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Fishing game #1
#500 - TNN Bass Tournament of Champions

You may remember how in the last installment of this project I lumped together the various board game adaptations that found their way onto the Super Nintendo. Why did I do that? Because I just couldn't figure out a better way to gauge those games against the rest of the library. They're kind of their own thing. True, Super Battleship tried (and failed miserably) to spice things up by adding a few massive wrinkles to the formula, but at the end of the day you have to be a very specific person to want to play a board game on a video game console instead of doing it on a... you know... real board.

I'm approaching the million fishing games on the SNES in the exact same way - they're a part of the library, but at the same time kind of exist in their own space. It's a decision I wrestled with for a while when I was first getting these rankings set, years ago, and I ultimately settled with what I have here. Seven different games, each with different strengths and weaknesses, that cater to a very specific type of gamer. I'm not that type of gamer, but they're out there, and if people didn't enjoy these things a ton, they wouldn't keep making them. So... let's just get to it.

First up is TNN Bass Tournament of Champions. It is my choice for the weakest fishing sim on the platform, and a quick perusal of GameFaqs rankings tell me I'm not alone in that sentiment.

Judging by the music, spritework, and character design, I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess this is a Japanese-made game that was brought over to America and had the TNN name (Tennessee News Network or something) slapped onto it. That was not an unusual practice back in the day, back when everyone was afraid Americans wouldn't buy anything that wasn't heavily Americanized. Maybe they were right, I dunno.

Now, I have TNNBToC as the lowest rated of the fishing sims because I think the problems present here are numerous and varied, which is gonna be a recurring thing with most of these titles (and most of this volume in general). But this game especially is held back by the fishing action itself, which suffers from poor mechanics, an unintuitive interface, and a high frustration factor. You see, once your lure is cast, you are brought to a zoomed-in top-down view of it in the water. As you reel it in fish will move into your field of view from the bottom of the screen. The problem is, this gives you little to no heads up that they are coming. And unless you practically drag the lure over their face, they won't bite (they probably won't anyway). So it turns into a game of chance, where you have to hope that you just happen to have a fish lined up in the lure's path when you're bringing it in. Which will happen roughly one percent of the time. The game also seems extremely finicky with getting the fish to show any interest in your bait in the first place, requiring pretty exact combinations of bait and conditions. Or maybe it's just random. I honestly couldn't tell.

Once you finally do have the fish hooked, you then have to suffer through a very confusing minigame to reel them in. Which almost never happens, and I can't really tell why. There's bars and indicators that presumably tell you if your line is about to break or the fish is about to slip off the hook or whatever, but I could never make heads or tails of it. I even tried downloading and reading a PDF of the manual, but that didn't help me out at all. And of course there are no detailed longplays or any other sort of written-up strategy anywhere on the internet. So I never really could figure things out.

There's also a shit-ton of configuration I don't understand, including rods, reels, rigs, and baits, which all have various ratings and ranges, but the hell if I can make sense of any of it.

In the end, I gave up on this one. I couldn't really force myself to play the game for more than a few hours because the game is just too unapproachable. And it's a shame as I really, truly wanted to like it. I want to like all of these fishing games. And that's because...

Did I beat it?
No, I can't even get through the first tournament. This has to be one of the ten hardest games on the system.

Fishing game #2
#499 - Jimmy Houston's Bass Tournament USA

...I am a person who enjoys the sport. After all, I grew up in the heart of fly fishing country, and spent many a weekend out on the rivers with my dad when I was younger. So I like to think I know a thing or two about the sport. Hell, I even got married in the church from A River Runs Through It. Now, granted I'm not the sort of person who gets his picture taken while holding a fish up to the camera and then posts it to Facebook (mostly because I really don't understand those people or those pictures, or why they feel the need to keep doing this). And my background is in fly fishing, where we mostly catch trout, which seems to have absolutely nothing in common with what goes on in these bass fishing games. I mean, I didn't even know "bass" fishing was such a big thing until I noticed that every single one of these games is centered around it. I guess I don't know where I'm going with any of this... just that I have a background in fishing, but not in whatever sort of Southern deep-fried thing is going on here.

Jimmy Houston's Bass Tournament USA represents a pretty big step up from the TNN game. And by that I mean, I actually kinda sorta knew how to play this one. The interface is also much more intuitive, finding fish is much less annoying, and most importantly of all, actually landing fish is doable now. All of which makes the game immensely more satisfying to play.

Which isn't to say that this is one of the stronger fishing titles, because it isn't, and it still does a number of things that kind of annoyed me. Like the game's tendency to hook a ton of fish that aren't bass, which you then have to throw back. I understand that is probably a realistic thing to incorporate into the game, but all it serves to do is frustrate me when I work hard to land a fish and it ends up being a damn carp or whatever. The way you throw out a marker to try and "mark" where the sonar picked up a fish is also pretty clumsy, and almost more of a pain in the ass than it's worth.

There's also still a number of things going on that I didn't really fully understand, especially concerning the various reels and their properties. "Taper?" What the hell is that gonna affect? "Line weight" versus "lure weight?" Is my line's weight really coming into play? "Range?" Why would you want a short range reel? What purpose would that serve?

Cruising around in the boat is also pretty weakly implemented this time around. I realize that's kind of a silly thing to gripe about, but I'd be lying if I didn't find some sort of simple pleasure in motorboating around in these games. Hell, it was even my favorite part of Jaws on NES. Boats = fun.

Though I guess it could be worse...

Did I beat it?
No, but I at least was able to advance past the first tournament this time.

Fishing game #3
#498 - Mark Davis' The Fishing Master

...because Mark Davis' The Fishing Master actually takes the boat out of the game entirely!

Whhhhhhhhy? Why would you do that to us Mark?

What, you think you know how to build a better fishing game than everyone else?

You think we can go without our tiny boats to putt around in?

And again, I realize it's such a simple pleasure, but dammit, I still enjoy it! I don't want to pick from pre-selected areas of the map and then immediately fast travel there. I want to drive around and bump into shit! Maybe even try and run the thing aground, just to see if I can.

On the bright side, there are a ton of different areas on each map that you can select from. And each one of them actually looks pretty unique for the most part. In fact I would say this is probably one of my favorite-looking games of the group, with tons of different types of vistas you can set anchor in. Not that the graphics are a big part of these kinds of games, but I can at least appreciate it when they're nice looking.

The game also offers a much improved fishing experience, with a more refined setup than the last two titles, that makes it easy to get where you want to be, get the lure into the water, and get it traveling exactly where you want it to be. Or at least I would say all of that if I could ever find any fish. Seriously, I've never seen one. Not one. If I had a manual, or someone had created an FAQ for this guy, I really could have used it, because otherwise I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Am I supposed to wait around until the fish spawn? Do they only spawn in certain areas at certain times in certain weather? Will they refuse to spawn if I don't have the right bait, rod, and lure? I have no clue, because there is no online help so I am completely stuck.

Several nights later...

Ooooooookay, I get it. There are no graphics for the fish. Silly, fucking me. You see I was supposed to be looking for a flashing indicator that lets you know something is taking a bite, even though you cannot actually see any fish. That's pretty dumb game. Pretty friggin' dumb.

Anyway, once I figured things out MDTFM truly did have my favorite fishing mechanics of the three games I've covered so far. By a decent margin too. It's a pretty simple system; once your lure enters the water you get a sideview of where it is, what its depth is, and where the fish are. It's very effective. Unlike the disaster that was TNN and the guessing game that was JH.

Lastly, I should mention that, like usual, there is lots of customization possible, including lures, rigs, reels, and even accessories this time... just in case you care about what the dude in your boat looks like. Even though you only ever see him from behind.

Anyway, that should wrap up the three more obscure fishing sims...

Did I beat it?
No. Catching so much as a single fish is a rare event in my case.

Fishing game #4
#497 - Bass Masters Classic

Fishing game #5
#496 - Bass Masters Classic Pro Edition

...because the next two are a part of the acclaimed "Bass Masters" series. Yep, the long-running series' roots extend all the way back to the Super Nintendo where... I... wait a minute... *runs off to the internet*

Okay, I guess there were only a few Bass Masters games ever made. So what the hell was I thinking of? I could swear I was practically drowning in the things whenever I went digging around in stacks of used games back in the day. Maybe that's because I grew up in Fishtown, USA. Maybe my memory has gone soft and turned every "Bass" game into a Bass Masters game. Maybe I just don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Anyway, Bass Masters Classic and Bass Masters Classic Pro Edition are two of the stronger fishing titles on the system, with some fun mechanics, a pretty decent interface, and minimal amounts of frustration.

This time around when you start a new game you will select from several different fishermen, each with different strengths. I honestly couldn't tell much difference between any of them, but I applaud the effort.

There's also a "practice pond" this time around. Thank god. So I finally felt like I got a chance to figure things out, without feeling rushed or stressed by a time limit. I don't know how many times I had to restart the various tournaments in the previous three games so I could sort out what I needed to be doing, or remember how that particular game worked. Here, I just rushed over to the PP and gave myself ten minutes to refresh myself on the details. It was a nice change of pace.

(I should mention that I played all seven fishing games back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back for extended periods of time, causing me to constantly get confused on how to play them)

The first thing you're gonna notice when you get on the lake (or pond) is that we have a boat again, but that it is not very fun to drive. In fact it controls horrendously. Possibly worse than any vehicle in any other game, and that is not hyperbole. But in all honesty that isn't really a huge deal since there isn't a whole lot in the way of tight requirements for skilled driving. Plus, at this point I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth because I think this shitty boat is better than no boat, so I'm moving on.

When you cast your line the game drops behind your lure and into a Mode 7 perspective, where you will need to pull the bait "towards" the camera while fish swim into view and give chase. It's actually a pretty cool effect, and works rather well once you get used to it. And it gives you plenty of space to see your position and depth, as well as all nearby fish, which is immensely better than the cramped experience from TNN. Overall, one of the better fishing systems in this group of games.

This is also by far the easiest title yet. Or at least it was the game in which I had the easiest time actually catching fish. I still struggled mightily to get a decent weigh-in at the end of the first tournament, but I'm looking at this like baby steps.

Pro Edition
What does the "pro" version of the game add? Not a whole lot. You can now choose from six real professional fisherman, in addition to the fictional ones from the last game. I'm sure this must be a big deal to some people, but I can't say I got super excited over getting the chance to put myself in Shaw E. Grigsby Jr.'s wading boots...

The bait shop also now sells more types of gear, including boat engines and fish finders. Once again it's not exactly the sort of thing I'd get hyped for, and I will readily admit that I never got far enough into the game to put any of that stuff to use, but color me underwhelmed again. Oh wait, those aren't new, they were just hiding in the corner in the previous game.

And that's it for major changes. Everything else is an updated graphic here, a different set of images here, etc. I don't know if that makes this the laziest game on the system, but it's certainly in the running. Even the Madden series tried to make some significant balancing tweaks every year, even if most of the games' guts stayed largely intact.

In any case, I'm getting a bit tired of writing about fishing games, and I'm sure you're bored of reading about them, so let's move on to the final two. Which are...

Did I beat Bass Masters Classic?
Yeah, a couple times. It was hard as shit, especially the final boss, but conquering a tough title like that is wor- wait, I'm thinking of Megaman & Bass...

Did I beat Bass Masters Classic Pro Edition?
No. The only fishing game I've ever beaten was the one in Ocarina of Time. And I probably had to use outside help for that part.

Fishing game #6
#495 - Super Black Bass

...easily the two best fishing games on the system, hands down.

I have never played The Black Bass (or The Blue Marlin) on NES, but I know the game is pretty well regarded. Hell, it's kind of the fishing game that started it all, right? ...right? I guess I don't actually have any idea, and I pulled that out of my ass, but it sounds good, so let's roll with it.

Anyway, that game is pretty ubiquitous and spawned the even more ubiquitous follow-up, Super Black Bass. Because every early sequel on the Super Nintendo had to be "super," often to mixed actual results.

Well, dammit if they didn't produce a pretty super fishing experience here. SBB does all of the things that a game like this should do in order to capture the feeling of fishing, while more importantly, remaining fun. Something that escaped the previous five titles for most of their run times.

The biggest edges that SBB has over those other games are a more streamlined experience, and a more balanced difficulty curve. There's no more buying bait and gear, or worrying about rigs and lines and motors and all that bullcrap. Instead you get in the boat, drive to the middle of the lake, quickly set a lure, and fish. As simple as that. It's an extremely nice change of pace that helps keep things moving along and staying fun.

The interface and fishing mechanics are all solidly done too. Selecting a lure is seamlessly done as you're about to cast, which removes a ton of the tedium that mechanic usually brings. Selecting a target for your line is simple and straightforward, letting you manually set where you want to cast if you want. And the fishing itself is super easy, with minimal complication to hooking a fish or bringing it in. Hell, you pretty much do everything with one button, and only have to read a single gauge to make sure your line doesn't break. And I think that's what I wanted after putting so many hours into all of those other games - a simpler experience that doesn't bog me down in tedium and complication, and skips straight to the fun.

Of course I do still have a few hangups with SBB. For one, I really wish you could see which lures should be used in which conditions. As far as I could tell the game offers virtually no in-game help, so I had to download the manual to even begin to sort things out.

The game also looks pretty simplistic, and not much more advanced than an NES game. That isn't necessarily a bad thing since these games aren't exactly graphical powerhouses for the most part, and there can be a charm to simple 8-bit-ish graphics, but you are not gonna be blown away by anything in this game.

So overall one of the better fishing games, and the most streamlined experience, if that's what you're looking for. Of course Hot-B then decided to do a complete 180 with their next title...

Did I beat it?
I did not, though I did advance past the first tournament. That's more than I can usually say.

Fishing game #7
#494 - Bassin's Black Bass

...which happens to be the final fishing game on the list, and the game that seems to usually be the consensus pick for the best one on the platform. This is a sentiment that I am gonna have to agree with myself.

Bassin's Black Bass, possibly the most awkwardly named game in history, is the follow-up to Hot-B's Super Black Bass, and the third or fourth game in the series overall. Except, strangely enough, it almost has more in common with all of the other fishing games on the system than it does with SBB. But in a good way. You see, this is the game that those games wanted to be.

This time around the graphics are actually rather nice, a pretty big step up from SBB. Both the "boat" and "fishing" views, where you will be spending 99% of your time, are rather nice looking, with nice detailed sprites, and lovely designs for the lakes, foliage, and different types of scenery. Plus, the fish actually kind of look like fish this time around, instead of just being blobby shadows or red-silhouetted outlines (I probably should have mentioned in the last review that the fish in SBB are kind of silly looking).

The game also offers something of a built-in tutorial now, with the option of having an assistant tag along, offering various types of advice for where to cast, what bait to use, how to reel in your lure, how to keep your fish hooked, and so forth. And it is actually extremely useful. See, with every other one of these games I've had to rely on some combination of PDF manuals, FAQs, or YouTube longplays in order to make any sense of what I should be doing, when I should be doing it, and where I should be doing it. I find all of that to be a massive pain in the ass. BBB removes all of that from the equation, by offering in-game help that literally spells out what you should do, if you should want said help. I loved this; it made the learning curve much less daunting, and helped keep me engaged with the game. So much in fact, that I may have played this game nearly as much as Mark Davis, TNN, and Jimmy Houston combined.

The fish finder has also been improved to make it more useful. Instead of just relying on a graphic that shows the fish's depth and relative position, it will actually make different noises now, letting you know exactly where your boat is positioned relative to them. Which means more tedium removed from the equation.

Now, do I have any complaints? Sure, I mean I still have the game ranked close to #500 after all. The biggest thing being that a number of changes, including the addition of the guide, result in a game that is not quite as "zippy" as SBB was. In fact the pacing is much closer to any of the other games I covered. For example, you'll now actually have to go to another screen to select your bait, while also needing to click through a number of menu options including a color setting and a confirmation screen. I know that probably sounds like a pretty minor grievance to have, but I really did appreciate how streamlined everything in SBB was.

I also wish it was a little more obvious how big the fish are when they're in the water. Now that's a problem common to all of these games, but I don't know why they couldn't have worked harder on getting more unique fish sprites. Or at least giving us more than a few of them. So you'll have no idea if what you're catching is a bass or not, or if it's 0.8 lbs or 4.8 lbs, both of which can be pretty critical to your success later on in the game.

And, I mean... it is still a fishing game, so there is definitely a ceiling that limits how much fun you're gonna have. Hell, the fact that I have this thing ranked close to #500, despite being the best the genre had to offer, should tell you all you need to know about how tempered my praise should be. Because even considering how much of an improvement this is over the likes of the TNN game, I still couldn't really justify breaking them apart in the rankings. They're one big self-contained world, for a certain type of player, who wants to have a limited amount of fun.

So overall, if you feel like playing a fishing game on the Super Nintendo... I'd probably recommend that you don't. I think it's safe to say that 90%+ of players will have absolutely zero interest in this stuff, and will never bother seeing one through to completion. But if this is your thing and you insist on playing a well made one, Bassin's Black Bass is the obvious choice.

Did I beat it?
I haven't yet. But if I manage to clear SBB, this one is next.

#493 - Super James Pond

It's funny how my memory works when it comes to various video games. For instance, I can still distinctly remember way back in the day when my local Software Etc., before it was engulfed by Gamestop, had all of its Genesis games squeezed into a corner of the store near the front window. I was a Super Nintendo fanatic at the time so I wasn't super versed on the Sega library, but I was still enough of a freak for all things video game that I'd often peruse other systems just to soak in everything I possibly could. And for whatever reason I can still remember a very specific visit to SE where I found myself wandering over to that poor Genesis setup. Mostly, I remember spotting Splatterhouse 3, which immediately grabbed my attention with its hockey mask-wearing and battleaxe-wielding antihero. I've always been a huge sucker for all things horror, especially the artwork on old VHS tapes, which this thing immediately evoked. But Rick and company weren't the only things I remember from that day, because I also distinctly remember one other game. A James Pond game. I don't recall which one exactly, but I'll never forget that picture of the armored fish-thing. Why? The sheer ridiculousness of it, probably. James... Pond? And he's a fish? Does he do super spy things, but under the sea? I had so many questions! Plus it didn't hurt that I was also a huge James Bond fan, so the pun stuck with me.

Well I didn't know until decades later that the series actually saw a release on the SNES. Super James Pond was the sole installment of the James Pond franchise to appear on SNES, and is I believe a port of the second or third game in the series (you'd think I'd spend a minute here to google it, but I'm not going to). And roughly twenty five years after first learning of the series' existence, I finally got to experience it for myself when I purchased the cart off of eBay. And who could have guessed that it would turn out to be yet another bizarro Amiga game that I don't get and I don't understand who it was meant for and I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out how I feel about it. But anyhoo, I'll do my best here...

The gameplay of SJP is very generic, big surprise, and as far as I can tell features no guns or James Bond-styled action or references to 007 whatsoever. Hell, there aren't really any weapons of any sort at all - you just hop onto enemies a la Mario. Which means this is just another platformer with a meaningless pun in its name, and it plays like any of the other Amiga ports I've already covered, with lots of things to collect, enemies to jump past, and exits to find. I'll be honest, it was incredibly disappointing. Not that I should have had high hopes for a game about an anthropomorphic fish (or is he a frog?), but that's on me.

Actually, I guess there is one thing that sets this apart from everything else, and that would be an incredibly bizarre mechanic where you can stretch James' upper body upwards in order to grab onto far away ceilings. And I do mean stretch...

What a super weird thing to build your game around. I mean, what does this even add to the gameplay? Besides a slightly different way to navigate to hard-to-reach areas? Well, the answer is nothing - don't expect the game to do any cool things with it because it doesn't. What you see in level two is what you'll see in level twenty.

Speaking of, each level tasks you with collecting a bunch of things in order to open up the exit. In addition, there's a bunch of other pointless crap lying around that serves no purpose other than scoring points, if you're into that sort of thing. There's also tons of enemies scattered liberally throughout every level, but most of them are pretty braindead and present little in the way of challenge. In fact only the bosses serve as any real resistance to your progress, as you'll need to spend a few spawns studying their patterns. But luckily the game is super generous with lives, so you should have more than enough opportunity to learn what makes each of them tick and take them down.

In fact, because the enemies are so impotent the biggest thing you're going to be fighting throughout the game is some ever present and oppressive slowdown that is constantly trying to ruin things. Which is pretty dumb because this game is hardly a graphical powerhouse, with limited things ever happening on the screen. I guess you can chalk it up to being a piss-poor port, assuming the game wasn't always running this crappy.

There's also a ton of blind jumps in this game, which like usual, I'm gonna blame on the SNES resolution. And I know at this point I'm beating a dead horse and that it must sound like I'm bashing the system like some sort of Sega fanboy or something, but really I'm just bashing the developers for poorly thought-out ports. They could have recognized this was a problem and compensated for it, something almost none of them appeared to have done. So we're stuck with crappy versions of a bunch of lesser titles. Oh well, at least it's games that are in the bottom half of the library that represent most of that population because this will be much less of an issue the further along we get.

Anyway, what else can I talk about... I guess the game has a few power-ups of note. Like a car that lets you mow down enemies, not that you'd have needed any help killing them. And an umbrella that will slow your fall, which is completely useless. I also think there might have been a plane that occasionally showed up too, but I'm having a hard time picturing it, or remembering it. Maybe I hallucinated it.

There's also lots of other weird little things. Like the first level being three seconds long. Unless I hallucinated that too, because who the hell would program a level where you walk two steps to the left to finish it? That would be crazy... super crazy... Then again this is a game about a James Bond fish that never does James Bond things, so I wouldn't put anything past it. I guess that first level is SJP in a nutshell; boring, with no inspiration, like it was hastily thrown-together. Even some of the latter levels are only thirty seconds long. Like they really couldn't be bothered to finish them.

Now to be fair to the game, it does do a lot of things okay-ish. The controls are solid, the animation is alright, the bosses are satisfying to take down, and it's a decently meaty quest. And I never really hated my time with it. But for the most part it was unremarkable. Forgettable even, which is ironic since it was one of the few games from that day so long ago that I didn't forget. So maybe that is how I can sum this game up. Goofy box art and a pun, that just happens to have a video game of sorts attached to it.

Oh, and for the record I did not place the game about the walking fishman right next to all of the bass fishing games in my list on purpose. Or at least I didn't consciously do it. I think.

Did I beat it?
Yes, after a couple marathon nights. I'm pretty sure anyone could beat this game if they have the patience to take their time slowly moving through the game, learning it, and then doing it again. I'm not saying anyone should do that, but it's definitely possible.

#492 - Sports Illustrated: Championship Football & Baseball

A unique entry in the Super Nintendo library, Sports Illustrated: Championship Football & Baseball is, as should be blindingly obvious, two games in one. So I'm going to essentially treat this as two entirely separate reviews.

One of the few pigskin titles on the system to use an isometric overhead view (the other being the absolutely dreadful Super Play Action Football), I actually kind of dig this game's presentation. By that I mean the game's graphics aren't anything special, and the animation isn't especially good, but something about how the game looks in action, and how everything unfolds just seems... I dunno, enjoyable? I don't even know how else to explain it, but I'll be saying something similar with some other sports titles that are coming up in future installments.

The interface is also effectively done for the most part. Plays are easy to read, easy to call, and everything is speedy and responsive. There are no long delays waiting for players to line up, or waiting for the play selection to take, or for the ball to snap, and so forth. It's the polar opposite of the terrible pacing that hamstrung titles like NFL Football.

Passing though? Totally and completely broken. Broken enough that I can't even really tell what is going on during any given pass play, or why anything that happens happens the way it does. Hell, sometimes when a ball is in the air the camera suddenly changes into a zoomed-in close-up where the receiver already has it in his hands. It's super disorienting and it makes covering the pass a complete crapshoot because there is no way to tell what in the holy hell is actually going on. So if you're on defense and need to stop the pass just select something in nickel or dime, cross your fingers, and pray.

Running is also pretty broken, which,considering football is nothing but passing and running, kind of means the entire game is broken. But it's also kind of fun, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's bad but I like it anyway. Or something along those lines. There's probably a lot of points in this review that are coming off as nonsensical, mostly because I just don't know how to describe some of the esoteric feelings that a game like this can bring up.

For example, a typical run is probably gonna be blown up at the line of scrimmage, while another nearly identical run will go for a long gain. Why? Sloppy coding and game balancing, I assume. But it almost kind of feels more authentic in a way, since that's often how the real thing works. And I like the way the game feels when this happens. Like your player is making something out of nothing, and you're reaping the benefits. And on the flip side, I love the feeling of taking a safety or linebacker, and blowing up the other team's runs to the outside. Because crushing the running back, again, just feels good. So for all this game's faults, it gets something right here at least. Even if I don't know exactly what it is, or how to properly explain it. And the running plays also have that same random zoom-in that happens from time to time, but at least here it's not as distracting or as disjointed feeling.

I also love how one of the menu options is for configuring penalties. The options? "All" or "some." As in they call pass interference sometimes? Or is it turning off sidelines infractions but keeping the illegal batting and substitution infractions? Where does leaping stand with "some?" Yes I'm being silly, but "some" is just so ridiculous that I had to call it out.

And I love the low resolution, grainy videos that appear whenever you score. It's so dated, and they're so short, I can't imagine why they even bothered...

Overall? It's a pretty weak effort that is well below the good football games on the system, but it has its moments, and it's not completely terrible. You could do worse.

In yet another instance of me trying to describe something that is abstract and almost completely unexplainable, the baseball here reminds me of an NES game. Why? Is it the animations? The limited nature of the graphics? The simplistically drawn pitching meter? I have no idea. I just know that the thought kept going through my head, again and again, when I was playing SI's Baseball. And if anything, that isn't a bad thing, because I like most NES baseball games more than I like most SNES baseball games. Black box Baseball, for all its (many) faults, is still much more tolerable than most of the titles I've already written about so far. And I don't even especially like that game either, but it shows you what sort of playing field I've been working with. Which is super annoying because I have already laid out in prior reviews why I think the sport is a natural fit for the video game medium. They just had a tough time realizing that potential on this system.

Pitching works well enough. It doesn't really do anything out of the ordinary, but it gets the job done. The pitchers do seem to get fatigued a little faster than they should, but that's a bit of a minor complaint.

Batting on the other hand, could have used some work, as it's pretty dang tricky to get the hang of. It's not as impossible as some of the games I've covered, but runs are still pretty scarce. One of the biggest problems is that changeups are ridiculously overpowered. Like, I don't know if this actually happens, or if it just appears to happen, but I swear slow pitches slow down even more right before they get to the plate. That is some next level bullshit. And just like in ESPN Baseball Tonight, there appears to be a predetermined number of "spots" you can hit the ball, it's just a little less overly blatant here. So if you can ignore that, and train your reflexes to account for the changeups, you'll adapt eventually.

The fielding though, is pretty atrocious. It's not as bad as the trainwreck present in Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball, but it's pretty bad. Anything that gets past your infield is gonna be a gigantic guessing game as far as who you're gonna have control over and how much distance they're gonna need to cover in order to shag the ball, and if there is a way to switch control over which player you're using, I have yet to figure it out.

And there are other stupid little things that do just enough to drag the game down bit by bit. Like how the baserunners will advance on everything, including blatant fly balls. I hate having to corral baserunners in these games. Or how it doesn't seem that you can manually run the ball to a base to get an out. I mean you can, but it won't register anything, even on a force. That seems like a miss by the developers.

The computer's batting AI is also pretty stupid, and can easily be cheesed. Though I almost don't even want to complain about it because it's the only thing I can exploit to help keep my games close.

...actually I lied, because the baserunning AI is somehow even worse, and I exploit the living hell out of it. Count on getting lots of cheap outs on fly balls. I'd even go so far as to say that this features the worst baserunning in any game I've ever played.

That all being said, this would have to be my pick for the superior of the two games on the cartridge. That shouldn't be especially surprising because I feel like I'm a much tougher critic of football games, and I long ago explained why the sport has a hard time pulling off a good experience, and I'm not gonna rehash that again. They're both very flawed titles, but the baseball was just a little more tolerable as far as longer plays go. So I'm giving it the edge.

So there you have it. One unsurprisingly mediocre sports game and one disappointingly mediocre sports game, bundled together in a value package. Individually I would have put both games somewhere in the 500s, and I considered doing just that with this entry, but I gave SICF&B a little bit of a boost for basically offering double the content of every other lazy sports cash grab out there. That doesn't mean this is really any better than something like Frank Thomas, or Sterling Sharpe End 2 End. It just means you get twice as much of it.

Did I beat it?
No. The thought of having to beat two mediocre sports games for one completion... man that's a scary thought.

#491 - Cliffhanger

One thing I have to admit, if I haven't already, is that I am a rather huge fan of old testosterone-filled action films from the 1980s. Schwarzenagger, Stallone, Van Damne, Norris, Lundgren, Swayze, Dudikoff... hell, even Seagal - I love everything with any of those dudes in it. Unabashedly so. There is just something about the one liners, the cracking limbs, the extreme graphic violence, and the ludicrous setpieces that does it for me. Cliffhanger, from our favorite Finn, Renny Harlin (or was it John McTiernan?), was no exception. Sly stars as Gabriel Something or other, a musclebound mountain rescue guy who climbs mountains and kills bad guys, while wearing virtually nothing. Sign me up. Plus it had John Lithgow and Michael Rooker just to further chew up the scenery. It's a great film if you're into that sort of thing and anyone who watched it as a kid back in the day loved it.

The video game adaptation on the other hand, is only... alright. Actually one of the lesser Stallone games on the system. Maybe the lessest... have I covered one yet? It is a beat-em-up, which is a nice change of pace from the usual run-n-gun/action platformers that these properties are usually made into, but not an especially great one. And it's not from a lack of trying because there's tons of great ideas here, but too few of them actually work, and there's just too many flaws holding everything back.

The biggest flaw? An extreme difficulty that can only be overcome by patiently memorizing every little part of the game and carefully figuring out every little stupid nuance to the game's mechanics. That can work, see Battletoads as a fantastic example, but it usually doesn't. And here it fails miserably.

A major component of the smothering difficulty is some very stiff control. Sly just doesn't have the finesse or responsiveness to handle what the game asks of him. Fighting as few as two enemies at once can be overwhelming because it's so hard to get him to do what you want in a timely fashion. And to make matters worse the hit detection can be real iffy. That almost seems like a hallmark of the brawler genre in general, but it's especially pronounced here. Which means you need to carefully remember how each and every fight is gonna go down, and carefully execute a plan to perfection if you hope to have any success. That is not often a recipe for fun.

There is also a super annoying mechanic where everyone gets invulnerability after taking damage. That is absolutely killer in this type of game, and keeps you from being able to combo enemies or take them down efficiently, which means every battle in turn becomes all about crowd control. So it's easy for a relatively routine fight to suddenly turn sour because enemies surround you, and prevent you from getting into any real groove, constantly interrupting your attacks and raining blows down on your head. It can get extremely frustrating, which is, again, not very fun.

To mix things up there are also some pretty frustrating avalanche levels. In these you constantly run to the right, jumping over stones and (I think) logs. And once again, memorization, cheap deaths, and controls that aren't up to snuff are the name of the game. So it's yet another demerit because the game is hard enough on its own without these dumb stages leaching away from your pool of lives.

So, after that lambasting review why is this game not ranked back with all of the other games I detest? Because I don't dislike it. In fact, it's very hard for me to dislike brawlers in general, Captain America and The Tick aside. It just gets frustrating when it could have been so much better than it ended up being, which is the case here. And I do keep playing Cliffhanger, which always tells me a game must be doing something right.

Overall it absolutely is one of the genre's weakest entries on the system, and is one that most people are gonna turn off almost instantly. But if you like brawlers and big dumb action movies, you'll get some mileage out of it, like me.

Did I beat it?
No. One of the only beat-em-ups on the system that got the best of me.

#490 - Daffy Duck The Marvin Missions

This has to be the, what, fourth or fifth Looney Tunes game I've already covered? I know there was Taz... Speedy... that dumb Animation Factory one... and what else? Shit, I really can't remember what all I've gone over up until this point. I guess that's what happens when you stay up until 2AM five nights in a row, writing about fishing games. I know I still have the Bugs Bunny game, the Porky Pig game, and the basketball game left, so I guess that would mean Daffy Duck The Marvin Missions is a something of a middling effort from Sunsoft. It's not a trainwreck like Taz, but definitely could have been better. Like, a lot better.

OH. There was that Tom and Jerry game too. Is that Looney Tunes? I think so. But it definitely wasn't from Sunsoft... Bah, who cares, let's move on.

I'm gonna assume this game is a Duck Dodgers game. What is Duck Dodgers? I have no idea; some Daffy Duck alter ego or parallel universe or something. Kind of like all of those Donald Duck parallel universe games. What the hell is with cartoon ducks and multiple identities?

Anyway, you're Duck Dodgers and you're... I don't know, traveling the cosmos fighting Marvin the Martian, who if you don't remember, appears to be a cross between a Roman legionnaire and... uh, the tar baby from Song of the South, I guess. Anyway, he's doing... bad things... for some reason. FUCK, there's a story, who cares what it's about, moving on.

The gameplay is a run-n-gun deal: you run, you gun, you jetpack on occasion, and then you fight some colossal boss. You know, that sort of thing. But the action here is actually surprisingly tactical. By that I mean Daffy has a shield he can use to soak up enemy gunfire, waiting for his moment to fire. And you will need to use it heavily. Which means combat turns into a fairly strategic affair, with you and your foes popping in and out of cover (well, you pop in and out, they mostly just stand around like idiots), almost like a 2D version of Time Crisis or something. In fact I would say it's one of the platform's closest things to a 2D first person shooter there is. I mean, it's not at all like an FPS, but there are similar concepts at play. Of course I have to also mention that the game's low resolution (cue the beating of the dead horse) means foes can often get the jump on you, but once you train yourself to always have the shield at the ready, it becomes less of an issue.

While the gunplay is fun, there are some severe control problems that hold it, and the game, back. First off, they are insanely floaty. Like "is this supposed to be happening?" floaty. I'm not sure if that was intentional or not, because Daffy is wearing a jetpack and it almost feels like it's always on. Like they only had time to code one type of movement, so they went with the "flying around on a jetpack" option instead of the "walk around like a normal game" option. And to add insult to injury, the developers also made the horrible decision to have every gunshot send Daffy flying backwards. I can't even begin to explain how bad this will fuck you over throughout the game, but suffice it to say, it's frequent and very, very costly. Which is not a good thing in a game with boss fights that are this insanely hard, but I will get to that in a second.

The game does do some other things pretty well though, so it's not all bad. Like letting you buy/outfit gear at the start of each level, including extra lives and continues. Granted I think most of the gear is useless when compared to extra lives, but I love the fact that I even had the choice of what to buy, and wish more action games on the SNES had done something like this as well. There is also a detailed map that comes up when you pause the game, and it is wonderful. EVERY game should do something like that.

But yeah, those boss fights... they have to be some of the absolute worst on the entire system. Just one complete disaster after another. The first couple times I attempted this game I had to give up after getting a game over on the first dude because he seemed totally insurmountable. The whole thing is a gigantic mess of (seemingly) unavoidable hits, sloppy hit detection, and an enemy that soaks up an ungodly amount of damage. The only way I ever managed to eventually beat him was by standing directly under him, firing as fast as fast as I could, and praying that he just happened to die before my life ran out. Eventually I managed to make that work more often than not, while every other strategy remained completely impossible. And then the second boss is somehow even more of a clusterfuck of epic proportions. With that one enemies are constantly spawning on top of you while Marvin strafes you from above, while you're trying to hit a floating, moving target, while also jetpacking, while also getting knocked around by your blasts, while constantly getting hit yourself. It is comically fucking horrid and I have never made it past this part. Especially since a game over means starting from scratch, and having to fight the first boss over again. So I've never made it past the second world, and I don't think I ever will.

I also have to quickly point out that the level names are often making puns, similar to Bubsy. Except here they make even less sense. Of all the things to steal from the bobcat, that was not one of them.

So in conclusion, a pretty bad game with some great mechanics buried in it, that are unfortunately suffocated by all of the crap. I keep going back to it because I want to see the rest of the game, and I want to see if the later bosses are better, but I just can't seem to make it happen.

*two months later*
Wait, I just had another idea on which direction to take this review because I realized what is wrong with this game: it's an Earthworm Jim game that isn't funny, has no variety, and isn't very fun to play. God, why didn't I realize that earlier. That kind of review would have been sooooo much more fun to write, and to read, probably.

So I'll just go ahead and delete everything I already worked on and-

Editor: Aren't you already like two months behind on getting this thing finished and thrown out the door?
Mr. Writer: FUCK!

Did I beat it?
No, these Looney Tunes games are surprisingly hard. Especially this one.

#489 - Vortex

So I'm not entirely sure how to describe the game Vortex. Is it a crappy 3D version of BlaZeon? A shoddy Star Fox 1.5? Yet another subpar super FX game? The ugliest game this side of Ballz?

While all of those would be accurate observations in my opinion, I think the Star Fox comparison is probably the most apt one. Both games feel like a mix of shmup and rail shooter, without doing either genre full justice. Both games also feature big blocky polygons which tax the SNES, even with the help of an extra chip. And that would all make sense because both games are from the same development house: Argonaut Software. In fact you could almost call Vortex a dry run for ideas that were later used in Star Fox 2 (and then Star Fox 64, and then Star Fox Command in turn). Which I guess would actually be one of the main selling points for this game; just how ambitious it is. It features large missions with tons of enemies, huge bosses, lots of power ups, a bunch of different vehicle forms to switch between, (simple) puzzle solving, and more than a few mechanics that would pop up in Fox McCloud's sophomore effort. So I guess it's not too surprising to think that the big N would tab these guys with some of their biggest projects.

The problem is ambition only goes so far, because this game is a wreck. Hell, it's a fiasco. When a game is made by the Big N, they're generally gonna demand a finished product with something resembling quality. That's sort of their thing. But this game is not a first party title and it lacks a lot of the things you'd expect to see in finished products. Like a difficulty curve. Or mechanics that make any sense. Or any sort of clue as to what you are supposed to be doing at any given moment.

Let's briefly talk about the different vehicle forms first. They are the "Walker," the "Sonic Jet," and the "Hard Shell." I never downloaded the manual for this game so I'm gonna assume I got these names from somewhere.

- The Walker is your main bread and butter form, giving you medium defense and speed, while also letting you use all of your weapons.
- The Sonic Jet sacrifices offense and defense for speed and evasiveness.
- The Hard Shell is a (near) invulnerable tank, meant to soak up enemy fire, so you can wait for the right moment to counterattack.

It all sounds great, on paper. Tank when you need to tank, kill when you need to kill, run when you need to run. The problem is none of it works in practice. The jet is borderline useless and should almost be entirely ignored since outrunning and outmaneuvering enemies is not something you can really do. The shell is great, so long as you feel like watching a boss wail on you for an eternity, waiting for the opportunity to pop back out that never comes. So you'll just use the walker the entire time. And it is slow, boring, and a bullet magnet. Yay.

The game also has severe issues with difficulty. Levels go on forever, with no checkpoints, difficulty curves that are super out of whack, and bosses that are insanely sadistic. Especially the first one - I have NEVER beat him. Despite many, many tries, with each failure forcing you to replay the entire (long as hell) level over again. Even if you reach the "halfway" point, you get no checkpoint. So what was the point of that? And it isn't as if I don't know how to beat him - I have studied the longplay of the game enough to know exactly what I need to do. No, I haven't beat him because everything that happens seems like a total frickin' crapshoot. Maybe shots hit him, maybe they don't. Maybe shots hit you, maybe they don't. It's all a guessing game! The overly-complicated controls also become a real clusterfuck whenever you're trying to rapidly change forms and weapons, both of which you will be doing during boss fights. So that only further exacerbates things.

So am I reviewing this game entirely from the perspective of the first level? Because the one and only time I did that was way back with Frantic Flea. And the answer is "no, I am not." I used cheat codes to see more of the game, something I've never had to resort to with anything else, before or since. But I had to do it here because I had read enough about the game to know that there was more to it than what the first few minutes offer up, and I wanted to experience it for myself.

Case in point, while level one offered an on-rails Star Fox-like experience, level two is opened up, giving you a large area that you are free to roam. You'll need to enter different structures in order to find keys and unlock doors so that you can find more keys and unlock more doors. It's very Star Fox 2-ish. It's also really poorly done. Trying to figure out where to go or what to do is a total crapshoot, with confusion reigning supreme. I don't know how long I wandered around this mission, but it was at least several hours on one occasion. And I even used a longplay (again) to assist myself, to no avail.

So I had to cheat again so that I could see anything past mission two. And boy what a satisfying feeling that is, let me tell you.

Level three is another "open" level that takes place up in the clouds. But the very limited draw distance is on prominent display here, with the platforms you're supposed to be moving across only popping into view when you're nearly on top of them. It's pretty pathetic. This level is also a fraction of the length of the first two, but still ends in another near-impossible boss fight that completely kicked my ass up and down the screen every time I attempted it. It was at this point that I put up my white flag and retired the game.

So what was my conclusion here? I guess that Vortex is a poor Star Fox-wannabe, ripe with ideas, but misfiring in execution. After all, this is the volume of ambitious fiascos, with this game fitting right in with that crowd.

...oh and check out the Super Famicom artwork:

I'm not saying the US art isn't way truer to the game, but good lord is the SFC artwork at least a million times cooler. Too cool for this game in fact.

Did I beat it?
No, God no... that would require some sort of truly insane patience.

#488 - WarpSpeed

Okay, so picture this: You're piloting a space-cruising fighter, armed to the teeth with laser cannons and missile racks, taking on entire alien fleets in the name of protecting your home base. You'll also need to survive numerous mine fields and asteroid belts, navigate through huge swaths of space, while using black holes and your warp drives to cover larger distances. You'll take on literally hundreds upon hundreds of enemy fighters, some of which are launched by distant enemy carriers, engaging in tense dogfights where just a few hits can spell disaster for either party. Occasionally you'll also take on enemy aces in ship-to-ship combat, save allied convoys, discover hidden technologies, earn various promotions and medals, gradually gain access to more powerful spacecraft, and wrap it all up by saving the galaxy. And it's not a PC port - this thing was built from the ground up to take advantage of consoles.

Now, did everything I just say sound like a grand old time? Like the sort of epic space opera that the Wing Commander series brought to the PC, or the unmatched action LucasArts' TIE Fighter and X-Wing titles delivered to us back in the day? Did it sound like a game that would finally fulfill on all of the untapped potential of earlier Nintendo games like Star Voyager or Destination Earthstar?

Because WarpSpeed is none of those things. At all. And while everything I just said in my introduction is technically true, and not embellishing in any way, none of it is as remotely cool or fun as I tried to make it sound. How is that possible? It just is - this game found a way to strip nearly all of the fun out of every one of those bullet points.

Upon starting up, the game does deliver a number of options for how to play. Besides a training simulation of sorts, there are half a dozen standalone missions you can take on at any time, each of which focuses on a different set of enemies or hazards, as well as a longer campaign that uses a password save system. That is where I spent the bulk of my play time.

The missions in the campaign (of which there are four total) task you with blowing the hell out of each and every enemy ship across a number of different maps, all of which are connected to one another via black holes. Each of those individual maps is composed of an 8x8 grid, with each "square" consisting of coordinates that range from 0,0 to 100,100. What I'm trying to say is, with each mission consisting of four or more maps, you end up having to cover a lot of territory. And you will have to hunt down a lot of enemies. Like a metric shit-ton. Way too many in fact. But luckily for us there are a number of things to help out in this regard:

- You can warp across each map in a matter of seconds. The controls to do this are pretty awkward, and you probably will not figure it out without a manual or FAQ, but it eventually becomes second nature.
- The fuel for warping is plentiful. So plentiful in fact that I never once came anywhere close to running out. I'm not sure why they bothered honestly.
- Going hand-in-hand with that last point, you can return to any base to fully refuel, restock, and recover your ship's damage. There does not appear to be any limit to how many times you can do this either, though bases can be destroyed (but only if you are especially incompetent).
- All enemies appear on the area map, which means you can easily skip ahead to fights. Except for one mission where their location is obscured. I'll get to that in a bit...

Once you enter the section of the map where the enemies lie, combat automatically commences. You'll be matched up with up to five fighters per battle, but for the most part they only engage you one at a time. So the rest of them pretty much just hang back and wait their turn, which is awfully nice of them. I guess it's possible they take sporadic potshots at you from a distance, but it's kind of hard to tell. And that is because...

The dogfighting in this game is a mess

Now to be clear, it's miles ahead of the action in the three flight sims I already covered (Air Cavalry, Steel Talons, and Carrier Aces), which should tell you something about those games. But it is still very, very broken and so repetitive in a number of ways. For one thing, everything is a confusing mess at first - an enemy will engage you, fly in, you'll both spend a couple minutes circling one another, you'll futilely take shots at him that inevitably fall harmlessly behind him, while enemy fire randomly peppers your screen and occasionally hits you for no discernible reason, before mercifully ending with someone blowing up. Things do eventually get better, whether that's because you earn access to better ships, upgraded shields and weapons, or because the hundreds of skirmishes gradually force you to find little tricks to make the combat easier. Probably all of the above. But not before you have fought (and chased) hundreds of enemies, tapping the fire button until your thumb is sore, cranking on the D-Pad until your other thumb is sore, and growing miserable all the while.

What's even more unfortunate is that even when you do upgrade your gear, or go up against more advanced enemies, the dogfights still all end up playing out exactly the same way, which means things get real boring, real fast. There are a half a dozen different fighter types, but other than slightly different speeds or levels of aggressiveness, there is no real difference as to how any of the fights against them play out. Occasionally there will be an enemy carrier in the area, launching out fighters if you don't destroy everything fast enough. Except, instead of battling some big hulking capital ship, the carriers are content to "stay back," which means they appear as small dots off in the distance. After shelling them with laser fire a few times (or nailing them with a few missiles if you have 'em), they explode with a whimper. It's extremely underwhelming and a total cop out by the game.

I also mentioned how one of the missions hides your enemies under a sort of "fog of war." Well I am not joking when I say that mission can not only go fuck itself, but it can go get fucked by Space Football and Battle Cars, and all the other ridiculously frustrating games while it's at it. The game already has these severe pacing issues thanks to missions that drag on for hours as you fight hundreds of battles that all play out exactly the same. But then this mission adds an extra level of aggravation by requiring you to comb every square inch of every map in order to turn up your foes. And those enemy ships are also on the move, so even a complete sweep isn't gonna get everything. It's so goddamn stupid it defies belief. I had to go through every area of every map multiple times in order to complete this mission, all of which must have taken at least four hours to accomplish. That is unacceptable, and serves absolutely no purpose other than padding out a very simplistic game's length even more than it needed to be. [you don't need to go through every square in the "fog of war" missions - editor]

The other issues are less severe, but no less numerous. The different ships you earn all basically play the same. Some have larger missile loads than others, and some seem to turn slightly faster, but otherwise they are, for all intents and purposes, identical. There's also a number of medals you can earn throughout the game, but they don't seem to serve any purpose, and I have no idea what I did to earn any of them. I just know I had all of them by the halfway point of the campaign. In fact, I had also earned the top rank of Admiral by mission two, which means I had "maxed out" the game less than halfway through it. Did they even test that shit? There were also a number of bugs I encountered, mostly involving the targeting system in the dogfights going on the fritz, which didn't allow me to finish off all of the enemies, which then forced me to warp away, come back, and start the fight from scratch. Because if there is anything a game with 400-500 dogfights needed, it's bugs that cause you to re-do a lot of them!

Anyway, I know I have trashed WarpSpeed up to this point, which I think it deserved, but it's not a terrible game. It's just a very flawed one. There was a ton of potential, and they had an inspired idea to start with, but it was all squandered with poor design decisions. Playing it can be fun, so long as you stay away from the overly lengthy main game. So play the single missions, and enjoy the game for an hour or so. And then walk away. And don't come back. You'll be much better off.

Did I beat it?
I did. It was one of the more drawn-out experiences I've had with this project, and I would never do it again, but I'm proud to say I stuck with it until it was completed.

#487 - James Bond Jr.

James Bond Jr., the first (and, so far, last) game to star the progeny of everyone's favorite English super spy. And by progeny I mean his nephew. Also, this has nothing to do with James Bond. Hell, James Pond had as much to do with James Bond as this game does. The early 90s were a very dire time for 007...

So, in case you can't tell from that cover art, this game is based on a short-lived cartoon. Now, I have never watched said show, hell I had never even heard of it until after I had popped this bad boy in, but I would guess that it offered a pretty standard setup for the era; wise-cracking youngster receives hi-tech gadgets from his genius/hacker sidekick, travels the world, and battles a legion of hapless bad guys who always find themselves being foiled. Probably while shaking their fists. You've never watched the show either, but we both know I'm right on the money.

Unless... unless there is a chance they actually tried something different here...

*watches episode on YouTube*

Nope, I was right on the money. And boy was that a waste of time. It's a completely formulaic cartoon that tries to rip off the likes of GI Joe and Inspector Gadget, and no doubt suffered a quick death because of it, fated to be forgotten forever because it offered nothing new. The only relationship it shares with its much more successful big brother is the inclusion of a number of classic Bond characters such as Jaws, Blofeld (I think), etc. Except they've all been turned into unrecognizable cartoon doofuses, so what was the point?

Anyway, the Super Nintendo game is a mix of action platformer and shmup. A very, very bad shmup I might add, but I'll get to that in a bit. First we'll talk about the platformer levels, which are also not so hot. Go figure. In these James Jr. has a standard arsenal of jumps, kicks, punches, and floaty movement. Really floaty movement. And terrible animation. Some of the worst on the system. All of this probably makes the game sound worse than it is, but there just happens to be a lot of really bad parts to it.

The platforming levels are where you will spend the bulk of your time, because even though they start out pretty easy, with tons of recovery items and pretty braindead enemies, they go on forever, and they get much harder. In fact I would say the pacing is the one thing that truly drags the game down the most. The absurd length of each level, in addition to a growing number of cheap hits you're gonna constantly take, means you're gonna need a ton of memorization in order to make it through this thing. And to make matters worse the levels also gradually get more and more daunting, with endless hazards and instant deaths. Thank God the game's saving grace comes in the form of unlimited continues, because without it only the most tortured of souls would have ever made it to the end, and I would have punished JBJ far more severely in the rankings.

Oh, and every bad thing I just said can be considered to be twice as awful when you're playing the shooter levels. Those things... they are not good. Not at all. I don't even want to talk about them, so just know they're worse than D-Force in many ways. And they go on forever too. It actually kind of reminds me of some of the levels in The Rocketeer. I mean they're not that bad, but they're not far off either.

Still, somehow, some way, for a THQ game this is a way better end product than most of their crap. That doesn't mean it's very good, and it is a very rough experience, requiring a lot of patience to stick with, but I had to admit that some part of me enjoyed it despite everything I have said. I don't know why - maybe I'm just a sucker for tough games that let me conquer them through the sheer persistence of cheesing infinite continues. I mean this review sounds very negative, doesn't it? Yet I sunk hours and hours into it, and never hated my time with it. So, it's a bad game that I didn't mind playing I guess.

Did I beat it?
Yes, it took an entire night, but I did it.

#486 - Justice League Task Force

So even though I'm like the world's biggest nerd in so many ways, there are a lot of geek things I don't really care so much about. Fighting games and the DC universe being two of them. Hell, I'm not much of a comics guy in general, but what little I do know (mostly from watching movies and collecting those trading cards back in the day) is that I would take Marvel over DC in a heartbeat. Batman is really the only character that might give me pause with that decision, and even then I'm not as huge on the guy as most people seem to be. And I don't know why any of that is exactly, but for whatever reason the DC characters just never really appealed to me a whole lot. Superman? Pretty dumb, and a relic from another era. Wonder Woman? An invisible jets and magic lasso, really? Aquaman? For Christ's sake he's been the butt of everyone's jokes for decades. Granted he has his own Hollywood tentpole blockbuster starring the rapist from Game of Thrones, but there's no way that thing doesn't bomb [note - it didn't].

But DC obviously has legions of fans because it's still going strong nearly a century after its inception, so here we have Acclaim trying to cash in on the fighting genre yet again. And once again, the results are subpar. Good job Acclaim. Like usual.

As with so many of its peers, Justice League Task Force features both a Story Mode and a Battle Mode. And like always, they're basically the exact same thing. What is the point of this? I swear it must be fighting games' way of trying to trick you into thinking there is more content than there actually is, with multiple gameplay modes that feature the most minute differences possible. I guess if you have really strong opinions about whether or not there are brief cutscenes between your fights, this game has got you covered.

And what storyline is there anyway? Darkseid has to be stopped? It's a fighting game, the developers shouldn't even bother with implementing a story in the first place because it's just gonna be a waste of time and resources. Unless the game is Dragon: The Bruce Lee story, in which case it's already insane enough that you've adapted such a property into a game, so you may as well go all in on the story too. But this game is not Dragon.

Anyway, the game features a pretty small roster of characters: Superman, Batman, Green Arrow (who the...?) Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and a trio of bads that I forget the names of. That's pretty pathetic considering the scope of the DC 'verse. They couldn't have figured out some way to cheat and do palette swaps of Wonder Woman and Green Arrow? Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat did it. Hell, Super Smash Bros. still does it to this day. Apparently fighting games have free rein to be as lazy as possible so they should have taken advantage here and come up with more than a paltry six main heroes and three bad guys.

The actual fighting engine itself is... uh, alright, I guess? Obviously I am the world's least qualified fighting game expert (despite the fact that I'm probably the only person alive stupid enough to play every single one that got released on the Super Nintendo), but from what my clueless ass can tell, this one actually handles okay. By that I mean everything seems pretty tight and responsive for the most part. Combos are easy enough to pull off, the characters seemed balanced, and the game seems to work exactly like I imagine the developers intended it to. So it's got all of that going for it.

What it doesn't have going for it is the horrible, horrible slowdown. Constant, pervasive slowdown. And for a fighting game--a genre where you need split second timing and precision--this pretty much single-handedly removes it from being considered "good." Well, that and I can't imagine why anyone would want to play this over any of the other million Street Fighter ripoffs (or at least any of the mediocre-to-good ones).

Even DC fanboys are gonna get limited mileage out of it thanks to the small selection of characters and inherent lack of replayability in a fighting game that doesn't offer top notch competitive play. So if you like fighting games and you like DC, you can check it out, but it may only last you a single night and a single playthrough. Though I guess that's still more than I can say for stuff like Clayfighter or Street Combat. And if you don't like either one of those things? Well, you're not missing out.

Did I beat it?
Yes, several times, which for me is a lot with this type of game.

#485 - Magic Boy

Twenty five random thoughts that came into my head while playing Magic Boy:

1 - Yet another Amiga platformer. Was there any other kind?
2 - This game has the most adorable title screen and intro music. I'm not exactly sure if I mean that in a good way.
3 - Published by Empire Software? The Pro Pinball and point-and-click adventure guys? Talk about humble beginnings.
4 - I love how every enemy in the game screams when you capture them. Maybe MB is some sort of psychopathic animal serial killer and they're screaming because they know they're gonna end up as lampshades.
5 - Yes, I am into pitch black humor. Everyone should know that by now.
6 - After capturing an enemy you have a few seconds before it escapes from your bag and rips your face off. So what do you do? Press X to deposit it in a cage or whatever it is (they'll float down to the bottom of the screen and go into those door graphics you can see in the screenshots). Why couldn't they just go straight into the cage? What is the point of requiring you to press an extra button?
7 - The game does not scroll until you start to approach the edge of the screen, which means enemies have a nasty tendency to "pop" into view. That's dumb.
8 - Our boy sure isn't very magical. He's got a dinky wand and... that's about it. MB and Incantation really didn't even try to push that envelope.
9 - You can scroll your view up and down, which is something every game like this should do. But why can't you scroll to the side? I realize that every level is "vertical" by design, but there are still times where I need to look before I leap.
10 - Controls are solid for the most part, though he is a little too eager with his jumps. Like, give me a fraction of a second before you take off again so I'm not involuntarily bouncing around. Stupid magic boy.
11 - What is the point of the level "select?" You only get 1-4 choices at a time, and the levels are all extremely similar and last but a matter of minutes. A bizarre inclusion.
12 - One of the powerups changes your shots to go upwards. Which means you cannot hit anything in front of you until it wears off. Annoying.
13 - No time limits, thank Jebus. I hate time limits.
14 - Platforming is extremely reliant on "clipping" through platforms and ceilings. That's the best way I can describe it and it's weird. But it works.
15 - Why does the Start button pause, but A/B/X/Y all unpause? Which means you will jump or shoot when you unpause. That is an insane design that only insane people would include in their game.
16 - Now that I think about it, this game shares a few similarities with Out to Lunch. Capturing small enemies, depositing them, getting pissed off when they escape...
17 - ...except it's a million times easier than that POS game. Which makes it about twice as good.
18 - ...oh, and this game actually has a password system. Thank. God.
19 - ...except those passwords all reset your continues to zero. What. The. Fuck?
20 - The jumping puzzle on 1-7 can seriously just go to hell. If this game had time limits I would have thrown the cartridge at this part.
21 - Occasionally you'll be sent to a secret bonus area after completing a level. I have absolutely no idea what triggers this, or why these levels are constantly shaking up and down, trying to make you seasick.
22 - Each level also has a number of blocks you can activate by stepping onto them. Your reward for getting all of them? A modest point boost. Because anyone plays Super Nintendo games for points.
23 - When I said the game was easier than OtL, I didn't mean to imply that this game is easy. Quite the contrary, it gets real hard, real fast.
24 - Lots of levels will leave you in an unwinnable position if you don't get things right, or let any of the creatures escape. Which they will do if you take too long. Which you will.
25 - Memorization and practice are the name of the game.

Did I beat it?
No. I probably could if the passwords actually tracked your continues, but it's way too annoying otherwise.

#484 - WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game

Remember how I had all of those other WWF games from Acclaim grouped into a single review back in volume three? And how I expressed disbelief as to how anyone could find those games to be any good? Well WWF Wrestlamania: The Arcade Game is what those games should have been: Fast, ridiculously over the top, and an honest-to-god fun experience. At times. I'll even challenge anyone to play any or all of these games today and say I'm wrong.

Now, before I get into W:TAG I have to admit that I never played any of those N64 wrestling games that everyone and their sister seems to love. What were they, World Tour and War Zone? Raw Deal? Something like that. In any case, without playing them I don't have a frame of reference as to what it is about those particular games from that specific time period that resonated so much with people. And I similarly have no idea why the wrestling games that came before and after failed to reach gamers in the same way. But I have to think that W:TAG serves as a clue. You see, it takes the usual mechanics of the genre, which have always been completely alien and illogical to me, and tries to figure out how to keep their core concepts alive, while actually making them fun and fit for an enjoyable video game. So they are still kind of a unique beast in that they don't feel much like any other genre of game, including fighters. But with W:TAG things kinda sorta actually work now. The controls make sense, the action is satisfying, and the grappling isn't a complete exercise in total frustration. And it no longer looks like a first generation Sega Genesis game. All sore points for the series until now.

The game does only feature two different modes this time around: Intercontinental Championship and World Wrestling Federation Championship. I'm not really sure what these are supposed to represent, but they're both pretty much the same thing, which I figure must be a disappointment to fans of the crazy "royal rumbles" and whatnot from the previous games. But I thought every part of those games sucked, so I didn't really miss them. Besides, it's all just slight variations on "two or more dudes enter a ring" in my opinion, so whatever.

Now, all of that (relatively) glowing praise shouldn't fool you into thinking that I care a ton for this game either, because I don't. I don't like wrestling or wrestling games, I don't like any flavor of fighting game, and I don't know who any of these costumed bozos are, and I never will. But this can be a fun game, with satisfying gameplay and a fair challenge. And it is a vast upgrade over every single wrestling game I've ever touched in my life so far. All of that has to count for something. And even though I'll probably never play this game again in my life, it has my respect at least. Plus, nailing someone with a gigantic hammer upside the head will always be satisfying, period.

...actually, a rather hilarious (to me) thought just popped into my head. I think this is kind of what Pit Fighter is supposed to play like. I mean, I know I played through the arcade mode of PF at some point on one of those Midway compilation packs back in the day, so that may or may not be an accurate statement. But it certainly feels like I'm onto something there.

Did I beat it?
I didn't. Even though this is the only WWF/WCW game I can stomach playing, I still suck at it. And the matches start to get ridiculous with how many opponents you're up against.

#483 - Incantation

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a major Titus enthusiast (or is that apologist?). And everyone else is probably realizing at this exact moment that I haven't covered a single one of their games up until this point. What am I saying, no one has noticed that... hell, I'm pretty confident that most of you have never heard of The Brainies or Power Piggs of the Dark Ages, much less noticed their absence in volumes one through five. Still, for being a generally less-heralded publisher, I think it's pretty impressive that it took me this long to get to one of their games.

Incantation is an action platformer that is the definition of mediocrity, which is enough to brand it as Titus' worst game on the Super Nintendo. Which is super impressive considering how wretched their output was on every other system they touched. And mediocre really is the best way to describe everything about it - it's low on content and effort, barely presents a challenge, has zero replay value, can be cleared in as little as thirty minutes, and is hard-pressed to leave much of an impression on the player.

Gameplay is very, very simple: Collect three keys across short linear levels in order to unlock a final door (gate), so you can face off against a level boss, each of which will be recycled three times. Rinse and repeat across three different worlds. After this you get two final levels, followed by a very underwhelming final boss. Cue credits. Actually scratch that, cue the static congratulatory screen that is the only thing you get for beating the game.

The controls are also very simple. They're responsive enough, and do their job, but they're still extremely basic. All you've got is a jump button, a run button, a shoot button, and a stomp button which I found exactly one use for halfway through the game. There aren't even charge attacks or special moves to earn or anything. You just jump and attack for the entire game.

The weapon system is also very basic; occasional powerups will change your attack into a fireball or grenade of sorts, with different combinations producing stuff like fire grenades. Trust me when I say it's not as awesome as it sounds. The powerups also seem to disappear somewhere near the game's midpoint, as if they just gave up on putting them into the levels. Not that it really mattered because I can barely tell any difference in effectiveness between any of them.

So, what else is there to say? It's a tiny game that didn't give me much to work with, hence this fairly straight and to the point summary. Though I'm sure I'm still ranking this game at least a hundred spots higher than most people would have. And, all of its problems aside, I never really minded playing it, or felt much in the way of frustration or any sort of a malaise from playing it.

Did I beat it?
I did. Anyone with a pulse can.

#482 - World Cup USA 94

A poor man's Sensible Soccer. Next.

FINE. I'll put some effort in here.

One of several US Gold footie games released on the Super Nintender, World Cup USA 94 is also, maddeningly, one of a number of similarly-named soccer games on the system that references "1994" in the title. People can shit on Electronic Arts and Bethesda and company all they want, but this sort of thing is proof that game publishers have always been creatively bankrupt. Nowadays they do it with endlessly milked franchises and reboots and what-not. Back in the day it took the form of nonstop, low-effort sports games.

As I said above, WCUSA94 most closely resembles the classic Sensible Soccer franchise, made famous on the Amiga, which got a token release on SNES called, natch, Championship Soccer '94. And if I have to be honest, if you compare the two games WCUSA94 is by far the inferior title, and isn't really even fit to hold CS94's jock. Which isn't to say it's nearly as bad as all of those terrible, terrible games I covered in earlier installments, such as World League Soccer or Champions World Class Soccer, or that it isn't a marked improvement over the likes of Super Soccer and its copycat, Super Goal! 2. In fact I would call this the middle-of-the-pack game of the genre. But it still can't hold a candle to the genre's best. Got all that? Or is your head spinning trying to keep all of those dumb soccer games' names straight?

First off, I have to call out the game for some truly heinous menu designs. Just like with that Tony Meola game, US Gold opted to use pictures instead of text, obfuscating everything as much as possible just to drive me nuts. Why was that a thing developers did back in the day? Is it too much to ask for coherent menus? I don't even want to guess what the picture of the dog dribbling the ball through the cones is supposed to mean.

For the actual gameplay itself, it has the general feel of SS, but with the crappy passing controls of Super Goal! and the unrelenting AI of Soccer Shootout. What does that add up to? A game that isn't very much fun. Which sucks, because the SS formula it was trying to mimic is a lot of fun. They just screwed up the little things, which kind of makes the whole thing unravel.

Now, if this sounds like a very negative review, it's because it is. But there is a reason I have it placed amongst more "average" games. And that's because even though the single player game is a debacle, that no one should play, I knew this formula would work better playing against another human being. So I tried it out. And I was correct. Once the merciless computer teams are removed from the equation, and you have two people, both fighting the awkward passing on equal footing, you actually have a decent soccer game.

So even though I am generally looking at sports titles from a one-player perspective, I made a bit of an exception here, and the game benefited because of it. So, consider it a game in the mid 500s for one player, and the low 400s for two. Hence this final placement right in between the two.

Did I beat it?
I almost scored a goal against the AI once. It was during one of the rare shots on goal that happened. However I did beat my friend three games to zero.

#481 - Super Troll Islands

I don't know about you, but when I got heavily into SNES collecting and saw there was a game named Super Troll Island in the list, my mind immediately fixated on the word "Troll" and conjured up visions of the classic horror/unintentional comedy classics, Troll and Troll 2. Imagine my disappointment when I found out it was instead based on those dumb dolls that everyone's sister owned back in the late '80s. "How do you even make a video game about such things!" I yelled to no one in particular. Okay, maybe I didn't actually say it out loud, but I did think it. Maybe I just felt it. In any case, goddamnit what a missed opportunity.

I'm not sure what the story behind the Troll dolls is, or if they originated with a television show or something. But judging by the gameplay in STI I'm guessing that the creators were going for some sort of "Care Bears" motif: Love, happiness, sunshine, rainbows, all that kind of thing. That's a total shot in the dark because God knows this thing doesn't have any sort of storyline that I ever noticed.

The rather simplistic gameplay consists of trying to "color in" a bunch of rectangular areas found throughout each level. You do this by moving your Troll around the outer perimeter of each one. See the middle screenshot to get a better idea of what I'm talking about. It's a pretty weird concept, but I have to admit that it actually works well enough in practice. Look for squares, run around squares, find more squares, color in those squares, repeat. That's basically the entire game. Well, not basically, it is the entire game. Sure, there are occasional enemies to fight and pointless thingies to collect, but really it's all about finding those sweet, sweet squares. Trust me when I say it is less horrible than it sounds.

The game is also pretty long, covering at least fifty levels. And even though most of them can be beaten in a minute or two, it still adds up to several hours for a complete playthrough. Now, I should mention that the game has limited continues and no passwords, which should always raise a warning flag. I've obviously cried foul a number of times already for different games committing this cardinal sin, and it's definitely not optimal here considering how long STI is, but it actually never really caused me any major issues. Mostly because the difficulty curve is so fair throughout. Some of the later levels have some nasty little features to them, and there is something of a soft time limit to everything (a floating monster eventually spawns and chases you down and murders you). But lives, which take the form of other Troll characters hanging out back at your home base bedroom, are plentiful enough, the time limit is usually pretty forgiving, and most enemies can easily be outmaneuvered. So it's a game you can play at your own pace, low on stress and anxiety.

So, for being a kid's game (which is what I'm gonna call it), I'd say STI isn't half bad, and certainly could have been a lot worse. The fact that I was able to get through the entire thing a couple times, and the fact that I wouldn't mind doing it again, tells me I must have had a pretty alright time with it. It certainly isn't an ambitious game, or an exciting game, but it's a nice mellow experience if you're looking for that sort of thing.

And fine, I MAY have owned a San Francisco 49ers Troll doll when I was younger. I don't know why, or where it came from, but dammit I was just a kid, you have to cut me some slack here.

Did I beat it?
Yes, two times in fact.

#480 - Casper

[Full disclosure, I had to play this via an emulator]

Oh Natsume, you are easily one of my favorite publishers on the Super Nintendo. Everything you put out was just so much fun to play! ...well, everything except for that wrestling game. And that fishing game. And Casper...

What do I even say about Casper? Is it a bad game? A flawed game? Or is it more...

I'm not gonna dive too deep into Casper's history because, honestly, I don't know much about it. But I'm pretty sure it was a comic digest (or strip) that was put out by the same outfit that did Richie Rich, and the Hollywood studios decided to adapt both properties to film back in the early '90s. I don't remember much about the movie, other than it receiving a media blitzkrieg, with nonstop television ads. And of course the inevitable video game tie-in.

For most people the gameplay in Casper is gonna bring about an immediate comparison with David Crane's classic game A Boy And His Blob. Both feature a child running around with a marshmallowy friend that can be transformed into various tools and utensils in order to solve puzzles, and fight enemies. Or at least I assume that's the case because I have to admit that I never actually played ABaHB. Mostly because I did not own an NES until a few years ago, and even since then I've barely touched my backlog for it (for some reason all my retro gaming time has been locked down by some other system).

Dude, they also remade ABaHB for Wii you stupid idiot

...and I never owned a Wii. Mostly because I never had any interest in owning a thousand pieces of shovelware. I have enough of that in my SNES collection. Anyway, I know the game is something of a cult classic, and served as some sort of inspiration to this game. And I can only hope ABaHB is much better than Casper...

The game starts you out in a spooky mansion of sorts, with a soundtrack fit for the Luigi's Mansion series. Now, I haven't seen the source material since it was originally in theaters, but presumably this was once the home of the eponymous ghost, before he was brutally murdered and buried in the cellar. Then of course when the new owners arrive he devises a plan to trick their young daughter, played by Christina Ricci, into exhuming his corpse so that he can be made flesh once again.

I'll have to remind you once again that I haven't seen the movie in decades, but I'm fairly confident I'm thinking of the right film here.

In order to do all of that you'll need to use Casper to guide and protect Ms. Ricci through the various rooms of the (gigantic) house, destroying or avoiding flying books, balls, and axes, cushioning her when she falls after dropping from large holes in the floor, teleporting her through magic mirrors, defeating your evil ghostly brothers, and so forth. How do you do all of these things? Transforming into the various objects that you find floating in the air throughout the mansion. Casper also has the ability to go spectral in order to avoid damage or scout out ahead, though this rapidly drains his health.

So the idea is to work your way through the museum, earning new transformations, which will allow you to access new areas and defeat new enemies, which then allows you to earn new transformations and access new areas and defeat new enemies. If this sounds like a Metroidvania, you're not completely wrong. But that would be doing disrespect to Metroidvanias. You see, after my second long session with the game, I remember sitting back and trying to process how I felt about the game. I knew it wasn't all that great, but I didn't hate it. And I didn't really want to play it again. But that resignation actually kind of disappointed me, and I couldn't really understand why. So I slotted the game in a temporary rank, and figured I'd worry about it later.

Well, later eventually happened, and I had to figure out what I was gonna do with it. So I played it again. And again I didn't have a great time. Only this time I realized why exactly that was...

I love the ideas in this game. I love that you're navigating a large mansion, with a large map that slowly fills in, slowly trying to work your way to the exit. I also love that it's nonlinear, or at least that it presents the illusion of being nonlinear. I love that it's dependent on puzzle solving. I love that it's a licensed movie game that tried to do something different, instead of just being another cop out platormer. And I love that the map stretches quite a ways down into the Earth, which leads me to believe that your travels eventually take you to Hell, where you will battle Satan himself in the hopes that Casper can snatch his throne. Ok, maybe that last part is a bit unlikely, but dammit that would be the coolest.

But the unfortunate reality is that the game is no fun to play. The graphics suck, the animation sucks, the controls suck, the hit detection sucks, the boss fights are a mess, the respawning enemies are maddening, there are no saves, the game is too long for a single sitting, and there is never any indication as to where to go or what to do. At one point I spent at least thirty minutes fighting a single enemy, unsure if I was having any effect, or if I was even in the correct area, because I couldn't even tell if I was hitting him. Eventually I figured out that you could go in another direction, and that you get points for hitting an enemy (often the only indication you're doing just that), but not before I had already become majorly frustrated.

Now is the ABaHB formula a good, or fun one? I don't know. I think it has a lot of potential to be fun. I just know said potential was not met with Casper. And once again I don't want to say this is a bad game, or maybe I just respect what this game wanted to be. But the end product is a pretty massive disappointment. So chalk this up as another ambitious fiasco.

Did I beat it?
No. But I don't own the cart (yet) and I sure as hell couldn't play this long enough on a keyboard.

#479 - Air Strike Patrol

This is another game that fascinated me as a child. I never actually played it, but I used to study the box every time I was at my local video store. I was a huge fan of EA's Strike series and similar stuff like Mechwarrior 3050, and figured Air Strike Patrol would be right up my alley. And yet for whatever reason I never did end up taking it home. I guess when you have limited rental opportunities it's often better to go with a safer, proven choice.

Flash forward to 2016 (or whenever it was). That's when I finally picked this bad boy up and answered 20+ years worth of unanswered questions.

"Is this game as good as Urban Strike?"

"Do I get to play as both the F-15 AND the A-10?"

"Do I get to play with a friend in a cooperative mode?"

"Is this game going to be as amazing as I think the box art implies it is?"

Well the answers are: no, sort of, no, and no... Talk about a f'ing letdown, at least initially.

Besides the obvious similarity to the Strike series as far as the isometric overhead view goes, the games are otherwise absolutely nothing alike. So we'll go ahead and forget about that franchise for the rest of the review. Instead, what we have here is more a combination of quasi-flight sim and quasi-strategy game, organized into brief sorties, where you need to juggle several different bureaucratic approval ratings, memorize your play areas, and balance a number of logistics. I don't mean to be too misleading with that description, because this game is hardly Nobunaga's Ambition mixed with Pilotwings (that would be amazing though). But it almost has more in common with either of those games then it does with any of the overhead action games I had previously mentioned.

Each of the game's eight missions are spread across 1-2 maps, and each one allots the player x number of hours in order to accomplish your mission objective, which ranges from "destroy all the SCUD missile launchers" to "destroy all of some other type of vehicle." Sometimes it's buildings, or fuel depots. In other words, mission variety is not one of this game's strong suits. However, the game does have a very cool feature where any installations or enemies that are destroyed during one mission, stay destroyed for the rest of the campaign. So if you were to soften up some of the AA or heavy armor early on, you don't have to deal with it later in the game. Very cool.

The game also has an interesting dynamic where you can choose between a couple different loadouts for either the A-10 or the F-15. For those who don't really follow that sort of thing, the F-15 was the poster child air superiority fighter, while the A-10 is something of a "tank buster" that's great for mowing down ground forces. Which is what every mission asks you to do. So why would you bother with the F-15? To clear the skies of enemy MIGs. Remember how I mentioned each mission allows you a set number of hours to accomplish your tasks? Well that means you will be able to launch a number of sorties for each mission, which gives you some leeway in how you want to go about destroying your targets. You can start by clearing the skies with the F-15 and its powerful air-to-air missiles, then launch the A-10 to clear out vehicles and armor, and then mop up at the end. It's another cool idea.

Unfortunately, everything else about the game is kind of weak. The missions are very repetitive, like I had mentioned. Everything looks the same, the same enemies and structures are copy-and-pasted into every region, and the difficulty curve is basically nonexistent. Your first sortie is for all intents and purposes identical to your twentieth.

The presentation is pretty dry and poorly implemented, which isn't particularly unusual for this style of game, but it does add a learning curve to navigating the menus, reading your radar, and understanding what exactly it is you're supposed to be doing. This effectively ended my first attempt at playing the game within thirty minutes, and it's only because of this project that I gave it a second chance.

The controls are also a bit clumsy. Despite three different configurations possible, I never could get the turning completely down. The targeting is also pretty wonky, as your reticle is in a fixed position below your plane. Increasing or decreasing your speed will adjust it, but you never have complete freedom over where you are firing, and actually hitting anything usually requires slowing to a crawl so you can rain down lead/missiles from directly above. Which means most engagements are slow, drawn-out affairs as you line up targets one by one below your plane.

Which brings us to another issue: fuel management. I HATE fuel management. It's annoying in every game it's ever implemented in. I understand why they did it here, as the game would be way too short and easy without it, and it honestly should be a minor inconvenience at worst since you'd have to go out of your way to run out of gas before successfully exiting the map. But I still find myself constantly staring at the gauge, gradually getting stressed out. I do the same thing with my own car in real life when I'm low on gas so perhaps that's just a personal quirk of mine. But at the end of the day here I found it lessening my enjoyment of the game.

A couple other minor things of note:

- The game features a number of endings based on how well your entire war effort went. Did you destroy too many civilian buildings? Bad ending. Did you crash like fifty planes? Bad ending. Did you destroy an entire platoon of Abrams tanks? Bad ending. So how do you know what buildings and tanks are which? I have no idea. Things seem to be mostly color-coded (green = good guys, tan = bad guys, anything else = neither), except when they're not. Like the enemy camps that are entirely green and tan. I fuck those missions up every time because I have absolutely no idea what I'm supposed to do.

- Going hand-in-hand with the last one, is trying to make sense of the progress reports. It's a bunch of numbers, and I can't make heads or tails of any of it. Presumably the negative numbers are bad, but why are they going negative when I executed that last sortie flawlessly?

- The game inexplicably introduces aliens at the end. Yes, the wannabe-military simulation that features fictionalized versions of everything from Saddam and the Republican Guard, to CNN itself reporting on the war, throws you a massive curve ball at the end by casually mentioning that's it's all because of:

Make no mistake, I can get behind bizarre-ass shit. If the final level of Contra III revealed that the entire series was merely the figment of an autistic child's imagination, I'd be okay with it. I can roll with almost anything. But this game drops the aliens bomb... and then does nothing with it. No alien enemies, no spaceships, no mention in the ending cutscene. Nothing. What was the goddamn point? Did the English translator just throw it in to see if QA was doing their jobs? Did the American release get a bunch of content cut out? Who knows.

In the end I would never call this a bad game. It's a very flawed game, for sure, and I was rather disappointed with it overall, but once you understand the game's mechanics, and what it is asking of you, it's easy enough to get in a rhythm and have fun with it. And I really do like some of the ideas they came up with. It never really does end up coming together completely, but I can appreciate what it was going for.

Did I beat it?
Yes, though the ending seemed to imply everyone was dead.

#478 - MLBPA Baseball

The history of EA baseball games is one of many failures, false starts, rebirths, and finally, cataclysmic deaths. Much like with what happened to earlier titles in their basketball line, loosely known as the "Versus" series, EA recognized when they had something that wasn't good enough, and that it needed to be blown up. These redos resulted in the creation of the sublime NBA Live and MVP Baseball series, commonly thought of as some of the greatest sports sims ever created. They both took something which did not work, scrapped it entirely, and went in a completely opposite direction. It was the sort of bold move that EA would never make nowadays.

Unfortunately for baseball, we never got to see that transformation happen on the Super Nintendo - it happened much later on. So the sole game Electronic Arts saw fit to grace us with was MLBPA Baseball, a game which represents nothing but missed opportunities, both within this game, and with EA in general. Which means the biggest sports powerhouse publisher the medium has ever seen, with some of the best sports offerings of the 1990s, never got around to making something for the SNES that was fit to stand alongside the likes of NHL '94 and NBA Live 95. Instead leaving us with an uneven, poorly implemented misfit of a game.

Now I will at least give the game some props for having some great graphics and a great presentation. You can tell it's a typical high budget (for the time) EA sports title because it just looks like a lot of time and money was spent on it. And of course they got the real players to appear, which was something of a rarity for the sport at the time. I always appreciate that.

Pitching is also simplified, but fun. It's yet another take on the ol' black box Baseball formula, which has been common with the baseball games I've covered so far. It's pretty typical "use the D-Pad to determine pitch speed, curve and aim" stuff, but it works pretty well here. Don't fix what ain't broke, I guess? I prefer when games let you select pitch types, as that usually gives you more options for changing things up, but what they have here is not a bad alternative.

But the problems here... they're just too prevalent to give the game anything resembling a positive review.

Mostly, I really hate the transition from the bat making contact with the ball to playing defense with your infielders. It is way too jarring, making it really hard to get the out. Hell, I bet I make the play less than 10% of the time. You just don't have the time to figure out which player you have control over, and make a move before the ball is already past. Which means you almost have to rely on getting strikeouts if you hope to escape most innings unscathed.

The next biggest issue is that changeups are way too hard to read. This is kind of a tricky thing to accommodate in games that aren't truly 3D, as it would be really hard to scale a tiny ball in any real noticeable way, but the game still handled it very poorly. You see, the change will often drop into the dirt several feet in front of the plate and it's completely indistinguishable from one that was going to continue across for a strike. So you pretty much have to stay away from changeups entirely, which is super dumb because that is a pretty high percentage of the pitches coming from the AI. So good luck with mustering much in the way of offense.

Finally, the little things that always seem to drag sports games down are in plentiful supply here. Baserunning, for example, is handled very poorly, which again is pretty common with these games. It's also not uncommon to see baserunners thrown out on what should have been singles to the outfield, or beat out infield singles that have absolutely no business being anything other than an easy out. The AI's fielding is also way too lethal, really putting a squeeze on your bats and forcing you to rely on small ball. It all just contributes to a feeling like the game was never properly balanced, and that the odds are stacked against you. I mean, I can usually figure out effective strategies in sports games if I put enough hours in. And if I can't, I can figure out an exploit to do the job for me. I couldn't do either here, despite the number of hours I sank into this game, unable to win a single series against the AI.

I think EA was aware of all these things too, because they tried to start over a couple years later in the 32-bit era. The franchise was rebranded as Triple Play Baseball, with new hopes that they'd produce something fit to stand alongside their other flagship series.

And they fucked it up again. I don't remember a single TPB game getting praiseworthy reviews, and those things saw annual releases on every system under the sun. Everyone pretty much wrote EA baseball off forever at that point.

Enter MVP Baseball. Much like with how they revitalized basketball games nearly a decade earlier, EA injected life back into a stagnant genre with the greatest games it has ever seen. Finally, EA baseball was fun, with sublime pitching, batting, production values, graphics, options, and configurations. Hell, even the soundtracks were fun. Literally every single part of that franchise was a knockout.

And then that was killed too, this time permanently. MVPB was a victim of greedy power plays, depriving the video game world of one of the best sport franchises of all time, in the middle of its prime. So while I'm not the biggest fan of the series's very humble origins way back in the Super Nintendo's day, I am at least happy to know what great things it led to. Even if it was short lived.

Did I beat it?
No. I've tried and I've tried, and I can't do it.

#477 - Primal Rage

I'm really laying the fighting games on thick in this installment, aren't I? You can blame me for having a bias against the genre, or for being too stupid to understand the subtleties that make them such great competitive outlets, but the simple truth is most of them kind of suck balls. I guess it's hard to stand the test of time when you're trying to cash in on Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II's success, and all you can bring to the the table is some dumb gimmick. Which is the case for at least 90% of them.

The gimmick this time out is that the roster is made up of a bunch of dinosaurs! And prehistorik ape mans, I guess. [I think you mean "men" - editor] [Do I, though? - Mr. Writing Guy] [... - editor] It's a pretty dumb gimmick in my opinion, because it leaves you with a boring roster. None of these "things" have anything resembling personality or much in the way of charm. Was anyone really looking at the character select and thinking "I can play as a raptor! Or this...uh, raptor...ish... thing...!" In fact this may be my pick for the sorriest lineup on the system, and that includes the garbage piles that are the Power Moves and Street Combat rosters. Seriously, they could have at least, I dunno... made the T-Rex to scale. Or added a giant sloth or something. Instead you get two apes and a bunch of samey dinosaurs, probably trying to cash in on the Jurassic Park craze. Bor-ing.

How's the actual fighting action? Pretty typical I guess. You kick, punch, throw, yadda yadda yadda. I feel like I always use that phrase in these reviews but it's just too fitting for how samey they all are. Though at least the controls are fairly tight, and there doesn't appear to be too much cheap-ass bullshit going on. That always drives me nuts; cheating AIs, or lame-ass combos that stun and force you to take massive damage. And this game does have both of those things, but at least in a gradually ramping up sort of way.

The game does have one great idea, which is a "stun meter" of sorts. By that I mean, there is a gauge that empties as you take hits or block, and once it is completely dry you are dazed and have to mash buttons to fill it back up and recover. Did I explain that very well? I just know that every fighting game should have something like this. Bravo Primal Rage. Bravo.

So what else is there to say? It's a middle of the pack game in a genre I detest, with a dumb stupid cast, that manages to get the fundamentals right, yet fails to offer much of anything else that is exciting or different. Just like so many of its brethren. Hence this fighting game-tastic installment of my project.

Oh, and I need to mention that one of the characters is named Sauron. Which made me realize that the one possible fighting game I could ever get behind would be a Lord of the Rings brawler. And it would still probably suck ass, but I'd eat it up anyway because I'm a sucker for all things LotR.

...well, except for that horrendous LotR SNES RPG. That was the worst. Like, literally the worst... So maybe I wouldn't be down with a fighter after all. In fact I probably wouldn't be, so nevermind.

[just wanted to mention that there are a bunch of unlicensed LOTR fighting games - editor]

Did I beat it?
Yes, as per usual I cheesed my way to victory a couple different times through.

#476 - Super Alfred Chicken

Super Alfred Chicken, the sequel (or maybe port?) no one asked for, to the original NES game that no one asked for. Who is this chicken and why is he popping balloons and murdering legions of snails and egg mans? I have no idea. But let's just jump into it.

The gameplay in SAC is, like always, super standard platformer hoppity boppity stuff. Run, jump, attack, commit snail genocide, find the exit, look for secrets, yadda yadda yadda. I've already described this exact experience like fifty times, and you've already played games like this a million times, so I really don't feel the need to elaborate much more than that. Moving on.

...oh wait. I'll quickly mention that instead of a normal attack such as jumping on enemies, or shooting them or whatever, you actually have to "dive bomb" them. Presumably so you can tear into them at mach ten with that razor sharp beak of Alfred's. Did I mention how much mass murder is committed in this game? Like, I realize every platformer has you declaring war against the mice or crows of the world, but this one really wants a bunch of harmless looking animals dead.

I digress. That attack though? Egad, what a piece of shit it is. It's kind of like in Aero the Acrobat where you need to jump up and then slam yourself face first into your foe. Except here you need to do it from straight up above them, kind of like a Mario/Donkey Kong butt slam or something. It's pretty unreliable and finicky to use (by design I think), requiring you to be more accurate than I think the game's controls are capable of being, which in general had me avoiding combat at all costs if I could help it.

The graphics are also pretty underwhelming. In fact I'd say they're pretty bad. Port-of-an-NES game bad. Which again is what this game might be, I don't know. You'd think I'd google it, but I didn't. Anyway I digress again. The music is even worse than the graphics, somehow, and will have you reaching for the mute button almost instantly. And I don't even usually make it a point to mention the music in most of my reviews because I don't really care. I guess because most of the time it is too unmemorable or blasé to really register in my brain, or factor into what I think about the game. But that's not the case here - it's dumb, it annoys me, and it does take away from the game. Believe me, play it on mute.

The controls are actually pretty decent though, beak slam aside, thank god. Alfred is a little bit... umm, floaty, is the word I'm gonna go with, but it seems to be by design (he is a bird after all) and it actually works surprisingly well once you adjust to it. Maybe because a lot of the stages are rather vertical by design, so you need to be able to jump high, or float down slowly, and fit into various nooks and crannies. I dunno, that's the best way I can explain - the controls feel a bit off, but they work well once you know what you're doing. Let's go with that.

What other fuckery can I talk about... oh, there is this really stupid thing where the timer, which every level has, does not reset when you die. Dying does however send you back to a checkpoint. If you cannot see where I'm going with this, just know that later in the game a single death can really fuck your efforts up if you do it at the wrong time or place.

Thankfully, that is partially offset by the game including passwords. I am so sick of these types of games not having passwords, that I'm giving everything a massive boost from this point forward when they do have them. Well, that's a lie, I've always done that. But I'm calling it out here, because I had to use the shit out of it, because this game gets hard, and you are gonna rely on them if you want to see the end. Which I didn't, but only because I went on vacation and then got distracted by fishing games when we got back. Or at least that's the excuse I'm going with. Which is hilarious, and ironic, because I spent way too much of that vacation fearing having to play those fishing games. What was I talking about again? Man, forgive this rambling ass review; this is what happens when you write at 1am and you've had like four different IPAs. I bet I the final version of this has like fifty different edits made to it.

So yeah... let's wrap this up because I'm all over the place. Overall it's a slightly okayish game, that seems to somehow be better than the sum of its parts. I don't know why that is, I just know that I don't have a ton of great things to say about it, yet I kept returning to it trying to defeat it.

Did I beat it?
I did not. I have a password sitting here, ready to let me rectify that, but I need to be writing not playing, so I won't. Which is ironic: I write about beating games, but then I don't beat the games because I need to write about them...

Okay, I'm wrapping up now and putting this review out of its misery.