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#575 - Aaahh!!! Real Monsters

Three Nick games in a row? Another coincidence, and something I didn't even notice until I was doing final revisions at the end here. I guess it speaks volumes about the quality of their library of games...

The first draft of my Aaahh!!! Real Monsters review was more-or-less one long comparison to Blizzard's classic video game The Lost Vikings. It seemed logical enough to me; both games task you with herding three squatty rascals through a gauntlet of obstacles and hazards, evading or killing numerous enemies, and solving a number of puzzles in order to progress. Both games also let you switch between the different characters with the press of a button in order to take advantage of each one's unique skillset. But the more I played this game the more I felt like this wasn't painting a truly accurate picture of the two experiences. They may appear very similar at a superficial level, but in reality they play almost nothing alike. TLV places a much heavier emphasis on puzzle solving and precise execution across very carefully crafted levels, whereas ARM is a much looser experience overall with long levels, an emphasis mostly on combat, and extremely simplistic puzzle-solving. And while Blizzard's classic offers charm up the wazoo, everything about the Nickelodeon game is kind of... gross and repulsive. That's probably partially by design (I'm assuming the show was about monsters that live in the sewer), and partially because this engine, which appears to be the same one Viacom used for Beavis & Butthead, just appears crude and ugly to me.

The controls in ARM are decent enough for the most part, with reasonably tight handling on movement and jumping. Later levels present some pretty tricky and demanding platforming, but I never felt like I was fighting them most of the time. That's always a very good sign for this type of game since bad platforming will immediately sink a platformer. Unfortunately it is elsewhere where things get rough, as this game absolutely loves to eat your inputs whenever you need to perform any rapid series of commands. This specifically pertains to boss fights, which really makes some of the latter ones a gigantic headache.

For instance, the unique abilities I referenced above are usually required to reach great heights or leap across large chasms. Pressing X is all you need to do to set all three characters in motion to make that happen, assuming it works, which is rare. That's because instead of doing what you want the game will more than likely make a loud buzzer sound. Probably because the characters aren't aligned correctly or don't have enough clearance to pull the move off or they just don't want to listen to you in general. And if you're on a slippery surface or trying to launch through a narrow opening... well good luck. Now fortunately, there is no in-game timer or respawning enemies or anything, so there isn't any pressure to quickly or gracefully pull these moves off, but it does start to get really aggravating. Sometimes you'll press the button five or more times before they'll do anything. Why? Who knows.

What truly hurts the game though, is lost inputs during combat, specifically jumping and attacking. The game has a number of boss fights that gradually escalate in difficulty, but the controls are not tight enough to handle this. Every jump and every attack has to be very deliberately timed in order to execute, so be prepared to be mauled or jump-kicked over and over again as you botch your moves and are left standing helpless. It's one of those games where you have to give your character x number of frames of animation before they can recover from a jump and accept another input, and that's just not acceptable if the game isn't carefully tuned around that fact. Later bosses practically require exploits to defeat them because the controls just aren't responsive enough to handle the pace of the fights, and that is really poor design.

The other major drawback with this game is its length, in that it's way too long. While the longplays on the net clock in at around two hours, realistically a playthrough would probably take most players four to five. Now that's fine for games that offer saves or passwords, but this game has neither. And you only get two continues, which means a game over tasks you with starting over from scratch. That is absolutely ridiculous for a children's game, especially one as demanding as ARM. A passcode at the end of every area would have gone a long way to rectify this problem and might have easily pushed this game up a hundred spots in my rankings.

I also have to give a special shout-out to the last level of this game for being an extra special kind of hell. Between the long sections without checkpoints, some absolutely ridiculous platforming sections, and a final boss fight that is extremely sloppily put together, I nearly turned off the game in anger despite investing a number of hours into several runs. If anyone beat this game as a kid, my hat is off to you.

So overall, it is a somewhat botched clone of a much better game, with a couple extremely severe drawbacks that pull the entire game down. But I was willing to put a number of hours into it, and stuck with it to the end, which is not something I can say about many other titles I've covered. Another case where there was a good game buried in here, it just never got a chance to be unearthed.

Did I beat it?
Yes. I got a game over near the end of the game at one point, and it nearly broke me, but I stuck with it.

#574 - Full Throttle All-American Racing

Similar to previous installment Kawasaki Caribbean Challenge, this racer from Cybersoft combines the classic "All-American" pastimes of motorcycles, water sports, and giving people the finger as you leave them in the dust. Okay, technically he's telling them just to "shove it," but that's still pretty American too.

I also didn't really notice this as I was playing through the game, but... this game really loves America. Like, four-American-flags-in my-gallery-loves-America, and that was not planned. Is that a coincidence? Was it a marketing ploy to reach middle America? Is Cybersoft just super patriotic? I dunno, but that's pretty far ahead of it's time too. We Americans have always been pretty jingoistic, but stacking three flags wasn't really something you saw too often before the spread of Wal-Mart or the reign of George W. Bush.

(I'm not saying I don't love my country, but I prefer more subtle approaches to my patriotism. Like silently praying every foreign skater eats shit during the Olympics)

Anyway, enough about that, let's talk about the racing. You get your choice of motorbikes, jet skis, or both, and unlike KCC, the two modes actually play a bit differently from one another. While the former resembles the world's worst version of Road Rash, the latter resembles... well, Road Rash. But on water. And slower. I guess you'll just have to take my word for it feeling like a different experience, because while I could not stand the roadway levels, or their brutal difficulty, I found the water ones much more manageable.

The gist of each race is that you'll have to catch up to a series of opponents, and attack them until they're subdued, at which point you can gain enough of a lead on them as to effectively "beat" them, rendering them more-or-less a non-factor for the rest of the race. I'm sure this mechanic was stolen from a number of older/better titles, but it is quite unique in the SNES library. I personally found the attacks hard to use, and instead chose to give my opponents a wide berth while pouring on the boosts, until they were far in my rearview mirror. Still, it's nice that the game can be played in multiple ways like that.

Beyond the manner that the races unfold, and the fact that you can attack your opponents, everything else is pretty by the book. There's a lot of races to beat, but they all look and feel the same. There's an upgrade system, but it's pretty barebones, and fairly confusing to use too. Hell, if anything it's a detriment to the game because I couldn't tell if my purchases were even doing anything half the time. And I swear the game constantly bugs out in regards to how many turbos you have stocked. I'm also pretty sure that the game has to be beaten in one sitting (don't hold me to that, I played through it years ago), which is ridiculous considering it's a 3+ hour clear. I can understand being cheap and opting out of packing a battery save into your cartridge, but there's no excuse not to have a password system.

For these rare racing games that I actually manage to complete, I have to assume they can't be all too bad if I was able to stick with them long enough to do just that. Despite very clearly remembering my hoping that the game would just end already, and not having particularly cheery thoughts about daring to ever play it again, I can't say I hated my time with it. And it does let you punch people in the face. But I'm also sure this game is a pale imitation of many other, better titles.

Did I beat it?
Yes, but just doing the jet ski levels.

#573 - Super Off-Road The Baja

A late spin-off to the classic arcade title (or was that series of titles?), Super Off Road The Baja is a game that should have held a lot of promise, but is doomed by a poor delivery and sloppy implementation. In other words, this is a game that could have been on the cusp of being one of the better racers on the system, but a few crippling flaws successfully drag the entire experience down.

First off, I totally understand what they were going for here. Take the rock-solid arcade nitro-boosted gameplay from the original, and meld it with a more modern take on the genre. Boom, two good things together become a great thing. Add on pretty good graphics and frame-rate and you should have the makings of a Super Nintendo classic. And at times there is legitimate fun to be had here. Boosting off of a tall dune and flying over one of your opponents which sends him crashing into the side of the course works exactly like it should and can be immensely satisfying. In fact you will probably have a legitimately good time for the first minute or two.

But the issues in this game... oh god the issues. First and foremost is the worst camera in any racing game on the system. Does that sound odd? I mean, how does one botch the camera in a racing game where the only thing it needs to do is follow a vehicle from behind? It's nonsensical, right? Well the problem here is unlike every other Mode 7 racer, the camera does not turn in sync with your own movements; it's at a static angle that stays locked in position behind you,à la more traditional games such as Rad Racer and Top Gear. But unlike those games it does not pan enough to keep up with your truck or show your destination clearly. So anytime you start heading towards the edge of the screen, your vision becomes obstructed. Add in the constant up-and-down nature of the tracks and things quickly head south. I'd go so far as to say this single-handedly ruins the damn game. It's one of those things that's kind of a hard explain or understand unless you've actually played the game, but rest assured you will understand real fast if you do play it.

Beyond the terrible camera that robs most of the fun this game might have provided, are some pretty irritating gameplay mechanics. This game features a dreaded damage meter, and the flopping all over the track you'll be doing (because you can't see shit) is going to drain it real fast. Oh and I should also mention that there's a billion civilian vehicles littering the race as well, just to make these things even more frustrating. So some part of you will want to try and play it safe during the race just so you can simply survive until the end. But true to the spirit of the original game, if you want any chance of doing well in the races, you'll need to drive aggressively and make liberal use of your turbos. So you can see how the two things are at direct odds with one another.

Usually the solution is to memorize and practice the tracks. But that gives us another issue; the tracks go on forever, and every part of every one of them looks identical. I guess that's by design since the entire game is supposed to represent a trip down the Mexican Baja peninsula, but it really doesn't help you learn the damn courses.

So, is this a bad game? I certainly didn't have much fun with it. But race fans will probably get some decent mileage out of it. Some might even like it. Probably depends on if you can stomach the camera angle long enough to learn how to get good at it.

Did I beat it?
Like with almost every other racing game, the answer is no.

#572 - Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon

Rayasoft edutainment game number three, and possibly the most ridiculous of them all. Which is saying something considering the other titles are about an asthmatic dinosaur, two diabetic elephants, and a doughnut-dog-murdering superhero. Yes indeed, Rex Ronan Experimental Surgeon trumps them all by lifting a page from the likes of The Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace, while also cranking the weirdness factor up to 11. You see, our titular Dr. Ronan performs "surgery" by shrinking down to microscopic size and entering his patients' bodies so he can blast away at their cholesterol, plaque, and... uh, the robot monsters placed in there by a nefarious tobacco corporation. Its looks and plays as ridiculous as it sounds (which is to say, also very poorly), but at least keeps the frustration factor to a minimum. And it isn't as lifeless or devoid of effort as Raya's Captain Novolin, or as hate-inducingly evil as Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus. So maybe it's best described as a series of bizarre ideas, all poorly done, that results in a below-average game that's brought up a bit by at least being memorably weird.

After a series of cutscenes, the game begins in the mouth of one of Rex's patients, which seems like a logical enough insertion point. From the above pic you can see what is in store for us; using a blaster rifle thingy to clean teeth while floating around in a purple spandex leotard. It's about as riveting as it sounds, and not the most auspicious start to a video game. But at least it gives you plenty of opportunity to learn and get used to the awkward controls after tediously blasting away at plaque for fifteen minutes (I'm not exactly sure how you tell when your goal is accomplished, the game just lets you progress at some point). The next part tasks you with destroying a series of robots that try to gank you from every angle they can, and after taking a million cheap and unavoidable hits you should be able to push forward. I should also mention the occasional "smart bombs" you'll come across floating in space. These are the trivia portion of the game, another Rayasoft staple. Basically you shoot them once to trigger some sort of pop-up factoid. If the information presented is valid, you can touch or shoot the smart bomb to trigger a blast that destroys all onscreen enemies. If its message is a load of BS, it will instead damage you and send you flying to the ground. My advice? Ignore them, ignore the enemies, and just try to advance forward as fast as you can.

The next level is some sort of vehicular stage where Dr. Ronan travels to the next afflicted body part or organ. It's not a terrible idea; linking the levels that take place in various regions of the body with trips through the veins, bronchial tubes, etc. But, to absolutely no-one's surprise I'm sure, they play like shit. There's no use of Mode 7, so the perspective is awkward and very hard to read, and it makes it nearly impossible to align your ship against hazards or your weapons against enemies. In fact I don't know that I've ever hit an enemy with the ship's guns. Hell, I don't even know if you can hit them, or if they can hit you. So without any challenge these levels get real boring, real fast.

By game's end you'll have cleared out your patient's body of a billion robots and infections, and navigated an endless number of mazes of bone and tissue, and flown through miles of tubes and veins and arteries. The final showdown, as it were, tasks you with destroying a bunch of robots guarding the man's cancer, or tumor, or whatever the not-impressive-looking glowy area thing is that's supposed to be the source of all this man's issues (I guess?). It's a pretty anti-climactic end, which is par for the RayaSoft course. Or at least it would be normally, because my copy decided to leave me with an extra parting gift and soft-locked during the battle my first time through. But the game is short and harmless enough that I wasn't too annoyed at having to start over and play again. So I guess that's the best praise I can give this title; the thought of immediately playing through it again didn't make me want to throw the cart. As opposed to, say, Bronkie, where such a thing would be akin to torture. Fucking Bronkie...

(Suggestive phrasings not intended, but not edited out either)

Did I beat it?
Yes, and I had to play through the entire game twice to do it.

#571 - Al Unser Jr's Road to the Top

The first of the many "sponsored" racers on the system, and my choice for the worst of the lot. How many were there? Well the SNES gave us offerings from the collective likes of Al Unser Jr., Kyle Petty, Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti, and Newman-Haas... who or whatever that is. But only Al's game gives you the option of racing with snowmobiles and go karts. Was that a thing people were asking for? Probably not, but being the world's first Super Mario Kart-ripoff has got to count for something. Not with me mind you, but maybe with go karting enthusiasts.

So I guess the game's biggest claim to fame, or most notable feature, would be the fact that it does give you so many racing options (go karts, snowmobiles, I-Rocs, and Indy cars). That may sound like a lot but the truth is the game is very barebones, offering just a few tracks per vehicle type, each of which can be completed in a few minutes. There isn't any configuration either, but instead you have a choice of three different vehicles per race. One that sports better handling and acceleration, one that has a high top speed and not much else, and one that is average in every department. I used the fastest vehicles for all but one race and rarely had any issues taking first so I never even bothered trying out the other ones.

The game is pretty barebones with options too; you can either practice an individual race, or play through the main "Road to the Top" mode where you complete three races per vehicle type, each capped off with a solo race against the timer in some sort of off-roading dune buggy course. There isn't much of a challenge to any of them, a few tight turns aside, and races can be reattempted as many times as you wish until you place. In fact, I don't think it even matters if you get first, taking third will advance you as well. Seeing as how there are only six racers total, it's not something you'll have to sweat about a whole lot.

Eventually, after completing the final race of the final tier (Indy cars), you are challenged by Al himself to a showdown on his Vancouver speedway. I guess he was known for doing really well there or something, or at least he's also kind of a trash-talking dick about your chances there. In any case I easily beat his ass on the first try as his car didn't seem any different than any other opponent I had already raced against. Cue credits.

So yeah, it's an alright game. It handles well enough and frame rate is okay-ish, I guess. The tracks are pretty forgettable for the most part, the depth is almost nonexistent, and nothing about the game is especially notable in any way. The novelty of four different types of racing is just that, a novelty. Only the snowmobiles really seem to handle any differently, and that's just because those tracks are noticeably more slippery. Overall another very low effort game, but at least a harmless one.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I defeated the go kart, snowmobile, I-ROC, and Indy car racing circuits, and then took down Al and his stupid fat face.

#570 - Beavis and Butthead

How many licensed platformers did I cover in this installment installment? There has to have been at least forty because I swear there is no end to these godforsaken things. What do I even write about this time? Another brief synopsis of the origin, history, or culturally impact of Beavis and Butthead? Everyone already knows who they are, and if you don't, just google Mike Judge. Or picture King of the Hill mixed with Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure mixed with Heavy Metal Parking Lot mixed with American Movie. If you don't know what any of those things are then most of my references are probably lost on you and I give up.

First off, this is not the Sega Genesis game where you are trying to get tickets to a GWAR concert. It's the SNES game where you are trying to get tickets to a GWAR concert. Yep, they made two completely different games from the same property with the same plot, and only God knows why. And while the former is reminiscent of a point-and-click adventure (probably yet another thing that no one under the age of 30 is familiar with), the Super Nintendo version is a standard run-of-the-mill by-the-book hop-and-bop platformer. Yes I did write that sentence on purpose, just to reiterate again how fucking many of these things there are, and how formulaic they all are. Especially this one.

The gameplay for the most part boils down to running, jumping over things, swatting at things, or throwing things at other things. Occasionally you find some hidden things. Or defeat some boss things. Aside from the occasional run-in with Mr. Anderson and his leaf blower, or Todd out looking to kick your ass, it's a completely unimaginative and uninspired use of a license that completely squanders its comic possibility. Then again, Mike Judge and the creators of this game are probably worlds apart when it comes to the gift of comedy, so it's not really shocking that this game isn't fit to hold the show's jockstrap. And truthfully that was the norm back then because these were cheap throwaway games meant to cash in on a hot property. We're rather lucky nowadays to have games like the South Park rpgs where the show creators are directly involved with the game's creative process because that was definitely not the case twenty years ago.

As far as how the actual gameplay and mechanics work, everything is functional enough, I guess. The controls are responsive for the most part, collision detection isn't much of an issue, and the levels are, granted, repetitive and pretty by-the-books, but are never really overly-annoying at any point. And I guess they at least tried to fit in a number of references to the series with appearances by the likes of Stuart and Mr. Van Driessen. But they aren't really done in any real creative or imaginative ways, and nothing in the game is ever funny. Why adapt comedic material if you don't make it funny in the process? Whatever, the bar is so low with this type of game right now that it doesn't matter. Let's just move on.

The only real notable thing in the entire game that I can think of is the inclusion of shock metal band GWAR. That inclusion barely factors into the actual gameplay, as they are limited to a brief appearance at the end of the final level, but it tells you what sort of straws I'm grasping at here. I guess the developers could have lamely gone with an unlicensed GWAR-ish band in their place, but they went ahead and got the real deal... a band whose primary appeal lies in NC-17 types of disgusting depraved antics that could not in any way be reproduced in this game. So the whole thing ends up being another complete waste. But hey, at least they didn't take the easy way out... if that does anything for you.

So, what do I even say? It's a mediocre-to-poor platformer, one of the billions of the era, that does a bunch of mediocre things in mediocre manners, completely wastes its license, and its special guest star, and was unrelentingly boring to try and play or write about. I honestly was fighting the urge to doze off while writing this, and that was only partially because I ate a huge lunch.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I got to see GWAR.

#569 - Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

So, here's another odd choice of adaptation, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Once again, it's a game based on a movie I haven't seen in 20 years, but as far as I remember it was a fairly faithful Lee biography that detailed his life after moving to America. And I guess because he roughs up some racist sailors and stars in some kung fu flicks, someone thought to fit a video game around that narrative. Which has once again convinced me that no one in the corporate video game offices of the era had any idea as to what the hell they were doing when picking out properties to adapt.

In fact whenever I think about LJN or Acclaim, I mostly I just picture various scenes from The Wolf of Wall Street:

But as weird as it is, I like that the story and source material are so unorthodox. It's different, which is good and not boring. How many fighting games do we need where a bunch of random warriors from across the globe travel to a tournament so they can be the ultimate warrior, or to win some trinket? The fact that this game has you fighting random dudes in a restaurant, which then spills out into the back alley, is a nice change of pace to me. And the between-level cutscenes at least try to frame a storyline. It doesn't work, but I appreciate what they were going for here.

Unfortunately the gameplay itself is pretty weak. Lee has a pretty wide range of moves that are mostly based on his real repertoire, but I feel like actually using any of them to any real effect is super clumsy and overly difficult. And the hit detection is just horrid. I swear I spend most of the match just trying to get my attacks to land anywhere close to my opponent, at which point it's a coin flip as to whether or not they'll even connect. Acclaim fighting game = ruined by hit detection problems.

The game also seems way too hard for its own good, but take that observation with a grain of salt because I'm the world's worst player at fighting games. I was able to finish off the story mode on easy, but that seems to end somewhere in the middle of the actual game, and before your final showdown with the shadowy armored figure you see in the above screenshots. I haven't seen the movie in a long time but I imagine he represents some figure in Lee's past that haunted him, and he doubles as the game's end boss. Whenever I was forced to fight him early on (for some reason) he completely destroyed my ass. Anyway, my attempts at beating the game on normal always fell short, as taking on one opponent is usually more than what I'm capable of in these games. This one likes to match you up with two or three at a time, which spells my doom.

There's also some sort of special bar that slowly fills up over the course of the game, which can be used to bust out some nunchucks. I'm not sure where Lee grabs them from, or why he'd have them on-hand outside of his movie shoots, but it's the closest thing to a "special" move the game has. All it really seems to do is give your punches some added range and a dramatic increase in attack power. I'm not even entirely sure how you use them, just that once the bar(s) fill the word "NUNCHAKU" starts flashing on the screen and hammering every combination of buttons you can will bring them out.

There's also a 3-player mode included, which for a fighter was pretty unheard of at the time. Since up to three characters can go at it in the main storyline mode, I assume the multiplayer works the same way; everyone piling into the stage at once for a battle royale. I haven't tested that out myself, yet, but hope to some day. I'll give the game bonus points for it though.

So yeah, DTBLS isn't the worst fighter on the system (not even close), and it's probably worth checking out for any genre enthusiasts, mostly because of how different it is. And the inclusion of 3 player is pretty damn cool. But the gameplay is too sloppily executed to really make this anything more than a curiosity piece. So check it out, or waste an hour on it with your buddies, and then shelve it.

Did I beat it?
Yes, but just on very easy. I'm terrible at fighting games...

#568 - ACME Animation Factory

Mario Paint derivative number two, and easily the most shameless of the duo. This time the culprits are Bugs Bunny and friends, bringing you more than enough Super Nintendo painting, animating and song-making to satisfy your heart's desire. Though anyone who desires this needs serious professional help...

Oh, and there's even a silly mini-game in tow. And by silly I mean incredibly stupid. Originality is obviously not gonna be this game's strong suit.

Drawing - It's a paint program, that thing that's been bundled free with Windows for at least 25 years, and is all but unusable nowadays with the likes of a D-Pad or ball mouse. I guess the one saving grace is the inclusion of some pre-drawn landscapes and characters with which you can populate your scenes or animations if you so choose. Is the suite of tools and editors especially robust or powerful? I'll give you one guess.

Animating - Take your drawings and crudely animate them by layering them across the canvas, sliding them around, and altering them on the fly. I will admit that if you were crazy enough to dedicate roughly one million hours to it, you could produce a totally complete and working animation with this thing. Again, I don't know why anyone would do that in the 21st century, but I imagine more than a few artistic kids back in 1994 with all the time in the world on their hands were up to the challenge.

Music - Add silly instrument noises to some sheet music. This is much worse than the Mario Paint iteration however, with a terrible interface, limited sounds and options, no scales, and ugly-sounding music. It's also quite maddening trying to place a note in the spot you want, and simple actions like rewinding or skipping ahead are both way more cumbersome than they need to be. Hard pass on this one.

Memory game - Pure hot flaming garbage. It's a basic match-two memory tile game, except there are dead squares that will end your game if you hit them. Which means the only way to complete a round is to just happen to not pick one of them, which is about 3% of the time. What sense does that even make? What could have been a fun little bonus is instead a demerit on the game's resume.

If you had this game as a kid you may have had fun with it. You may of recreated the theme song to Thundercats, or made a crude animation of Daffy plowing Bugs. You also probably threw the controller at the screen after playing the memory game. Or maybe my friends and I were the only ones depraved and violent enough to do those things. My point is you had to be 12 years old in the 1990s to get anything out of AAF, and either way, none of us are any of those things anymore. So don't play this.

Did I beat it?
I completed the matching game, so yes.

#567 - ClayFighter

#566 - ClayFighter Tournament Edition

I've always despised fighting games. Always, right from the beginning. I even remember when Street Fighter II came out and every single one of my friends bought it and became obsessed with it. Eventually every birthday, hangout, or sleepover turned into an endless series of street fighting matches. And I wasn't into it. At all. I wanted to rent Contra III, or play cooperative games, or take turns at Final Fight. I didn't want to understand byzantine mechanics, or ridiculous combos, or memorize nonsensical d-pad movements. I didn't care about finding secret codes or unlocked modes. Nothing about these games appealed to my nature. And all of these fighting game sessions endlessly frustrated me. Twenty-five years later this sentiment hasn't changed, not even a little; I played a Smash Bros. game as recently as last weekend and virtually every complaint of the genre still rang true in my head.

...and yet, for whatever reason I was hyped for Clay Fighter. To this day I don't know why, since I was very cognizant of my distaste for fighters. But whatever the reason, something about the ad campaign and constant magazine coverage reached me. Was it the goofy claymation graphics and characters? The 'tude of the evil snowman? The effective marketing to and swindling of a young impressionable mind? I honestly have no idea, and I was usually pretty grounded even back then as far as recognizing quality games. But they got me, and we rented this mother the day it came out.

Well, CF obviously was and is a huge heaping pile of disappointment, not only to me but for most other people too. When you strip away the (admittedly decent) claymation graphics and animation, it's another subpar fighter with dumb mechanics and shoddy hit detection. A mid or low-tier fighter hiding behind a gimmick in other words.

First off, the roster is pretty small, and extremely unappealing. From the muscle-bound circus freak, to the stick of taffy(?) or the outright hideous Elvis impersonator, everyone on the roster can best be described as grotesque, lacking any sort of appeal to me whatsoever. It's no wonder they brought in Earthworm Jim with a future sequel, because he has more personality and charm than the rest of the roster combined. And it's not all the clay's fault either, because games like The Neverhood and Trog prove that the medium can pull off lovable characters.

There isn't really much I can say about the gameplay itself that hasn't already been iterated in the write-ups for any of the fighting games I've already covered previously. You square off against an opponent, you jump and kick or throw each other around, and then eventually someone dies. Sometimes you can perform a "Hadouken" to launch a ranged attack, and sometimes you can do some sort of upper-cutty sort of thing. All matches are best of three. Etc. There is absolutely nothing different or unique at play here that hasn't been done a billion times in other games.

The game is also brutally hard. That's not unusual for the genre, and it's not a dealbreaker if you're looking for an easy completion because the game does offer unlimited continues. But it's just yet another annoyance that makes me not want to play it. I don't play enough fighting games to know what would make a good and balanced single player mode, as that isn't really the point of these games, but what they have here does not get the job done.

Oh shit, I almost forgot. You see this stupid game was evidently popular enough to (inexplicably) get a follow-up tournament edition. People were actually asking for this? Or was it just a premeditated strategy after the success of SFII: Turbo? In any case the TE here might actually be even worse. I played through them several years apart so my memory may not be perfect here, but the only differences I could spot were an added tournament mode to the main menu, which seems pretty fucking lazy to me, and some more aggressive AI in the single player mode. Like, relentlessly and annoyingly aggressive. And the attack damage is heavily weighted towards favoring the AI, which is some bullshit, which makes an annoying game even more annoying. So unless you see the appeal of holding a tournament with your friends, which you shouldn't, this might actually be the lesser version of the game. And it's more expensive so, yeah, it definitely is.

Did I beat Clayfighter?

Did I beat Clayfighter: TE?
Yes, after a million continues. Like I said, they must have seriously jacked up the bullshit in this one.

#565 - The Ren & Stimpy Show: Veediots!

The earliest of the Ren & Stimpy games, and presumably the one people are most familiar with, I probably don't need to tell most of you why this game isn't very good. Combining all of the usual pitfalls of Western platformers with a license that could do no good, it's another frustrating, cheap, sloppily-assembled licensed title like so many that have already come before.

I'm not gonna rehash what the R&S show was; see the Time Warp write-up or google it if you need to. But like the other games based on the franchise, Veediots! sets up a ludicrous story as an excuse to march the cat and dog duo through a number of levels loosely based on classic episodes, packing in as many references as possible, from the likes of Log from Blammo and the Tooth Beaver, to Powdered Toast Man in all his sparkling glory. In fact it may cover more ground than the other three games combined, so if you are a superfan of the show looking for fan service (and not much more) this is your game.

Now just like the rest of the R&S games, this game is pretty fucking hard. Way too hard for the target audience for sure, which I'll just chalk up to THQ's complete and total incompetence in regards to making video games. Even reviewing the list of their games that I've already covered doesn't reveal a single entry that isn't too hard or too easy. Just really an endlessly shitty developer, I cannot stress that enough. Anyway, unlike Time Warp this one at least features a password system, though it still barely blunts the challenges. But it does make it possible to brute force your way through the game this time, if you're determined or insane enough.

The controls and mechanics are exactly what you'd expect, and aren't even worth fully explaining. You jump, you attack, sometimes you grab things. What else needs to be said? It definitely looks and plays much closer to Buckaroo$ than the god-forsaken Time Warp, for whatever that is worth. I guess that's kind of like saying something plays closer to Spectre than Faceball 2000; faint praise at best. Overall they're definitely not terrible or as slippery and annoying as stuff like Zool, and most deaths will be a result of cheap enemy placement or uneven boss fights instead of lost inputs, so I guess consider any of that to be the closest to kudos as this review is gonna get.

Anyway, I never made it past the boss of the second world, so I can't comment on the second half of the game. Not that it really matters because I probably would have only grown to resent this game more than I already do. So again, if you're a huge fan of the show you may dig throwing teeth at the fairy tooth beaver or sending our boys to boot camp. Or maybe you landed a cheap copy in an eBay lot and want to revisit a game you rented as a kid for an hour or two. But everyone else need not apply.

Did I beat it?
No. I tried quite a bit too.

#564 - Out to Lunch

This. Game.

Out to Lunch was a present for my sister during Christmas of 1994. I know this because I myself got FIFA International Soccer. And I know that because I got Madden '96 the next Christmas, which would have been 1995. And also because I was really upset that I got a stupid soccer game instead of something like Earthworm Jim or Donkey Kong Country 2 [note - yes I was acting like a spoiled brat in hindsight]. But that frustration was somewhat relieved because in my mind my sister had gotten a "real" game, and not some dumb sports title. Or at least it was a real game in my head. You see a friend of mine had once rented Panic Restaurant for NES and I had mistakenly assumed that OtL and it were two different versions of the same game. To this day I have still never played PR, but I will always rue my younger self for making this association, because while that game is often considered a sleeper hit, OtL is really frickin' annoying and stupid. And I have never beaten it, or really even been close, despite dozens of attempts over 20+ years. It vexes me to this day.

The storyline is about... you know what, it doesn't matter. You're playing as a French chef stereotype, and he has to travel the world reclaiming escaped (and sentient) foodstuffs while an evil black doppelganger tries to sabotage his every effort. I'm sure these characters have names and there may or may not be a backstory for all of the food being alive and possessed, but I don't care, so we're moving on.

The levels themselves center around discovering a dog-catching net and then using that to capture the various rampaging potatoes, mushrooms, and pineapples that roam the level, before depositing them all in a large zoo-like cage. You can also pick up subweapons like hot sauce (fire breath) or bags of flour (projectiles) to stun the food for easier capture, as well as fend off the various other enemies trying to murder you. Those include deadly wasps, gigantic bacteria (which will infect your food) and your mustachoid rival, who will try to open the cage and set your captured food free, undoing all of your hard work. The levels usually stretch rather vertically, and use ample teleporters, trampolines, and one-way doors to create a maze-like structure, all of which must be completed within fairly strict time limits. So in case the diabolical nature of the game isn't already evident, I will translate all of that into a typical level progression:

1 - Find the net
2 - Find a subweapon
3 - Start capturing food
4 - Kill the bacteria before it infects the food because they can be accidentally destroyed at that point, thereby making the level unwinnable
5 - Find the cage and deposit the food
6 - Hunt down more food until you reach the requirement
7 - Race back to the cage because your asshole twin has spawned and opened it
8 - Retrieve all of the food, AGAIN
9 - Run out of time
10 - Repeat

By the time you reach the 2nd or 3rd area you pretty much have to resign yourself to the fact that you'll need to spend a couple attempts just learning the layout of the levels and where you'll need to go and how you can get there, because there isn't enough time to do that in addition to all of those tasks I have laid out above. And this is a game with no continues or passwords of any sort, so you're gonna be going through all of the levels a number of times if you hope to see this through to the end. And it takes forever.

The controls are, stop me if you've heard this one before, slippery as all fucking shit. It is especially pronounced here, which again, STOP me if you're heard that before, really fucking kills the game. I can't really emphasize that enough sometimes. It always seems to be a plague on Western titles too, so either the Japanese just really had that stuff figured out, or Western devs at the time were extremely incompetent. Probably both.

Occasionally you can find bonus zones, which is kind of novel. Not the zones themselves, that's been done to death, but the methods through which you access them. For instance, early on you can ring some alpine bells to make a simple melody to unlock the hidden area. Later you can knock a golden olive from an olive tree. There's many others too that I've forgotten over the last two decades, but suffice it to say trying to discover them was one of the few joys I ever got out of this title.

Despite all of the attempts I've put into the game, I've never made it past the West Indies. I don't even know how many areas there are, but that's only the third of them. The game has already become so punishing and frustrating by that point that I just can't seem to push on through. And yet I always come crawling back, despite wanting to murder this game, because it irks me that this is the only title from my childhood that I am not only unable to beat, but I can't even get close to beating it. And I owned the Earthworm Jims, and borrowed the likes of Bubsy and Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, and many others. All conquered! So either this game is way more infuriatingly hard than all of those titles combined, or I'm just especially horrible at playing it. Either way, it is my nemesis.

Did I beat it?
Nope, and I've been trying for decades too. It just ain't gonna happen.

#563 - King Arthur & The Knights of Justice

What a deeply troubled game. This may be the worst thing Enix has ever been involved with and it's easily one of the most annoying RPGS games that I've ever played. Every single part of its design just has me shaking my head. What were they thinking? The house of Dragon Quest and ActRaiser made this? You'd almost have to go out of your way to create an action RPG this aggravating and endlessly punishing to the player. But what else would you expect from the development team that brought you The Wizard of Oz and Pink Goes to Hollywood?

So, as we get further along in this project you'll notice I'm a pretty big fan of action RPGs. Most of the genre's games are gonna end up with relatively high rankings, including the ones that drive me nuts like Lagoon and Addams Family Values. As far as I'm concerned, even a bad one on a bad day is typically still better than many of the other games out there. In other words, even when one is doing many things poorly, I'm still probably having some fun at least. Like was the case with those two other titles. But the same can't be said for KA&TKoJ, because this game is a "fun" black hole.

So where to even begin with this game's many glaring flaws?

Well there's the godless fetch quests this game loves to endlessly throw you. They are not only never-ending, boring, and stupid... but they are so un-fucking-believably cryptic. "Here's a thing, take it to a guy, let him do some stuff." I'm sorry, what? Can you repeat that? Maybe point me in the right direction? Or any direction? No? Well I guess I'll wander the wilderness for five hours until something happens. With my utterly useless map not helping out in the slightest.

And speaking of the wilderness... navigating the world here is second only to Lord of the Rings for sheer horribleness. Everything looks the same, everything is too big, the paths to other areas are never apparent, and figuring out where exactly that guy you ran into that one time is... well, it's the stuff of nightmares.

Now what is the one thing that can help alleviate the pain of endlessly wandering a large world, hacking away at endless enemies, while hopelessly lost? I'd say it's a progression system of some sort. Experience points, level ups, upgradable skills, shopping for better equipment. You know, ANYTHING. This game opted not to do any of that, so I hope you are prepared to fight a million guys for zero reason, ever, with the one, and only one, attack you are ever provided. As in, no skills, no gear, no upgrades, nothing. I'm starting to wonder if I should even be calling this an action RPG.

And speaking of the combat... it's abysmal. Worse than LotR. Arthur has a Secret of Mana-ish charge meter for his main attack, and that's it. That is the full extent of depth to the combat in this game. You swing your sword, you wait (an eternity) for the meter to refill, and then you swing again. It gets old after approximately five minutes, and only gets more unbearable as it becomes apparent that is all you're ever gonna get.

There's also bad hit detection, no flashing enemies to indicate hits, no real storyline, dumb character names, no save files, bad graphics, bad sound, bad music, and bad everything else. You know, that whole deal. OH. I should probably also mention the design "quirk" where every dungeon requires you to bring a specific knight from your posse along, lest you want to fight the bosses solo and be unable to pick up the key items they leave behind when defeated. If you fail to do this you can expect to walk back to Camelot, pick someone else, and then try your luck again. Yeah... I had forgotten about that whole thing, or maybe just suppressed the memories. Thinking about it again kind of makes me want to throw the cart, as payback for all the wasted hours it foisted on me.

So, should this game be lower in my ranks? I've probably made it sound much worse than this placement of #563. And maybe it is. But once again, I'm compromised by my soft spots. I love action RPGs, I love knights (especially when they're obscenely big and colorful), I love big overworlds and dungeons, and I love having big crazy final bosses at the end of those dungeons. It also has a large roster of playable characters, and a huge, huge quest to swallow dozens of hours. Yeah, all of it is implemented really poorly at best, but there could have been the makings of a SNES classic here if Enix had had the time, talent, or acumen to realize it.

And hey, at least it didn't corrupt my passwords and glitch out my MC's attack power. That alone makes it ten times better than frickin' LotR.

Lastly I must confess that the bulk of my experience with this game came back in 2015 (or was it 2016?), so a few things may have slipped my mind or grown hazy with time. I popped the game back in for a night and read every review I could find to make everything fresh again, but that is not an optimal way for me to do these write-ups. Then again there was also no way in hell I was gonna sink a bunch of time into this game a second time, so it is what it is.

Did I beat it?
No, I got maybe fifteen hours in before throwing my hands up and walking away. And trying to resume my playthrough just a week later had me hopelessly confused and lost. So King Arthur has the dubious honor of being the only RPG on the system that I gave up on before the end.

#562 - Vegas Stakes

The second and final gambling game on SNES, Vegas Stakes is a marked improvement over previous entry Super Caesar's Palace. And though I still don't know why anyone would want to play a game like this, it's at least a less obnoxious experience and vastly superior option overall.

First off, and this is a big one for me, there is a battery save this time, so you don't have to input a massive password just to recover your character's balance. I have no idea why that couldn't have required a simple 4 character password in SCP, and I could easily spend this entire review ranting against that game, but I'm already spent more than enough time decrying it at this point. See volume two for more details.

VS also tries to implement a (barebones) story and characters to liven things up. It doesn't really add much to the game, but it's better than nothing I suppose. The basic setup is that your character comes to Vegas with a buddy and tries to hit up several different casinos until he reaches $100,000 in winnings. At that point you are granted high roller status and access to the final casino. If you reach $10,000,000 you get a single screen ending and then credits. This is done rather easily by save scumming on roulette if you so desire, otherwise most of the games seemed rigged to be in your favor. I guess the idea is to give the player an overall happy experience with lots of winning.

Along the way you will encounter a ton of random NPCs, each of whom will ask you for a favor. Agreeing to help them is another form of gambling itself, and will either lead to a reward of anywhere from $200 to $20,000, or to them robbing you blind. Like everything else in the game, it is random chance. However, it too is heavily weighted towards rewarding the player, so you may as well help them out every time one of them approaches you.

Beyond the story and NPC fluff, it's a pretty standard gambling experience, and the games themselves are the usual fare: craps, roulette, blackjack, slots, and poker. I'm not gonna go into specifics as I don't recall what exact types of poker are present or anything, but just assume it's what you always see in games like this.

So, it's a pointless game, done in a presentable, polished manner, and is probably as good as this type of game gets. If you enjoy this kind of thing you'll probably have a good time. If you don't, it's a harmless enough way to waste an hour or two when you're bored.

Did I beat it?
Yes, with the help of save scumming.

#561 - Goal!

A port, or sequel to, the classic Jaleco NES game (I have no idea which), Goal! is miles better than every soccer game I've already covered. Probably better than all of them combined. But it's still a mediocre experience, and a far cry from the good ones on the system.

The options present are super barebones just like in so many other subpar sports games. From the main menu you only have two choices: Exhibition and Super Cup, which is a series of games against set opponents followed by a bracket-style tournament. This is a thing in the soccer world apparently, judging by how every one of these games has a setup like this. Now there are a decent number of configurable options, from toggling certain penalties on/or off, setting automatic goalies, and a wide range of half lengths, but overall the lack of "stuff" points to a pretty pathetic effort by Jaleco, especially considering this thing came out a full year after the system's release. Launch titles get a tiny bit of leeway for offering limited modes, but there's no excuse for anyone else.

The gameplay itself takes place from a horizontal perspective (unlike Super Goal! 2 incidentally). AI aggression and general game speed are both moderate as opposed to the likes of World League Soccer and Soccer Shootout, thank god. I don't think I could handle another game where I'm being mobbed by the AI 24/7. The controls on the other hand are baffling. It's soccer, how hard can it be, right? But between the Y, B, and A buttons, which all kick the ball in the direction your player is facing, I swear I still can't tell you what the difference between them is. And I played over a dozen games of this thing. Eventually I just settled on using one button for pass and another for shoot because they seemed to give me slightly better than average results. Or they may do the exact same thing, I have no idea. I think part of the problem is that the viewpoint is so zoomed in that I can never tell where the ball is actually going. If it travels to a teammate, it's hard to say if that happened because I turly did "pass" it to him, or if he just quickly ran to where I was aiming. This problem also extends to trying to score because unless you are right next to the goal, you cannot tell if your shot is going to be anywhere close to being on target or not.

This actually brings to light yet another issue; you can only kick the ball in eight fixed directions. So the only real success I had on offense was lining up directly across from the goal, and moving in a straight line towards it. If I ventured off this line, or tried to attempt a shot from a 45 degree angle, or added any other wrinkles to the formula, my shots would end up flying wide left or right of the goal. Every time. Which then directly ties into yet another issue; the damn goalkeepers. There's no rhyme or reason to what they do or what gets past them. If I kick twenty shots directly into a goalie's chest, most of them will be safely caught, some of them will get tipped up over the goal, and one or two of them will go straight through him into the goal. And I mean literally right through him because the game triggers a close-up animation of the shot and it clips directly through his sprites. So if there is any strategy to scoring, it is beyond me.

So all of this means that for every single game I played, the one and only strategy I was able to use successfully and reliably was dribbling down the middle of the field, pressing any of the buttons to pass to the unseen teammates up ahead, and then hitting another one of those buttons to put a shot into the goalie's face and hoping it just happens to go in. No exaggeration, that is how I played, and how I won most of my games. That's not uncommon for bad sports games on the system, and I should be used to relying on exploits by now, but this seems even more limited than usual.

Now, if this game is so shitty, and I've probably made it sound that way so far, why do I have it ranked so much higher than previous soccer titles? Or ahead of middling almost-okayish stuff like Beavis and Butthead? Well that's because I think this is a game with a fair amount of depth hiding under the surface. Want to intercept your opponent's pass with a perfectly executed flying bicycle kick that perfectly sets up a shot on goal for your teammate? It sometimes happens. Want to send a curving corner kick directly off your forward's forehead into the goal? That can happen, if you know what you're doing. Which means it rarely happened for me. But it still happened. You see I realize it's my fault I had so much trouble understanding what was going on in this game because I never bothered to download a manual, or read an FAQ, and the nuances of soccer in general have always baffled me. Could I have done those things, or learned the sport? Yes. Are there actually strategies I should be employing to see success? Most definitely. And I think this is a game where you can put the time in to make this an above-average experience. I didn't do it because it's soccer, and I don't want to, but I hesitate to tank a game when I realize it's most likely better than what I got out of it. So call this an average game, that some soccer fans might love, and I had a hard time with.

Did I beat it?
It's a work in progress. But I probably won't because soccer.

#560 - The Duel: Test Drive II

I very vaguely recall playing the original Test Drive on my dad's original PC. This was before Windows, when I had to boot everything up through DOS through the couple dozen commands I memorized, and our game library consisted entirely of games sent to us on five inch floppy discs from my grandfather in St. Louis. He'd send us a huge printout with thousands of programs, and my dad would highlight the ones we wanted with a Sharpie. In hindsight it blows my mind that either one of them gave the slightest shit about any video game, much less went to this much effort to get them into our house. Hell, every time I tried to explain to them why it was very important that I recover a talking monkey's giant banana stash or slay a giant invisible pig man they only shook their head, wondering why I didn't want to do something more important like build character. But anyway, Test Drive was one of the programs that my dad picked out, and anyone who has ever played it will immediately know why. It's the ultimate "dad game." Pick the car of your dreams, take it out on the highway, evade cops, and... well that's pretty much it. It's literally a simulation of an afternoon cruise.

The sequel, which we can see here was ported to the Super Nintendo, tries to make that formula a little more interesting by adding a "duel" element. Instead of just trying to make it to the goal line before you crash or get arrested, you now have to outrun your foe.

There are four different courses to select, each representing a different difficulty. As far as I can tell that just determines the amount of rain you can expect, the number of civilian vehicles on the road, and the rate at which you run across the cops. None of those really represent any massive obstacle, as long as the current section of the road you're on is four lanes wide. The two-lane areas are where you start to run into trouble.

The controls are good enough for what the game asks of you. Which is to say, they are extremely basic, but straight-forward. If you select an automatic transmission the only things you'll need to worry about are the gas and the brakes. There's also a button dedicated to your horn, but I never could tell if that actually did anything.

There's a couple other miscellaneous things I should probably point out. Like what appears to be the growing number of bug smears on your windshield during a race. If there is a button to use your windshield wipers, I either never figured it out, or it was left behind with the PC original. And in addition to duels, you can also just race "the clock." I never bothered to check that mode out. Some sections also let you get (very briefly) airborne if you're going fast enough. It's probably the closest thing to a thrill in the entire game, but it's still pretty tame. We're talking like two feet off the ground. But it will snap you to attention and you try to regain control before slamming into the motorcycle in front of you.

If this review seems relatively harsh, know that I do not dislike this game. It has its problems, but something about the experience is very relaxing, especially compared to other racers on the system. Since the challenge is so low, and the pace so slowed down, I find it to be a very nice change of pace after some time with any other (frustrating) game in the genre. Call it my letdown game. Of course I'll have had my fill after 10-20 minutes and always end my play session there, but I never hate my time with the game. That has to count for something. Lastly, I'm fairly sure later installments in the series basically ditched the entire formula and became more conventional racers. Not that I blame the developers; in the age of Gran Turismo and Super Mario Kart I doubt very many people were looking for this type of game anymore. Especially on consoles. But it's really the only thing it had as far as claims to fame. Oh well.

Did I beat it?
After five or so sections, or whenever I run out of cars, the game tells me I won and gives me the top high score. So... yes?

#559 - Battle Blaze

It's funny, but as I was reminiscing about my time with this game, and looking at those screenshots for inspiration, I realized just how much I loathe the appearance of the dual health bars at the top of the screen. I know that probably sounds funny, but it's true. And that's because of what they represent. You see, I love most video games. Platformers, puzzles games, arcade games, shooters, shmups, first person shooters, on-rails shooters, twin stick shooters, RPGs, JRPGs, WRPGs, QRPGs, space games, fantasy games, collectathon games, card games, battle toading games, games with deadly premonitions, games with robot shrimps, games that combine sheep with block towers, games that combine vacuuming with sushi rolls, games that combine Panzer Dragoon with schizophrenia, paraplegia and serial killing, and on and on and on. Even the occasional soccer game, the devil's sport, can sometimes be admittedly charming. And that's because for the most part I don't care what the genre is, or what the platform is, or what year it came out, or what it looks or sounds like, I can probably have a good time with a video game. Any video game.

And I'm especially susceptible to the charms of cheesy artwork that promises I can swing swords and maces at someone else's face. If I see that artwork above, it will get my attention, and probably my hopes up. But when I turn the game case around to look at the screenshots, I pray I don't see those god-forsaken life bars. Because fighting games are the bane of my existence. It is the one type of game that consistently pushes me away.

This specific one, presumably about battling and blazing, is an early effort from Sammy, the studio behind previous thorn-in-my-side Football Fury. I'm sure they probably released a good game at some point too, but it hasn't looked good for them so far. And they certainly were not trying very hard this time around, because BB is a pathetically simple fighter that barely has a roster of characters, or gameplay, or anything really. There's a couple different modes, which I've already forgotten the details about (never a good sign), each of which takes just 10-15 minutes to complete. One of them is called Hero Mode, which resembles a campaign of sorts. And by that I mean it's a single player mode where you eliminate the rest of the cast in a series of one-on-one fights before taking on the big bad at the end (just like in every other fighting game ever). You also travel a world map (kind of) to make things feel more epic (it doesn't work). So at the end of the day what you have is a standard single player fighter that tries to mix things up and fails miserably. And I probably made it sound way cooler than it actually is.

Kind of like most of the other early fighters, there is no choice of hero for the single player mode; you are stuck with generic barbarian dude. He's the lamest guy in the entire game too. His moves include swinging a sword and swinging a sword in a couple other slightly different ways. I assume. Because honestly I spent all three (!!!) of my playthroughs doing the same single attack over and over again. You see, when your foe gets close to your barbarian, instead of performing a throw attack like is standard, you run them through with a dash attack of sorts that will also send them flying to the ground. As they get up you can repeat the process, again and again. This is what I do for every fight, without exception. It's boring but it makes things quick and easy so I can't help but abuse it.

At some point in one of my playthroughs I was actually killed somehow (usually I don't even take so much as a hit), but instead of dying my character appeared to pop a potion and instantly recover. So... I have no idea what that was about, but apparently an extremely easy game is even easier than I thought when you can't die.

There's also some other mode. I played through it. I don't remember anything about it. I don't want to refresh my memory. Let's just assume it's a minor variation of hero mode. Fighting games seem to love doing this to make it seem like there is more meat to the game than is reality.

I assume there is also multiplayer of some sort. Maybe there isn't. It doesn't matter.

So in conclusion, the game is a rancid affair, and probably amongst the worst on the system. But it's also mercifully brief and easy, which is always a big plus in my book. It means my time spent with the title was just that much shorter and frustration-free, and that is worth a lot to me. So drop this a hundred spots if you enjoy fighting games. Or fuck, maybe bump it up a hundred spots, I dunno. I would never presume to actually be able to identify a good one; I'm usually too busy cursing my life when playing them to notice.

Did I beat it?
Yes. Way too many times.

#558 - Riddick Bowe Boxing aka Chavez Boxing

Yep, another boxing game. Can you tell yet that I'm not a fan of this sport, or genre? But at least this is the last one. I hope. No... I pray it is. Because I cannot spend another couple hours mindlessly trading blows with some other meatbags, watching dully as the stamina bars never seem to deplete, and the timer slowly counts down. I may go insane in fact.

Actually, I'm being way too harsh here. Riddick Bowe Boxing isn't that bad. I mean it's not that great, and not the sort of game I like, but I didn't hate my time with it or anything. And I would much, much rather play this than the likes of TKO, Boxing Legends, or the Foreman games. Boxing fans may even like it. But I've more than had my fill of this type of gameplay over the last eight months.

First let's cover the good things. This game offers a career mode, which lets you work up through the rankings by picking and choosing your fights. I like that. And there is even some rudimentary stat-building between fights, which lets you control which sort of fighter you end up with. I like that a lot. The boxing action itself is actually playable for once too. I really like that. Instead of trying to find exploits, or just randomly bash buttons and hope things worked out, I did actually have to find some combos that were effective against the other fighters, and what worked for one guy didn't necessarily work against another. Kudos to the game for that.

But of course this game wouldn't be ranked in the 500s if it wasn't chock-full of things I don't like. Like how painfully long the fights seem to drag on. I don't think I ever finished off an opponent in less than five rounds, and since I averaged roughly 200 thrown punches per round, that means a single gameplay session means thousands of punches. That gets boring. I don't know how many shots to the head and then quick one-two follow-ups to the gut I delivered, but I lost count somewhere around 10,000. This is not a game you can play for more than thirty minutes at a time. The roster of fighters is also completely devoid of charm. They're all made-up (unless Bowe shows up at some point), but unlike the Super Punch-Out roster they all look alike, and have zero personality. It's basically just a sequence of slightly varying skin tones and facial hair, with no one standing out at all. To me that is a majorly lost opportunity, as an eclectic cast is one of the best things an arcade boxing title can provide. For shame.

If you're into boxing games like Fight Night or Ready 2 Rumble or... whatever another one might be, you may enjoy this. And everyone should play this instead of any of the other SNES boxers if that choice is one you have to make (for some reason). But it's only fun in very small doses, if it's even fun at all. I'm still undecided.

Also, I have absolutely no idea who Riddick Bowe is. Probably one of the billion heavyweight champions the boxing world seems to have floating around. And got video games apparently.

Did I beat it?
No, but technically I do have an in-progress career if I ever choose to finish it.

#557 - Carrier Aces

The first of the SNES's many aerial sims, Carrier Aces combines two things I love: World War II and dogfighting. Is it weird to say you "love" a war? Probably. Maybe I should say "two things I'm fascinated by." Fuck it, you know what I mean. Anyway, this relatively lofty ranking is the result of a lot of mixed feelings at play here, because I think this is yet another title where different people are gonna get wildly differing levels of enjoyment out of it. If you are fascinated by the subject matter like I am, you might be able to wrestle some fun out of it, anyone else is probably gonna have a bad time.

For those who couldn't guess (or don't consider themselves even casual followers of history), this game covers the war in the Pacific between Japan and the US (maybe the rest of the Allies make an appearance at some point, I dunno, I didn't play every mission after all). Specifically, it mostly covers the various engagements between the two carrier fleets, hence the name. The game is split into five different campaigns, each of which progresses through several different types of missions. You begin the campaigns by building a squadron of a dozen planes from various types (fighters, bombers, etc.), and then are taken to a map of the region that shows you the two powers moving into position. You don't really do anything from there like in a typical strategy game, it's just a neat way to show the campaign's overall progression.

Dogfight - Exactly what it sounds like; Zeros against Mayfires. Except instead of having a large-scale fight between entire squadrons up in the air above the fleets, the game instead plays out a series of one-on-one battles. These go on until one side or the other is completely destroyed, and I hate it. It's slow and extremely tedious, as each skirmish can last up to ten minutes, relying on a lot of cat-and-mouse games as you continuously try to find and engage your foe. Literally 95% of that time will be spent just trying to just catch up to the enemy, because there appears to be some sort of maneuver that will grant a sudden and dramatic boost in speed, but I could never figure out how it works. The AI will use it nonstop though. Finally shooting down an elusive opponent is extremely satisfying, but it happens so infrequently and takes so damn long to accomplish that it's barely worth the effort.

Torpedo Strike - Again, exactly what it sounds like. Pilot a single bomber and try to dodge flak while lining up a torpedo with a capital ship. These segments are reasonably well executed, and fun, but seem pretty heavily luck-based. There were at least several instances where I was shot down moments after the level started because I spawned in a turret's crosshairs. Kamikaze crashes into your foe also seem effective.

Strafing Attack - Exactly the same as the torpedo run, but instead of lining up a single attack from a bomber, you're trying to rake the ship with your machine guns.

Dive Bomb - Similar to the last two, except you're dropping straight down on a carrier, trying to blow apart every plane parked on the deck. The turret fire is laughably easy to avoid this time for whatever reason, but the need to pull up before you splash into the ocean means these sections only last about five seconds. It's fun, but a tease.

Carrier landing - Land your carrier at your home base's harbor. No I'm kidding, it's putting a plane down on the deck of one. These also last about ten seconds, and I've been successful with every single attempt. That robs the game of any potential thrills or drama, and just makes for another boring mini-game.

So while I love the idea of the game, I just didn't find it very fun to play 97% of the time. And the dogfighting, which is what you'll spend most of your time in this game doing, is extremely tedious. So unless you figure out exactly how to play that mode, which I didn't, it is gonna outgrow its welcome real fast. It's a shame too because I really wanted to enjoy Carrier Aces, but this game rebuked those efforts at every turn. This may be the sole WWII game I've ever played, on any system, that I didn't finish.

Did I beat it?
I beat one of the campaigns. I'm not sure if they all have to be done in one sitting or not, but that would be extremely tedious.

#556 - NCAA Basketball

Another one of the shoddy Nintendo-made sports games that came out early in the system's life, NCAA Basketball is the twin brother to NHL Stanley Cup and uses the same engine and Mode 7 perspective. It's probably marginally worse than that game, or at least I stuck with it longer which gave me more time to learn its many flaws.

First off, this game is fully licensed by the NCAA and the major conferences, and features a relatively large number of Division I programs. In fact every team from every power conference (of the time) is present, though all of the independents (ie Florida State) are missing, strangely enough. So I was able to rock my hapless Pitt Panthers and Georgia Tech Yellowjackets to my heart's content. No mid-majors though, so Gonzaga and Marquette fans are SOL.

As far as the gameplay goes, you can pretty much copy-and-paste what I've already said about so many basketball games so far. This is yet another title that came out before NBA Live '95, which means it has a slow and plodding pace, a severe lack of offensive options, and little in the way of fun. And just like in every old basketball game from Double Dribble to Bulls vs Blazers, scoring usually means trying to wedge your way into the paint for a shot and hoping it goes in, or finding an exploit and abusing the hell out of it. In fact I'm just gonna start calling this "sticky defender" syndrome. And it drives me nuts. It's also amazing to me that no one thought to shake this formula up until frickin' 1994.

Anyway, beyond being just another primitive basketball game, I can at least point out some of the quirks that are present.

- There's no backboard. So feel free to use all of the paint when driving (or muscling) your way in for a dunk or layup because for all intents and purposes the rim is suspended in mid-air. This was my bread-and-butter strategy earlier in the season, before the defenders starting ramping up and sealing off my lanes.
- Loooong three point shots. I don't know what factors into field goal accuracy, but distance doesn't really seem to be a big part of it. So if your player manages to get open he's probably gonna sink the three, whether he's right at the line or fifteen feet behind it. For this reason the PC can be lethal if you let them wind the shot clock down, forcing them to make a desperation shot. Or at least what would normally be a desperate shot, since they'll all go in.
- No configuration options. I swear these basically don't exist. So there's no way to skip to a postseason, or shorten up the long ass games, or do much of anything. Super lame when you're trying to play a season or just play in the tournament.
- Bizarre scheduling and tournament setup. As far as I could tell the regular season entails playing two games against each conference opponent, with no out-of-conference games. I also had to play six tournament games to win the championship which would mean a traditional 64-team bracket. But I'm not even sure if this game offers that many teams...
- You can call plays, but I swear they do nothing. I tried it a number of times every game, never to any avail. Maybe I was doing it wrong, or maybe it's not apparent they're executing.

Now I did actually manage to drag myself through an entire season (and postseason tournament), mostly by using the same exploits over and over again. I can't say I ever had any fun playing it, but it was at least mindless enough that I wasn't entirely annoyed the whole time. Pretty faint praise, but that's the best I can say about it. So, it's a game that is fully featured, fully licensed, and technically playable, but not very fun, or hiding any real depth in any way. If you bother to play any of the older basketball games on the system (for some reason) you could definitely do worse.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I went 20-0 with Kansas.

#555 - The Ren & Stimpy Show: Fire Dogs

The fourth and final Ren & Stimpy game, thank Jesus, Fire Dogs probably comes the closest to being a quality title. Or maybe I should say it's the one game in the series that has the closest thing to (fleeting) joy (I was gonna make a "happy happy joy joy" joke there, but it kept coming out really poorly). Strangely enough it also seems to be the installment with the worst reputation. Perhaps that's an effect of the AVGN video, or perhaps it's because it has the roughest and least intuitive start to any of the games. I definitely do not fault anyone for hating this game because it surely makes you work for the good bits, and not everyone has as much patience as I when spending time with the legions of shoddy SNES titles.

So like I said, this is again a game that the AVGN already did a video on. That review focused mostly Stimpy's efforts in getting through the (fire)house of horrors, and makes the game look very slow, cheap, and frustrating as fuck. And it wasn't wrong, because these levels are really damn stupid, and take up an entire half of the game. Solving them basically consist of trial-and-error, requiring you to memorize the exact layouts of every level, including the locations of all hazards and pickups, so that you can then efficiently fly through it in a very specific manner so that you can beat the tight time limits. It's very not fun, and it gets very old, very quickly. And each successive level gets more and more demanding on all fronts. Not a good formula for success, any way you put it.

On the other hand, the other type of level is one I do enjoy. These feature the duo using a fire net (trampoline?) to catch the various valuables that are falling from burning buildings. These sections are super unforgiving and just as reliant on memorization as the firehouse levels, with a difficulty curve that gradually escalates until culminating in a truly manic endgame of which I was unable to overcome despite hours of effort. Sounds pleasant, right?

And yet I can't help but like them. A little. More than I should, in any case. Despite getting game overs again and again I kept coming back because I really wanted to overcome their steep challenges and move on. And though I could not beat the game, I put a lot of effort into trying. That is far more than I can say about the rest of the R&S games combined. In fact the thought of playing Time Warp again makes me want to weep, and the lack of checkpoints in BuckaRoo$ and Veediots! is making my blood boil. Whereas Fire Dogs gives you a password after every level, a godsend and huge difference maker in regulating the frustration factor.

So, is this game any good? Probably not, and even if mileage varies, I seriously doubt more than a few (at most) players come away from this thing with anything other than contempt. But I honestly had more fun with Fire Dogs than with the 150+ games I've already covered, so here it sits.

Did I beat it?
Almost, but not quite.

#554 - Suzuka 8 Hours

Fuuuuuck. Another motorcycle racer? How many did I choose for this installment?

I have to be honest, when it comes to these games my "well of inspiration" (if we can generously call it that) always seems to be running dry. I just... don't really care about these games. I don't care about racing, I don't care about motorcycles, and I find both of those things an absolute bore to think or write about. So this review is gonna suck, just like the ones for Full Throttle and GP-1 did. I just don't know what to say that I think will be interesting or insightful. So I'm gonna keep it really, super brief, and go with this mini-review that I half-completed several months ago:

The final motorcycle racer in this installment, thank god, and the millionth one I've covered recently. They're a pretty shitty bunch overall if seven of them managed to fall into the bottom 150. Or maybe I'm just especially critical or unfair to games that I struggle with. And I struggle mightily with these.

I don't know what it is about these games, but I can't stay on the damn track. Ever. Not here, not in GP-1, not in Kawasaki Superbike, not in Carribean Challenge. None of them. Is my brain incapable of registering the feedbacks necessary to get better at them? Are they just pronouncedly difficult games? I honestly don't know, but it is a massive struggle to make myself stick with any of them when I'm frustrated almost the entire time.

What else? There's an 8 hour race option, per the title, if you're a masochist. I obviously never touched that. Luckily you only need to play the medium-length setting to see the full game, but that still sticks you on each track for an eternity. I don't recall exactly how long that was, but trust me, it's an eternity.

Yeah, I dunno what else to say. For as much as I played this game I can't remember much more about it. And my most recent attempt to play it ended with me falling asleep in my chair. So... that's it, I quit.

Lazy, right? But they can't all be winners and at some point I just have to cut the cord when I'm way overdue on getting this stuff posted. So the only question left is, how many more of these damned games do I need to deal with? I know I still have GP-1 II (what sort of fucking title is that?) left, and my alcohol-addled mind is telling me that might be the final one. And all I can say is I truly, truly hope that is the case. For my sake and yours.

Did I beat it?
Yes. Wait, what? I beat two motorcycle games? I can only assume I was drinking heavily.

#553 - Paperboy 2

Just for the record, I love most of the old-school arcade ports on the NES. Everything from Q*Bert, Donkey Kong Jr. and Spy Hunter, to Pac-Man, Bubble Bobble and, hell, even Clu Clu Land. Every time one of those games comes up in the weekly contest (over on Nintendo Age/Video Game Sage) I'm always surprised by how much of a blast I end up having, and I never get tired of playing the same short loops of gameplay over and over again trying to best my high scores. Something about mastering a very specific set of challenges, with inputs that are tightly designed around obtaining scores, can be very, very satisfying to play. Most of the time. Because there is one very big exception to this rule and that is the Paperboy franchise. These bastards are so aggravating and endlessly cheap that every effort to play them seems like a drag, seemingly designed more around RNG and sucking up quarters in the arcade as opposed to mastering skills or having fun.

Unfortunately for the SNES, not only did it end up receiving very few ports of early arcade titles, but the only one it got during the early years of its lifespan was Paperboy 2. I even distinctly remember this being one of the very first games I ever rented for the system, and even as a young child who was desperate to play any and everything I could get my hands on, I knew something was very wrong here.

While the original game in the series tasked your paperboy (or girl) with surviving one week on the job, the sequel triples that, giving you "easy", "medium", and "hard" streets to conquer. Those also seem like complete misnomers to me because I have never survived a week on easy street. On any version of the game. It makes the original Paperboy look like "preschool" street. And that is partially because the BS factor has been significantly ramped up this time around.

Paperboy might have seemed random at first, but there was clearly a pattern to those who looked closely enough. Each additional day would add more and more enemies and hazards, but 95% of the time they could be anticipated and avoided by taking the correct path with your bike. In fact, I would say every pattern and enemy type could be avoided if you react quickly enough, so long as you remember what you faced in previous days. I don't find that very rewarding or have much fun doing it, but the game is fair in some sense at least. With the sequel however I never felt like that was the case. It seems that any path you take (whether that's lawns, sidewalks, gutters or the middle of the street) is one death trap after another, waiting to kill you with random attacks and unavoidable hazards that are impossible to anticipate. Now maybe that's because there's a bigger variety of them, or maybe they're just more unpredictable now, but I was never able to get into any sort of groove like I did with the first. And I feel like getting into that groove is an important aspect of this genre. You need to feel like you're getting better and mastering the gameplay for it to work.

P2 also adds another "bonus area" at the end of each route. Once again it resembles an obstacle course, and has you hitting jumps and nailing targets for extra points. I thought the hit detection in this part absolutely abysmal in the original game, and it's only slightly better this time around. Luckily you are never penalized for failing, or I should say you don't lose lives. So, unless you're playing for high score, that at least lessens the blow of having to play this segment over and over again. I'll settle for boring and stupid as opposed to maddeningly frustrating.

Overall I hesitate to call this a terrible game because I think it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and I feel like the series must be doing something right to garner the fans it does. There's also nothing inherently wrong with this port either, as everything plays and controls exactly like it should. I just don't like the formula, and I don't like what they added onto the original, and I find it super annoying that I never seem to be able to overcome the RNG and put together a good run. So will mileage vary on this one? For sure. But I think most people will have had their fill after ten minutes.

Did I beat it?
No, I'm terrible at this series.

#552 - Garry Kitchen's Super Battletank: War in the Gulf

#551 - Super Battletank 2

Kitchen sink title joke

One of the earliest releases on the system, Super Battletank is a follow-up to Battletank on NES, both being presumably PC ports. And by simulation, I mean this thing is as much of a simulation of real tank warfare as Top Gun on NES simulates aerial dogfights. It's more Battlezone than CNN, preposterous cover quote aside.

When I was a kid the local video store had all of its SNES rentals organized by release date, with the oldest games occupying the top row. Which means SB was always perched right next to the likes of Super Mario World and F-Zero in the upper left corner. And in the nearly ten years of perusing those rentals I never once noticed it had been taken. That always piqued my curiousity. Was this strange tank game just too hardcore for us weenie video store patrons? Was it too complex or nuanced for the typical Super Nintendo-playing grade-schooler? These questions burned in the back of my mind...

Well, twenty years later I've played the game and can finally answer those questions: no and no. It's just a generic, slow-paced arcade game that no one cares about and no kid would ever be interested in. The gameplay is, again, Battlezone, but with a few added wrinkles. Which means this is an arcade title, and nothing more. A typical mission involves gunning your Abrams tank toward the nearest enemy tank on your overhead map, and then playing a high speed game of tag as you try to keep him in your sights, futilely trying to tag him with depleted uranium cannon fire. You know, just like how the real tank battles in the gulf went down. Later on this formula is mixed up with the presence of enemy choppers that you need to shoot down with your heavy machine gun, also just like real life. And to mix things up, sometimes there are minefields to avoid. Or SCUD launchers to blow up. Occasionally a mission will end with the game's closest thing to a boss fight: ambushes from enemy fortifications. I think. I honestly couldn't really tell what was happening on these parts, other than you're suddenly under fire from multiple directions and you have to blow up the dark silhouettes off in the distance before you die. It's really stupid, and poorly done, with little warning as to what is coming or explanation as to what to do.

Everything does controls well enough with a relatively straightforward scheme. A shoots, B brings up the map, X and Y control your throttle, select changes weapons, L and R turn, and the D-Pad controls your targeting reticle. Though strangely enough whenever you enter the map your speed increases at least tenfold. That's very useful for zipping around the map, but very annoying when you accidentally do it during a skirmish and fly halfway across the map, leading to another tedious effort to re-engage your foe. On top of that, this is a game where you have to manage your fuel, which is always super fun. It's not usually an issue during most missions, but it's just one more thing to deal with and create anxiety.

And that's basically the entire game. It's fun enough for what it is, but not really that fun either. I like shooting down helicopters as much as the next guy, but there's never any real variety to the action. And the tank battles are pretty absurd overall, again like drawn-out games of tag. I'm not saying the game should play like a Jane's title, but something between "light arcade title" and "hardcore sim" would have been more than acceptable. Plus if you're better off blowing up tanks and choppers with a heavy machine gun, as opposed to your main cannon, that probably speaks to some balancing issues with the game.

The sequel, Super Battletank 2, barely changes the formula up. Seriously, the two games are virtually identical. Missions still place you on a square map, and task you with taking out the enemy's tanks, Hinds, and SCUD launchers. Did the Iraqi Republican Guard air force actually have Hinds? Who knows. And once again, you're better off using your turret HMG to take out most opponents, including enemy armor. Though I will say that the main cannon is slightly more useful this time around thanks to a more accurate gun. Or maybe the shells just fly in a more useful arc. Whatever the reason, at least half of your shots will hit your target this time, as opposed to the one quarter in the first game. And your ammo capacity has also been bumped up big time, which removes one of the original's annoyances. Obviously they recognized this was something that needed tuning.

The one major change present here is the inclusion of new rail shooter segments that pop up at the end of some of the missions. You can see one in the third screenshot above, and these task you with blowing away endless enemy choppers that are trying to strafe your Abrams. There's also occasional fighter jets, trucks, and bouncing.... something or others, that travel across the screen, but I never successfully destroyed any of them. Or interacted with them in any way. They don't seem to attack you, so I have no idea what purpose they serve. Overall these segments are pretty boring and repetitive, and go on for way too long. Good idea, bad execution.

In the end I have to admit I had some fun with both SBT games, all faults aside, and I have put them on the short list of half-finished titles that I plan on eventually getting back to with some serious effort made towards completing them. Since the missions are so short and the gameplay is simple enough to master and/or memorize, I anticipate being able to do that without getting too aggravated, which is always a nice bonus. But they're not great games, held back by too many flaws and rough edges, and different people will probably have different opinions of how they play out. If you like real simulations, these games aren't gonna give you much to work with. But if you like Battlezone, you may enjoy them.

Did I beat Super Battletank?
No, but I will someday.

Did I beat Super Battletank 2?
No, but I will someday.