtext is that the whole thing takes place inside the mind of Jim Belushi, where you're battling his drug-induced demons and neuroses.

And uh... yeah, that's kinda it. 36 levels of getting the boys from one end to the other, jumping on enemies, dodging spiky things, shooting up, and doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with the property it's licensed from. And you know what? It's not bad at all. It's an alright game in fact. I play through it all the time, so it must be doing something for me. I just don't know exactly what that is. Did they waste the source material? Probably; car chases and bazooka-wielding crazy women would have been more fun. But I try not to hold that against the game too much.

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

#401 - Obitus

This game in a nutshell, from the GameFAQs walkthrough:

Oh, Obitus, how I have wrestled over what to do with you these last couple of years. Are you a total trainwreck? A hot goofy mess? A fun little unorthodox action game? A guilty pleasure? All of the above? I'm not sure I've figured out the answer to that yet. I just know that no other game, including NHL Stanley Cup, confounded me as much as this one did when I was doing my rankings. We're talking movements of hundreds of spots here. Multiple times. That's how mixed my feelings for it are.

A port of some old PC game (or maybe MAC, or Amiga, I dunno), Obitus can best be described as an action RPG dungeon crawler similar to something like Dungeon Master. But without the RPG part... and the dungeons are actually side-scrolling segments. So it's an action RPG dungeon crawler without the RPG, or the dungeon crawling. Really, it's not much for action either. So I guess I don't have any idea what it is. I'm not making any sense, am I?

Anyway, whatever it is, you start out in some tower with nothing to your name but some food on the ground and a nearby key. In front of you are four doors, each facing a different direction. The goal of the game is to find a gem behind each door and bring it back to the tower. Once you do that you become the lord of the realm or something. I dunno, I read online that the story involves you being an English professor that was transported from Wales to a fantasy realm, but the game doesn't really ever explain any of this.

So you go through the door and wind your way through some mazelike forest labyrinths. You also quickly discover that you're gonna need to either A) find some online maps, or B) buy some graph paper and make your own. That is not a suggestion; this game would be literally impossible otherwise.

As you wander this forest maze you will come across daggers and arrows, both of which represent your only real way of fighting enemies. And combat happens in real time; enemies will appear in front of you, and you'll fire weapons into their face until they die. Since your character takes roughly one trillion hits to die, the bigger threat is using up all of your ammo. In fact that appears to be the most important resource in this game, because as far as I can tell there is a very finite amount of ammunition, and a very infinite amount of enemies.

As you continue to travel through the maze, killing cavemans (wildings?), and picking up apples and arrows, you'll eventually run into some NPCs. These guys (and girls) serve a number of purposes, including relaying information, trading you goods, or dropping treasure once defeated. But really all you want to do is kill them all. Like, seriously, just kill everyone. Hence the FAQ blurb up above. Which means that the typical sequence of events involving NPCs is as follows: they offer to trade you something, you shoot them in the face with arrows, you rob their corpse of the goods, and piss on their grave (I'm making an assumption on that last part). That's basically every encounter with another person in this game.

Eventually after murdering everyone and wandering around for awhile, you'll make your way to one of the game's four castles. This is where the game shifts to its other style of gameplay: side-scrolling action platformer levels. It's an interesting idea, with some cool stuff at play... and some horribly broken mechanics as well. For one, you can actually move between two horizontal planes here. One of those is the foreground, and the other is the deep background. This adds almost nothing to the game, other than making the castles feel slightly more three dimensional. You also, for some reason, use up stamina at like twenty times the normal rate here. Why? I have absolutely no idea.

Oh, right. I should probably stop for a second here and explain a few things...

- You have to manage both health and stamina. Health is restored by eating food or potions, while stamina constantly depletes and has to be restored by sleeping. This is a bitch, and I'll explain why later on.
- There are no RPG elements. No XP, no levels, no stats, no gear, no skills, nothing. Just an inventory of items. And your health and your stamina.
- There are also no parties or other playable characters. It's just you as the professor, and the legions of fodder for your arrows.

Sorry. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right. So while you're in these castles that stamina is constantly depleting at a hyper-accelerated rate. And the only thing you can do to recover is sleep. Except you cannot sleep in the castles for some reason. Which means you have no choice but to beeline to your objectives, and race back out before your stamina is empty, because when that happens your health also starts to rapidly drain.

The problem with that though, is that most of the castles are too big to allow you to make a clean run through them. You have no choice but to venture in far enough to get the key items hidden within, and you will drain a serious amount of health doing so. So you have to use healing items to recover your health, after you sleep to recover your stamina. Yet herein lies the rub. You see, when you sleep random enemies will constantly spawn to attack you and interrupt your recovery. So you have to use arrows and daggers to kill them. Except daggers and arrows are in limited supply, and if you run out you are fucked with a capital F. So you need to avoid fighting anything. But if you avoid fighting you're gonna take damage. And you're already trying to recover your stamina so that you can recover your health. So you're fighting to recover the thing you need to recover the other thing, which is costing you both things.

But that's not even the worst part. You see, you also have a limited supply of heals. If you run out of those you are, once again, screwed with that big ol' capital F.

So long story short, don't fuck around, get the things you need to get, spam saves, and pray you get some sleeping in so that you can recover your stamina so that you can use your items to heal. And reload if none of that works out. Or rely on an exploit of sorts where you can trick the game into halting all enemy spawns by parking yourself in the face of an NPC while you rest. Assuming you didn't murder all of them already, which you probably did thanks to my advice.

And that's basically the game in a nutshell. My first time trying to play through it ended in disaster, as I ended up hopelessly lost, couldn't successfully recover my stamina, grew infuriated by the endlessly spawning enemies, and threw up my hands in defeat. When I relented and came back with online help in hand, I had a much better time. And it kind of made me appreciate what I think the game was going for.

You see, the game was obviously designed with things like drawing maps and taking notes in mind. But not only that, I think it was designed to make the player fail the first time or two through. You shouldn't know where to go, and you should run out of weapons, which will leave you in an unwinnable situation. So that on your next attempt you can learn from your mistakes and get closer to your goal. Since the entire game is only a few hours long, I imagine that is exactly what players did back in the day.

Of course that doesn't excuse the game for what many would call archaic designs, or even outright shortcomings. And there are a bunch of other little annoyances that I'll make a quick note of:

- Enemies can spawn behind you, trapping you if you are talking to an NPC in the middle of a path. The only option is reloading (or quickly killing the NPC).
- Enemies constantly spawn, especially when resting. But they can usually be lost if you move slightly away from them and then rest again. Of course, another one will probably spawn within seconds. Baby steps I guess.
- Inventory management is pretty horrific. You have to slowly cycle through dozens of items or use the super clunky sub menu on another screen.

Overall? It's a fatally flawed game in some ways, that I rather enjoyed anyway, as nonsensical as that may sound. I wrestled with where to rank it repeatedly, all the way up until the posting of this review, just because of what a dichotomy the game represents. It's horribly limited, and small in scope compared to other similar games. But it's goofy charms won me over in a way. Maybe I'm just easy to please. But where else do you walk around showering everything and everyone you meet with arrows to the face?

[I think you meant to rank this game at #601 :P - editor]

Did I beat it?
I did. My first attempt flamed out, and my second attempt was the victim of a lost save file, but my third attempt was led to victory thanks to online maps and an FAQ.