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#475 - Super Aquatic Games

Super Aquatic Games is yet another one of those track-and-field style compilations that people just loved to make back in the day. This time the game in question is a spin-off of the Super James Pond series and I don't know which is more nonsensical - that Mr. Pond was popular enough to garner spin-offs, or the events in his game...

As usual I will briefly explain each of the events:

100 Meter Splash - Your basic sprinting event, this one plays exactly like every one you've ever played before: mash A and B as fast as you possibly can. You can also jump, for some reason, but you're better off avoiding it. Luckily this one is a lot more forgiving than the similar events in Olympic Summer Games.

Leap Frog - It's the same as sprinting, except now you actually have a reason to use that jump button - to hurdle over electric fences (?) and puddles. It's trickier overall than the sprinting, but still reasonably balanced and, again, much more fun than the similar stuff offered in OSG.

Feeding Time - So here is where things start to get weird. Super weird. In this event you are a starfish who feeds chum to fish, in order to prevent them from being hooked by what I assume is a gang of fishermen. Or a crane game gone astray - it's hard to tell. Either way, this one had promise, and I can always get behind a goofy idea, but it just isn't really that fun. Mostly because it's too easy and too repetitive, especially for how long it seems to go on, which is a shame because with a little more tweaking this could have been a winner.

The Bouncy Castle - Okay, this is our first dud and it drives me totally nuts. The best way I can explain it is you need to "bounce" between two mattresses, and do specific tricks while you're in mid-air. The faster you can do six of every type of trick, the better your time. It doesn't work because it seems overly fiddly to me, and one wrong move can often spell your doom. There must also be some mechanics to it that I never figured out because reaching the "best" mark seems completely impossible.

Kipper Watching - Another bizarre entry, and another offering that should have been a lot better than it was. This game has you juggling balls in order to prevent any of them from hitting and waking up some sleeping seals. Don't try to understand any of what I just wrote either. This one fails because it is either frustratingly hard, or boringly easy if you figure out how to cheese it. With a slightly fairer pace of play, and tighter controls this one could have also been a winner.

Shell Shooting - Another very strange one that I will do my best to make sense of for you all. In short, you need to pop balloons by throwing insects at them after knocking said insects over, and then catching them in a bowl. Yeah, I know, I said I'd try my best. This one is actually rather fun, but can get very, very frustrating. Getting the insects to flip over can be very finicky, and catching them can be a maddening affair as shit constantly interferes with you. Still, it's probably my pick for the best of the bunch.

Tour de Grass - Another sprinting event, except this one goes one longer, and has more varied terrain. There's also powerups to gather for points... but I have no idea why you would want these or care about points.

Relay race - A combination of the three sprinting events, with some other stuff thrown in for good measure, this is the finale of the main game, and mostly a test of memorization and stamina. For those same reasons I think this is the best sprinting event since it isn't purely about twitch muscles.

As is usual with these kinds of games, it's a bit of a clusterfuck of a hodgepodge of crazy and unbalanced shit going on. Yet, somehow it kinda sorta works this time out. I don't know why. Maybe because everything about it is so ridiculous. Maybe because once things start to make sense it's easy to get into a groove and start working on getting better. Maybe because some of the games are legitimately fun. Whatever the case, this is easily the best the genre has offered to this point.

Did I beat it?
Yes, a number of times. Way too many times now that I think about it...

#474 - Cyber Spin

Cyber Spin is an early gen game that represents a subgenre I like to call the "overhead RC racer." I don't know what kickstarted this type of game, but I'm gonna guess it was the Micro Machines series that originated on... I dunno, probably the Amiga. I know it saw some releases on the NES and SNES, but it just seems like the work of the Amiga. Who knows, I'm probably way off. Anyway, an earlier entry in my writings, Kawasaki Caribbean Challenge, represented the first (and worst) of these games, and CS represents the second (and second-worst). Which isn't to say CS is a bad game, but it is a botched attempt at a Micro Machines-like experience... that nonetheless steadily grew on me, despite itself, and was probably a fun experience overall. In small chunks. If you set your expectations low enough.

I guess it should go without saying that memorization rules the day with these types of games. It kind of has to be when you can't see what the hell is coming up because of the cramped view. Is that a bad thing? I kind of want to say it is, even if such design appears deliberate. Maybe because I don't want to memorize things - I like reacting, letting pure skill and honed instincts take over [no comment - editor]. Not mentally taking note of which order to take which turns over and over again. So this isn't really my type of game, and I'm not huge on racers in the first place, which places CS at a pretty severe disadvantage.

But let's talk about the good for a second. And this game does have some good things going for it. For one, I love the sensation of speed here. The framerate is awesome, the animation is lovely, and when you're laying on the turbo, you really do feel like you're piloting a car that is pushing the limit and on the verge of crashing (or in my case, inevitably crashing). It makes games like this feel fun, because plodding racers suck. You don't play a game like this to move around at a snail's pace, something that crippled titles like Al Unser and ESPN Speed World. No, you play for speed.

Secondly, the controls are perfect, and extremely responsive. When racing games are demanding, which they usually are, sloppily-implemented controls will spell disaster. Hell, it makes stuff like Kawasaki Superbike Challenge nearly unplayable. But what we have here is good - everything just feels "right" - from the turning, braking, and turbo, to the way you jostle with other cars and try to recover before spilling it out. It just all works.

The game is also legitimately fun when you're cruising along and doing well. Of course I am almost never doing well, so it's a very fleeting feeling. And the inevitable crashes make things all the more frustrating because they take that feeling away. But I'm giving the game some credit here anyway.

Those crashes though... man are they frequent. Really, really frequent, because this game is unforgiving as hell. It's probably one of the five hardest racers on the system. And memorization, like I said, is the only way you'll stand a chance. Though, I should mention that the game does have turn indicators, and those select individuals with superhuman reflexes might be able to brute force their way through the game. But it's just so unforgiving, with a single wreck often ruining your entire race, that most players are gonna have to resort to memorizing the rough order of the turns if they hope to get through unscathed. Especially with how sadistic the other racers and the lines they take are. They don't give a fuck, they're driving through you if necessary.

Still, Cyber Spin is a game I enjoy. It's also a game that is too hard for me to enjoy for very long, and I wish I was better at it so I could play it more, but it is what it is. I'll never see the end of most racers, kind of like how I'll never be any good at fighting games, both of which I have accepted long ago. It's just the way my brain works I guess. But I'm still gonna keep trying with this game. And I'll probably still keep giving up almost immediately.

I guess I was feeling a little bored, because I did a little research into this title on a whim, and discovered that it is actually a neutered version of a Japanese game that was based on an anime, with a fully fleshed out storyline and characters and everything. Why did Sakura take out everything that would have given the game something of an identity in the crowded American gaming scene? Who knows. There were obviously a lot of very low opinions of the American market back then. Undeservedly so in my opinion, but that's a debate for another day.

Did I beat it?
No. Spoiler alert, I've beat very few of these "RC" games. Despite my best efforts.

#473 - Mortal Kombat

This damn game was the bane of my childhood. Mostly because it seemed like every kid in the land bought Mortal Kombat on release and played it relentlessly, including all of my friends. So sleepovers and birthdays turned into MK marathons, instead of anything else marathons. Mortal Monday? More like... umm... Kort-all... Fort-all... Tort-all... Fuck it, I can't come up with a single dumb pun. This game continues to screw me over to this day.

Hell, even The Simpsons realized the game was all shock value and no staying power in the episode with Bonestorm. Remember that one?

And the ball-in-a-cup gag at the end? Truer words have never been spoken about MK than at that moment near the end of the episode. I mean, not that they were literally talking about MK. And I guess it was more of a visual gag than a spoken one... Fuck it, you know what I mean. [strike two - editor]

Anyway, I think we all know the story with this game, so I probably don't need to rehash it in too much detail. But, basically: Mega-popular arcade game gets ultra-hyped console releases, one with blood, and one without. Kids soon started feuding over this because we were simple folk back then and thought that a trivial detail in a mediocre title would determine the winner of a console war or something. Not that it ended up mattering because the game still sold in bunches for every system it launched on. Mortal Kombat II then brought the blood back, everyone rejoiced, and was then eventually followed by another billion sequels, spin-offs, movies, and hit songs. A couple years later the cash cow ran dry, fighting games died out for the most part, I rejoiced, and so forth. For a slightly more lucid and detailed history of things, feel free to google it.

The gameplay itself is pretty standard fighting game stuff, but with the twin gimmicks of low res, highly compressed, and highly dated digitized images used for all of the characters, and the over-the-top amounts of blood and violence. Well, except for the blood part. And I really do think that's the perfect word to describe MK's legacy: Gimmick. Man I've been using that word a lot in this volume but it's just too fitting. Because I think MK was always a far inferior fighting engine to the likes of Street Fighter II, and that it only gained notoriety thanks to those Senate hearings, and people having their faces melted off. Not that I blamed people for initially embracing such things - I'm a huge fan of fake gore myself, so I totally get the appeal. I just don't want to have to actually play it.

Now I guess one other thing that I do have to mention - something I must have never realized when I was younger because I never bothered to play the single player, because why would I? - is how insanely frustrating the AI is in this game. Or at least it's frustrating to me, because the MK games always get cleared rather quickly in that other series of SNES threads I manage (the ones where we try to beat a bunch of games), so most people must not have the same issues with the difficulty that I do. But I swear it is a struggle to beat any of the opponents on the default difficulty. It's even possible that I've never beat a single one of them. In fact I wouldn't bet against that.

So... yeah, I figure this is probably gonna be my most controversial ranking so far. Aside from those damned WWF games. And like with those games, I think a lot of people out there still have a lot of nostalgia for this guy. I just don't think nostalgia should be enough to call any game good, and I doubt anyone who's actually played this recently would disagree with me. In fact I think they'd be forced to admit that this series, or at least this game, is not as good as they remember it being, and that it has aged fairly poorly. I'd also say that's total horseshit, and that it was never that good of a game in the first place, but I'll take whatever I can get. The little kid me would feel vindicated. Or at least he would feel like a smug prick, still bitter that he didn't get to play more Total Carnage at his friend's birthday party because everyone wanted to play this instead.

Did I beat it?
No. I know I suck at fighting games, but good fucking god this game.

#472 - Bubsy: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

When I was growing up (I want to say preschool age) one of my dad's best friends bought a house right down the street from us. I even remember our first visit to check out his new digs. How do I remember that? Because that is my oldest recollection of video games, and specifically of the Nintendo Entertainment System. You see his first daughter, who was quite a bit older than me, had an NES along with the first two Super Mario Bros. games and Duck Hunt, and I was instantly smitten. Not with DH or the zapper, mind you, but with the squatty plumber brothers. Something about that mysterious world of turtles and mushrooms and pipes was like a siren call to me, something that still persists to this day. It was my first, and possibly greatest, video game obsession, and I have been obsessed with many, many games over the years.

And I know exactly why that was: I never got to play it. Ever. Or any games for that matter. It was just something that would tease me as I watched other people play it. I even asked for my own NES on every one of my birthdays and for every Christmas and I never got it. Not that I can fault my parents for it; they were in their mid-20s, divorced, my mom was going back to school, and they were both into more outdoorsy activities and saw video games as a waste of time. Plus I don't know what a toaster would cost nowadays if you adjusted for inflation, but it would probably be a small fortune.

Over the years Mario would continue to taunt me, whether that was noticing a dusty console underneath the television of various houses we visited, or my friends, telling me tall tales about various levels in the schoolyard. Eventually the talk died down, presumably because everyone had moved onto different games, or just ran out of SMB-related stuff to talk about it. But it never left my mind. In fact I couldn't understand why these people weren't playing Super Mario Bros every chance they got. I knew I would if I could just get my hands on it.

Anyway, years later I was lucky enough to get my original (and still in use) Super Nintendo for Christmas and it was one of the happiest days of my childhood. I finally had games to call my own and I could finally actually play them, instead of just having to be a spectator at other peoples' houses. And I played the hell out of it. And I obviously still do, 25 years later.

Now, what the hell does any of this have to do with Bubsy? Well I'm getting there. You see, our neighbors who bought the house down the street also got a Super Nintendo around the same time as us. And they got games for it. Games that they would let me borrow, for as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted. That may not seem like the biggest thing to any of you kids these days, but trust me, it was everything back then. Nowadays people love to bitch about this game or that costing $60 at launch, or about retro games in general commanding a premium, when in reality we live in a freaking golden era of cheap video games. $60? That's what we were paying thirty years ago for a thirty minute platformer, and we didn't have Metacritic or early access, or any of today's helpful amenities to help weed the crap out. We just had terribly-written game magazines with blurry pictures and video store rentals to help guide our hand. Which means we made lots of poor choices, which we would then be stuck with.

So I guess what I'm saying is, when you were getting one video game a year, and you were limited to one rental every couple months or so, you would snatch up anything else you could get your hands on. So when I found out that our neighbors were willing to lend me their games, take them I did. All of them. Donkey Kong Country 2, Stunt Race FX, Kirby's Dream Course, Yoshi's Island, War of the Gems, all of it. And Bubsy. I'll never forget the Bubster.

I don't remember if I was previously aware of Accolade's infamous property at that time (I probably was - I looked through every magazine I could get my hands on during trips to the grocery store), but I know I dove into it right away. It had everything a kid could want: big colorful levels, a goofy, talking 'tuded-out animal hero, crazy amounts of secrets to find, and a big long, hard quest to conquer. And conquer it I did. Multiple times. Like, a crazy number of playthroughs that only kids who got one new game a year would willingly put up with.

Now, even back in the day I considered myself a pretty "aware" little kid. I knew what games were good, and which ones weren't. I was the one renting Contra III and The Legend of the Mystical Ninja when my friends were opting for Brutal Paws of Fury and Troy Aikman NFL Football. I was the one buying used copies of A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana with my hard-earned money while they were getting Bulls vs Blazers and Home Alone 2. I knew my shit. And when you were stuck with a shit game? You play it anyway. See, I figured out that Bubsy was bad. I knew it right away. I knew the design was bullshit, I knew the controls and mechanics made no sense, and I knew it was gonna be a long road of memorization and trial-and-error. And I did it anyway. Because I was playing a video game and I loved playing video games.

So when I returned to the game a few years ago, I played through it again. Not because I expected time to have been kind to it, or because I expected to discover I had new feelings for it, but because I wanted to see it all again for old time's sake. Well, that and I was beating like every SNES game under the sun. So I played through the entire thing. And it was exactly as flawed, and ridiculous, and derivative as I remembered it to be.

Still, I'd be lying if I said those old memories with Bubsy were anything other than fond. And not to be overbearingly cheesy or sappy or cringe, but when I retired the cartridge after finishing this writeup, something I do with most of the games that I plan on never playing again, I have to admit I felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend.

Did I beat it?
See the story laid out above.

#471 - Metal Morph

Metal Morph, the cinematic action game. Or at least that's the name I'm giving it because of its plethora of cutscenes and the "Dolby audio thing" it does at the beginning. Not that it's really that cinematic though, I just don't know what the hell else to call this game.

I'm not really sure what the storyline is about, probably because I couldn't be bothered to pay attention, but you're some metally morphing dude, and you are traveling from planet to planet gathering parts of your ship. How are you using your ship to get the missing parts of your ship? I don't know, don't think about it too hard.

The game offers two different types of levels: action platformer when you're on each planet's surface, and a behind-the-ship shmup of sorts when you're traveling through space, that most closely resembles something like HyperZone. Only HZ is way better.

The platforming stages task you with seeking out your various ship doohickeys, and then making your way back to the beginning of the stage where your ship awaits. Though really you just take a warp back. So I guess the only thing you're doing is trying to find an object, and then moving on. *cough* Yeah, ambitious these levels ain't. I mean, along the way you will need to solve some light "puzzles" (in the loosest sense of the word) and blow away a bunch of brainless robots and cyborgs, but that's about it. Later ones add in some meaner enemies and confusing level foregrounds, but none of them play especially different from one another.

I should also mention that the graphics in these levels are not so hot. I don't know why, but everything about them reminds me of early Apogee games, and I don't mean that in a good way. And the color palette is so dull and washed-out looking, that it just results in ugly, ugly levels.

On the other hand the controls are alright, doing their job for the most part. I do wish they had used one of the buttons to lock you in place while you aim and shoot in any direction, instead of forcing you to hold down the fire button to do this, especially since ammo is limited. But it's not a huge issue, and the ammo is not really that limited.

The balancing is also a bit wonky, until you adjust to how the game works. The limited viewing distance, fast moving shots, and one hit kills all mean trying to tackle this like a normal game is a recipe for frustration and you're not gonna get anywhere. Luckily most enemies can be pretty easily cheesed once you realize how truly stupid they all are. Yes, relying on exploits like that often removes a lot of the satisfaction from playing an action game, but you're not gonna get anywhere if you don't do it.

Also, you know how movies love to feature the "Scream?" Because I swear the scream in MM is one I have heard a number of times elsewhere. I can't exactly place it (it's very similar to the one in Wolfenstein 3D), but I know I've heard it. What's even more hilarious is that every character in the game uses it when they die, including yourself, and the enemy (female) Medusa enemies.

I guess the only truly unique idea the game brings to the table is an ability to "morph" into a pile of "metal", in order to pour yourself into tubes for quick transport or to squeeze into a tight space or to... actually that's it. Those are pretty much the only uses for it. You could try to use it to dodge enemies' shots, but trust me, that is a waste of time. So the game's namesake is a bit of a throwaway in the context of a full playthrough. They should have titled this game Cyborg Genocide, or Thinga-ma-bob Locator.

The shmup levels are also... ummm, not so hot. Really I don't know what the hell they were thinking here. Normally, games that use this style of perspective (such as HyperZone, Axelay, or Super Turrican 2) use the power of Mode 7 to try and give the action some depth and flashy graphical effects . But FCI opted not to do much of anything whatsoever, so you usually just have a ship floating in empty space, and it looks like shit because of it. Or at least that is what I first thought, because later on you'll find levels with a few fancy effects, where it seems like the developers were trying a little bit. But it's still a pretty homely looking game for the most part.

These levels also control like shit. Your ship's movement is way too fast and way too sensitive, making everything feel out of control at all times. And the most common powerup you'll come across is, comically, a speed-up bonus. Trust me when I say you need to avoid those things at all costs.

These sections also go on for way too long, especially for how simplistic the mechanics are, and because the best strategy is often to weave around like a madman, avoiding enemies and incoming fire. Or at least you'll do that until the level's end where you're usually forced to destroy the final enemy (or group of enemies) for some reason before you're finally allowed to advance. None of it is satisfying.

There's also an ability to "morph" your ship into earlier, less powerful forms. But I have no idea why you would want to do that. What possible use could there be to handicapping yourself like that? It would be like turning off all of your upgrades in Super Metroid. Why would you ever do that?

And that's all there really is to that part of the game, as the levels are all rather straightforward. No difficulty spikes, no curve balls, no changes in enemy behavior, nothing. I did make it to one boss a half a dozen levels in, but even that thing was rather underwhelming for the most part.

So why do I have this game in this relatively lofty spot? Because I kind of like it. I don't know why, I just do. Maybe because it's kind of relaxing in some sense. Maybe because I dig the music. Maybe because it does remind me of those dumb Apogee games that I grew up with. Even if I don't really want to play any of them ever again.

Did I beat it?
No. Perhaps if the checkpoints (if that is what you want to call the pseudo-level select buried in the options menu) were a little more frequent and less spread apart, but I had to throw the towel in after a dozen attempts.

#470 - Super Bowling

Intro... I need a bowling intro... uhhhhhh, I don't know. Super Bowling is... ummm, well I guess we could talk about the chicken up there? Like, *terrible Jerry Seinfeld impression* what is the deal with the chicken calling the bowling game? He doesn't have arms, he doesn't have vocal cords. How exactly did the chicken get that job? Were they looking a little lean at the temp agency that week and maybe figured "why not give the poultry a chance?"


[I'm out of here - editor]

Okay, I apologize for that. Let's just dive into this dumb game..

Do you like bowling? Do you like bowling alleys? And beer? Have you ever wished that instead of bowling at the bowling alley and drinking beer that you could instead push some buttons so that a game can bowl for you? No? Me neither.

I have to admit that I don't really like bowling in the first place, but I'll do it once every few years if it means hanging out with friends and getting a few pitchers. We're all terrible at bowling, but we love laughing at each other and drinking so that works out well for us. Bowling video games on the other hand, take a sport I have no interest in, and remove the hilarity of watching inebriated people trying to finesse a ball down an oily lane.

Super Bowling offers a pretty barebones experience overall, with just two modes to pick from. The first of these two modes is something called "Turkey." I don't know why it's called that, but as far as I can tell it is just regular old bowling. Ten frames, two throws per frame, strikes, spares, etc. It's the sport you love/hate, turned into a pretty no-frills video game.

The other mode is called "Golf" and is exactly what you'd imagine a hybrid of bowling and golf would be: knocking down different configurations of pins in a set number of throws, or strokes. And while I appreciate that the game tried to offer something else besides vanilla bowling, I can't say I ever had any fun with this mode. In fact it seems rather pointless to me. Like the sport of pool, it's enough of a challenge for me to play by the basic rules with anything resembling success. Adding on more layers of complication does nothing for me, other than maybe get me frustrated faster. Plus golf mode offers a measly ten "holes," which means the replay value is pretty slim unless you're playing with a couple other people. And even then, I can't imagine playing it for more than a round or two.

Which, speaking of, is probably the game's best asset: up to four players can take part. I'm not saying four people would want to spend much time playing this, but multitap compatible games on the system were surprisingly rare, so that has to count for something.

Of course there's also a number of wonky things that hold things up (it seems like there always is). For instance the pin physics often seem pretty random, with no real pattern to which ones will fall most of the time. And it is pretty easy to find shot setups that work too well, which can then be exploited over and over again. Perhaps that's how the real sport is played by the pros, I don't really know. But once you find your comfort zone for getting strikes, expect to do the same thing ad nauseum, which is not really that fun in practice.

Now if you are into bowling, and you are into bowling video games, and you like the idea of bowling golf, then knock yourself out here. The presentation is done in a reasonably charming manner, the controls and interface are both solid, and the game is easily mastered, which means kids can have a good time. But I was underwhelmed by the severe lack of content or depth to the title, and had my fill after going through the game a couple times. Really, Super Bowling is just too easy to hold most people's attention for long.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I have bowled a couple 200+ rounds, which is good enough to get a congratulatory screen of sorts.

#469 - Toy Story

Okay, so I think there are three running themes in this installment. One, that the games can mostly be described as mediocre, or barely better than mediocre. Two, there's a shit ton of fighters. And three, that most of these games are way too hard for their own good. That's the biggest one I think. Really, I should have titled this "Volume VI - Games that should have been in the 300s but they fucked up their cursed difficulty." And that's Toy Story in a nutshell; a game that is too hard for its own damned good. Also I think that was the first time in 250+ reviews that I've used the word "cursed." You see I'm trying to expand my range a little bit, and stop leaning on "fuck," "shit", and "ass" so much. I'm obviously not doing very well with it so far.

In line with every other Disney adaptation that has ever existed, TS is a platformer that takes scenes from the movie and loosely molds them into levels. For instance, you've got one where all the toys need to be picked up before Andy returns to the room. There's another where you find yourself at Sid's house and need to escape from all of the monstrosities that he has created. And there is even one where you're racing on top of Rex while planes, trains, and paratroopers all try to murder your ass. Okay, so it's not 100% faithful to the movie, but they tried.

The platforming, which makes up the bulk of the game, is alright. Everything looks really good, but the mechanics are a little loopy and could have used some tightening up. For example, Woody's attacks are a bit too tricky to use and require some practice to become comfortable with. And this issue is only compounded by a lack of clarity as to what background objects can or cannot be jumped onto or manipulated, which is always a major annoyance of mine. There's also a pretty heavy reliance on his pull-string being used as a grappling hook of sorts, and it requires way too much precision for a kid's game, especially later in the game. And finally, the characters are all way too big, restricting how much you can see. Which means the game desperately needed, surprise surprise, a higher resolution. I cannot wait until I can stop saying that (in about one and a half more volumes).

The second most prominent type of level is the racing/driving ones, which includes both overhead levels where you must guide the RC car (did it have a name?) through some maze-like areas while picking up batteries to stay charged, and a couple of side-scrolling levels where Woody is riding on either Rex or the RC car. I can say without exception that every single one of these blows massive chunks of ass, and that most children would never get past a single one of them, much less all of them. They are entirely too unforgiving, endlessly frustrating, and require pure memorization and twitch reflexes.

And that is just a part of the much larger problem, which is, like I mentioned before, that the game is absurdly long and difficult. And of course it offers neither passwords nor a save system. For a kid's game that is unforgivable, and I have no idea why that is such a recurring issue with the games put out by Disney Interactive. Capcom obviously knew how to balance their games so that a child would find them challenging, but they'd still be fair. And more importantly, still be fun. DA clearly didn't have a clue and everything they did was either absurdly easy or absurdly difficult. This game is basically the latter from start to finish.

Take the boss fights for example. The first one is reasonable enough - it's a giant Buzz hologram/nightmare and with practice most kids should eventually be able to get past it. It's not exactly a polished fight, but it least it's not an insurmountable obstacle. Everything after that though? Good freakin' luck. If any kid was able to get past "The Claw", well... they were a prodigy. And beating the game? Forgetaboutit.

Though I will at least give the game some major props for trying to make most of the levels radically different from one another. While most of them do feature Woody and would be called platformers, they actually stand apart rather well. Some have an emphasis on puzzle solving, some on combat, some on evading traps and hazards, etc. There's even one where you have to use Buzz as a weapon, one that relies on stealth, and another that takes the form of a first-person maze. Yep, Toy Story is one of the handful of games on the Super Nintendo that offers a rudimentary FPS experience. Granted it's pretty horrendous, and looks even worse than those fugly levels from Jurassic Park, but I'd be lying if I wasn't pleasantly surprised when I stumbled into it.

Anyway, for all of the game's faults, I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed most of my time with it. In some sort of masochistic manner no doubt. The game is so absurdly hard, and goes on way too long with a severe lack of lives and continues and no save system of any sort. But I pressed on anyway. I guess because I really wanted to beat it. It didn't end up happening, but I'm glad I tried as much as I did.

Did I beat it?
No. Because once again I suck balls this game is hard as shit.

#468 - Spider-Man

One of the lesser-known Spidey titles on the Super Nintendo, the game released simply as Spider-Man (aka Spider-Man The Animated Series) is my pick for the black sheep of the bunch. Well, that's not completely true; they're all black sheep in their own "special" ways. So I guess this one is the extra black sheep. A late LJN release that suffers from questionable design decisions, poor controls, and all sorts of other silliness. All of which are thankfully offset to a degree by some great spritework, great music, and (at times) mildly enjoyable gameplay. Hooray...

The game plays closer to something like Spider-Man X-Men Arcade's Revenge than it does the two beat-em-ups that guest-starred Venom and Carnage. Though here you only get control of Mr. Parker, and the levels are not nearly as diverse as they were in the X-Men crossover. Which isn't to say they don't have a wide range of themes, including a laboratory, the streets of New York, the docks, a funhouse, etc., but it does mean they all play pretty similarly for the most part. In each one you'll beat up a bunch of armored thugs, climb some walls and ceilings, destroy some robots, try to find an elusive exit, and so forth. Rinse and repeat a dozen times. Sometimes you'll fight an end level boss, or even get a guest appearance from various supervillains that show up as minibosses of sorts (which is actually really cool), but for the most part the gameplay is pretty consistent throughout.

I do like Spidey's capabilities here, at least in theory, because they give you a lot to work with. You can punch, kick, sling webs, use webs to swing across pits, climb walls, and even stick to ceilings. The problem is a general unresponsiveness to everything you do, which can make actually doing any of those things a much bigger pain in the ass than it needs to be. In fact, let's just call them finicky. And there's a lot of little things too. Like Spidey's refusal to use his kick attack if your jump isn't quite high enough. Or how you need to be just squared up enough to successfully hop onto a platform, lest you slip down off of it as if it were greased or something. Or how you will often need to come to a complete stop before you attempt any long jumps since Spidey really hates trying to jump from the edge of a platform while on the run. And on and on like that. Good games with sharply honed designs don't do these sorts of things, while Spider-Man has them in spades.

Also, why can I cling to some walls and ceilings, but not others? Is there any method to the madness? Because it seems completely random to me, which means progress often devolves into jumping into everything to see if it sticks, literally. And why is jumping in and out of the foreground/background so finicky? Notice that I keep using that word? Because if there is one word to describe this game, it's "finicky." Doing things is harder than it needs to be, and it takes away from the experience.

There's also an annoying lack of viewing distance, because instead of keeping you centered, the screen doesn't want to scroll until you're close to the edge, making anticipating attacks real fun. This is yet another rookie mistake that I feel like competent development would have fixed, or designed around.

There's also lots of other annoying bits like instant death traps, and finicky (there it is again) hitboxes on most of your foes. Enemies also have a nasty penchant for locking you into lethal combos, rapidly draining your health. And some of the web-slinging you'll need to pull later in the game, especially in the dock area, is just downright sadistic.

Levels are also super annoying to navigate, as you're often moving in and out of the background, with paths often obscured or hidden behind pieces of scenery. Platforms too are hidden behind objects, requiring trial and error to discover. And the path forward is almost never clear, because you can never tell what objects can be stood upon, or clung to, or jumped through. Again, trial and error, another phrase I keep using in this writeup. I may as well of just gone with a review of "Spider-Man = Finicky trial and error."

In short, the game is a mess. A typical LJN effort as it were. And that's a shame too, because there are a lot of good ideas here, like boss fights that are creative and clever. Granted they're also annoying and can go south frustratingly fast, but I'd still say they are well-done overall. And those controls that I lambasted are still pretty well thought out (in theory), giving you lots of abilities and powers to work with. And, once you know what you're doing, navigating through the levels can be fun.

Like most other Spider-Man games, this one is pretty difficult too. Lives and continues are limited, traps are numerous, and the bosses take practice to master. Luckily the game throws you a few bones, like for instance you immediately respawn when you die. There's no reverting to checkpoints or the beginning of the level or anything. Another very welcome mechanic for me.

Overall, I want to call this yet another ambitious fiasco, which is turning into a bit of a running theme with this installment. The game is overflowing with good ideas, and the developers really wanted this to be a great Spider-Man game. They just couldn't quite pull it off.

Also, I had to bump the game up at least a dozen spots or so, strictly because of the jeans-wearing snake goons. Those guys are some hip mother fuckers...

Did I beat it?
No. I don't have very good luck with Spidey games.

#467 - Newman/Haas IndyCar Racing featuring Nigel Mansell

Our good buddies Acclaim present Newman/Haas IndyCar Racing featuring Nigel Mansell, sequel (I think) to Nigel Mansell Championship Racing on NES/SNES. No relation to Mario Andretti IndyCar Racing, Al Unser Jr. Road to the Top Racing, or Kyle Petty No FEAR Racing. It's also a game that I'd call a bit better than KPNFR, a tad worse than MAICR, way better than AUJRttTR, but a pretty big drop down from NMCR.

Got all that?

The first Nigel Mansell game, which I will be covering in a future installment, bundles great controls and a good sensation of speed, with a solid challenge, fair difficulty curve, and an experience I'd describe overall as "fun." As far as racing sims on the Super Nintendo go, it's one of the better games the system offered. And though not quite good enough to be called a hidden gem, it's still definitely a title that any racing enthusiasts should check out.

Newman/Haas on the other hand, does its best to ruin all of the goodwill the first game built up, and I don't know why exactly that is. Both games were handled by the same development house, it was produced several years after NMCR, and by all accounts should have been an improvement, building upon an already good thing. But it failed to do that.

Now upon first impression both N/H and NM appear to use the same racing engine (or at least they are very similar looking). Everything takes place from a first-person perspective, with a very good sensation of speed, solid controls, and good graphics. It's a good setup, and it worked out great the first time. The problem is, everything is harder this time around. Much harder. And I think that's due to a couple of missteps on the game's part:

- You are given way less heads-up on incoming turns, which makes staying on the road a thousand times more difficult.
- Catching up to the pack is now nearly impossible most of the time. Make a single mistake and you are most likely F'ed in the A.
- Even when staying on the road and maintaining a good line, you still need to perform near flawlessly if you are to have any hopes of placing.

And that's enough to nearly sink the game. They took one of the better racers on the system and tried to run it into the ground with some terrible design choices. I can only assume that someone over at Acclaim thought that NMCR was too easy, and overcompensated on the correction. Which just further proves that Acclaim was great at ruining everything they could get their hands on.

Now, I think there is still a good game in here somewhere. Buried very, very deep. And people who are much better at racers than I am may have the patience to find it. But I couldn't stomach doing it. It pains me to rank this game as low as I am, especially after how much fun I had with NMCR. But another part of me almost feels like I'm being generous with this spot, if anything. They took such a solid game, and just did their best to ruin it with such an unrelentingly cruel difficulty. I'm not saying racing games shouldn't be challenging, or demanding on the player, but it's too much here. Not since Kawasaki Superbike Challenge have I been as demoralized by a racer as I was with Newman/Haas, and it really is a shame.

Did I beat it?
No. This game is impossible.

#466 - Mega Man Soccer

Capcom executive: My goodness! I've just had the most wonderful idea!
Capcom peon: That follow-up to Bionic Commando I had mentioned the other day?
Executive: No! Even better. Think about it - what is our most successful property?
Peon: Rockman?
Executive: And what is our country's most popular sport?
Peon: Baseball?
Executive: Soccer, exactly!
Peon: But-
Executive: One Rockman game a year isn't gonna be good enough anymore. And we're no longer constrained by Nintendo's software limits in the West either. We need to widen the Blue Bomber's net. We need Genesis ports, arcade games, fighting games, racing games, soccer games, more DOS games...
Peon: DOS games? But that one American left and w-
Executive: Then we'll hire some Latvian studio to do it! Keep up with me here!
Peon: But wh-
Executive: The emphasis needs to be the soccer game though. I even have it all laid out in my head already.
Peon: You designed a game?
Executive: Instead of defeating robot masters to gain their weapons, you defeat them... to gain... THEM.
Peon: Them?
Executive: Yes. You build a team of robot masters one player at a time
Peon: But won't-
Executive: I want Inafune working on this right away!
Peon: But his team is in the middle of Rockman X development.
Executive: Then tell him work on this during his lunch breaks! There have to be assets we can reuse and corners we can cut.
Peon: Corners?
Executive: And we don't need new characters, just grab some of the old ones.
Peon: But no one on his team has ever worked on a sports title before...
Executive: Then borrow some of those Soccer Shootout guys! Early reports on that one are looking good.
Peon: But-
Executive: And we made that American football game. Use that team if you need.
Peon: Yeah, but-
Executive: Wait a minute...
Peon: ...Yes?
Executive: Forget everything I just said. I have a much better idea.
Peon: *sigh of relief* Thank goodness. I was beginning to th-
Executive: Naked vampires!
Peon: I... what?
Executive: ..fighting the creature from the Black Lagoon...
Peon: ...oh... no...
Executive: ...and maybe like a sexy... bee or something.
Peon: I worked 110 hours last week.
Executive: Did we already do a centipede? What was that thing in Rockman X? We definitely can't have two centipedes.
Peon: I sleep underneath my desk most nights. I don't even know my children anymore.
Executive: But this will be like a Street Fighter game. We'll call it Street Fighter... After Dark! No. Street Fighter... Halloween Edition!
Peon: -and then I think about my wife leaving me.
Executive: Or maybe Vampire Fighter? Street Vampires?
Peon: -and even my own father has told me to pursue a new line of work.
Executive: Vampire Zero X Alpha? Too many good ideas, I'll have think about it. In any case, tell Inafune to get started on our new game right away.
Peon: ...the... new game?
Executive: The vampire street fighter bee thing.
Peon: Okay, I'll go talk to him about coding that soccer game over his lunch breaks.

Did I beat it?

#465 - Sink or Swim

Take a look at those graphics. Any guesses as to what type of game this is? Because if you said "Amiga-ish Lemmings type of thing", you'd be sort of right.

So as I just iterated up above, I'm a bit of a Titus fanboy. Or at least I'm one of the few people on the planet who thinks most of their games aren't that bad. Which I guess still technically qualifies me for fanboy status. In any case, I enjoy their games; almost all of them in fact. But Sink or Swim and Incantation are easily their two roughest outings on the Super Nintendo. Both present some good ideas, and have certain charms to them, but they're also both missing something. I'm not entirely sure what that "something" is, but it's enough to prevent either one from being quite as fun as it should have been. Something like that anyway.

The gameplay in SOS revolves around guiding your squatty hero through a series of flooded rooms full of conveyor belts, hazards, ladders, and the like, trying to guide a bunch of dumb workers to the exits. If enough survive, you win. If they don't, you don't. Sound familiar? And it sounds simple enough right? Except this adds a wrinkle to the Lemmings formula in that you yourself can be killed, meaning there is twice as much to worry about.

Now let's just get the annoying bits out of the way...

1. The game loves to throw you into the deep end, with no chance to even begin to try and figure out any of the levels before things start rolling along and guys start getting killed.
2. You get a password every five levels. That means a lot of replaying levels you've already cleared, especially when you get further into the game. Furthermore, there is an annoyance where you need to go back to the password entry screen in order to resume your game. Luckily they're only five characters long, and already pre-filled, because having to reenter them every time would have been a total dealbreaker here.
3. The music is very grating, especially when you're stuck on the same level(s) for an eternity, with the same few notes looping over and over again. This is definitely a game that you're gonna wanna play on mute while you watch Netflix or something.
4. You cannot force a level restart, even when you're stuck in an unwinnable situation. So instead you'll have to wait for every remaining worker to die or be rescued before the level will finally begin again. This will gradually wear on your patience, especially as the levels get longer and longer.
5. There is a bizarre mechanic where your guy will "melt" into the ceiling so that he can patch holes in pipes. Since there are no longplays on YouTube, or scans of the manual, it took me forever to figure this out. I'm also not sure if that's implying the MC is a robot or cyborg or what...

Now for a few bright spots, such as the inclusion of a tutorial of sorts. I don't usually go for that sort of thing in my SNES games, but with puzzle games it is an absolute necessity. No blindly trying to figure out the mechanics or search for PDFs of the manual or detailed walkthroughs. And it's actually really well done too - possibly my favorite setup in the entire Super Nintendo library. But it's also super brief and doesn't go over even a fraction of the things you'll come across. Oh well.

And the game is legitimately fun... that is when things are clicking and you're making progress. However that never lasts for long, as you'll inevitably hit a wall, or be forced to replay a bunch of levels. It's always at that point that the fun factor takes a gigantic hit, and I don't think I've ever made it through two game-over screens before I had to take a break. If this game had checkpoints or passwords between every level, I probably would have it in the top 300. Such a shame how a single bad decision can derail a game like that.

In the end, this is a game I want to really like, and one that I do have a very good time with. It just gets too repetitive and too draining having to replay the same levels over and over and over and over again, just for a chance to have an opportunity to see a little bit more of the game, before an inevitable game over, and having to repeat everything you've already seen a number of times already. It's a glaring and crushing flaw that drags the game way down.

Did I beat it?
No. I suck at actually completing this style of game, even though I usually get pretty close. Maybe if the password system was a little more lenient or there weren't so many levels things would be different.

#464 - Zoop

Zoop... is this just the second puzzler I've gotten to so far? Damn, I must be a bigger fan of the genre than I realized. Not that I have any great love for this game. Yeah, it's got a strong central gimmick, but it's hamstrung by a lack of features, an annoying reliance on luck, and a pace that quickly reaches a speed that I can only describe as "relentlessly annoying."

Also, that has to be the worst piece of cover art this side of Ballz. Stupid 1990s and its pastel to the extreme.

Trying to explain the gameplay here is gonna be a bit tricky. The best I can do is say that you control the triangle in the center of the board, and that you need to clear the sixteen different rows and columns of shapes that are rapidly heading your direction by... crashing into them? Yeah, let's go with that. Anyway, by doing that you will get rid of any shapes that match your color, while switching places with the first shape that does not. So in that way you are always leaving a "deposit" when needing to change colors, meaning success hangs upon smart placement of such things. Make sense? No? Well whatever, just know you're clearing shit off a grid like usual.

I'm not exactly sure how a game like this could have handled cooperative play or versus play, but it opted to add neither. That's a glaring omission with this type of game, because playing against the AI, or in this case, the clock, runs stale pretty quickly. I never even bothered to play more than one round at a time, because the gameplay is so repetitive. I mean, all puzzle games probably should be repetitive by nature, to some degree. But this one is repetitive in the bad way.

But, I dunno, I find that boring, repetitive puzzle games are still better than lots of other types of games. Similar to the coldly-received (by me) BreakThru!, I feel that even at its worst the genre can offer fun, even if it is limited. And it is definitely limited here, and a number of problems help make it one of the weaker puzzle offerings on the Super Nintendo. But that still only means it's a middle-of-the-pack game overall.

Oh, and I absolutely loathe the music here. Normally I don't even make mention of it, as I don't think most of the games I've covered so far had anything noteworthy enough to even bother, but what they have here is truly irritating. Picture playing a game like Super Mario Bros., but the "hurry up" song is playing the entire time. I don't like it.

Did I beat it?
Yes. I think. Who even knows what beating this game entails.

#463 - Art of Fighting

The final fighting game in this installment, thank God, which was once again brought to us by our good friends SNK - purveyors of numerous famous series such as Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, and King of the Fighters (wait, I've said all of this already haven't I?), all of which are generally held in high regard. Art of Fighting on the other hand is very, very rough. Shockingly rough in some ways. And without doing any research I'm gonna say that must be because it predates all of them, and other stuff like Street fighter II. I mean it has to be older, because that is the only explanation I can come up with for the super old-school design and weirdly limited gameplay that's present here.

[note - I was wrong, Fatal Fury and SFII are somehow both older]

To further elaborate on what I mean, AoF is similar to a lot of the early fighters in that it does not allow you to select a character for the main campaign; instead you are locked into the role of either Ryo or Robert. And that's because unlike basically any other fighting game that has ever existed, AoF tries to tell a story, and those are the two main protagonists. Emphasis on the word "tries" here.

Similar to its failed-storytelling brethren Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, AoF does this through very simple cutscenes and pre- and post-match dialogue. The whole thing involves something about rescuing your sister or ladyfriend or something, I dunno I wasn't really paying attention, which then means traveling around the city questioning fighting various thugs, lowlifes, and... waiters (?) and such. And, like Dragon, it's brutally hard. Frustratingly, excruciatingly hard. At least for someone who is terrible at these types of games like I am. And this is a game with unlimited continues so that should be telling you something.

The fighting itself is kind of hard to explain, but it seems very "choppy" to me. Possibly because the game is constantly trying to dynamically frame the action, depending on where the characters are in relation to one another. What I mean by that is, I feel like it's trying to zoom in and out, refocusing the action, but all it does is serve to distract me. That might also explain why I have so much trouble pulling the special moves off, or it could just be one of those games with very demanding timing in that regard.

Now what things does the game do right? Super bars, for one. That seems pretty ahead of its time. And a taunt move that depletes your opponent's super charge, which is also pretty nifty. The controls and action are also quite responsive, special moves aside, though I will admit that both characters' repertoires do seem pretty basic and limited in scope. Especially before you earn additional moves -- which I should have mentioned, you gain access to as you play through the game. This is an early fighter after all.

Oh, best of all, as you get further into the campaign you can play bonus games to raise your stats. Anyone who knows me knows I am the world's biggest sucker for RPGs and RPG elements, so that is awesome. Brutal Paws tried to do something similar, but fucked it up. AoF does it in a much more rewarding manner. You even get to choose which stat you raise. Granted, these minigames are stupidly easy, but hey, I need all the help I can get in a game like this.

I also love how one of the enemy characters is named "Mr. Big." Why, oh why was that such a popular name in pop culture during this era? Nothing dates a piece of entertainment to this era like a reference to Mr. Big.

In the end, I do have to say that I really appreciate what this game aiming for. It may not have actually done most of those things very well, but I always find an ambitious fiasco more interesting than mundane mediocrity. Not to say this is a fiasco, but it's definitely way too flawed to be any sort of a success. And it helped pave the way for much better things soon to come from SNK. In any case I'll call this the last of the "meh" fighters. Though I will soon be covering a number of "okay" fighters.

Did I beat it?
Yes, a couple of different times, though mostly on the lowest difficulty because I am a wuss.

#462 - Super Ninja Boy

The sole installment of Culture Brain's long-running "Super Chinese" series to be released on SNES, Super Ninja Boy is a combination of JRPG, action RPG, and brawler. And it is a pretty piss poor effort in each of those areas. And it looks like an NES game. So, yeah... I guess there was a reason it was the only game they bothered to bring overseas.

I don't really know much about the series, as I have never played either of the two NES games (Kung-Fu Heroes and Little Ninja Brothers) or any of the Game Boy games (I'm not looking up their titles), but I imagine they're all overhead action games for the most part, pitting the eponymous ninja brothers (I cannot for the life of me remember their names) against hordes of monsters and goofy villains. And I don't know if SNB was the first entry in the series to try and mash-up so many different genres, but it certainly feels like it. Or I should say, it feels like a rough draft. Pretty much in every aspect of its design...

The traditional RPG portion of the game, as in moving around a world map from town to town, buying equipment, and fighting random battles, is about as vanilla and basic as it gets. Like, the exact same things these kinds of games always do. But here, they make every one of those things much more of a hassle than it needs to be. There's never any guidance as to what you need to do, never any clear indication as to where you need to go, etc. Those aren't uncommon problems for older RPGS, but they're all dialed up to 11 in SNB. Plus the towns are tiny, with barely any interaction or dialogue with the limited number of NPCs, with no real characters to speak of, virtually nothing to find off the beaten path as far as secrets or side missions go, and on and on. In fact I would say nothing noteworthy happens whatsoever, other than maybe the giant mecha you get late in the game, and even that thing is pretty lamely handled.

Equipment is also a major hassle to deal with, because this is one of those games where you don't really know whether or not something is an upgrade or not. So, a manual or FAQ basically has to be on hand at all times. And then wandering around the world map sucks because everything is too spread out, everything looks the same, and it features one of those random encounter rates that is way too high, making exploration something to dread.

Now luckily when you do enter combat SNB shakes things up by giving you an action RPG battle system. Picture something like River City Ransom. Unfortunately, it is really, really poorly done. Like, one of the worst brawlers I have played. And it never gets better, or more interesting. You run around in circles, waiting for guys to spawn, trying to collect seemingly pointless powerups, avoiding pits, and praying for the victory music to start up. Plus everything about the controls and collision detection is subpar, which as anyone knows, is not a good fit for a brawler. Things only get more and more tedious as you fight your 1000th battle against the same types of enemies.

The game shakes things up even more when you enter dungeons because these will often take the shape of action platformer segments. These also play like a mediocre (at best) NES game, but I have to honestly say it's better than any of the other elements I've already gone over. The controls are not super tight, but they get the job done, and there is an actual difficulty curve that slowly climbs as you get further in the game. Things never get especially challenging, but it can be satisfying to get through some of the trickier bits.

Finally, the boss fights change things up yet again by taking the form of a sort of combination of turn-based battles and... I dunno, I'm gonna say a puzzle game. "Do the correct order of things and you will win, otherwise you won't." It's not a very good system either, and is never fun. I just... I don't know why they tried to do so many different things, when they clearly never devoted the time to making any of them good. The boss fights especially are a wasted opportunity.

So there you have it. The worst pseudo-JRPG on the platform, Frankensteining various genres together, but managing to botch or mangle most of the things they should have brought to the table. I never hated my time with the game (it is very hard for me to hate an RPG), but I never really enjoyed it either. That's more than can be said for a lot of the games I already touched upon, but that is pretty faint praise overall.

There's also a co-operative mode for the game, but I have to admit that I never tried it out. I mean, unlike something like, say, Secret of Mana, I can't imagine anyone would actually want to experience this with you. And their participation would be limited to the random encounters, which again, are just not very fun. Only the most hardcore of gaming nerds would want to be dragged along on this journey.

Now since I've done nothing but basically bash the game, why the relatively high ranking? I dunno, I guess because I'm spoiled by just how good the best JRPGs on the system were. Or because I'd rather play a bad JRPG than most of the sports titles or licensed dreck on the platform. And I was never really disgusted with the game, mostly just bored or disappointed. Actually that should be my one sentence review:

I'm not mad at Super Ninja Boy, I'm just disappointed.

Did I beat it?
Yes, it was a drag but I pushed through. I usually do.

#461 - Mohawk & Headphone Jack

Sooooo, I really don't know what Mohawk & Headphone Jack is. I mean don't get me wrong, I've played it quite a lot by now, and fully understand what the game plays like and how it works. But I still don't know what it is. Besides being yet another Sonic the Hedgehog copycat, and one that was super late to the game for that matter (it was originally released in 1996, so I guess the developers didn't realize that the new thing to do was copy Super Mario 64 or Tomb Raider as opposed to the blue rodent). A copycat that is based around fighting the laws of gravity. With an emphasis on music. So I guess it's a musical anti-gravity Sonic. Starring a bunch of hideous yellow naked things.

First off, I have to warn you about this game's central gimmick: Mode 7 rotation whenever you run around a circular object or "rotate your view", kind of similar to the effect in the first Sonic game's bonus rounds. And I can only imagine that this is gonna be a dealbreaker for many, many people, because it seems like a perfect catalyst for motion sickness. As in, severe motion sickness. I never get affected by the stuff myself, but there is no way the people who do are gonna be able to last more than five minutes with M&HJ. Hell, even just moving around in general seems overly spazzy and disorienting. Especially whenever you take a long fall, because the screen loves to "snap" back into place in order to keep your character in frame. So anyone with a weak stomach should consider themselves warned.

The second thing I have to talk about is the music. I don't usually do that, but with this game I have to. It's... alright. Which is a major disappointment, because this is supposed to be a game where the emphasis is on the soundtrack, with a general music theme running throughout everything else (the design and name of the characters, the fact you collect CDs, or how the most prominent option from the pause screen is a track selection, and so forth). I expected the second coming of Donkey Kong Country. Instead it's more like a third rate Mortal Kombat soundtrack mixed with a third rate... Bubsy soundtrack or something. And everyone should know what I think about those games by now.

The third thing I have to talk about is how batshit crazy the actual gameplay is. Things start out pretty conventional, at least for the first minute or so, before you realize just how exactly this game needs to be played. And rather than even try to explain it, I'll present you with this:

That is a map of a level. One level. A medium-sized one at that. And they get this complex by level two. By level three and four your face will begin to resemble The Scream.

But guy, that doesn't look too bad, you doofus pansy. If you want hard you should see the level maps for blah blah blah.

Did I mention that you are running across all of those surfaces? And that you're usually trying to figure out how to reach the surfaces opposite you? And that the game (and map) rotate with you as you do these things? So yeah, good-fucking-luck staying oriented, or figuring out where to go.

Now, if you do manage to avoid losing your lunch (and your sense of direction), this whole thing is actually a rather cool idea in my opinion, that really opens up a lot of new possibilities with platforming and puzzle solving. Or at least it should have, because the actual execution of most things in this game is shit for the most part. Trying to land jumps is way harder than it needs to be (mostly thanks to the jittery camera and the insane concepts at work here) and misjudging one by even the slightest amount can often spell disaster, shooting you off into the ether. Hell, sometimes just jumping up into the air causes a gravity shift, flinging you into a far-off ceiling, and I don't know the exact rhyme or reason to it. That isn't to say that I don't know what the rules of gravity are in this game. It's just that they don't seem to always act completely consistently.

A few other things of note:

- While I think the level designs and color palette are a complete mess, the animation is actually pretty nice.
- Like in seemingly every other Sonic clone, this game just loves to punish you for going fast. Brilliant.
- Some of the trickier platforming involves using gravity to "slingshot" you into orbit. It's actually rather cool.
- That "rotate your view" button I mentioned? That's so you can look ahead. Look ahead meaning slightly tilt your vision at an angle. Brilliant.
- The challenge is fair for the most part, but I really wish there were a few changes to limit frustration. Like not having all of the enemies respawn when you die.
- The layout of levels quickly becomes a mindfuck of pretty epic proportions. I mean that in a (mostly) good way. Except for when you're hopelessly lost, which is often.
- There is a map, which you will need to check almost constantly, but it really needed the ability to zoom out more. Or any sort of key or legend. Or for it to stop rotating!
- The boss fights are well done and fun. Or at least the two I managed to reach were.

In the end, I chalk this an entire experience up as another inspired mess. A game that had some wonderful new ideas (in addition to some stolen ones), which tried to change things up, but couldn't quite fully succeed in pulling them off. Which is a shame because I wanted to like this game a lot more than I actually did. Truth be told, some part of me loathed the thought of booting it up, because it's so intimidating. Even if I did always end up having a good time when I did. So overall it's a fun enough game, but not something for most people, and probably not something you'll ever have a great time with. Especially when it's driving you insane.

Did I beat it?
No. I could with persistence, but man... the scale of it scares me too much.

#460 - True Golf Classics: Waialae Country Club

#459 - True Golf Classics: Pebble Beach Golf Links

#458 - True Golf Classics: Wicked 18

"True Golf Classics"... never before has a franchise been more straightforward about what it aimed to be. In this case, TGC was the flagship golf series for some outfit out of Japan that my limited research tells me consisted of these three games on the Super Nintendo, and a bunch more that were only released in Japan. Three(!) of them taking place in Augusta alone.

Now since the first two games are practically interchangeable, and the third one is the exact same gameplay with one radical switch in direction, I'm grouping all three games into one installment, but dividing the actual review into two parts. Trust me when I say that it makes sense to do it this way.

Waialae Country Club and Pebble Beach Golf Links
The earlier two titles in the series are decent, albeit ordinary, golf sims that feature battery saves, pretty good graphics and sound, a nice little presentation, and a number of different modes including stroke play, match play, tournament play, and practice play. They're not bad little packages, that I'm sure golf fans loved back in the day.

The problem is a glacial pace of play. Every shot takes forever, because you need to click through a ton of menus, wait for the scenery to render every time you adjust your aim, click though more menus, slowly wait for the game to set the impact on the ball, and then wait for the animation to play out and the ball to finally take flight. It's a slow, slow game. Which shouldn't be a surprise, because it's golf. It's a slow sport by nature, with video game adaptations that loved to reflect that fact back in the day. It's the exact same reason why I docked Mecarobot Golf so much. Because the simple fact of the matter is that I'm playing these games in the 21st century, where we've been spoiled by streamlined interfaces and designs, and I'd be lying to myself if I said such things didn't matter. You simply can't play something like this without wishing for some of the refinements that came with later series like Hot Shots Golf, or the Mario golf games, or whatever.

Other problems include trying to gauge which direction the fairway lies. All you have to work with is a compass that points you towards the pin, and a map that shows you the entire hole. So if you need to lay up it's pretty much a guessing game as to which direction you should hit the ball.

This is also another golf game that gives you a power bar, yet no tick marks to act as guides. How hard is it to let me know where ten and twenty percent power are? Hell, give me quarters, and I'll be content. I don't want to guesstimate what every shot's power needs to be.

For whatever reason most shots seem to consistently fall short of where I would expect them. I don't know if I'm just missing something, or not getting the correct "impact" on the ball, but if I'm attempting to drive 250 yards, odds are good I'm gonna hit it 220.

Putting is even worse as you have to wait for the green's "grid" to render as well. And then your caddie gives you advice. Advice such as "keep your eye on the ball." Uh, ok. I think that will be the least of my problems here, but thanks anyway. And, just like every other shot, I swear that putts are consistently short, as if I'm underhitting them. And I just don't understand what I'm doing wrong.

A couple other things of note:
- The game saves after every shot, which means the game can easily be cheesed if anyone has that sort of patience. I certainly don't.
- Every single hole in both games is insanely windy, all the time. Is that a real thing? Is a round of golf at Waialae or Pebble Links akin to playing in a hurricane? Because this game certainly seems to imply that.
- The only real difference between the two games, that I could see, is that in PBGL you can make the green's "grid" appear again if you ask for advice. It's a small fix, but a useful one.

Now, pacing issues aside, I think these are very solid 16-bit golf simulations, for whatever that is worth. The courses are fun (I prefer Waialae over Pebble Beach, but I'm a sucker for beaches), and I like the way the interfaces and displays are laid out. And I like most of the mechanics behind hitting a shot. These would have been great games in 1995. It's just unfortunate for them that I'm writing about them in 2019.

Now, none of that means these can't be rewarding games if you are willing to play by their rules. By that I mean accepting the million button presses, and the tortoise-like pace, and just playing the game in a relaxed state. In fact this can be a perfect game to unwind with after a rage-inducing session with, say, Mortal Kombat. I know that because that's what I did, and it worked. But it's still a very ancient game that has been radically surpassed in almost every way by future golf games. So, decent games, that didn't age well, that can still be fun if you are willing to let them be.

Wicked 18
So how do you improve upon two well-received golf titles that covered some of the country's most iconic courses? By dreaming up this insane shit and making it:

Seriously, Wicked 18 is an understatement. The previous two games were "wicked." This one is something out of Hellraiser - an evil, evil game. And I mean that in the best way possible.

In case the box art, name, and my comparison to Hell's cenobites didn't already make it clear, this is a "fantasy" golf game of sorts. One where you play on a course full of pointy mountains, winding canyons, floating greens, lava pits, and obscene course layouts. And really that's the only difference between W18 and the previous two titles, but what a difference it is. You'll be struggling to hit double bogeys on most holes, and you'll be thankful for each and every one of them too.

The other major change is the addition of skins play. Or did Pebble Beach add that and I didn't notice? Bah, whatever it doesn't matter. You can't play against an AI in any case, and I wasn't able to talk my wife into playing this with me (can't imagine why), so skins never got any play. Just know that otherwise the presentation and options are once again exactly the same.

Though I guess the interface has been redesigned and cleaned up... barely. All this really means is that the map of the hole is a tiny bit larger and more detailed now, which gives you a slightly better idea as to where exactly you're gonna be hitting the ball. The painfully slow rendering is still 100% present though, in addition to the millions of clicks needed to hit the ball. And your caddies (now all women) are still as useless as ever.

Anyway, getting back to what matters with this title (the course), I'm not kidding when I say it's pretty sadistic. Not only are the usual trees, sand traps, cactuses, and water hazards present, but now you have tons of what I'm going to call mountains (or whatever you want to call the jagged polygonal things sticking out of the ground), and they will wreak havoc with your rounds. Sometimes they look like stalagmites, but the effect is always the same: fucking your round up. Hit into the water? Enjoy the drop that places you directly behind a mountain. Hit a tree? Good luck getting out of the rough when there's also a freaking mountain now in your way. Hell, I once hit a stone near the green and I'm not exaggerating when I say my ball ricocheted over 100 yards in the opposite direction. Good luck recovering from something like that. And what could possibly be even worse than that? The giant stone pillars. Just... #$%$#%#$ those things.

And in case the more outlandish hazards weren't enough, the game's sadistic cherry on top of everything are sand pits that sit mere feet away from the cup, or tiny greens that sit amongst sheer cliffs that will send your ball back to the tee, and so forth. It's a dick game, no ifs ands or buts about it.

Did I beat Waialae?
Once again, I did not.

Did I beat Pebble Beach?
I did not.

Did I beat Wicked 18?
The third time was not the charm, so no I did not. That is, unless I managed to power through it back when I rented it multiple times as a kid. Which, knowing me, I could have been crazy enough to do... So let's call it a "probably not but maybe."

Actually, the game gives you credits for merely finishing a round of stroke play. So maybe that's its way of feeling sorry for you.

#457 - SimCity 2000

As I get further into this project I'm going to be running into more and more titles that are, for lack of a better term, bastardized ports of classic video games. And by classic I mean some of the greatest games of all time; mostly of the home computer variety. And with almost each and every one of them I've honestly been pretty torn as to how to properly rank such experiences on the Super Nintendo. I mean, how do you measure one of the greatest shooters of all time when it has been hacked up and smashed into a tiny EPROM? How do you play a classic strategy game with a D-Pad? How good are NES games that get "upgraded" to a newer console, but lose something in the translation?

Well, the best solution I could come up with is to treat each and every one of them on a case-by-case basis. How much fun did I have, how much did I wish I was playing the far superior option, and just how much was lost in the translation? Because some of the ports on this system were handled with obvious love and care, while others seem like mere... afterthoughts. Products thrown out a door to try and cash in on as many platforms as possible.

Sim City 2000 is my pick for the worst of the lot. It takes one of my favorite games of all time and basically tries to ruin as much of it as possible, and do everything in its power to drive the player away. So I guess it's a testament to the sheer strength of the core game itself that even at its worst, it still ended up being something of a middling title in the SNES library.

For most of you I probably don't need to explain how this game works. For those only familiar with the original SimCity, picture a direct sequel that makes everything bigger and better. And for those who have never played any "Sim" game, know that these are some of the original "God" games. In other words, giving the player an empty sandbox and turning them loose to create, build, or destroy to their heart's content.

The options presented (as seen above) are Tutorial Map, Free Map, and Scenario. I don't recall if that matches the PC version, but it seems about right to me. And I don't know about anyone else, but I always opt for free play. Always. Maybe because the thought of a "scenario" in this type of game almost seems self-defeating. I'm playing to create "my" city, not to fix someone else's.

After selecting Free Map you get your choice of starting year (1900, 1950, 2000, 2050 - I always go with 1900 for what I hope are obvious reasons), name your city, name your mayor, receive a newspaper whose headline reads like it was written by a 3rd grader (or by me) and then you're finally off and running.

Now I always found the gameplay of SC2K to be immensely satisfying. I love seeing the colorful little communities fill out and flourish, and I love the little touches like the cars traveling down the roads. I even love the more mundane stuff - building power plants and laying down roads, power lines, and waterworks. Then you'll need to balance commercial, industrial, and residential needs, with various other city necessities like police and fire stations, schools, parks, and every other thing you can think of. Seriously, I feel like the scope of what is offered is part of the reason this series got so immensely popular.

I also fully admit to always struggling to find success with these games. My communities never really worked out, and abandoned or decaying structures quickly spread across them like wildfire. I never really knew why, but I also didn't really care. I was having too much fun. Plus the ruin of one city was just an excuse to start over and enjoy the process all over again. And I could have looked online for help, eventually, but I never wanted to. I guess I wanted to keep the experience... I dunno, unspoiled? It remains that way to this day too, I always get a little bit further, never quite getting to the end. Somehow it's part of the charm to me.

So anyway, everything about that experience I described is technically intact in this version. The issue is it just wasn't ported over very well. At all. Or the game is just too demanding for the little ol' SNES processor. Because the game runs and controls like shit, with a cursor that is very unresponsive to the D-Pad, the game runs at a terrible frames per second, and everything looks like washed out garbage. And that last one really hurts because I always loved how this game looks.

Because the game looks so bad, which makes it nearly impossible to see what is going on, you have to play while zoomed in to the maximum amount. The problem with that? This makes the game run even slower. And every time you scroll around you'll have to wait for things to load. It suuuuucks.

I'm gonna wrap this up because I hate dumping on a game I love. SC2K is a case where I would whole-heartedly recommend everyone play this game if they haven't already. I know many newer Sims games have come and gone, including a million of the beloved "The Sims" games. But this is the franchise's proudest moment in my opinion, and everyone needs to experience it. But not on the Super Nintendo. Anywhere but the Super Nintendo.

Did I beat it?
No, I've never beat any version of the game as I've always been more interested in the sandbox modes of Sim games, as opposed to the scenarios. Coupled with the fact that this port really takes a lot of patience in order to stick with it, and I think I'll continue to hold off for now.

#456 - World Heroes

Hey, another fighting game that I'm not particularly high on. Who saw that coming?

Do I even need to write anything? Is there anything I didn't already say in my entries for Ranma 1/2, and Double Dragon V, and Justice League Task Force, and Power Moves, or any of the Clay Fighter games that won't simply be rehashed here? Again? Probably not, but here we go anyway...

World Heroes is a port of an older SNK game, the outfit famous for a number of different fighting series, including the exponentially more popular Fatal Fury and King of the Fighters games. Which isn't to say that the WH games don't have their fans, because everywhere I look people seem to think fondly of this game and its sequel. In fact I'm predicting this will be another unpopular writeup from me. But I've got to stick to my guns and be honest with myself, and so here it stands. Another mediocre game that I had an okay time with, slotted into a mediocre rank.

I actually do have a little bit of a history with this game. Back in the day during the height of the fighting game craze my friends rented this little guy a number of times. I guess after playing the heck out of Street Fighter II they were hungry for anything and everything that looked remotely similar, and World Heroes is very similar. Very, very similar. That isn't to say that outright SFII ripoffs weren't common at the time, but this one seems to unabashedly wear its inspiration on its sleeve. I mean, you have a title that is riffing on "The World Warrior," you have box art that features guys who look suspiciously similar to the likes of Ryu, Zangief, Chun Li, and M. Bison/Balrog on it, and you have a game itself that looks and plays closer to SFII than almost any other game on the system. This is virtually an outright clone, make no mistake.

That isn't a terrible thing though. If there is any fighting game in the history of fighting games to mimic, it's the granddaddy of them all. And WH does a respectable job of it. The controls are tight, the balance pretty good, the stages and characters decently drawn and animated, and the game is pretty fun. But it also doesn't really excel in any way. Everything is kinda like SFII, but not better. And the Super Nintendo ended up getting four Street Fighter games, so if this thing was derivative when it was released, it was completely obsolete by the time the system's run was over.

Anyway, I'll cover a few more things at a high level just because I need to hurry up and get this thing finished already.

- The roster consists of famous "heroes" throughout world history, including Hattori Hanzo, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Rasputin, Hulk... uh... Hogan... (wut), and so forth. Oh, and the M. Bison-looking guy who appears to be an SS officer from Germany... I guess they can't all be winners :\
- The game does suffer from pretty regular slowdown. It's not as bad as Justice League Task Force, but it is worse than SFII. Hardcore fighting purists will probably find this endlessly annoying.
- While the character sprites are pretty decent, the portraits are some ugly grotesqueries. Of course I thought the same thing about SFII.

Overall, it's an okayish entry in the genre, that most people seem to like at least a little bit, and I don't think anyone will hate. But it's also a pretty underwhelming game nowadays, overshadowed by a number of bigger, better, newer fighters that are more worth your time.

Oh, and you know how these games always have some pointless bonus stage where you bash on a car or something? Well here you crack open a rock so you can unearth a large bronzed loinclothed bodybuilder in mid-pose. Yeah, I'll just leave you with that.

Did I beat it?
I did. Mostly by Ryu'ing the shit out of everyone with Hanzo.

#455 - Super Slap Shot

Oh Jesus, there is nothing I dread more than these hockey reviews, mostly because it should be super obvious to everyone that I don't know what in the hell I'm talking about. Someone put me out of my misery and call me out on the bullshit I'm gonna be rambling on about already!

And I'm onto Super Slap Shot already? I played through this one over two years ago, how am I supposed to remember anything? Fuuuuuck. Why did I put it here? It's higher than the first party hockey game so I must have thought it was at least halfway decent. Does it control better than Wayne Gretzky? Does it look less like hot garbage than ESPN National Hockey Night? Can I safely assume it is nowhere near as unintentionally hilarious as Street Hockey '95 was?

I guess I have no choice, I'll have to do another deep dive into it. That's the most draining part of this project - everything takes so damn long that I have to play the legions of sports games like three times as much as any sane person would just so I can remember which ones were which.

Thank God for beer to get me through this. Like, I know that is such a hackneyed crutch nowadays, made popular by our good friend the Angry Video Game Nerd, but it's true in my case. It is absolutely 100% true. I'm not playing a character, I'm writing this as me. And I depend on beer to make these nights doable.

A couple nights later

Okay, I'm totally refreshed on SSS here. And what we have is indeed a pretty decent(ish) hockey title. Not that I am any sort of hockey game authority, and that my opinions on such things can be trusted. But I digress...

First off, the game is completely and totally playable. That's a huge win already. To elaborate, the controls are smooth, generating offense isn't too tricky, the PC doesn't pull any bullshit that forces you to rely on exploits or anything, and the game can be legitimately fun to play. Probably really fun for a hockey enthusiast. And this is a Virgin game, so that's pretty high praise in my opinion. Hell, that could be my one line review; controls well and is fun to play. The end.

But I won't do that, because I have to talk about the bad with the good. Like the presentation, which is almost uniformly horrible. Mostly the graphics, that I can only call cartoonishly awful. Like a Sega Master System game or something. Or what about Bob Smith up above? That can't be a celebrity hockey guy, can it? That has to be someone at Virgin playing dress-up for the day, right? Right? Suffice to say the rest of the menus, interfaces, and everything in between are similarly horrifying. But once your eyeballs glaze over and adjust it's not much of an issue.

I also have to point out that this is not an NHL (or NHL facsimile) game. Instead the teams represented are countries, and there is no championship to win. Just a tournament. Does that really matter at all? Not to me. I can name like five hockey players in the history of the sport, so it doesn't really hurt my feelings if I have to play as a bunch of fictional Slovakian dudes or whatever. Though I am curious: Do Egypt and Israel actually have hockey teams? Do they actually qualify for anything? All I know is that the game thinks they are some phenomenal "passers," that also play a mean game of "defense." I'm also sure that is a coincidence and not a political commentary either. Either way, if the thought of rocking Bulgaria in a hockey game sounds exciting to you, then pick up Super Slap Shot right this very minute.

Oh, and this one has fights as well. But they suck, AGAIN. Is it too much to ask for a hockey game where the fighting is better than the hockey?

Did I beat it?
Yes, I swept through the playoffs 12-0 with Russia. I wanted to do it with Egypt, but they didn't seem very good for some reason.

#454 - Warlock

Here's another odd one from our good friends at LJN. An action platformer thingy based on the second Warlock movie (Armageddon, and no, not that one, this one), which tells the tale of a reanimated young druid discovering love in a delightful New England village, while also watching everyone he knows get brutally dismembered by a time-traveling witch/sadist played by Julian Sands. Suffice to say this long-forgotten sequel to a 1980s gorefest starring Richard E. Grant is an extremely strange choice for video game adaptations and unless you're a hardcore horror nerd and/or movie buff you've probably never heard of any of those movies or these people. But LJN apparently decided it was a hot property and jumped on it as they were prone to doing. And of course it goes without saying that the game has nothing to do with those movies, or anything else, in any possible way.

I don't really know how to best describe the gameplay. As a more action-filled Prince of Persia? Because that's not really accurate at all, though the animation and handling are a bit similar. Is it a slower-paced run 'n gun? Because you don't have a gun, you have magic. And you don't really use it on the run so much... so scratch that one. Is it like Bram Stoker's Dracula? Eh.... I mean, they both star some limp dick asshole who travels deep into the Earth to kill demons, so... I guess maybe? Regardless, if this was a unique experience on the Super Nintendo, wouldn't that be a good thing? Help it stand out more? Sure, and I think it does.

The game tasks you with finding a bunch of Druidic (Druidian? Drewish? Driccan?) McGuffins that will do "something" at "some point." Presumably kill Julian Sands. So as you travel across the various levels you'll occasionally run across one of them floating around waiting to be found. I'm not sure if they're ever off the beaten path, or if the game even has multiple paths, but it's not the worst setup I've ever dealt with in one of these games.

Standing in your way are all sorts of hell beasts and monsters that have been "raised" by the evil warlock. Luckily your Druid has some magic powers at his disposal too, so you'll get to throw lots of magic fireballs at the various goons, demon dogs, gargoyles, and various other things that never show up in the films. It works reasonably well, though I really have to question the secondary attack, which is a magic orb of sorts. It hovers above your fingertips and can be sent out in almost every direction. It kind of reminds me of Simon's "limp whip" from Super Castlevania IV, which I'm also not a huge fan of. The thing is so weak that it almost feels pointless, especially when you can fire magic missiles from your fingertips.

Many of the levels do actually look rather nice. Or at least they do in the beginning when you're running through that small New England town (or wherever this is actually set) with some cool looking setpieces. Later levels devolve into an endless series of tombs and caves, which I find much less interesting. There is a pretty large number of levels overall, and most of the ones in the second half of the game are pretty samey looking, but it's nice while it lasts.

The controls are decent, though a tad unresponsive. Hence my comparison to Prince of Persia up above. Not that I'm saying Warlock's controls are quite as "deliberate" as PoP's are, but this is definitely a game where you really need to be sure of your moves before you make them, if you follow me. What would you even call that... intentional stiffness? Suffice to say they're not amazing or anything, but they fit the game.

There are also lots and lots of boss fights, something I'm usually prone to celebrating. Unfortunately, what they have here is pretty weak sauce. Most of them look ridiculously stupid, and none of them are especially memorable. Even the final boss, who I have posted up above, is a giant letdown. Granted the movie didn't really give LJN much to work with in that regard, but if you're gonna take such liberties with the plot, you may as well go all out with his final form. The PG-13 muppet they came up with is not going all out.

Otherwise, there isn't a ton else to talk about. The game offers a pretty forgiving password system, something the similarish BS's Dracula could have really used. It also tries to do some cool things with between-level cinematics. At the very least they offer some cool animation.

So while the game is merely okay, at best, I enjoyed my time with it. I'm probably a little biased because I'm such a huge horror film nerd, and both of the first two Warlock films occupy a special place in my heart, but I don't think it's a terrible game regardless. And I think there's fun to be had for most people if they can get over the somewhat awkward mechanics. And I can't help but be impressed with the game considering it's an LJN effort. Their SNES catalog really was pretty weak for the most part, so I'm glad that an obscure horror property ended up being some of their better work.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, I killed Mr. Sands deader than... well, deader than every character he's ever played in any of his movies.

#453 - Super Pinball: Behind the Mask

Disclaimer - I am not a pinball enthusiast nor am I an expert, in any sense of the word. I don't know what makes a good table, I don't know when a video game feels authentic, and I don't know any nuanced strategies beyond what I can figure out on my own. In fact I bet I haven't played on a real table in at least twenty years. So as opposed to something like a typical JRPG on the Super Nintendo, where I know exactly what I'm talking about because I've played through all of them, and I've played through a million other ones on other systems, and I've played pretty much every major one that has ever been released, and I know what does or doesn't work in such games, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about with pinball. Total babe who's lost in the woods kind of thing. Anyway...

One of the three pinball titles on the system released in the US (not counting stuff like Jungle Games), and easily the most common and well-known of those three games, Super Pinball also seems to be the consensus pick for the worst of the lot. Which is pretty pathetic considering it is a Nintendo-published title and the other two were put out by frickin' GameTek. Game. Tek. What was Nintendo thinking picking this thing up? It is a legitimately worse and less ambitious pinball game than black box Pinball, and that was an NES launch title!

First off, I have to admit that though I love the idea of pinball, and I can have fun with pinball video games, the fact that there is inherently built-in reliance on luck with every table always drives me nuts. I don't like that, I want to be able to get into a groove and get better and not die. Ever, if I can help it. I realize that people can get good enough at protecting the ball, building up defenses, and figuring out ways to safely rack up points to kind of negate the luck factor to a degree, but it's always just a matter of time before shit heads south, and fast. And I understand why that is, what with the arcade origins of the genre. But I don't like it. It gives me constant anxiety, and the instant I start to think I'm doing good I will immediately begin playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. That never works in any game or sport, ever, and definitely not in pinball.

Anyway, the global problems in this game:

- The graphics suck. Everything is washed out and fuzzy looking, and the table is too small and angled weird, which makes following the ball or reading the table an annoying, squint-inducing affair.
- The tables suck. I will get into each one with a little more detail in a second, but know that they are all losers. There is barely anything to do on any of them, and doing any of those things is a frustrating affair for the most part.
- I hate the giant marquee being placed on the middle of the screen. It is distracting and helps me lose track of the ball.
- The fonts are tiny and illegible, with text that often appears far too briefly to be read. I still have no idea what some of the things you trigger are, because I can never read the words that pop up when I trigger them.

Now, the tables themselves:

Jolly Joker - The first table in Conquest mode, which is the main single player campaign, if you want to call it that. The vast majority of my points on my attempts come from the skill shots you get when launching the balls, which is pathetic. Both on my and the table's part. There is also a "roulette wheel" that can instantly give up to 10,000,000 points, and a "jackpot" which can give 20-30,000,000, both of which are way more than I generally get, in total, with a ball otherwise, highlighting the random nature of the game, the table, and the genre in general.

Blackbeard and Ironmen - This table is too damn busy looking. I cannot tell what I'm looking at and it's easy to lose the ball. Otherwise, it's pretty much the exact same as the last one. Like, the exact same setup of ramps... uh, bumper thingies, and ... the other things you knock down. Shit, I really don't know pinball terminology now that I think about it. But it's exactly the same. Hit some ramps, hope to hit the roulette wheel, trigger the multi ball, and power up the multipliers.

Wizard - Once again, it's the exact same layout, with the same goals, same points, and same general gameplay. So the game's "three" tables are really one table. I actually find this one to be the easiest though, thanks to ramps that seem slightly easier to hit, and a color scheme that is a lot easier to make the ball out against. But it's still the same thing.

Again, I can't stress enough just how much I don't know about pinball, which really hampers my ability to adequately verbalize my thoughts or feelings in these reviews, but I'm trying my best here and can just say everything feels off, and isn't as fun as it should be. Like the physics are just wonky enough, and the tables are just poorly designed enough, and the things that happen don't seem completely logical. Which all drag the game down. And I can't really compare against any stronger offering and hold it up and say "this is what a perfect adaptation of pinball looks like", because the only stuff I have played are the games put on Nintendo systems, Sonic Spinball, and a few of the Pro Pinball titles on PC a million years ago. But know that I prefer every single one of those titles over this one.

Did I beat it?
No. I don't usually have the patience to master pinball tables, and only successfully cleared Jolly Joker despite expressing great patience with this one.

#452 - Math Blaster Episode 1

Okay, remember back when I covered all those various edutainment games, like Mario's Fun with Numbers and Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends? Well, I called out all of those games for being very flawed learning instruments, that didn't really accomplish what they set out to do. Later when I covered Mickey's Ultimate Challenge I praised it for actually nailing it for the most part, and most importantly of all, having some full-fledged fun.

Well none of those games are as good as Math Blaster Episode 1, which is my pick for the best straight-up kids learning game on the platform. Still, none of that should be misconstrued, because this isn't a great game. It's not even a very good game. It's just very good for the type of game it is, which historically have been almost uniformly terrible.

If you somehow can't guess from the title, MBE1 is about math. And blasting it. You take on the role of alien astronaut guy, destroying garbage, and fighting evil insectoids, through the powers of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This is done through a short campaign that offers three different distinct levels:

Cockpit shooting - A first person shooter of sorts, as you'll need to use your ship's turrets to blast incoming garbage. The controls are solid, the graphics do their job of being very clean and letting you react quickly, and the challenge is fair. I call it a success. The bonus section at the end of stage sucks pretty badly, but it only lasts like 15 seconds so it doesn't wear its welcome out. And on rare occasions I have seen the math problems repeat themselves, but it's a minor blemish overall.

Platformer - This one is a little less straightforward, and probably could have used some sort of instruction upon starting. Here you need to use your jetpack to make it to the top of a cavern, with each section of the climb blocked off by gates that can only be cleared by doing a math problem. Confusing at first, but it's easy enough to get the hang of after a few minutes. The controls are alright this time, but maybe a bit too loose. Luckily there's no level timer so frustration is kept to a minimum if you take your time. And again, it's a pretty fun level. My biggest grievance is that I occasionally had to pause my game in order to make out what the numbers on the stalactites were, but I can't tell if that's on the game, or the fact that I use a tiny, shitty CRT for all of my SNES playing.

Boss UFO - The final and probably weakest segment, mostly because the difficulty curve is a bit out of whack. You'll need to avoid floating garbage and jet into one of the ports of the enemy's starship. It's way too easy at the start, which the developers must have known because they tried to increase the challenge the further into the level you get, but it doesn't really work. And granted, I'm a 34 year old man(child) who's played a thousand video games, so I may not have the best perspective of balancing a children's game. But my gut tells me this needed some further tuning, because the math is always easy here, while the platforming rapidly gets pretty challenging. And not in a good way, but in a "screwed by bad luck" sort of way. But at least the bonus section is better this time.

I also have to give a shout out to the game for offering two different difficulty settings. One for the math itself, and another for the video game elements, which I assume affects how much life you have, how many hits the enemies take, etc. It's a great idea, and really gives the games some additional replay value.

So, if you have kids, and they're just starting to learn basic math, give them this game. They may be surprised by how much they enjoy it. And it will be better than homework.

This game is not as good as Number Munchers though. Nothing is.

Did I beat it?
I did, easily. Educational games meant for small children have got nothing on me.

#451 - Paladin's Quest

Here it is, the first of the conventional JRPGs. Which means I think this is the absolute worst one that saw release (in the West) on the Super Nintendo. And that statement shouldn't be taken lightly because that is a genre that I absolutely adore, both during the SNES's heyday and today. It's also a genre that I usually have endless patience for. And Paladin's Quest tested that patience. A lot. Basically the entire time I was playing it. Which isn't to say it is a bad game, and a number of genre enthusiasts may count themselves as fans. But this still remains one of the worst role-playing experiences I've ever had, and it's for a sizeable number of reasons.

When it comes to RPGs, and JRPGs in particular, I think there are many things that go into the making of a good one, and many other things that can help shape a great one. But there are just a few things that are absolutely required to make it a tolerable experience. And they are:

1. A coherent storyline and characters with depth
2. A fun battle system that stays engaging
3. Challenging yet fair gameplay

In fact I'm even gonna call them (in a sudden moment of improvisation) my "Three Tenets of Good JRPGs®." And I'm gonna boldly proclaim that you absolutely cannot succeed in this genre if you do not nail at least two of them.

Now like I said, there are tons of things that a game can do to move past mere "tolerance", such as a great musical score, a ton of secrets and fun side quests to discover, clever dungeons with satisfying puzzles to solve, or a killer and innovative battle system. All of those things are hallmarks of the genre's best games. And I adore each and every one of those things when they're done correctly. But they are icing on the cake, and not the core foundation upon which this kind of game is held up. Kind of like how a platformer needs solid controls, or a strategy game needs an effective interface, a JRPG needs those things, because a great soundtrack is not gonna make up for a mind-numbing grind of repetitive combat and nonsensical story.

And does anyone want to take a guess as to where PQ lands on any of those counts?

A Coherent Storyline and Characters with Depth
Hoooooo boy. Right off the bat here I can tell you that PQ really failed to reach the mark on this one. I'm not gonna even try to quickly summarize the storyline here, because, honestly, I can't. I literally cannot do that. The best I can do off the top of my head is "magic school student defeats big bad after wandering around pastel alien world." No joke, that's the storyline as far as I am concerned. All of the little things that happen along that journey, such as joining up with a band of resistance fighters, or powering up a magic gondola, retrieving some powerful sword, and so forth. I have no context for any of it. I have no idea why I did any of the things I did, or why I fought that guy at the end, or what I resolved when I beat it. Things happened, and then it was over, and it never made any sense to me, or came together to tell any sort of lucid story. So this is my vote for the worst storyline, storytelling, and character development of any RPG on the Super Nintendo. Or any RPG I've played, and I'm counting the original Dragon Warrior amongst that company.

A Fun Battle System That Stays Engaging
The battle system is also amongst the worst I have ever experienced. Think Dragon Quest, but somehow simpler, and more repetitive. And less tightly balanced. And I say that as someone who not only adores DQ games, but has played through a number of the classic titles in recent years. I'd even go so far as to say that every single little thing about it was designed to annoy the player. From the way you input your commands, to the way you select your targets, it's just all so bad. Game design programs should offer a class that goes over all of the things not to do when making a video game. Maybe they already do. And in it they can use Paladin's Quest to illustrate the incorrect way to do a turn-based battle system.

Challenging Yet Fair Gameplay
Umm, yeah I guess it gets this one right. Or at least there were a minimal number of party wipes and level grinds that happened during my playthrough. So... let's just give the game a break and say it gets a passing grade here. Really I'm just trying to expedite this review so I can stop thinking about PQ.

Did I enjoy any part of my Paladin's Quest experience? Absolutely not - it was a drag from beginning to end and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone other than the most diehard of completionists who want to see it through for reference. Someone like me in other words. But I also couldn't bring myself to drop it in the rankings any further than I did. Because while it's a very (very) bad JRPG, that does so many things wrong, it still somehow ends up being a more commendable effort than many of those stupid licensed platformers and vomit-inducing sports titles that were shat onto the system. And at least it was trying. Cliffhanger was not trying. Super James Pond was not trying. Games that don't try annoy me.

Plus, at least I could force myself to finish it, unlike King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, a game I really need to stop bringing up because the memories are giving me PTSD. But anyway, here PQ sits, smack dab in the middle of Mediocres-ville, bringing up the rear for its contemporaries, and it's all downhill from here. Or is that uphill? Are those both bad? I mean to say the games get better, dammit.

Did I beat it?
Yes, back-to-back with Tecmo Secret of the Stars. This was the lesser game, which should tell you something...