Home Previous Next Index

#525 - Family Dog

Yet another licensed platformer? We'll run out of them eventually (I hope). The offender this time is Family Dog, based on a syndicated prime-time television show that no one remembers, adapted into a Super Nintendo game that even fewer people remember. I don't know how that's possible, it just is.

The gist of the television series is that the family dog (I don't know if he has a name) encounters a number of "wacky" adventures while being abused by the horrible suburban family that took him in. I only know this because I forced myself to watch a few episodes on Youtube in the name of research for this review. And while I found the animation to be rather good, especially for the era, the plotlines are extremely slow-paced, and the humor almost nonexistent. As in, I'm not even sure if it was supposed to be a sitcom or a drama, and I'm not joking. I'm not sure if they were going for a tone of dark comedy, melancholy, or an unflattering commentary of the (then) current state of suburban America. For instance, episode one begins as an extended dog abuse gag. Except no one on the writing staff remembered to write any actual jokes into the script. Things only get worse as the plot transitions into a nonsensical dog show number. Episode two is so bad that I'm not even going to try and explain it.

Now, to be fair most shows take at least one season to hit any sort of a stride, and FD was cancelled well before that mark. But everything about it was so pointless and nihilistic, with characters so deeply unlikable, that I don't know where they even could have taken things. And remember that this was the era where everyone was trying to cash in on the success of The Simpsons, so concepts as horrible as this were not uncommon (ie Fish Police). The only truly interesting, and bewildering, thing about the whole project was the list of huge names attached to the production credits; Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and Brad Bird, among others. Don't try to process any of that, or your brain will melt.

Anyway, the Family Dog video game for Super Nintendo can basically be summarized as an episode of the show where the dog is harassed by the son for awhile, then gets sent to the pound for it, immediately escapes, and then runs home. Cue credits. It's no exaggeration to say this is a ten minute game once you know what you're doing, and maybe 45 minutes before then.

The controls take some extreme getting used to because they initially seem completely unresponsive, if not downright broken. Getting the dog to jump, attack, or do anything, is a mess, as different animations seem to trigger for no discernible reason. The level layouts are also horrible for the most part, with the same objects and scenery reused ad nauseum. It even got to the point where I couldn't tell if I was starting a new level or being forced to replay an old one. I'm still not sure. And you know the sort of game that loves to tuck items and bonuses into every nook and cranny of the level, but the high risk of going after any of them, coupled with the complete lack of any reward to actually getting any of them means you're better off ignoring all of them? This is one of those games. Trust me, you're better off just bypassing everything that isn't directly in front of you.

So, if I've made the game sound pretty bad up until this point, that's because it is pretty bad. And I was having a miserable time with it. Until I realized that I was playing it wrong. Because you can't treat FD like a real game. You have to treat it like a speed runner, and just try to cruise through it as fast as possible. Was the game intended to be played that way? Hell no. But that's the direction I took things, and once I did, I actually had a decent time with it. The game is so short, and everything is pre-scripted, so, fuck it, why not? And if you don't believe me, try it. You'll probably still hate it, but I guarantee you'll have more fun trying to clear the game in ten minutes then you will trying to play it as it was meant to be played.

Did I beat it?
Yes I did. The initial attempts had me wanting to rage quit, but I eventually came to grips with the game's strange mechanics and rolled through it. A couple times.

#524 - Elite Soccer

One of the many (hard to find) soccer games on the system, and the third one in this installment alone. I know because I've been playing all three of them for like four straight nights. The things I do for this project...

Anyway, like most of Gametek's offerings, Elite Soccer is pretty rough and unpolished. The graphics are also butt ass ugly, the sound sucks, and the pace of play could best be described as "frantic." As in, this has to be the most ridiculously fast sports game I've ever played. More so than NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, Tecmo Super Bowl, all of them. I even had to go through the options menus just to make sure it was set on some sort of hyper mode or something. Nope, turns out it's just a super spazzy game.

And a part of me likes that. It helps keep things entertaining. Unlike so many of the titles I've already covered where every march down the field is a slog, with defenders constantly hounding you, possession constantly changing, and shots on goal a rarity, ES keeps the action fast and furious. And the ballcarriers...dribblers? I don't know soccer terminology. Whoever they are, they're very good at cutting through defenses and lining up shots, and teammates are always ready for a follow-up attempt in case of a deflection. Even with the game length at the minimum you can expect dozens of shots on goals between the two teams, with few breaks in the action.

That doesn't mean the game isn't broken of course, because it totally is. For example, while defenders can easily be beaten, the goalies are super tough. Most of my scoring only happened once I figured out a couple different exploits, which isn't exactly great game design. And the speed of play is so fast that it can be pretty hard to stop some of the higher-powered offenses, especially when the AI decides it needs to catch up.

The game is also loaded with options. You can create and edit your own teams, including player name and appearance, choose from a number of different types of tournaments, and even configure many parts of the gameplay. Want an incompetent ref? That's a thing in this game. Power down the goalies? Also a thing. Make Brazil and the United States stand on equal footing? You got it.

In the end, is this a better-made game than Super Goal! 2 or Super Soccer? Probably not. Is it uglier? Definitely. But it's also way more fun to play than those other games, especially if you just like your soccer fast and brainless. I'm also pretty sure this is the last soccer game on the list that is a subpar game overall, as everything left is probably going to be on the right side of the bell curve. Which also means I should get some relief from having to come up with things to write about them, thank God.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I won the World Cup with Germany.

#523 - Jack Nicklaus Golf

Poor Jack. First he signs a deal to sponsor a game for mighty Konami, but it ends up being a total piece of shit. Then he gets a second chance with Jack Nicklaus Golf on Super Nintendo, and it's almost as bad as the first game. If there is one type of video game that old dudes will play, it's golf games, and this dude probably couldn't stomach the thought of playing his own games.

Okay, let me backtrack a little. This game isn't that bad. I just didn't know what to write for an introduction, so I came up with that stupid little number. But this definitely isn't a good game, mostly thanks to how lazy of a release it is. Perhaps not quite as lazy as Mecarobot Golf, but still pretty damn half-hearted.

Now, there isn't much here that isn't standard golf game fare. Swings are done with the vanilla three-click system that was used by every golf game for decades, and for all I know is still the standard to this day. I get that, if it's not broke don't fix it. But it's still pretty unoriginal. The courses are very unmemorable too, with nothing exciting enough to really make mention of. There's no floating greens, or crazy hard par fives, or robot opponents or anything. And everything about the presentation is straight and to the point. Even the menus barely try.

The other parts of the game play things pretty safe too. Controls are intuitive, the load times when you change your orientation (yes, that's a thing in golf games) are about par for the system, and the pace of play is decent. Way better than in MG which was crippled by pacing issues, as you may recall.

But much like with Mecarobot Golf, the biggest problem here is the lack of content. The game offers a meager two courses, and two modes of play; strokes and skins. That may not sound terrible, especially compared to MG, but trust me, it's sparse. After blowing through both courses in thirty minutes each, and easily winning every skins game, you'll be looking for a little more meat on the bone, and the game can't deliver. You'll experience everything this game has to offer within an hour of starting it.

I should also mention that the graphics are hideously ugly, but since this is a golf game I'm not really holding that against it too much. I mean, who cares? All that really matters is if you can see where the pin is, and where the sand bunkers and shit are; everything else is just window dressing. Is that a real term? Did I just make that up? It doesn't sound right, but it's late and I'm tired so I'm going with it. Anyway, you could almost say bad graphics are a boon to a golf game, because it usually means faster load times whenever the game has to render a new shot. Some of the golf games I'll be covering later on are extremely slow in this regard, which is not the sort of tradeoff I'd choose to take.

One truly bizarre (or maybe just lazy) feature is the lack of any real depth to the "greens." By that I mean, they all appear to be completely flat and uniform, which makes putting completely trivialized once you figure out how they work. That effectively removes nearly 50% of the skill required to master this game, which is a large reason why it is so easy to shoot great scores. In fact, everything about the game is easy. Drives and layups are accurate, hazards are easily overcome or avoided, and birdies are plentiful.

So yeah, laziest golf game on the system, but still much better than MR because of the much faster pace of play. Still, it barely has enough content to hold anyone's interest, and there are many much better options we'll be getting to later.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, I've blown through everything this game has to offer a couple of times.

#522 - Ranma 1/2 Hard Battle

I'm probably sounding like a broken record by saying this, but just like with hockey, soccer, professional wrestling, NASCAR, My Little Pony and so many other things, I know next to nothing about anime/manga. I mean, I loved Akira as a child (video store employees never seemed to enforce the R rating back then), and I once read all of the Robotech novelizations, and I may have even watched an episode or two of Dragon Ball Z back in middle school, but overall it's a pretty big blind spot in my knowledge of all things nerd. That isn't to say I haven't at least heard of many of the heavy hitters like Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop and whatnot, but it's otherwise all foreign to me. Ranma 1/2 is just one of many, many shows that I have some passing awareness of, but never watched or looked into. Mostly because I honestly have no interest in the stuff. For whatever reason it just doesn't resonate with me, and that most likely will never change. So I'm going into this only knowing that the series was the basis for a couple of SNES games, including what became Street Combat, and is seemingly set in a Chinese martial arts dojo. And there are giant anthropomorphic panda bears, I guess.

I will say that this is probably the first fighting game I've covered so far that is completely playable. Unless I already said that in a previous review, in which case I was being a dirty liar, because this is truly the first one I can stomach playing for extended periods of time. Not to say that it isn't still a far cry from the likes of Street Fighter II or Samurai Shodown, but we're still in the 500s, so what would you expect?

The gameplay is standard fighting fare. Jump, punch, throw, yadda yadda yadda. You know exactly what you're getting here. I'm not sure when exactly this came out in relation to SFII, but suffice it to say it plays like a lesser imitation, which is not unusual for these games. The controls aren't bad, but they're not as tight as SFII. The characters and stages look pretty good, but not as good as SFII. The music is decent, but well below SFII. You get the picture. And, for better or worse, I'm going to be comparing almost every fighter going forward with that landmark title. Partially because it really did set the bar so high, and partially because I'm not knowledgeable enough about the genre to really be able to compare against anything that wasn't on the Super Nintendo, console or otherwise.

I also previously mentioned that this is the sequel to a R1/2 game that we got localized as Street Combat. That game was horrid, and fell all the way into the bottom fifty of the rankings. This game, while it cannot stand up against mighty SFII, does at least blow its predecessor out of the water. The gameplay is much smoother, and way more varied, and the characters have way more charm than the ugly grotesques that SC spit out. Kudos to the publisher for not defacing another title before delivering it to us poor Americans.

Fighting game fans might enjoy this. Ranma 1/2 fans will probably enjoy it. For anyone else, it's not really something that can really stand up alongside the genre's best offerings on the system, and doesn't really bring anything unique to the table that can set it apart in any way. I dunno, I'm the last person to ask for fighter recommendations.

Did I beat it?
Yes, which means the AI must have been stupid enough to let me scrape through the single player mode.

#521 - Olympic Summer Games

The second of the two Olympic "track and field" games (this one being literal track and field), I'm giving Olympic Summer Games the slight nod over Winter Olympic Games thanks to a teensily better difficulty curve (though it's still pretty uneven), and minigames that seem to make just a little more sense to me in general. OSG is still a pretty weak collection overall, especially when compared with the likes of Tiny Toons Adventures Wacky Sports Challenge or any of the better NES titles that were so prolific on that system, but it at least offers some fun and challenge here and there.

The different types of events are:

100m and 110m Hurdles - The sprinting events, these play exactly like this sort of thing always does in TnF games - lots of button mashing. I know I'm generally not very good at this type of thing (long fingers?) but it seems especially hard here. And that always annoys me because I don't really feel like it's a skill you can develop much; you either have it or you don't. I don't have it, I'll never have it, so I never win these events. And then on top of that the hurdles add an additional cruel element into the mix, making an already hard event nigh impossible. I've basically resigned myself to never winning any of these.

Pole Vault - One of my favorite events, this one combines the button mashing of sprinting with timing of the D-Pad needed to plant your pole so you can launch over the crossbar. Much like with the hurdles, this sort of multitasking should seem completely impossible, yet this one is forgiving enough with the sprinting that you can focus on the timing required to clear the bar and see success. After a couple rounds I was vaulting like a champ.

Triple Jump and Long Jump - Similar to pole vault, button mashing and D-Pad timing. I enjoy these too, but they seem a bit on the easy side. Still, something about pulling off a good jump is immensely satisfying.

High Jump - Exactly the same as the previous jumping events, just set from a different perspective. I don't like this one quite as much, but it is still fun, and still satisfying.

Javelin - Again, button mashing, and timing the D-Pad. This is another one that seems extremely hard, and I can only assume there is some nuance to the mechanics that escapes me. I think it would be a lot of fun if I could ever figure it out, but that has yet to happen.

Discus - Like javelin, but even more bewildering. I can never get my dude to stay in the ring. I'm sure the answer is as simple as pressing the D-Pad in a certain direction at a certain time, but I can never pull it off.

Archery - You know in Metal Gear Solid when you try to use the sniper rifle, but without taking any pentazemin to steady your aim? This minigame is that experience. That's a good thing.

Skeet - Similar to Duck Hunt, sans the Zapper. It plays alright, but it's pretty limited, and a bit too easy. Anyone should be able to master this after a couple attempts, at which point there isn't really much more to get out of it.

As is usually the case with this type of game, I would not recommend trying to play it without a manual or FAQ up and ready. Trying to jump into any of these games blind is going to be a futile exercise and a waste of time. And even when I did have those things it still didn't help me figure out any of the throwing events. But I'd still heavily recommend them anyway. And while I wouldn't necessarily say I love the game, I at least had fun with some of the events, and I was willing to put enough time into it to see it through to the end. Without getting overly annoyed at any point, I might add. Some of the events could use some tuning, and the difficulty is all over the place, but overall I think it's the best the genre has offered so far.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I got gold medals in triple jump, high jump, pole vault, and skeet shooting, which was enough for first place.

#520 - Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

A THQ game all the way up (down?) at #520? That's bucking a trend, as it were. Hell, I'd say it's practically cause for celebration, considering how putrid their output has been up until this point. So regardless of all of the mean and unflattering things I end up saying in this review, know that this game is virtually divine compared to the likes of Road Riot, or Time Warp, or Race Drivin' or really almost anything they put out on the system... Or any system for that matter.

I've long considered the first Home Alone film to be a modern classic (assuming 1991 is still thought of as "modern"). I'd even say anyone who was a kid when it came out not only saw it in theaters, but has watched it on a dozen Christmases since. I know my family always watches it at least once each December, sometimes twice. It's the perfect holiday movie, with killer performances from a stellar cast, some great setpieces and gags, and a lovable moppet who achieved peak precociousness with this performance, before heroin and Richie Rich doomed him to a life of weird Youtube videos and Skeletor impersonations. Did I make that joke in another review already? I think I might have.

On the other hand, the sequel, Lost in New York, was completely unnecessary then, and forgotten to history now. I guess the "plot" this time is that an older (and less adorable) Kevin McCallister is somehow separated from his family for yet another Christmas, goes to New York City where he does more big people things, breaks the fourth wall a bunch, and crosses paths with the Wet Bandits once more. And excuse me for digressing here, but the odds of that happening have to be like a trillion to one. They should have just called this movie Home Alone 2: Alone Harder and cracked the same joke about the same shit happening to the same guy twice...

Writer: Am I making too many pop culture references? People aren't gonna know what the fuck I'm talking about.
Editor: Probably.
Writer: Screw it, I'm already way behind on getting this thread posted. If I haven't driven my readership away by now, nothing will do it.


There's even a crazy pigeon lady to play the part of the creepy old snow-shovelling character. In other words, the sequel tries to retread the exact same ground and hit the exact same notes from the original, which is never a good idea for a movie. It's the primary reason why comedy sequels are horrible like 99.99% of the time.

Anyway, I haven't seen the film since it came out, but based on my experience playing this game it presumably also features:

- Hijinks in a fancy Ritz-like hotel, where Tim Curry plays the concierge.
- Hijinks in Central Park where the bird lady will play an important role in the finale.
- A trap-infested "Uncle's house". How goddamn convenient.
- The Wet Bandits' ultimate defeat at the hands of a flock of birds. Or at least one can only hope it's the last we'll see of them, as I don't think I could have handled a third Home Al-

French Stewart? Really? Is there any classic kids movie that the studios won't murder, sodomize, and piss on the corpse of?

Anyway, I'll talk about the damn game now, I promise, but I had to do all of that because an entire playthrough is only twenty minutes long. And no, I don't mean a speedrun, that would be ten minutes. Which barely gives me any material to write about. So when in doubt and you have nothing to talk about, cover each individual level:

Level 1 - Kevin is running around the hallways of the hotel, jumping over vacuums gone amuck and sentient luggage, while avoiding bellhops and some sort of detective type of guy. Eventually you find a service elevator down to the kitchen where you murder some dishwashers and fight the head chef. Why? Because video game logic.

Level 2 - Kevin speeds through Central Park, eventually falling into the sewer where he has to avoid birds for thirty seconds. There's some shitty platforming you can attempt to pull off to get some weapons and items, but why bother when you can otherwise speed through the entire area in two minutes? In fact that is the ticket to playing this game - going as fast as you possibly can all the time, every time.

Level 3 - The longest stage by far, with a maze-like layout and the game's only real puzzles. Here Kevin must navigate his Uncle's four story house, defeating Harry and Marv in order to gather keys and unlock new rooms, usually through the use of one of Kevin's patented traps. This is probably the most enjoyable part of the game, which isn't saying a ton, but it's a hell of a lot more inspired than the other levels. And it makes way more sense than any part of the first Home Alone game as far as keeping to the spirit of the source material.

Level 4 - The game wraps up with Kevin leading a quick chase through the NYC streets, ending at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, where you'll need to bounce from limb to limb while avoiding your two arch nemeses, and trying to get the pigeon woman to spray them with bird seed. Everything about this part is complete shit, with a poorly-implemented "bouncy" tree limb mechanic, mass confusion as to what you are supposed to do, and some frustratingly terrible hitboxes on your enemies.

So yeah, it's a mediocre platformer, with one slightly better than mediocre level. The controls are nothing special, but do the job. And the graphics and animation are passable, but plain. Thankfully the game is mercifully short and the challenge moderate. This is not the sort of game that needs to overstay its welcome or be overly frustrating. Overall I'd give it the slight nod over the first game mostly because the levels are reasonably diverse, and it actually tries to follow the plot of the movie. And again, for a THQ game, this thing is practically a hidden fucking gem compared to the games I've already covered.

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

#519 - Shanghai II: Dragon's Eye

So, I'm gonna confess that I don't know exactly what mahjong is. That isn't to say that I haven't played it a number of times in my life, I just don't know how to describe it. Chinese solitaire? An Americanized version of Chinese solitaire? Or is the solitaire play just a variation of a larger game? I ask because the stereotype is of a group of old women, huddled around a table playing together, whereas all of my experience has been played solo. In any case, Shanghai II: Dragon's Eye is the Super Nintendo sequel to some game that probably came out on PC or Amiga or something, that I only played in single player mode. So I'll be reviewing it from that perspective, which may or may not be the best way to experience mahjong.

When I was a little kid my dad had an old home computer with a fancy 5.25" floppy drive, back when such a thing was reasonably uncommon. And while the bulk of our software library were Apogee titles like Commander Keen or Major Stryker, we did have a number of random other programs that my grandfather would occasionally send us. A few of those programs managed to capture the attention of my little sister, with a simple mahjong game being one of them. She could never be bothered to play most of the games I owned, but she would sit and match tiles for hours upon hours. Even in high school she became readdicted to the game when I bought her one of those budget compilations packs at her request. Something about it reached her I guess, for I seldomly played that type of game, never really understanding the allure. I guess it was hard to get excited about a tile game when I could be playing Duke Nukem or Super Mario World instead. So you can understand that I didn't exactly rush out to buy Shanghai II when I found out about its existence.

Playing mahjong today, my thoughts haven't really changed much. It plays like a solitaire card game, relying on lots of luck, with a little bit of strategy, and a pace of play more suited to my grandmother. For those who may not know, a typical game generates a pile consisting of a couple dozen different types of tiles, and anything with an exposed "side" can be cleared by matching it with another exposed tile. If you clear everything you win. Simple as that. There are slight variations to the shape the blocks are arranged in, but that seems to be about the extent of it. And much like with solitaire, I grow bored after a round or two.

I should mention that there is another mode included in here called "Dragon's Eye," to, I guess, try and give the game a little more heft. This mode is played against an opponent, AI or human, and shakes up the formula by tasking you with outscoring your opponent while trying to empty your "hand" of tiles. I can unequivocally state that I did not understand this mode whatsoever. Even after reading an explanation and playing it a number of times. I guess the idea is that there are tiles that are upside down on the board, tiles that are upside down that aren't on the board, and several piles of tiles that you need to put on the board. It seems like you can clear two matching tiles if they are face-up on the board, but beyond that I never could understand the rules of the game, and had no idea what I was doing. Suffice to say I got smoked by the AI every time I played it, and at this point I really can't even be bothered to try and figure it out again. Now that may be a pretty lazy excuse for writing off a major portion of a game, because if I can figure out Koei games and Metal Marines then I should be able to handle a simple tile game. But I swear I tried my best and still came up short every time, so I can only assume my brain isn't wired for this sort of thing.

So overall, if you like solitaire, or you're an elderly woman, you'll probably like this. Or if you grew up watching your parents or grandparents playing this, you might get a nice dose of nostalgia when booting it up. I doubt anyone else need apply.

[BTW Shanghai isn't a form of mahjong, it just uses mahjong tiles. It's like how chess and checkers both use an 8x8 grid for their board. - editor]

Did I beat it?
Umm, yes... maybe. I don't know, I cleared some of the modes and got my ass kicked at Dragon's Eye.

#518 - Aero the Acro-Bat

When Sunsoft got in on the mascot platformer craze, they chose one of the few remaining rodents left unclaimed; the bat. And since that is part of another word, and kids love puns, he's an "acro-bat." Apparently, once upon a time that is all you needed to get the greenlight for a game. The name of an animal and another word that shares that same name.

Now to be fair Aero the Acro-Bat does have a number of things going for it, which is good enough to prop it up above the lowest tiers of furry platformers. For one, his moveset is reasonably varied, giving you a number of different attacks and ways to move around, which is even further expanded upon by a decent number of different powerups you can grab. Both of these things also really help to open up the levels, giving you the freedom to explore off the beaten path instead of just pushing toward the level's end. The controls are also pretty okay, which at this point is way ahead of the curve for the genre. If I can reliably land on small platforms, or not skid into enemy spears, half the battle with this type of game has already been won. And finally, the fairly wide open levels are imaginative, with a lot of different ideas thrown around, and varied objectives to complete. Again, way ahead of the platformer curve at this point.

But alas, since this game is ranked at #518 it cannot be that good, so of course that means there has to be a number of things dragging it down. First, the resolution is just too damn low (stop me if you've heard me say that a time or twenty), which really makes anticipating upcoming enemies and hazards a giant pain in the ass. So I imagine that this has to be a port of what was originally a Genesis title, because there are just so many sections where you are expected to jump or dive or launch into an area totally blind, turning many parts of the game into marathons of memorization. People love to harp on the SNES for its lack of "blast processing", but truly it is the shortcomings in viewing distance that represent the system's Achilles' heel.

Which, like usual, directly ties into the even bigger issue: the game is too damn hard, with a continue system that sucks ass. There are no passwords or saves, you only get three continues, and they send you back to the beginning of your current world. That isn't completely atypical for the genre, but when a game has as many instadeaths and things that hit you with no warning as Aero does, then the frustration factor starts to ratchet up to 11. Which then completely kills my drive to play this game. Every time I start it up I begin to get into a groove, before an inevitable game over immediately brings me back down to Earth and ruins the fun.

So, as average(ish) as the game ended up being, it did at least do some things pretty well, and it actually led to some really good things later on. By that I mean a direct sequel and a late spinoff both followed in Aero's wake, and both of them are rather large improvements over the original game. Perhaps the developers needed more experience, or perhaps they took all the criticism it received to heart and used it to fix most of the problems presented here, while also expanding upon all of the ideas that showed promise yet didn't quite meet their potential. But we'll get to those titles in the future.

Did I beat it?
Not so much.

#517 - Pro Sport Hockey

Jaleco, purveyor of a million games in the Goal! and Bases Loaded franchises, apparently tried their hand at hockey at one point. And though the NES game is better known (thanks to its rarity) Pro Sport Hockey indeed got a release on the Super Nintendo as well.

Firstly, and most importantly, this is the only hockey I've covered so far where I don't feel like the controls are completely busted. Even though you're controlling guys that are sliding around on ice skates, nothing feels "slippery" in the slightest. I know that must be a tough thing to wrap one's head around, and I can't necessarily blame any developer for having trouble with getting things just right, because it seems like a very hard tightrope to walk. But PSH gets it right. I don't know why, I just know it feels right. Something I couldn't say about Wayne Gretzky or Hockey Night or any of the others.

The game also features what I like to call "Tecmo Super Bowl cutscenes." You know the ones - big flashy cartoon cut-aways. It's such a simple thing and it doesn't really add anything to the game, but I dig it, and they're reasonably well done here. Though that isn't to say that anything else in the game is very arcade-like, so the TSB similarities pretty much end here.

Some of the things that do end up costing the game mostly relate to tuning issues. The penalties seem way out of whack and cause every game to come to a screeching halt every twenty seconds or so. That drives me nuts, because there is nothing worse than a sports game that tries to overstay its welcome. Luckily you can turn most of them off, which really helps the game's pacing. There are also some pretty big issues with how good the goalies are. Basically, they can't be scored upon until their fatigue rating starts to climb and they get worn out. Which almost makes the early part of every game pointless, or at least boring, as the only thing to do is wait for them to get tired enough to finally allow the puck into the net. I don't find that very fun, and it usually meant I spent the first half of a game zoned out, watching Netflix or cruising the internet, just to alleviate boredom. I may have even multi-tasked with one of bimmy's NES contest games, no joke. And just to add further insult to injury, the game actually lets you turn off goalie fatigue if you want. Good luck with that one.

However, I should also mention that I discovered a scoring exploit that gives you a free goal if you can pull it off. Eventually I relied completely upon this trick just to make the games go faster, which was a godsend considering how many of them I ended up playing. This doesn't really affect my opinion of the game a ton, other than I probably would have grown to detest it more if I hadn't been able to loophole my way through most of the hours I threw at it.

Finally, the game has some pretty bad slowdown. I'm not usually the biggest critic of that weakness; sometimes I just want a breather and will welcome it. But it gets pretty annoying here at times. Especially when, again, you end up playing it for a very long time and just want things to end in a timely manner. So, not a huge deal, but still a demerit.

Everything else is pretty meh for the most part. Hits feel pretty good, the presentation is okay, sound and graphics are about average. I wasn't super thrilled that the game doesn't let you skip straight into a postseason mode, but that's mostly because I'm sick sort of person that wants to beat all the games I play, regardless of the cost.

In summary, I think it's a pretty mediocre hockey game, on a system flush with mediocre hockey games. And I still have a few more of them to go in the next few installments, each getting better in the most granular amounts possible. So I'll probably start thinking up some really stupid ways to write these reviews, just to change some things up. Be prepared for some rampant stupidity and painfully unfunny segments in the near future.

Did I beat it?
Yes, and it required an entire 82 game season and playoffs. The things I do for this project...

#516 - Home Improvement

Yes, I truly do have Home Improvement all the way down here at #516. Shocking, right? Or at least unexpected I assume. I guess that's because despite this game's reputation for being terrible (a result of its many, many faults), it's still a more enjoyable experience than the nearly two hundred games I've already covered. Which is kind of a sad indictment of the lowest tiers of the Super Nintendo library - they're all less fun to to play than a game about Tim "The Toolman" Taylor shooting dinosaurs with a magic chainsaw.

Well, okay, let me be clear about another thing: this game isn't that bad. Hell, basically every game I've covered in this volume is more "meh" than anything. It's just that people love to harp on a game with a stupid concept, which is why you usually see games like this and Shaq Fu and Bebe's Kids dominating the worst SNES games lists.

I'm not going to recap what the show was about, because you either already know, or you really don't care. And I'm not gonna make some cracks about Tim Allen's penchant for ladies of the night because, again, who cares? I'm not even gonna touch the flimsy pretext for the game making you fight dinosaurs and monsters (Tim wanders into the studio's neighboring sets. Okay, I lied and ever so briefly touched upon it). Instead I'm just going to strictly talk about the gameplay because that's all I really give a shit about with this sort of game.

After the intro screen the game takes you directly into the game itself. No menu, no options, nothing. Just a message that pops up telling you to collect five crates that are scattered around for some reason. And though the levels aren't terribly large in size, they are labyrinthine, with crates usually buried behind walls of dirt or tucked up high on a platform, or hiding just out of reach. So to aid you in finding and grabbing them, Tim is armed with an array of tools that give him the ability to grapple up onto platforms, sledgehammer his way through walls, and bulldoze his way through floors. It's a nifty way to open things up beyond the usual left/right and jump that these games typically offer.

For weaponry you collect even more power tools, from nail guns and chainsaws, to flamethrowers (?) and lightning guns (????). And though I like that there is a nice variety to them, each with different strengths and weaknesses, I never could figure out if you can carry more than one of them at once. That's pretty damn stupid when they offer various situational advantages and you'd want to switch between them in order to best tackle an obstacle or enemy. Or maybe I just couldn't figure it out. The manual I downloaded certainly wasn't any help either:

The game's biggest fault though, is just how unforgiving it is. I know I say that a lot, but goddamn if SNES platformers don't just love to be some merciless bastards. For instance, instead of health, Tim collects screws that are scattered liberally around each level. Getting hit by an enemy or hazard will drop all of your screws, and taking damage while screwless will kill you. So anytime you take a hit you'll need to quickly grab one of the bouncing screws lest they all get away and leave you exposed. Now, do those mechanics sound at all familiar to you? Yep, even this game rips off that damn rodent. There's just no escaping him, even on a rival console.

Anyway, while the "health" system sounds fairly forgiving on paper, especially since you could theoretically take infinite hits, it's countered by enemies that have a nasty penchant for soaking up tons of damage, and delivering hard-to-avoid ranged attacks. Especially since, once again, the game's low resolution makes it very hard to anticipate upcoming threats. Yep, the resolution strikes yet again. So combat can be a major headache unless you find ways to exploit the enemy AI or the range of your attacks in some way, which is never super fun. And again, you can't switch weapons. I think.

An even bigger issue with the difficulty though, is the lack of lives the game doles out, and the complete lack of any sort of passwords or continues. Or at least I'm assuming there are no continues because I never made it out of the first world and there is no password entry (or menu of any sorts) at the title screen. Unless I just couldn't find it, because again, NO MANUAL. That is unforgivable.

So, is Home Improvement as bad as people say it is? I don't think so. I'd even say it's almost an okayish game, that just needed to be a little more forgiving. And I certainly don't think it's amongst the system's worst games, like so many others want to peg it. Then again, how can you fault people for hating Tim Allen and anything with his face on it?

Did I beat it?
No, this has been one of the harder games to beat up until this point.

#515 - Relief Pitcher

I remember when I first found out about this game. I stumbled across a short review on one of the many SNES-oriented sites out there (I'm not sure which one, I've tried to find it again to no avail), which detailed a bizarre-sounding baseball game that centered around one of the more underappreciated parts of the game: the bullpen. And let's just say I was thrilled, to put it mildly. You see, my favorite ballplayers have always been closers. For the uninitiated, they are the badass pitchers who come out at the end of the game in order to squash any chance of a rally. Usually through unhittable pitches that are just nasty. From Eckersley, Taylor, Isringhausen and Koch, to Street, Balfour, Doolittle, and Blake "Mother Fucking" Treinen, they always are, and will always be, my favorite players on my favorite team. Nothing beats that moment when the bullpen door swings open, the theme music starts up, and the deadliest of deadly pitchers trots out while the stadium goes wild. Tiny ERAs, massive strikeout totals, and occasional flaming meltdowns in tow, it's the best part of baseball and I love it. So you can understand how incredulous I was when I found a game way back in the early '90s actually tried to capture this part of America's pastime.

So first off, this game has absolutely no licensed players, teams, ballparks, or anything. In fact there are only four teams total. And the options are incredibly limited. You can either play through a single full game, or you can attempt the "Relief Pitcher" mode, which tasks you with closing out 12 different games, all posing different challenges and scenarios. For instance, coming in to the bottom of the 9th with a man on third and two outs. It's far more fun than the single game mode.

The actual pitching in Relief Pitcher seems surprisingly limited, at least at first. You simply press one of the different buttons to select your pitch type --slider, change, fastball, curve, and so forth -- and then aim where you want it to go with the D-Pad. Nothing too unusual there. But the more I played the game the more I discovered you could do subtle little things to influence how successful you were. Mostly just positioning, and timing, but I grew to like and appreciate it the more I played.

The batting is just plain bad though. Mostly because the options truly are limited here, with one basic swing animation, and results that honestly seem random most of the time. You see, making contact isn't much of an issue, but getting good contact is extremely difficult. I could swear there is something wonky going on, like maybe hitting the ball triggers a preset animation, instead of calculating any sort of more advanced trajectory. And that's because I always hit the ball into the exact same half a dozen spots. I'm not entirely sure that this is truly what is going on, but it certainly feels that way. And I've also only hit one career home run in RP, and even then I'm not 100% confident I'm thinking of the right game. I may have hit zero. Either way, batting was clearly not the emphasis when they coded this.

The game also offers a number of "small ball" options. By that I mean you can actually tell your baserunners to attempt a suicide squeeze, control how big their leads are, and even specify if you want to attempt single or double steals. And the players even launch into a great headfirst slide animation when coming into home. And I have to say I had a lot of fun with all of these things. Normally I just like to try and string hits together, and let my bats do my scoring, but in RP I actually found myself relying heavily on the small ball, which is a nice change of pace.

Now as positive as this review has mostly been to this point, it shouldn't be a surprise that I have to list a few more pain points. For one, the graphics are nothing special, and the player models and animations are pretty goofy looking, especially when you're on offense. The AI can also pull off some rather cheap bullshit too, and just loves to crush every ball into the gaps. There's also no way to continue the season mode, since the game never provides you with a password. It's not a huge deal since you can play through the entire thing in 90-120 minutes, but it would have been nice to have the option.

Overall, I have to say that I rather like this game. It isn't quite what I expected, or as good as I had hoped, and most people probably won't care for it, but even with the large number of blemishes I still had a pretty good time playing it. It's just so unique, and unafraid of taking chances, which is one thing I can admire in a sports game.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I went 8-4 with one of the teams (whichever one was good at fielding, for whatever good that did me) before the game sent me straight back to the main menu. No credits, or victory screen, or anything.

#514 - Power Moves

So, it may not be super apparent from the screenshots above (or the box art, or the game's title), but Power Moves is actually a pretty unique entry in the SNES library. And by that I mean it's still a pretty typical fighting game in many ways, but you also have the ability to train against your foes in order to build up your stats and better prepare yourself for the harder opponents, while also being given a very limited amount of free movement on a vertical axis. Had anyone else done something like this back then? Has anyone else done it since? In any case, talk about being ahead of its time.

The story here is... well, I don't know. You're some guy and you have to beat up a bunch of other guys (and girls) from around the globe, and then you're the champion, probably. That basically sums up the story in most all fighting games, and I can only assume it's the same case here. And like many of the genre's earliest entries, PM does not give you a choice of character for the single player mode, instead sticking you with Joe. He's a Ryu-like kung fu guy that has absolutely zero charm or attraction and is easily the game's least interesting character. Not to say the rest of the cast is particularly impressive, because lined up against Joe are some typical shirtless dudes, ninja girls, and a tall and handsome American guy, to name but a few. Cast and storyline are not strong suits here.

As I mentioned, the only two things that really separate this game from any other fighter are the ability to fight rematchs against conquered opponents so that you can raise your stats, and a limited amount of freedom that you are given with movement. But aside from that, the actual fighting is also very by the book for the most part. I know I've been using that phrase a lot lately, but that really is the best way to describe most of the 500s - an extreme lack of imagination. As is always the case, you're looking at best-of-three matches, jumps, kicks, punches, throws, specials, and all the other usual stuff. Nothing that hasn't been done to death many times before and afterwards. And I'm even gonna assume that the vertical movement was cribbed from Fatal Fury. Or maybe FF stole that from Power Moves. Or maybe they both stole it from someone else, as I have to admit my knowledge of the genre's history is lacking. In any case, FF did it better, so I should barely call it a positive here.

So even though I don't think this game is much of a fighter, and do not care for fighters in the first place, I do think it is kind of interesting as a curiosity piece. And I'm always a sucker for RPG elements, as much as it may be a stretch to call a few stats gains anything remotely connected to role-playing. But I love seeing numbers go up, simple pleasure or not. And the game never infuriated me enough to shut the system off in a rage. Fighters bring that sort of thing out of me pretty frequently, so that sort of praise shouldn't be understated.

Also, what is with the similar title and cover art to Power Instinct? There's no relation as far as I know, other than perhaps the same American outfitter was sourced to whip up the ugly-ass SNES box art. Comparing it against what the Japanese got showcases just how pitiful it is...

Did I beat it?
Yes, several times.

#513 - Packy & Marlon

Finally, we have come to the last entry in Raya System's series of edutainment titles. And I dare say this one actually resembles a fully functioning video game, with real controls, real levels, and real gameplay. Color me shocked. In fact, Packy & Marlon is not only playable, but offers cooperative play, a moderately long quest (this may or may not be considered a good thing), and controls and play mechanics that aren't terrible for once. So, knowing how low the bar has been for this type of game, P&M is almost a breath of fresh air.

Just like with how progression worked in Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus, and similar to what you needed to do in Captain Novolin, P&M asks you manage your elephant's insulin levels in addition to trying to find each level's exit. This is done by carefully restricting which types of food you pick up, and how many of each you grab. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone - you can't have edutainment game without trying to educate. This time however, Raya seems to have learned from many of their previous mistakes, and have included an onscreen indicator that lets you know what you still need to grab. It's such a simple fix, yet it makes a big difference as far as making the game more enjoyable.

The controls are also shockingly competent. Jumping and attacking work far better than in any of previous Raya titles, and you even have the option to flap your elephant's large ears in order to slow your descent when falling, effectively removing the blind jumps that often plague this style of game. Perhaps Raya assembled a more capable team of programmers this time around, or perhaps the existing guys were getting better at their jobs with each game they completed, or perhaps this thing was handled by an entirely differently development studio. All I know is that everything works so much better this time around, providing a dramatic improvement over the lows of Bronkie, and offering a much more refined experience than Captain Novolin or Rex Ronan.

Like I said earlier there is also cooperative for once. It's pretty simple, and doesn't really add much to the game, but it is still surprisingly fun, and helps to push this game past its brethren. No one will ever mistake it for any of the truly great two-player games on the system, but I appreciate that they included it.

Now none of this praise necessarily means that this is a great game of course, and improvements aside, it is still a rough experience in many ways. Most of the levels are fairly boring, going on for way too long, and often being a chore to navigate. Especially the underwater levels, which are gigantic samey-looking mazes. And the boss fights alternate between being too annoying and too easy. That's one thing Raya absolutely struggled with, even to the end. And because the game is so long, the action can start to get very repetitive by the end, as the same environmental assets get reused again and again.

Still, it is easily the most enjoyable of Raya's games, and is one of the better children's games on the system. Your kids might actually have some fun here, especially in the two player mode, which is not something that can be said for any of their three other titles.

Did I beat it?
Yes I did. Immediately after receiving the game I played through the entire thing in one go.

#512 - The Lawnmower Man

Oh man, where to even begin with this one... I guess I'll start with "why is this a game?" Like, what possible series of boardroom meetings led to this being a product available to purchase in stores? I know I already alluded to this way back in my Toys review, but I seriously cannot even begin to imagine how we got here. How does one start with a Stephen King short story about demonic naked men chowing down on freshly cut grass, adapt it into a movie about a mentally handicapped groundskeeper who uses the powers of virtual reality to become some sort of telekinetic supergenius, and finally result in a video game that is a cooperative run-and-gun Contra-clone where Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Lahey team up to destroy legions of soldiers, midgets, and fire... guys...? Because none of what I just wrote is distorting the truth; that is the exact progression of The Lawnmower Man property. Someone help me connect those dots. Any of those dots.

And I somehow never noticed until this very moment that TLM is a THQ game. Which almost explains everything in a way. Only people completely detached from reality, like our good friends from Toy Head Quarters, could have gotten this game to see the light of day. Gigantic warning flags would have been raised anywhere else.

But enough about what a batshit insane property it is, let's talk about the important thing - how does it play? Well, like I said before, it's something of a poor man's Contra. You run, you shoot, you die a lot, and then you enter pseudo-3D stages and die some more. You can't make this stuff up.

Okay, to be fair, the 3D stages are completely different than what its NES forefather offered. You can see both of them up above. How it works is, whenever you reach the end of a major area there will be a portal that will take you to one of those two types of levels (after you shoot it enough). The first is something of a first-person flight sim, where you'll need to guide your virtual reality body through a series of tunnels and pillars, avoiding obstacles and seeking an exit. The second is a Mode 7 shooter of sorts, with enemies to destroy on top of obstacles that need to be avoided. I'd point out that these don't really seem to represent anything that happens in the movie, but that's a pretty redundant statement at this point. Both of these stages ramp up in difficulty big time, with the later shooter levels making me want to throw my controller. Memorization is once again the name of the game.

But as rudimentary looking as the VR segments are, that is nothing compared to the standard levels. They look like an NES game, and a bad one at that. I can only assume that virtually all of the development went into the 3D, with the sidescrolling bits thrown together at the very end. Or maybe some unfinished (and unrelated) game was absorbed into this one to pad the game's length. Something originally made many years earlier, no doubt. In fact I'm just going to assume that is what happened and go edit the Wikipedia page right now.

Yet despite all of that I will say that The Lawnmower Man is surprisingly competent for a THQ game. Not that it's really that good, but it's at least playable. This and Home Alone 2 might mean there's hope for the company after all. And it is definitely better than it has any right to be. The controls are simple, but work well enough, and are fairly tight across all three gameplay modes. And I can never fault a game for offering cooperative play, regardless of how much it does or doesn't add to the game. Plus blasting shit is usually fun, derivative and disjointed or not. Even if I wanted to dislike the game, it found a way to endear itself to me regardless.

...not to say that game isn't cheap as all hell. Enemies one-shot you before you have time to react, forcing you to constantly focus-fire on the edge of the screen while moving at a crawl. And the difficulty curve for the bosses is absolutely ridiculous. Some of them are completely impotent and merely criss-cross the screen waiting for you to explode them, while others are brutal exercises in memorization, extended focus, and rely on gobs of luck. And good luck ever beating this game with the number of lives and continues it gives you. Finally, the 3D segments rely just a bit too much on memorization, which gradually lessened my enjoyment of them each time I played it.

So overall, an okay game despite itself, but as forgettable as its source material.

Did I beat it?
No, and I'm sure I wasn't even close either.

#511 - Mickey's Ultimate Challenge

Mickey's Ultimate Challenge is another one of those kids learning/educational games that were so prevalent on the SNES, this time featuring Mickey and Minnie solving a few different short (and relatively easy) puzzles that test memory, logic, dexterity, spelling, and problem solving. Not bad eh? In fact, unlike all those boredom-inducing titles I covered a while back, this one isn't a bad little game at all, and you could do a lot worse for your kids.

Right off the bat the game scores points by offering multiple difficulty levels. That may not seem like such a big thing, but in this instance it is great for adding replay value to the experience. A typical playthrough should only last thirty minutes, but when you can make all of the puzzles trickier and more elaborate with a higher difficulty, you're looking at a lot more bang for your buck. Which means your kids will last way longer here than they would with something like Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.

After selecting the difficulty the game opens up in a central hub area of sorts. Judging by the medieval theme, and the... er, beanstalk you eventually grow, I'm gonna "guess" it's based on the classic Mickey and the Beanstalk short. From this starting point you can then access each of the game's puzzles in any order by entering various doors and talking to the characters within:

Potion Sliding - The world's easiest Soukoban game. It's probably a perfect amount of challenge for small children though. None of the puzzles are really that clever and the mechanics are very, very simple, but I think kids will enjoy solving them.

Picture Matching - A basic memory game. It has a pretty large number of tiles, with unlimited attempts and a forgiving time limit, which makes it perfect for kids. My own son loved doing this part with me.

Playing the Pipes - Repeat back the sequences (think Simon Says). I think this one definitely could have been done better as the slow animations that play out between each input means you have to remember the sequence for that much longer, but overall I've always enjoyed this sort of thing, even as a kid.

Sorting Books - Okay, so this one sucks (they can't all be winners). It's kind of a hybrid platformer and spelling challenge, where you need to hop across a series of floating books while also trying to fill in the letters of a word Wheel of Fortune-style. The problem is it is way too demanding for a kid's game, and the "spelling" portion is actually pretty worthless. Since you need to slowly work your way to the right after getting all letters anyway (due to a dumb mechanic where the books eventually stop showing up) there is nothing to gain by trying to solve the puzzle, you're better off trying to hit every letter in sequence. Overall it's a majorly missed opportunity, because all they needed to do was blunt the challenge and do something to reward spelling ability.

Guess the Tools - A logic puzzle of sorts, you have seven attempts to figure out which symbols belong in each of several slots, with each guess getting you warmer or colder to the solution. This one is actually rather clever, and probably represents the hardest game of the lot, but in a completely fair way. I also think the difficulty ramps up rather nicely from round to round. This one is probably gonna be pretty tough for most kids, but the toughest puzzles are always the most satisfying to crack.

At the end, after completing each one of those subgames, you are tasked with completing a simple fetch quest of sorts that sends you running back and forth between all of the characters you just met. It's pretty pointless. After completing that you get to climb that aforementioned beanstalk and face a final challenge; a picture scramble. I'm not the biggest fan of these things (I despise their every appearance in the Professor Layton series) and usually just try to brute force a solution. Something about having to think three steps ahead is beyond me. But if your kids enjoy that sort of thing it's a nice cherry on top of everything else, and a perfect way to wrap the game up.

So in case it isn't obvious by now, I think this game is great for kids. In fact I think there are only a few other games on the system that do the job better. Are most adults gonna enjoy it? Probably not. And if they do it's gonna be short-lived thanks to how brief the whole experience is. In any case, I think the game more than accomplishes what it set out to do.

Did I beat it?
Yes, a couple different times on different difficulty levels.

#510 - Side Pocket

I know I said it before with Championship Pool, but it bears repeating: I don't like pool, I don't like pool games, and I really don't like very old and very hard pool games. Which isn't to say that Side Pocket is nearly as bad a game as CP is. In fact I'd almost say it's a halfway decent title, and one that I assume many people will enjoy. Hell, I can almost enjoy it. Except at the end of the day it's still pool so I don't.

Anyone familiar with the NES version of this game will be immediately comfortable here because as far as I can tell the two versions are exactly the same. In either one you play the role of a pool shark who is traveling from city to city, attempting to bilk everyone out of their money and leave town before getting murdered. Or at least that's what I like to pretend is happening, because truthfully all you're doing is trying to score high enough through nailing consecutive shots, or pocketing balls in the correct order, so that you are allowed to advance to the next area. It's pretty dry.

After each table you'll also have opportunities to attempt trick shots in-between or around various shot glasses. Maybe this is a thing people do, I have no idea. All I know is they are either impossible, or require very exact shots in order to pull them off, which I've never successfully done. Sometimes it even appears like you need to jump the ball over the glasses, but I never managed to do that either.

Now I know I complained about this in CP, and I'm terrible at the sport in real life, but SP seems exceptionally hard. Not as hard as CP, which is impossible, but still pretty stupid-hard. I have never made it past the third level, despite a pretty good number of attempts across both the NES and SNES versions over the last couple years, and I never seem to get any better. Something about calculating the geometry needed to succeed is just beyond me. Or I don't have the patience for it. Either way, pool is never gonna be something I'm any good at, in real or virtual form.

The only other mode is one that lets you practice the various trick shots, which is actually a great idea since being able to nail them will make your life way easier in the main mode. And anyone who enjoys the game will probably spend quite a bit of time here getting good at them. But I'm sure it's no surprise to hear that I played this mode for about two total minutes before moving on.

So overall it is easily the superior option of the two pool games released for the Super Nintendo. And it is a game that is pretty well done, and is one that many (maybe most) people do enjoy. But I just can't do it. Every missed shot infuriates me. None of the physics ever make sense to me. And I don't have the patience to cheat and try to hold a T-square up to my television screen so that I can hit shots with precision. So I have no doubts that I'll never play it again.

Did I beat it?
Not even close. Unless there are only three cities.

#509 - Kyle Petty's No Fear Racing

One of the billion racing games on the system that is headlined by one of the (presumably) famous racers of the era, Kyle Petty's No Fear Racing is a competent game, that is also surprisingly impressive looking, while also boasting a fair amount of content. However, it's also pretty repetitive, and way too easy, depriving the game of the excitement necessary to separate itself from the rest of the mediocre to poor racers. So while this is by far the best one I have covered so far (and by a decent margin I might add) it still isn't something you're gonna fall in love with.

First off, I want to commend this game's graphics and sense of speed. This was a late release, so I assume Williams (or whoever made this) were able to take advantage of a number of new graphic rendering techniques that seemed to be so prolific around that time, and gave this game the illusion of a much more modern arcade racer. By that I mean the pre-rendered background only comes in three flavors (straightaways, left turns, right turns), and your car is basically floating over what looks like a green screen, so there is a lot of trickery going on to pull these graphics off. And yet I think it actually works really well. The scenery that is constantly flying by, coupled with a pretty decent framerate, both give a really great sense of immersion in the race. I honestly want to compare it to early 32-bit racers. And it is about as far removed from the ugly and plodding ESPN Speed World (the other NASCAR game on the system) as it can possibly get. Again, it's merely a few simple techniques, and mileage may vary between players, but I applaud what they were able to pull off.

Now the bad things. First, the game is way too long, especially for how repetitive it is. There are 28 frickin' tracks, but because they all recycle the same sparse track assets over and over again, they all feel exactly the same. I don't know if real NASCAR has that many tracks or something, but the developers could have done themselves a huge favor by cutting half of them, and figuring out ways to make what they had left more interesting.

The difficulty curve is also super out of whack. This is one of those games that lets you earn money after every race in order to fund various upgrades. The better you do, the more money you get. But just a few races in had me pulling away from the pack, and once I was fully upgraded (which happened somewhere in the middle of the season) I was basically unbeatable, regardless of how poorly I played, or how little effort I put in. So the second half of a game that's already too long and too repetitive becomes a massive drag as you merely go through the motions, anxious for things to be over with.

There's also very limited interaction with the other racers. That's partially because none of them are ever anywhere near you, mostly thanks to the impotent challenge they provide. And it's partially because very little can slow you down or get in your way. Even when you crash and go tumbling end over end, it only ends up being a minor nuisance with a small temporary dip in speed. So there's no reason to try and handle any opponents with any sort of finesse. You just blow by them, collisions be damned, because it doesn't matter.

I will end with another positive though - a track editor, of all things. Did any other game on the system have one of these? I guess if anyone should know the answer to that, it's me, but I'm pretty loaded right now, and I haven't played some of these games in like three years now (one of the pitfalls of trying to rank everything). But I don't think there is, so kudos to KPNFR. Of course what they have here is not especially robust, as it lets you lay down (a short) track and modify the music, scenery, and weather. And none of the courses I came up with really played any differently from one another since all you can do is turn left or turn right. But still, it's a great idea, and I killed some time with it. It definitely needed to give the player a little more freedom, and it needed a game attached to it that has a little more meat on its bones, but at least they tried.

So, yeah. I kinda like the game, and I'm glad I played through it, repetitive bore or not. Most people probably won't care for it, but this is my list, not theirs. I think a sequel that tried to address its various shortcomings could have been one of the best racers on the system. Oh well.

...I also just realized at this very moment that this is sponsored by the No Fear apparel line that was all the rage with twelve year olds back in 1995.

Did I beat it?
Yes I did.

#508 - Time Trax

An extremely obscure game based on a possibly more obscure (and short-lived) '90s Australian TV show. How the hell did this get a US release?

Judging by the artwork, I'm going to guess the source material was some sort of combination of Time Cop and Quantum Leap, starring a guy I'm gonna call "Chest Rockwell." Now I'm no television show expert, but I am extremely well-versed in pop culture from the 1990s, so the fact that I have absolutely never heard of this show before I played the SNES game means we can only assume it barely made an impact in the US. It would also explain the tiny print run for the game as well.

Like most cop shows or movies that are made into video games, this is a run and gun affair. You know the deal - you run, you jump, you shoot. Or if you're near an enemy you'll kick or punch instead. It's a simple and well-trodden formula because it works. Or at least it works when it's done well, and what we have here is pretty mediocre. The levels are relatively linear affairs, and enemies are the usual types - "guys with guns" or "robot things with guns." What is unique, is what's-his-face's control over time. Specifically, with the press of X you can temporarily slow everything down. Which means this is probably the video game world's first instance of "bullet time," nearly a decade before Max Payne did it. It works reasonably well too, as using the skill will deplete a bar in the corner of the screen that will then slowly regenerates itself over time. So the power can be used liberally, making it a key component of your play, while also forcing you to be strategic with it. It's a tight line to walk, yet the game pulls it off. Which is good because mastering the skill makes a very tricky game somewhat more manageable.

Unfortunately "manageable" isn't enough here because, make no mistake, this is a hard game. And often for very bad reasons. For instance, while the controls and mechanics are pretty tight for the most part, many of the enemies are some cheap motherfuckers. The game even tries to counter this by providing plenty of health to work with, but it's not enough because you suffer so many hard-to-avoid hits, run into so many instances of trial-and-error, and get mowed over by some truly brutal boss fights. Seriously, the bosses are just... blah. They come in two different flavors: annoying as shit, and boringly drawn-out as shit. So what should be one of the game's highlights is instead a low point. Bad bosses are also a major mood killer for me.

Later on in this project I have reserved a special section that I'm calling the *spoiler alert* "guilty pleasures" of the SNES library. Kind of like a hidden gems list, except with gems that try to stab you every time you pick them up. Did I mention any of that in a previous write-up? If I did it was probably ABC Monday Night Football, because that is another game I was at one point considering as a candidate for inclusion. But after extended play I had to drop it. Time Trax is no different. It's the guilty pleasure that wasn't to be. The game has potential, and some good ideas, but it just ends up being too frustrating to be much fun.

(yes I'm aware that's Dale Midkiff)

Did I beat it?
No, it's too hard.

#507 - Snow White in Happily Ever After

If you are completely blind like I seem to be, you may be unaware that this game isn't based on the classic Disney film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. After all, that is so clearly the Snow White we all know and love on the cover art, and that so clearly says Disney and not "Filmation," right? Nevermind the monsters and troglodytes that appear to be trying to murder the poor girl.

Of course, after playing the game the synapses in my brain started firing and I realized what I actually had on my hands. This is Snow White in Happily Ever After, an adaptation of a failed animated movie from the early '90s that I had never heard of. And it wasn't Don Bluth's doing either, but instead these Filmation guys. I have no idea who they are, but a quick glimpse at the one sheet poster did not exactly fill me with confidence:

That looks to me like one of those horrible Italian cash-grabs that flooded home video in the 1980s, or maybe even one of the Disney-wannabes that got released on the PS2 in Europe. Or maybe even a ridiculous Chinese bootleg. In any case, anything other than an American film that got a theatrical release with a stacked roster of celebrated actors doing the voicework. Which is exactly what it is. Somehow.

In any case, the fact that I had never heard of the film shouldn't be shocking because it appears to be the last film Filmation ever did. Which can only mean the thing was a massive bomb which sunk the company. Not surprising, considered Disney was going full beast-mode at the time, with films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fully ushering in a new renaissance in American animation. This film never stood a chance.

The game on the other hand is surprisingly playable. I feel like that is a running theme with volume five of this project. Games that have no business being moderately enjoyable, yet pulling it off anyway. And this is the perfect title to capture that phenomenon, because nothing about this game should work. The graphics look like an NES game, the sound and music are horrible, the controls very simplistic, the gameplay very two dimensional, and the level design is pretty uninspired.

And yet, despite all that some part of me seems to enjoy playing it. Maybe it's because it is such a leisurely experience. The game is ridiculously generous with lives, and "ammo" for your weapons (you throw apples). And none of the enemies are particularly vicious. Which means you can romp through the levels at your own pace, overcoming all obstacles through persistence. I guess some part of me needed that after playing so many platformers where every single thing made it feel like I was fighting the game, or just trying to survive. And Snow White is just a nice way to let down from all of that.

Oh, one last thing I almost forgot to mention. The game offers a choice of two different playable characters (Snow White and some guy), but they play exactly the same. Even their endings may have been identical, I can't recall for sure. Either way, I'm not sure why they bothered.

Did I beat it?
Yes, several times.

#506 - Tom and Jerry

As I get close to the end of this batch of reviews, I'm struck by just how many times one of the games I cover ends up being far more enjoyable than it had any right to be. By that I mean, with all of these licensed titles, nondescript sports titles, and anything put out by THQ or Hi-Tech Expressions, I'm always going to automatically assume the worst. The legions of similar and terrible games I already covered have drilled that pessimism into me. And yet time and time again I'm surprised with how playable a game ends up being. Tom and Jerry is a perfect example of this, a licensed platformer from Hi-Tech Expressions that is actually pretty okay. That trifecta of terribleness should be the kiss of death, but the game is alright despite those stacked odds.

Tom and Jerry was a cartoon duo from the golden age of animation, blah blah blah, you already know or you don't care. Their hijinks were pretty simple: cat wants to eat/kill mouse, the end. This game doesn't mess with that formula, and merely serves up a number of levels for Jerry to traverse, culminating in battles against his arch nemesis. It's an effective design, often feeling like a throwback to the NES days.

That also means there isn't really anything super special at work here. The graphics are decent, the levels pretty unmemorable, the power-ups nonexistent, the enemies mostly being garden-variety walking things and flying things, the controls simplistic, and the boss battles all have very simple patterns to memorize. On the other hand, the game doesn't really do anything badly either. The controls are solid, the challenge fair, the frustration is always kept to a minimum, and the boss fights, while simple, are still fun. There are some occasional blind leaps that only trial-and-error will solve, but it's a minor blemish.

Now, another running trend lately is that despite many of the games being much better than I had first anticipated, that still doesn't mean they're all that great, and most people won't care much for them. Tom and Jerry is no exception. It's good for a no-frills playthrough, but that's about it. Amazingly, that's also enough to make T&J one of the better games HTE ever put out.

A minor side note - this is the one game I ever rented as a child that I completely forgot about. (as far as I remember...). And this fact didn't even dawn upon me until I reached the third level where Jerry is surfing over popcorn, and I realized that I had experienced it all once before. I guess that speaks to the harmless yet forgettable nature of the game.

Did I beat it?
Yes, after two or three tries.

#505 - Tecmo Super NBA Basketball

Ok, here we go. Tecmo Super Basketball is the very first basketball game on the Super Nintendo that is even remotely fun in any way. It still suffers from many of the problems that I've already gone over ad nauseum with the likes of NCAA Basketball and Super Slam Dunk, but it least offers some of the trademarked Tecmo charm and ridiculousness to give it a little bit of an edge over similar such titles.

Obviously the first thing most people are going to compare this game to is Tecmo Super Bowl. And they should. It stands as one of the best retro sports games ever, with an absolutely sublime NES entry, a wonderful SNES follow-up, and gameplay that still plays just as well over 25 years later. It's no coincidence that Kia even recently dragged Bo Jackson and Brian Bosworth out of oblivion for a series of TSB-themed commercials. It's a great series of games, that are still tons of fun to play, and are done in a way that no one else has ever really been able to successfully replicate.

Tecmo Super Basketball on the other hand, can't really compete with its much more successful football brethren. There seems to be a similar intent here, with super fast-paced gameplay and tons of arcade tendencies, but it just never comes together as well. In fact it has more in common with EA's playoff series (Bulls vs. Blazers) than it does with the other Tecmo games. Namely the sticky defenders, lack of offense, and stiff animations. And honestly, there isn't really a ton to cover here that didn't already apply to the dozen basketball games I've already gone over, because for most part it still feels like the same rough gameplay that hasn't aged very well. And though this one takes things in a more arcade-like direction, it just can't hold a candle to the insanity of NBA Jam. In fact, that is probably the game this should have been.

I will say that I'm kind of torn by the ranking I ended up giving TSB. On one hand, it's a Tecmo sports game, with some ridiculous gameplay and an over-the-top presentation that oozes charm. You can't help but like the goofy bastard. But on the other hand it just doesn't play as well as it should have. Or at least I haven't figured out how to have as much fun with it as I had initially hoped. And I can have fun with it, but I never really want to play it for more than a game's worth. So, call this a missed opportunity, and the last of the "meh" basketball games. Unless there is another one coming up shortly that I've already forgotten about. In which case forget I said that.

I should also mention that TSB is fully licensed, and even includes Michael Jordan, which was almost unheard of at the time. Without looking into it, I'm gonna say this is only the second Nintendo game (after Jordan vs. Bird) that he had made an appearance in up until that point. It doesn't really change anything, but it is pretty cool.

Did I beat it?
No, not that I really tried.

#504 - Dirt Trax FX

A late release title, Dirt Trax FX boasts an impressive racing engine, a decent framerate, and gameplay that more closely resembles Excitebike on NES than it does any other motorcycle title on the SNES. If you said those all sound like the makings of a promising title, then you'd be right. And the game seems to boast a number of fans for those very reasons. But by now we all know I have a hard time with racing games, especially when I find them deeply frustrating, and this game can be maddening.

As you can see from the screenshots above, the biggest thing going for DTFX (I assume) were the polygonal courses, no doubt powered by an FX chip, judging by the game's name. There's also some gratuitous 3D headshots for each of the racers, but that doesn't really accomplish much, other than looking uglier than shit. All of the courses end up being very short and compact, probably to ensure the game runs smoothly, but I think that is always the best way to go. A slow framerate here would have doomed this game because the last thing you need in a dirt bike racer is laggy controls. And though the result of all of this is courses that can feel a bit claustrophobic, and some tightly packed areas where I did get turned around a number of times, I think it all works well enough.

Because the frame rate is so solid, the controls end up feeling really good as a result. Like most racers they are very simple (basically steer, brake, and gas), but there are some more nuances to the action than may be apparent at first. For one, using your rider's body to pull up or push down on your bike lets you try and take the jumps faster. It's pretty tricky to master, but feels very satisfying when you pull it off. There's also an ability to hop onto the walls that line the course and try to "cheat" a bit with better lines. I'm not sure if that was really an intentional design, but it's in there, and I spent a good amount of time trying to see how much I could exploit it.

It's not all great though (obviously, it wouldn't be in this installment if it were), and though I always have fun when I start this game up, I inevitably end up too frustrated to see things through to the end and turn it off. On "Easy" difficulty there isn't much of a challenge, with AI opponents that barely even try to put up a fight. Bump it up to "Normal" though, and they become merciless. Or I should say, one individual racer does. I can never beat that bastard.

There is also a bonus mode of sorts, called "Rad Tag." It is exactly what it sounds like - tag with motorcycles. These are one-on-one affairs, and are obviously geared towards playing with another human. I'm assuming the inspiration was Super Mario Kart, because they all take place in rectangular arenas with plenty of obstacles to try and dart behind. And while I appreciate that they tried something like this, it's pretty damn sorry in practice. Trying to stay on your opponent's tail is virtually impossible most of the time, which quickly makes the entire experience devolve into an exercise in frustration. I tried playing this with two different people, and they both were ready to move on within minutes. Acclaim should have just ripped of SMK entirely and added weapons or something, because tag with vehicles is no fun. Can you imagine if SMK asked players to "ram away" each other's balloons? No, because that would be horrible. So again, good idea, very bad execution.

I will have to say that I enjoyed some of my time with DTFX. I didn't love it, and the fact that I had any fun whatsoever should be high praise considering how many racers on the system I don't care for. But I don't really want to play it anymore. And the thought of trying to beat it on medium again makes my blood boil. But I'm also super aware that I'm a giant wuss with most racers, so that may be more my fault than the game's.

Did I beat it?
Yes, on easy. I consistently get second place on normal.

#503 - The Adventures of Kid Kleets

Another game about kicking people in the face with soccer balls. Why was that a genre? Was there ever such a frothing demand for the sport that it spilled over into other genres? Are they all European products, and someone figured they may as well dump them into the US? I'm just going to assume that the British are to blame since that is where Ocean is (was?) from. And to be fair, America was responsible for Shaq Fu, Space Jam, RapJam, Jammit, KaZaam, Air Bud, and the basketball scene from 3 Ninjas... So maybe the Brits weren't so crazy after all. I guess it's all relative.

The Adventures of Kid Kleets aka Soccer Kid is a platformer whose primary gimmick revolves around the use of a soccer ball for all of your attacks. One button sends it flying out in front of you, another flips it up into the air so you can juggle it until you're ready to launch it skywards, and another lets you jump onto the ball and roll around like a trick-doing... seal... or something. You can also press a button to retrieve the ball by instantly spawning it at your feet, something I was unaware for quite awhile, leaving me to chase it every time I attacked. Suffice to say I was not having a good time back then.

The level structure here is pretty standard for the most part. Each "area," representing a different country, has several levels, each of which is capped off with a boss. Dying sends you back to the beginning of the level whereas a continue sends you back to the area's start. There are also numerous hidden collectables that can be discovered if you search high and low. I'd say some of them must be pretty tricky to locate because I have never successfully found them all. Which is important, because this is another one of those games where the final boss and "good ending" can only be accessed by collecting most or all of those collectables. I'm unsure which, I just know that what I've come up with has never been good enough.

Combat for the most part isn't too great. Probably because I hate the soccer ball gimmick. But most enemies can be taken out in a single shot, so as long as you move slowly (or memorize the level) everything should be manageable. The seaside levels definitely start to tip things over into the realm of frustrating, with speedy enemies and erratic movement patterns, but nothing that ever becomes too unwieldy.

The boss fights are pretty well done though, with the standout being some sort of Elvis impersonator that is belting out notes from a stage. He does feel a little out of place since everyone else has some sort of sports theme, so perhaps he represents the halftime entertainment or something. Who knows. I never did get to see the final boss either.

In the end it's an alright game, that does some things well, and some others not so well. I like the idea of the soccer ball combat system, but not so much the execution. It's just not fun to use, and adds a layer of complication that only serves to hurt the game. And finding the collectables is fun, but I wish they merely affected the ending you receive as opposed to cutting you off from the final battle when you fail to get enough of them. Otherwise it makes the game's final levels feel very anticlimactic with an abrupt end that didn't even make it clear there could be more. Still, complaints aside Kid Kleets is easily a better option than Hurricanes, and overall it has to be in the top half of the Ocean library. And it is a fun enough experience for what it is. So if you don't hate soccer like I do, consider this bumped up another hundred spots or so.

Did I beat it?
Yes, but just the bad ending a couple different times, before I even realized there was a true final boss to unlock by collecting every doo-dad in the game. Some day I'll return to it.

#502 - NHL Stanley Cup

Oh NHL Stanley Cup, how I have wrestled with you over the last year. First I had you ranked in the high 500s. Then it was the low 500s. Then it was the high 400s. Then I threw you back in the high 500s. Eventually I gave up and dropped you smack dab in the middle of all of it, and I haven't moved you since. Am I finally ready to render a verdict? Can I stop rewriting this review because I can't make up my mind as to whether I think you're a well-done game that I don't want to play, an okay game that slowly grew on me, or a mediocre game that was blasé from start to finish and that I've done nothing but overthink this from the beginning?

Well, I don't know the answer to that question. But it doesn't matter. I'm happy with this rank, I'm at peace with it, and it's time to commit. NHLSC will be #502, ahead of most hockey games, but still squarely in the rear middle of the library. It's an okay game that true hockey fans will enjoy more than I did, but will never be a game that anyone thinks of as one of Nintendo's finer moments. It's the sort of middle ground I can live with.

As you can probably tell from the screenshots, NHLSC shares the same engine as Nintendo's token basketball game on the system, NCAA Basketball. Both games are very unique in that they offer an early Mode 7 sort of thing that may have been technically impressive at the time, but comes off kind of jarring nowadays. That means the camera always follows behind the shoulder of whatever character has the puck, rotating along with them. It was very ambitious and ahead of its time, but the final result is just not at the level of what you would usually expect from a first party title. Then again, Nintendo obviously struggled with their sports games back in the day when you look at their total output on the NES and SNES.

I think part of the problem is that the janky animation, constant scaling of players, and rotation of the camera creates an effect that reminds me of something like Beavis & Butthead or Dr. Katz, where everything is "squirming." Remember that?

That's what this game reminds me of. Some people may find that charming, but I find it incredibly distracting and offputting.

Graphics aside, the game actually plays pretty decently. Controls are solid, recreating the sensation of slippery ice skates without the game feeling too slippery, as I've mentioned in other hockey game writeups. And the overall pace of play is significantly improved over NCAAB. I'm not sure if this was the latter game and they learned a few lessons from the mistakes made with the former one, or if this engine was just a better fit for hockey, but everything feels significantly better this time around.

Scoring does still seem especially hard though, a common problem with me and hockey games. Even when I get a pass off to a teammate who's "behind" the goalie, most of the time my player shoots it right into his back/side. I can only assume I'm doing something wrong or overlooking some mechanic, but hell if I can figure out what it is. Is that the game's fault, or my fault for being a hockey neophyte? I don't know, so I called it 50/50 and moved on.

A few other random thoughts rolling around in my head:

- I have no idea what pops up on the screen during faceoffs. "Line 1", "Line 2", and "Line 3?" Huh? I'm sure this is common knowledge to people who follow hockey but I have no idea what any of that means. Maybe some sort of alignment strategy?
- While NCAAB had you playing in an empty blue hellscape, NHLSC has what I can only call the least convincing audience graphic I have ever seen in my life.
- The game is obviously fully licensed, which off the top of my head can only be said for this game and the NHL series. That's good company to keep.

So... final thoughts? Pretty much what I've said with every other hockey game, just a little more positive this time out. I'll most likely never play it again, and I will be happy to have this review finished, but will have to admit that the game must have grown on me in some capacity. I did move it up over a hundred spots, so that has to tell me something, even if I had a hard time admitting it to myself.

Did I beat it?
No, though to be honest I never really tried. I kept moving it around in the rankings so much that I kept putting off any serious attempt at completing it. And then by the time that opportunity came around I was feeling a little burnt out on sports titles. I mean, I'm always burnt out on them, but the feeling was especially strong at this point.

#501 - Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, once faithfully adapted to the big screen by Francis Ford Coppola, and then, er... not so faithfully adapted for the Super Nintendo (and seemingly every other system under the sun). And though the majority of movie games on the SNES have been dire so far, to put it lightly, and the video game too is littered with rough edges and bad first impressions, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have something resembling fun every time I pop it in. Plus it's like a million times better than the Mary Shelley's Frankenstein game.

The best way I can describe the gameplay is as a love letter to a number of Japanese action platformers, mostly of the 8-bit variety. And though the game comes well short of those lofty heights, you have to at least appreciate the effort here. Whereas games like Frankenstein and Last Action Hero are rotten to the core, with no fun ever in sight, BSD has the makings of a great game in here somewhere, partially because I think the developers knew what a great game was. You see the action is fast and furious, the controls are tight, the enemies varied, and every area ends against a gigantic boss. That is exactly the same way you would describe a number of games Capcom and Konami (or Tecmo) put out on the NES. And each level also has what you would call an optional objective that will reward you with upgrades or sub weapons if you choose to carry it out. There was obviously a lot of love put into the development of this thing.

Unfortunately, love is not enough, because the game's shortcomings are myriad and severe. For one, the game is littered with cheap deaths and traps, some of them quite maddening. A dozen attempts in and I still have no idea how you avoid most of the game's hidden spear traps. And the hidden pits later in the game are complete and utter bullshit, impossible to predict, and still hard to avoid even when you know (roughly) where they are. And the game's starting weapon? Ys and Lagoon come to mind.

Also, those same bosses fights that I already rang the praises of, are mostly a disaster in execution. They look great, and I love that there are so many of them, but they only come in two varieties: pathetically easy, or cheap-ass bullshit artists, reducing each battle into a button-mashing race to kill them before you die. Neither type is remotely satisfying.

The game also lacks any sort of password or save functionality, forcing you to beat it in one sitting. While the game can be very forgiving with lives and continues, and levels can be completed in just several minutes each once you know what you're doing, you're still gonna need to put in an attempt or five just to learn what you need to do. And this is not a short game.

In the end, I have to say that I like this game, and that I have something of a major soft spot for it, warts and all. I can't quite bring myself to call it a hidden gem or anything, and most people are gonna immediately hate it, but it does just enough right that it's probably worth giving it a shot regardless. I know I keep going back to it.

Did I beat it?
Yes, several different times on several different difficulty settings.