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#600 - The Wizard of Oz

So the Angry Video Game Nerd walks into a bar and talks about some forgotten old game and everyone who is tuning in jointly agrees that it must be terrible (despite never playing it themselves), and collectively render the game's reputation as forever shitty, never to recover....

I'm wondering why I should even bother trying to cover any of the games he's already looked at. Most of you have probably already seen his The Wizard of Oz video, so you know what makes the game dysfunctional, and since everything he said was more-or-less accurate enough I feel that anything written by me will just be regurgitating a dead horse (did I just mix up too figures of speech?). So how does one keep things fresh and interesting?

Well you can't, so instead I'll talk about why I have this game ranked at 600 instead of 700 (or wherever you expected to see it fall). And I think the answer is a form of Stockholm syndrome. By that I mean if I see a Japanese publisher's name attached to the cover art, and I like the cover art itself (I'm a sucker for details and bright colors and shiny things and such) some part of me instantaneously enjoys the game more than crude-looking games such as, say... Ballz. Granted the Japanese publisher and colorful artwork in this instance are both misdirection since the game was developed by a Western outfit, and the actual game itself looks like shit. Hell, I should have immediately realized where TWoO originated from moments into my first play session because it features any number of the hallmarks of terrible Western game design. So I guess I don't really know what I'm talking about; I like the game for tricking me into thinking I might like it a little bit, even though I didn't.

Anyway, the culprit in this instance is Seta, who I think overall have an underappreciated catalog of titles on the system. Or at least they published a number of titles that I want to call cult classics. Most of them are brimming with rough edges, or rip-off other, better games outright, but I still enjoy most of them nonetheless. For instance Musya, a very troubled game in many, many ways, is something I have a good time with every time I sit down with it. I just can't help it and I guess there's something about seeing past a game's warts if it offers nice sprite design, goofy dialogue, or memorable music. A hipster movie column I followed many years ago would refer to this phenomenon as a "fiasco." Seta games are usually fiascos of some sort.

Typical levels here have you guiding Dorothy from left to right, dodging lemons, mice, crows, mushrooms, and other silly things, while collecting tickets and yellow bricks. Why? I don't know. I have a vague understanding that you need the bricks to finish constructing the yellow (brick) road at some point, and the tickets are probably reserved for the Wizard or admittance to Oz or something. Does that happen in the source material? I can't say for sure because I haven't read the books and I haven't watched the movie in at least twenty years. There's also a mini-game with Toto where you'll need to do to spell out a phrase in order to spawn magic tickets (or whatever they are), so I assume they're important.

There are also occasional boss fights. None of them are anything particularly special, but it's better than nothing, and at least they aren't very aggravating, unlike the rest of the game. As I've already iterated in a number of these reviews, platformers with boss fights > platformers without them. After all you need something to break up the action, and bosses do that very nicely. As far as I'm concerned, any games like this that forgo bosses are just being lazy.

So is a game that is commonly referred to as one of the system's worst truly deserving of that reputation? No. Well, maybe. It's not very good, or something I want to play, but then again neither are dozens of other platformers on the system, most of which suffer from the exact same problems. And yeah, it took some effort to force myself to play it enough times to even just write this review, which is always the sign of a bad game. But again, that has not been an unusual sentiment up to this point in the rankings. And TWoO does do a few things right, which is more than many of the games I've already covered can say. So in the end The Wizard of Oz is a fairly bad game, just like so many others, and it is the biggest exception to my Seta rule, as the edges are a bit too rough even for me, with legendarily bad platforming, cheap level design, and annoying bits all helping to drag the whole thing down. It's really a shame too, because some good ideas do rear their heads occasionally (and briefly), but they're always buried by rest of the game's dreck. With a little bit of tweaking I think I could have enjoyed it quite a bit.

Did I beat it?
No, I don't think I've even crossed the halfway mark in this game.

#599 - The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare

If you are reading this thread then you're most likely a child of the '90s like I am, and most likely adore what is often referred to as the "golden age" of The Simpsons television show. And though the exact timeframe of this era is up for debate (seasons 3-8 is probably the closest to the consensus) most older fans will agree that the show was at its best before the turn of the century, and before jerk-ass Homer and Maude's death and so many other things slowly drove the series into the ground.

Well unfortunately for us same children, the video games never experienced such a decline; they were shit from the beginning. Or at least the console games were, since everyone loved the Konami arcade beat-em-up. Bart's Nightmare for Super Nintendo and Genesis was probably the most prominent of those games as it was an early title that sold in bunches and was a regular rental for us unsuspecting dupes. Since I'm sure most or all of us fall into one of those two populations I probably don't even need to discuss the game's shortcomings. But I'll do it anyway:

Windy World - A "hub" of sorts, this seemingly endless street in Springfield lets you travel to the other dreams (levels) by chasing down pieces of paper blowing in the wind. You'll also need to avoid various mailboxes, schoolbuses, Jebediah Springfield statue heads, and other Simpsony things out to get you, lest you lose all of your health and wake up, which is an instant game over. And everything about this stage is annoying and confusing, a portent of things to come. Stepping into the street is just inviting death since the buses move too fast to react to, yet that is where your homework papers generally spawn. Your only attacks to fend everyone off are mostly impotent, so you're better off just sticking to the sidewalk and hopping over everything you can. Blue and red "Zs" will also randomly float by, presumably as a form of health recovery if you can catch them, but the hell if I ever managed to figure out how to do that. Finally if you do capture one of the pages, you are brought to two random colored doorways. The choice you make here determines the level you will travel to next.

Itchy & Scratchy - The yellow door, where Bart travels through the Simpsons home collecting various weapons in order to blow away the cat and mouse duo before they kill him. This is probably one of the better levels in either game [note - Did I mention this is the prequel to Virtual Bart?] , but it's still pretty frustrating and cheap, and you're often dead before you have a chance to react. It did seem to be the door I secretly wished would appear every time I jumped into a page, so at some subconscious level it must be the one I enjoyed the most. And I truly did wish to see where it ended, even if I never quite made it there. So, consider it the de-facto best of the bunch I suppose.

The Temple of Maggie - The orange door, where Indiana Bart Jones navigates an ancient temple, jumping across a series of moving platforms while avoiding birds and devils. Eventually you'll get hit by something or step on the wrong pillar and drop to your death. Terrible. Is this completely luck-based? Is there a pattern to what is happening? I vaguely recall reading once that you're supposed to use the fires in the background to hint at your next move but fuck if I could ever make any sense of any of this.

Bartzilla - The green door, this is exactly what it sounds like. And somehow it is even worse than the temple level. As a Godzilla clone you need to move through downtown Springfield, fending off endless tanks and choppers that are relentlessly raining death down upon you, while destroying everything and anything in your path. Despite playing this game a good number of times over the last 25 years I have never made it past the first section of this level and have no idea what you are supposed to do or what exactly the controls are. Easily the worst mini-game in BN, or either game for that matter.

Bartman - The blue door, where Bart flies through the skies as his (short-lived) alter ego Bartman, dodging rockets, poisonous clouds, and various airborne citizens of Springfield. Despite being an absolutely terrible shmup, it's probably one of the better parts of the game, which tells you something. This is actually the only dream I can manage to beat, being fairly short (it's basically a boss rush) and generous with health points and extra lives.

Bart's Bloodstream - The purple door, Bart scuba dives through some pink (body?) fluid, fighting off germs or something. It plays very similar to an old school arcade game in that Bart can move in any direction, trying to kill enemies that spawn from various directions before they can overwhelm him. Like a reverse Joust, enemies must be attacked from their bottom or side, at which point they can be finished off by repeatedly tapping A. It plays alright, I guess, but for whatever reason seems like the door you are least likely to run across (at least initially).

Aside from the Bartman door, all of these sections feel like they go on for a million years, and none of them have checkpoints. The cheap hits and deaths also feel like they are endless. The fact you have to complete the entire game in one go with no passwords or continues means the only solution is to practice every level enough to know exactly what needs to be done, with flawless execution to boot.

So is it as bad and frustrating an experience as Virtual Bart was? For the most part, yes. The minigames all suffer from the same types of insufferable gameplay, with endless cheap hits, shoddy controls, or levels that go on for way too long. It's just a shitty pair of games, plain and simple. But I am giving Bart's Nightmare the slightest of edges (if that's what you want to call a difference of five spots in the rankings overall) over its sequel because the Itchy & Scratchy level is probably my pick for the best of the bunch, despite not really being any good at all. And the fact I was able to actually complete one of the levels here has to count for something.

Also, because you'd have to beat some of these levels multiple times, adding further insult to injury, my hat is off to whoever took the time to conquer this game. You have a stronger will than I.

Did I beat it?
Nope, not even close.

#598 - GP-1

This is the third(ish) motorcycle game I've covered recently, and the third one I've had a miserable time with, with two more coming up shortly. I often wonder if I seem to group similar games together because my brain isn't capable of keeping the experiences separate in my head, especially as my time playing them gets further and further into the past. Or perhaps all of these games really are subpar in very similar ways and thusly deserve very similar rankings. Since no one else will ever be stupid enough to do what I'm doing here we'll probably never know.

Now, I've never ridden a motorcycle in my life. I don't know how one would properly "tune" them in the settings. I don't know what a typical race would entail. And I have no idea how close any of these games are to recreating the experience of racing the real thing. But my completely uneducated brain seems to think that GP-1 offers one of the most authentic experience on the system. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because it seems really challenging, and motorcycle racing itself seems crazily dangerous. All I know is it feels the most realistic at some gut level.

This game is also balls hard. Like, mega-sized balls. Possibly harder than Kawasaki Superbike Challenge, a game where I have gotten dead last in every single race I've ever attempted, and in general have no idea what is happening the entire time. Whereas here I know exactly what is going on, and I still get dead last every time. I don't know what it is about these games, but it takes a genre I'm already really bad at (racing), and magnifies my flaws exponentially. I'd go so far as to say it is literally impossible for me to complete one lap of any race in this game without either spilling out into the grass after clipping an obstacle or tapping another racer and crashing spectacularly.

It also kind of makes me sad that this is an Atlus-published game. They're such a powerhouse third party outfit nowadays, and yet they definitely got off to a very humble start with a very lackluster SNES portfolio. If only they had released stuff like Shin Megami Tensei or Tactics Ogre instead of these stupid GP games, the system's library would have been just that much more impressive. Though I guess translating a billion lines of text is probably harder than whatever it is they had to do to get this game released. Probably nothing at all.

Did I beat it?
No, my immediate goal is to complete one lap in the first race with a respectable time.

#597 - Hardball III

Baseball game number... four? Five? Does it matter? They all run together. And I love baseball. But it is not a sport that had great representation on the Super Nintendo. In fact I'm gonna have to go play it for the fourth time right now just so I can remember how it works and have something to write about.

*three nights later*

Okay, I played it two days ago, but was so bored out of my mind that I didn't have it in me to write anything. And then last night was pub trivia night so I was too tanked to use a keyboard with any accuracy. But I'm here now, I'm sober, and I'm gonna write this bastard... right after I play Switch for three hours.

*one month later*

Ok, I can do this. I can play this game, retain the memories, and then write about it.

*two months later*


Okay, for real now. This is Hardball III. In case my dumb little gimmick hasn't clued you in already, this is a boring, boring, boring game. Which probably isn't shocking because most people think of baseball as a boring sport in the first place. I personally love it (baseball), but I can still recognize that the pace and learning curve can be brutal things to overcome in video game form.

First off, everything about H3 screams "DOS game from 1988." There's just something about that color palette and the design of the sprites. Also, it's ugly, it sounds horrible, and everything about the controls and interface is cumbersome and feels aged. Now I have no idea if this is a port of an older game, or if it re-uses an older engine and/or its assets, but for a SNES game released in 1994 I can only assume it must be one of those things. How else to explain such a rough looking and sounding product as this?

But how does it play? Graphics don't really matter if the action is finely-tuned and exciting, right? Well unfortunately the gameplay feels as aged as the rest of the game. Batting and pitching are both incredibly stiff and unfulfilling [Cue Michael Scott - editor] thanks to the ancient way they're implemented. You see after choosing a pitch or swing type from a preset list of options, you relinquish control over to a canned animation, with minimal input on the player's end. Now you can decide where a pitch is going, but it seems completely binary; either directly down the middle of the plate, or way outside [That's not true - editor]. By that I mean if you touch the D-pad during your release you will throw a ball. If you don't you will throw a strike. I never saw an exception to this rule [Actually, if you tap the d-pad slightly you will throw a strike on the edge of the strike zone - editor]. Batting is even more limited because I honestly don't know if the D-pad does anything at all. You either swing or you don't, that's it. Again, those are just my observations, but even if I am mistaken I think it speaks poorly on the game that you can't really tell for sure one way or another.

So how is this a better game than the likes of Cal Ripken Baseball or Roger Clemens Baseball? I guess because as shitty and unpolished as it looks and feels, and as painfully limited the batting is, most other parts of the game actually work well enough. Generating offense isn't too much of an issue once you get into a groove with the timing of your swings, and the fielding is competently handled and shouldn't lead to too many misjudged balls, errant throws, or errors in general. And the game is loaded with real ballplayers, which is always a huge plus in my book. It also seems like there is a decent amount of customization possible if you choose to dig into it. So I didn't have any fun with this game, but that doesn't mean others won't, and I imagine kids who played this on their PC back in the day probably had a great time.

Also, everything I wrote in the beginning truly did happen. I started this damn review in January.

Did I beat it?
No, though I haven't really tried to.

#596 - Dream TV

Okay, how is this not an Amiga game? It has to be. Those screenshots are a dead giveaway, and I don't care what Wikipedia, or any of the other internets tell me, this was made for that system. Maybe it was a port of a cancelled game, maybe it was converted to Super Nintendo in the middle of development. Maybe I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. But it for sure looks the part.

Judging by the cover art, and presumably a write-up in the manual, the plot has something to do with two kids being sucked into their television, where they must fight skeletons and giant maraschino cherries to escape again. Or perhaps it's all a dream. Actually, I'm just gonna say this is an adaptation of Stay Tuned with John Ritter, but that they lost the rights before it was released. None of that is true, but it's more interesting than this game so I'm going with it.

It doesn't really matter either way because whatever they came up with is obviously just a flimsy setup to justify each of the various levels taking the form of a broadly-defined television genre (fantasy, science fiction, etc.). And if there is any more to the story than that, I have to profess ignorance anyway. It's possible the game had cutscenes or dialogue between the levels but I couldn't be bothered to pay that much attention, despite playing this at least a half a dozen times.

The gameplay is one of those mixes of puzzle and platforming that loads of developers seemed to be experimenting with at the time. You'll traverse relatively open-ended areas, of which there are multiple per level, collecting puzzle pieces in order to unlock a final door that leads to an area boss. To obtain those pieces you'll need to get pretty familiar with the levels because even in the first one you're looking at a pretty large number of areas to navigate, keys to grab, switches to hit, enemies to avoid, and secrets to find. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but there definitely ain't no tutorial level to ease you into the action here. It's sink or swim, and 95% of players will immediately choose to drown.

The one thing that does separates DTV from the pack is cooperative play. As in, both players can simultaneously move through the levels trying to solve puzzles and pick up items. On top of that, there are options for both single and split-screen perspectives. That's pretty damn ambitious for a game from this era, I will give it that. And it works relatively well too; the nature of the puzzle pieces mean you can either work together, or work on separate areas to cover more ground, giving both players a measure of freedom from one another if they so choose. Color me impressed.

Now, if this game wasn't obviously ranked so low, which kind of spoils any of my reviews, you'd maybe think I was describing a hidden gem of sorts. Cooperative play? Open-ended levels? Puzzles? One could be forgiven for starting to believe this is a hidden gem of sorts. But having all of the elements of a good game (or at least ideas of elements) doesn't mean that everything will come together and make for a fun experience. Because this game is a drag to play, to put it bluntly. The combat is horrid, the boss fights suck, trying to figure out what you need to do is often confusing, and the manner in which some of the pieces are found can be pretty obtuse. The graphics and sound are pretty bad too, though to be fair I'm not the hugest fan of the Amiga "feel." Not that this is (officially) an Amiga game, but you know what I mean.

The game is also a really big pain-in-the-ass to play solo. For some really stupid reason you still have to control both characters, and unlike something like The Lost Vikings where each one of them plays very uniquely, the two dudes here are exactly the same. So instead of using individual abilities to solve puzzles, I just need a second warm body to hold down a button or trigger a see-saw. It's not fun and it feels like I'm babysitting someone the entire game. And boss fights are impossible with this setup unless you figure out a very specific thing you need to do in order to survive.

In the end it's a game I've had a few fun moments with, mostly with another player. And I think the whole concept has a ton of promise. But the end product is a lackluster one, and really can't stand alongside any of the other similar titles on the system. So there is absolutely no reason to ever consider playing this when you can have so much more cooperative fun with something like The Legend of the Mystical Ninja or either of Blizzard's Norse titles.

Did I beat it?
No, I could, but just can't bring myself to keep playing it.

#595 - Adventures of Yogi Bear

Straightforward and boring. That could easily be the three-word review of The Adventures of Yogi Bear, with no further explanation needed. Hell, it's probably the most straight-forward platformer, or the most literal "hop-and-bop" game, that I've ever played. Which means there isn't really a single interesting or unique idea present in the entire game, and that is really annoying as far as coming up with material to write about. But I'll press on anyway.

As the tiny Hanna-Barbera icon on the right side of the box lets you know (if you somehow aren't already familiar with the property), this is a licensed platformer based on an old TV show from the 1960s. Our hero is Yogi Bear, clearly a reference to New York Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, with an overall personality and manner of speaking that are modeled after Jackie Gleason's best friend Ed from The Honeymooners. HB really got a lot of mileage out of ripping that show off...

Anyway, the show itself, to my memory, centered around Yogi and his diminutive buddy Boo-Boo performing various hijinks in the fictional Jellystone National Park, usually stealing pic(a-nic) baskets and annoying their local park ranger. Well, the game has nothing to do with any of that. Other than floating picnic baskets. I don't even think Boo-Boo shows up, giving this game a real case for the laziest on the platform.

Throughout a series of twenty or so levels you'll guide Yogi through a gauntlet of rivers and chasms, grabbing floating items and jumping off picnic baskets, and avoiding various forms of wildlife. Every few levels you move on to a new area, from forest to underground caves and lakes, before finally ending in a construction zone near the city. The lake levels feature some brief swimming, the construction levels have slightly harder platforming, but overall barely anything changes throughout the course of the game, besides the new tileset for each area.

And that's the biggest problem with this game; there is never anything to break up the action, or introduce any excitement. Just an endless series of superficially different levels. There's no power-ups, just items that give points (which do nothing). There's no bosses, or notable enemies even. No real variety to the levels, no appearance of any other characters (as far as I know). The one single, solitary thing that ever breaks up the action are occasional bonus area you can stumble across, but even those aren't really any different from the main levels. And they're only fifteen seconds long and immediately take you back to the regular game if you screw up, so they're barely worth mentioning. Even though I have almost nothing else to talk about.

I guess almost everything else about the game is functional enough, for whatever that's worth. The controls do their job pretty well as you shouldn't have any problems making jumps or fending off enemies. The graphics and animation are alright, and definitely do the show justice. And the game doesn't have much of a difficulty curve, which means it avoids having any cheap moments that are roadblocks to your progress. Though is the lack of a "con" really much of a "pro?" I must be reaching here...

Really though, what else can I even say about this game? It might be the most ho-hum experience on the platform. No single part of the game is any good, or really that bad. Every single aspect of it is basically middle-of-the-road. Which in itself is a bad thing. I like games that take chances, or at least make some effort towards being interesting. So I'm giving Yogi this fairly poor ranking, far below many games that have severe issues of one type or another. Unlike Yogi, at least they tried.

Did I beat it?
Yes, on what I think was the first or second attempt.

#594 - We're Back

Yet another platformer based on a kid's movie, which in turn was based on a kid's book. I only point that out because I owned that book as a kid and read it many, many times, whereas I'm not sure I ever bothered to watch the entire flick. I'm not exactly sure why that is, maybe because it really looked and felt like a Don Bluth film, and I was never a huge fan of his work (The Secret of NIMH aside). Something about his style, or the sense of humor in those films always felt so off to me, making them a chore to watch. Or maybe it was just that this is a stupid film, that took a basic story (dinosaurs in New York City) and added a bunch of dumb and unnecessary plot and padding to it with evil villains, young romance, and terrible musical numbers.

It was probably both things.

Anyway, the video game adaptation of We're Back has you control just one of the menagerie of talking dinosaurs, the T-Rex. I don't remember his name. Probably Rex. John Goodman voiced him. The only inclusion of the rest of the cast seems to be as power-ups you can grab, the purpose of which I have yet to figure out. It's no big loss either way because I despise them all.

Now the size of this T-Rex sprite is, well, large. He is a tyrannosaurus after all. But it's also responsible for some of the game's biggest issues. For instance, because he's so incredibly large and incredibly wide, it means controlling him and avoiding hits are both way harder than they need to be. Just doing the simplest things become endlessly bothersome nuisances. Like how Rex has an incredibly annoying tendency to move the slightest amount when you try to flip him around. That is unforgivable. And on top of that, his large-ass feet sprites don't actually represent where you can or cannot stand (the very middle of his feet basically), which makes the platforming part of this platforming video game an endlessly series of of botched jumps and landings. So good luck turning around, because you'll probably fall. And you can't use your sprite to accurately judge if that will happen.

The combat is pretty dumb too. Rex can throw an endless supply of tiny rocks (pebbles?), but they move in a maddening arc that will fly over the head of half your enemies, and they have an extremely slow rate of fire. And why is a T-Rex throwing rocks to attack in the first place? Seems like the one thing he shouldn't do with his tiny little baby arms. There's also a tail swipe attack that I unlocked at several points, though I don't know how or why. A secondary pause screen implies you can power it up too, but it goes without saying that I don't know how that works. I didn't even notice that screen until my fourth time playing the game for that matter.

The game does at least do one thing right, and that is an overachieving collection of boss fights. They take the form of various mechanized contraptions that the evil doctor has whipped up, and they are at fairly impressive in scope, especially compared to the rest of this game. Think of a poor man's Dr. Robotnik/Eggman. But not as well designed or tightly balanced, with the later ones in fact being super annoying. Still, they are by far the best part of the game so I can't be too critical.

So overall it's probably a much worse game than something with a similar standing like Adventures of Yogi Bear, but it also at least has some ambition. The boss fights are relatively advanced for a kid's game, and there is some actual challenge to the game, unlike most of Hi-Tech Expressions' other offerings. If they had just fixed the controls and stupidly large character sprite it could have at least been a mediocre game. Instead of a bad game that has some poorly-done mediocre parts. Or something like that.

Did I beat it?
No, in fact I seem to get worse the more attempts I put into it.

#593 - Fun 'n Games

Like the box and title so bluntly put it, this is a collection of "fun" programs for painting, music-making, style (?), and two different "games." In other words, it's a Mario Paint ripoff. And it's a pretty lousy one at that.

First things first, this game supports the SNES mouse, but it is terrible. Or I should say, it works terribly, or was terribly implemented somehow. Granted the thing has aged pretty horribly in and of itself, as it is really hard to go back to an old school trackball-style device in the 21st century, but I found it to be at least somewhat usable with other titles on the system. For whatever reason that's not the case here, as I could never reliably use it with any accuracy in any of the different modes, with the minigames in particular being basically unplayable with it. So ditch the mouse and use the controller. Or better yet, just ditch FnG entirely. But I digress...

The paint program is... a typical paint program. Pretty blasé. You have a canvas, and brushes and pens, and erasers, and all the usual things you'd expect out of any version of MS Paint from the last 25 years. The only thing FnG even tries to add to the equation is a number of premade backgrounds and objects. And I will admit there is a pretty decent number of them, in case you want to color in a football game, or add dozens of ice cream cones to your beach party. But beyond that it is pretty barebones, and there doesn't even appear to be a way to save your work. So why even bother crafting a masterpiece when it is lost to the ether as soon as you shut the system off?

The music creator gives you a standard music sheet, lets you place notes for a dozen instruments, and then plays back your arrangement with the touch of a button. Again, nothing special or extraordinary here. The number of instruments is on the higher end, but most of them sound outright terrible and nothing like the real things, and the compositions always end up sounding flat and lifeless. And again, your work cannot be saved, so crafting long and nuanced orchestrations or sonatas or whatever seems like a complete waste of time.

The "style" section is probably the biggest joke of the lot though. The entire thing consists of dressing up a single image of a woman by clicking through a number of hats or dresses, or alternatively, "Frankensteining" hideous creatures together with pre-drawn legs, torsos, and heads. I don't know what the latter has to do with style, and I don't know why they bothered with this part of the game.

Finally, we have two different games offered; Space Lazer and Mouse Maze. SL is an extremely basic shooter that has you lining up enemy craft in your targeting reticule and then holding down the fire button until one of you dies. It's very simple, very short, and not fun. In fact I cleared it in roughly 4 minutes on my first try and never went back to it. Why would you when there is no strategy or depth whatsoever? Mouse Maze on the other hand is slightly better, but still pretty bad. It rips off Pac-Man wholesale, tasking you with guiding a mouse through a cat-infested maze, gathering all of the cheese, avoiding mouse traps, and grabbing bones in order to transform into a dog so you can eat the cats. It's very generous with extra lives and clearing all 25 levels takes all of about 5 minutes. And just like with SL, after clearing it once I can't imagine being left wanting more, or ever playing it again.

Overall this is easily the worst of the three "paint" games on the system, and by far the least original. I guess just like with every other genre that Mario either created or inspired, imitators will always follow shortly afterwards, hoping to lap up some of that success. And the relative scarcity of this title means it very deservedly saw none of it.

Did I beat it?
Yes. I even made some pretty doodles.

#592 - The Incredible Crash Test Dummies

Why is this a game? Why is this a property? Was this a cartoon? A toy line? I know it was a series of popular television commercials, but the leap to video games seems like an improbable one. Not to mention a bizarre one. Then again we're talking about an era where Max Headroom and teenaged mutant ninja turtles were things, so who am I to question it?

As you can see from the screenshots up above, The Incredible Crash Test Dummies is the billionth platformer I will have covered. One where several crash test dummies are, umm, trying to escape from the test facility or something. Yeah, we'll go with that. And along the way you'll need to avoid various other robots trying to run you over or impale you with toy airplanes, dodge standard electrical hazards and moving spikes, and try to avoid losing your own body parts (they fall off with each hit you take). That last thing is kind of clever, but doesn't really seem to impact gameplay in any really noticeable way, other than making your hitbox slightly smaller, I guess. You also pick up wrenches, which act as a weapon, and screwdrivers to recover your health, and small spinny things which give you points or something. Occasionally you'll find lightning bolts that make you run super fast, bouncing off walls and flying up inclines, or balloons that temporarily inflate your body, allowing you to float in whatever direction you choose. And there's even spinning sign to run through at each level's end. Does any of that sound familiar, or remind you of other games from the same time period?

Much worse than the derivative gameplay elements though, is the same issue that affects ICTD's spiritual brother Wayne's World; your view is way too zoomed-in, which makes avoiding enemies and attacks really damn hard and annoying. Even the initial enemies in the first level will probably catch you with your pants down, again and again. And, like usual, the only solution is to always move at a snail's pace, or memorize everything's position. And even then it's still tricky because everything moves so damn fast that you need some pretty twitch reaction times to avoid taking hits. The developers must have been aware of these issues, because they apparently tried to compensate by littering the levels with heals. So you're just constantly taking hits, recovering, taking hits, and recovering. It makes the entire balance of the game feel way off, and not particularly satisyfing.

You'll also occasionally play between-level bonus games. Think of these as a predecessor to today's endless runners, which is pretty damn far ahead of its time. But they too suffer from the lack of viewing distance, and end up being boring and frustrating rather than fun. In fact I don't think I've ever been "beat" one. Or even know what that would entail.

That all being said, it's not a terrible game, and is much, much better than Wayne's World. The boss fights can be pretty fun, the game controls well enough with solid movement and a sense of inertia, and the game isn't particularly difficult if you take your time. But it's still not very good.

Did I beat it?

#591 - SimEarth

Who in the world thought this was a good idea for a game? Can this even be called a game? You may as well be clicking random buttons in a spreadsheet and hoping it produces interesting results. No wait, it's more like the "learning" software that you were forced to play on the IBMs in your 6th grade computer lab. You know the type - your class spent two afternoons trying to figure them out, and sure the resident computer nerd managed to do just that, but the teachers were baffled, and everyone else was bored. Eventually you choose to boot up Number Munchers or The Oregon Trail for the millionth time instead, and no-one bothered to object. Trying to play SimEarth circa-2018 will give anyone my age some serious flashbacks to those days.

Right off the bat, you know you're in trouble with the main menu. The options here are:

- Load Data
- Next Scenario
- Random Planet
- Daisy World
- Dictionary
- Backup Initialize

What in the what? This has to be the worst one I have ever seen in my life, and I have played thousands of games. Like, all of the games. If one exists, and it's not on a TI-82 or something, I've probably played it. And what they have here is the worst of the worst of the worst. The lowest of the low. The win cellar in the... dungeon's... basement. You get the picture.

How do I start a new game? Do I need to load data before I do the next scenario? Is Dictionary a help menu? Shouldn't that be the "Encyclopedia?" Is there a tutorial of some kind? What in the sweet merciful crap is Daisy World? Well I can't tell you the answer to any of those questions because I don't know either. Everything in this game is an indecipherable mess, and nothing is ever explained to you, and regardless of what you select, you're gonna be baffled. What are these different modes? What do the onscreen buttons and indicators do? What are those wriggling things? What am I looking at? What DO I DO?

Well I'm not playing this, screw this game, I'm out.

*three months later*

Mother f'er. I forgot I solicited a short walkthrough of this game from Bea_Iank, asking for her guidance and expertise in helping out stupid dumb peoples such as myself. And since she of course did just that, because she is a saint with endless patience for my type, I owe it to her (and you I suppose) to at least try a little bit here. So I'm finding an uploaded PDF of the manual and giving this bastard a second try. Pray for me.

So to start the manual explains the controls. That's probably a pretty important part of playing the game, so let's dig in:

Oh... kay... That just raises more questions than it answers. You bring up icons and a command menu? Is the map my location on the planet or the location on the edit screen? Is that the same thing? I guess this is something I'm just gonna have to figure out by doing. Moving on.

So, an explanation of what to do in the main campaign's first scenario. Okay, cool, that's helpful. Granted I need to know how to play the game before I worry about specific strategies, but I can reference this later. Though why does it keep pointing out I cannot make fire and thusly my civilization can never be modern? Is that the cut-off between modern and ancient civilizations? Fire? Shouldn't it be something like... I dunno, the internet? Vaccines? Fighter jets? Whatever, doesn't matter, I'm just nitpicking. But now that I know the strategy, I just need to learn the tactics.

Randomly-generated maps and scenarios in this game? Pass. Hard pass.

Who? What? I guess if you're a science guy/gal you may dig whatever's going on here, but I'm gonna opt out of the "graph on daisy growing."

It's money, got it. This is a strategy games, strategy games have to constrain your resources, say no more.

You're losing me again game. The map mode is a more zoomed out view of your planet that serves no other purpose? The edit mode lets you allocate things? There are way more icons and buttons than this is letting on, so why are you being so concise, game?

Wait, then what is the map mode?

Oh... no...

The wheels are officially off the bus.

The bus has crashed into the goddamn mountain.

(I'm aware Will Wright is the creator of this game)

Did I beat it?
Only if making it past the menu counts as beating this game.

#590 - Pink Goes to Hollywood

I feel compelled to explain the properties attached to the games I'm reviewing because some part of me assumes that a percentage of my tens of readers aren't familiar with them. That's probably pretty far from the truth, because anyone who is nostalgic enough to be on a forum dedicated to ancient video game tapes is old enough to have grown up watching these movies and shows. Everyone knows what Ren & Stimpy is. Everyone watched Beavis and Butthead when they were a kid. I'm just telling you what you already know, and maybe dropping one tiny little factoid that's new to one or two people.

This entry though has to be an exception. What the fuck is The Pink Panther? Obviously it's a cartoon from the... let's say '60s, and you may or may not be humming the theme song right now. A song and name that are taken from a series of movies starring Peter Sellers from around the same era. These movies featured a bumbling inspector who is trying to find a stolen jewel named "The Pink Panther," among other plotlines. What does that have to do with the cartoon? You've got me. So what the hell is the cartoon and where did it come from? Does anyone out there have any idea without cheating and looking at Wikipedia? Because I sure don't.

To the best of my memory, Pink (the feline) never talks, barely emotes, and mostly just struts around to smooth jazz while unfortunate things happen around him. I think (it's been awhile). What any of that has to do with Hollywood or leather jackets or video games is also beyond me, and if I think about this any more I'm gonna give up this review. So let's just focus on the game and gameplay at hand...

It sucks.

This is another one of those platformers where you can take two hits before die, you're given a run button but no real reason to ever use it, an impotent attack (two of them actually), and shit is constantly pelting you from just offscreen. I seriously hate that. All of it. If the run button is too dangerous to actually use, fix the game's balancing, or just remove it. Just because Sonic the Hedgehog did it (poorly IMO) doesn't mean other games should too. And if the character is going to be so incredibly frail that everything is a threat to kill him then they need to nerf the shit out of the enemies, otherwise every level turns into a tedious crawl of inching forward and memorizing their positions. That is not fun, it was never fun, it will never be fun. In any game, ever.

I'm wrapping this up early because this game annoys me. By that I mean I just wrote that entire thing in one take and I don't feel like spending much, if any, more time on it. Are there any bright spots here? Well it is non-linear and branches right off the bat, giving you access to a number of levels from a central starting hub. I like when games do that, because it staves off annoyance and tedium for at least the first twenty or thirty minutes. And I'm a sucker for references to movies, which this game has plenty. It's a personal weakness, one which has somewhat compromised a few of my rankings, and I own that. But I give the game bonus points anyway. Charm, even in tiny doses, can sway me. But the game still sucks some pretty big ass overall. I've played it for probably at least three hours over three separate occasions, and I've never managed to make any real progress. That is a real problem for a licensed game clearly meant for kids, and more attention from me than this game deserved.

Did I beat it?
Not even goddamn close.

#589 - American Gladiators

Man, when I look at that cover pic all I can think about is how rampant steroid abuse still was in the early '90s. You can blame infamous abusers like Arnold for blurring the line between bodybuilder and celebrity, or the Soviets for ruining the Olympics and eventually professional sports, but all I know is people were fucking huge during this era. Especially the Gladiators, sweet Jesus. Was anyone asking questions? Did anyone even care? Maybe it was kind of like the era's sentiments towards professional wrestling; a combination of naivete and denial. Don't ask, don't tell.

Anyway, the American Gladiators video game is another track and field type, offering seven different events where your lowly contestant competes against an opponent while a troupe of muscle-bound, feathered-hair sporting, Southern Cal hardbodies try to pound the both of you into dust.

Atlasphere - Roll your giant hamster ball onto the top of several different conical hills, while fending off the Gladiators and trying to knock your opponent off course. This is probably the best minigame of the bunch with decent controls, balanced gameplay, and moderately strategic play.

Assault - Dodge a constant barrage of turret fire while scrambling from safe zone to safe zone, while trying to use the single-shot crossbow and rocket launchers to nail the bullseye above the turret gunner's head. I guess picture something like Cabal or Wild Guns, but horrible in every way. The controls are unintuitive, the hit detection sucks, and success often seems like random luck.

Human Cannonball - Swing a rope Tarzan-style into one of the Gladiators, and hope you kick him in the face, sending him toppling to his doom. This one is terrible, lasting about five seconds, and requiring a very specific set of inputs in order to succeed. I hate when these games have a binary pass/fail result like that. It usually means you initially struggle with the mechanics, failing every time. And then when you do finally figure out the secret you can easily win every time, robbing the event of any depth or nuance. Also, how the hell was this a real thing? You'd have to be insane to stand on that pillar.

Joust - The two contestants swing giant Q-Tips at one another until someone falls off their pillar. This one plays like a really terrible fighting or boxing game, and relies pretty heavily on button-mashing or exploits. Once you figure either one of those out you're guaranteed to win easily every time.

The Wall - Ugh. Screw this dumb event. Here you need to scurry up a climbing wall before the Gladiator on your tail can catch up and pull you off. You'll need to use very specific combinations of input in order to direct each of your limbs and any mistake will probably cost you the event. So expect to rage as your idiot contestant repeatedly ignores your commands and comes to a dead stop, again and again.

Powerball - Try to drop little balls into little containers, all while the Gladiators try to murder the shit out of you. While not nearly as exciting or violent as the real thing, this event is quite playable, and lets you attack and shove your opponents to your heart's content. The controls are super stiff, but sending the Gladiators flying is at least kind of satisfying.

The Eliminator - The final obstacle course, tasking you to sprint, jump, dodge, and zipline your way to the end. While it plays exponentially better than the similar event in Nickelodean Guts, this one still kind of sucks. Success is mostly dependent on how quickly you react to what comes up, which is randomized to a degree, and the performances of your AI opponents also seem to wildly vary, from woefully incompetent, to "cheating assholes."

I don't remember how the show worked, but the goal here is to outperform your opponent across the entire series of events, with the better combined score advancing in a bracket-style tournament. I like when these types of games use that, as you can afford to be weak in certain events, and let others help carry you. If I screw up one of the finicky events, I can make up for it with a strong performance in another. And that is something you'll need to rely on with this game.

Overall it's way better than the similar-ish Guts, and almost up to par with the upcoming California Games II, but still represents one of the weaker track and field games on the system. And after conquering it I didn't really have any desire to play it again.

Did I beat it?
Yes. It took a shit-ton of work, but I did it.

#588 - Spectre

How does one best describe Spectre... is it the spiritual sequel to arcade classic Battlezone? A boulder dodging simulator? A nightmarish Tron-like fever dream? Take your pick I suppose, because any of those will do.

Like the middle pic above spells out the goal here is to advance through a series of levels by collecting yellow flags. Standing in your way are legions of what I presume are enemy tanks/vehicles, and later, those damned boulders. Completing a level typically means quickly and efficiently eliminating your enemies while carefully managing your health with the help of healing items laid out around the arena, or just saying screw it and making a beeline for every flag while trying to jump over and evade the enemies at all cost. Which reminds me, the game actually lets you configure your vehicle at the start of the game. You can either go for a slow tank that's heavy on defense, or a zippy light craft that is quick, but fragile, or anything in-between. I had much better luck with the speedier ones.

Trying to play this game today really makes you appreciate advancements in game design. Specifically, the ability to strafe, for one. That is something we almost take for granted nowadays as it's been a staple of shooters since at least Wolfenstein 3D back in 1992. Well this game originally came out in the mid-80s, which means it obviously predates W3D, and they didn't bother "enhancing" the SNES port, which really makes the entire experience very frustrating. Your craft is so large, or at least feels that way, that avoiding shots is difficult, regardless of how you configure it. So when I first started playing the game combat quickly devolved into trying to take down enemies as fast as I could if they were directly in my path and praying they only hit me once at most. The scattered heals in each level seem to indicate the intended strategy basically boils down to efficiently killing enemies and saving the heals for when you need them, but the game is not really designed well enough to accommodate this. For instance, enemies can fire upon you before they are rendered or show up on the screen, as the draw distance is pretty shitty, and they have some pretty long range attack capabilities to boot. And just to add further frustration, later enemies will track and follow you as well, so you can expect to take a number of blind hits from enemies on your six that are halfway across the map. Which is as infuriating as it sounds. So you can see why I recommend a light craft, and avoiding combat; your best bet for survival is getting through the levels as fast as you can.

I guess the only thing that even partially makes up for the lack of a strafe is the fact that there is a jump ability. It can be used to rapidly get behind a target so you get the upper-hand on them, but it's pretty tricky to use. I can only assume that if you want to play the game strategically, or at least play it the way it was meant to be played, you'd have to become an expert at hopping around the levels, rapidly shooting your targets in the back and beating a quick getaway before the other enemies can plug your ass. And not blindly jumping into the boulders...

Yes, those f'ing boulders start showing up more and more late in the game, and by level 33 or so it becomes a nightmare. They move so quickly, and have such large hitboxes, and kill you so damned quickly, that the only real way you can overcome them is to map the levels. The levels that you can only view from a first-person perspective [Is that accurate? - editor], wrap-around at the edges, and have no discernible landmarks. It was this epiphany that caused me to throw my hands up and give up on beating this game. Not that you even can beat this game since it merely loops once you finish the final level. I'd even go so far as to say this is one of the hardest games on the system to conquer, and that only the truly elite will ever accomplish that feat.

So if you enjoy Battlezone, which I doubt describes very many people in the 21st century, you might get some enjoyment out of Spectre. It was a natural progression, and I'm sure the game was very impressive when originally released. But by the time it came out on SNES the scene had already made quantum leaps forward and it would have been real hard to overlook its flaws in 1994, much less in 2018. I guess try it out if you want a serious challenge.

Did I beat it?
No. Fucking boulders.

#587 - T2: The Arcade Game

Terminator game number three (out of four), and the only "light gun" entry in the bunch. It barely fares any better than the two sidescrollers I already covered, and honestly, I feel like the ranking I'm assigning here is pretty generous. This franchise is video game kryptonite.

The closest comparison I can make to another video game is Acclaim's other arcade port offering, Revolution X. Both have the same tedious gameplay with endless enemies spilling onto the screen from all directions, constantly pelting you with cheapshots and other BS'ery. Both games are also ugly as shit, with poorly-aged visuals that lack detail and look compressed to hell. And both games seem to be obvious quarter munchers, much more interested in killing the player as quickly as possible than showing them anything resembling a good time.

Levels take place across the post-Judgement Day wasteland of America, and some generic industrial warehouses full of pillars and exploding barrels and such, and presumably ends at a certain Los Angeles steel mill. Each and every level plays out pretty much exactly the same, with millions of enemies marching across the screen to take potshots at you, rebel soldiers popping up and down behind cover trying to get in the way of your bullets, and ammo boxes littering the bottom of the screen, awarding you powerups and special weapons. It's all stuff you've seen in every game of this type, and it isn't done well here in any way. I guess this thing was supposedly a big hit in the arcades but I can't even begin to imagine why. It must have looked and played much better. And I guess more nuanced stuff like Time Crisis was still a few years out, so we didn't know any better.

So, why put this game nearly fifty spots higher than RX? Well there's no Aerosmith for one thing, and that's a big one for me. A shooter where you blast the shit out of Skynet is a no-brainer. A shooter where you help an aging rock band conquer an evil government through the power of rock is stupid. The crippling slowdown and terrible levels and boss designs didn't help either.

In some other ways though, this game might actually be worse. The damned "driving level" here, a tradition in Terminator games (and one that was also present in RX) is just.... god I can't even find the words. These levels are always the worst, and I had called out Terminator 2: Judgment Day specifically for having the absolutely most abominable of the bunch. But I may have lied because the one here gives it a run for its money. Hell it gives all bad levels in all bad games a run for their money. I just can't even begin to fathom what they were thinking with this one. It happens early on in the game (level three?) and tasks you with protecting John Connor's truck as he tries to escape from an endless number of strafing aircraft and a legion of speedwalking infantry. I have probably tried this level at least fifty times, and I've beaten it all of once. And that must have been luck because I have no idea what I did to accomplish that, or have any clue as to what you are supposed to do, or even know what is going on when I'm playing it. I even cheated and played on my computer with an optical mouse to try and improve my results, and I still couldn't save that fucking rig from blowing up over and over again. What in the hell is this level's problem? Every time I play this game I end up dropping it in the rankings because of that POS stage.

The levels after the vehicle stage are more of the same crap. I think. It was a long time ago that I actually managed to get that far (that one time), so my memory of them is starting to fade. But they certainly were not memorable enough to remember with any sort of vividness, so that's the shake they get, fair or not. Perhaps the game, against all odds, gets much better later on. Or perhaps it somehow gets intolerably worse somehow. I'll certainly never find out.

I consider the light gun games on SNES to fall into two camps; those that are T2: The Arcade Game and Revolution X, and those that are not. It really is that night and day. And it's no exaggeration to say I would happily play every single other one on the system because they all do something well, or something imaginative, or are fun in some capacity. That's not the case for the two Acclaim titles, which can be broadly categorized individually as "trash", and "utter trash."

Did I beat it?
No. That goshdarn vehicle level...

#586 - Home Alone

I'm sure when most people think of Home Alone games, they picture the original on NES based on the classic film. I never played it, but understand it takes place entirely within one area representing your house and that you must evade the Wet Bandits for x number of minutes via hiding or slowing them down with traps and such. It's also supposed to be a rather frustrating and difficult affair, and not very good or fun overall. Well, the 16-bit release on SNES, courtesy of THQ, plays completely differently from its 8-bit brethren, and has almost nothing to do with the source material either. That means what we have here is another platformer in an already crowded scene, with no identity of its own, squandering an IP that should have offered infinite gameplay potential by way of booby trap setting, sadistic burglar mangling, stairwell sledding, and drug store shoplifting.

Each level, of which there are only a few, tasks Kevin with gathering precious items and depositing them in various laundry chutes so that he can later work his way down into the basement and place those same goodies into the large bank-style money vault that the McCallisters apparently stole from Scrooge McDuck. I don't remember that part of the film. Kevin will need to do all of this while also fending off the occasional giant spider, ghost or rat boss standing infesting his basement. I think you can see where I'm going with this. In fact I would say the only ties to the film are the reoccuring bad guys that may or may not resemble Harry or Marv (see image above) and the use of a slingshot. Which, now that I think about it, I'm not entirely sure was in the film either.

Now considering this is a licensed THQ game, my expectations were in the toilet even before I started. Perhaps that doesn't give the game a completely fair shake, but it is what it is. And I won't say that those low expectations were exceeded, but the game definitely could have been a lot worse than it is. Like, the controls are okay-ish, for what the game asks of you. They're not excessively slippery or laggy, and I didn't notice any large number of inputs being swallowed. That's usually my main grievances with a platformer, and by far the easiest way to sink a game. So I'll give Home Alone that.

One of the issues I do have however, besides the lack of any actual Home Alone-ness to it, is the manner in which you have to collect all of the valuables. You see each story of the house in every level is a long corridor with a number of doors to various rooms. In order to find all of the key items you'll need to explore every nook and cranny of each one of these rooms by jumping into every single background object. That can cause an item to spawn because... I guess that represents you "checking" the hiding spot or something. This gets real tedious and real annoying when you get to each level's end and find out you're an object or two short. Not to say the levels are too long, or the objects too hidden to make this any sort of dealbreaker, but it's not optimal. Especially since enemies respawn, ammo is limited, and backtracking is not a friendly or fun experience here.

After a few short levels the game ends and you get a rather low-effort ending consisting of a still shot of Catherine O'Hara embracing her son. I'm calling that a good thing because games like this that were meant for children should probably be 30-60 minutes long, max. And I'm usually just relieved when it's over so I can move on.

So, in the grand scheme of the SNES library, it's another bad platformer that pays no attention to its source material, or brings anything remotely good to the table in any way. But it's not a terrible game or broken in any really extreme way. And it didn't scare me off before I completed it, which I usually give games brownie points for. And hell, it's probably in the top half of the THQ library, as sad as that is. So it could have been a lot worse.

Did I beat it?
Yes, this game is extremely easy.

#585 - F1 Pole Position

Although named after the classic arcade series, F1 Pole Position on Super Nintendo bears little-to-no resemblance to it's aged older brethren. Instead this is is a Mode 7 racer, with a typical Formula 1 championship season layout, fairly robust vehicle tuning, licensed racers, simulation-like gameplay, and much more complex controls. But one similarity they do share is horribly frustrating gameplay that crushes my spirit with endless losses. That goes for most racing games, but I'm doing my best to judge fairly here, and I think I can objectively say this game is too hard to be fun.

I'll just cut to the chase, and be blunt with why I don't think this game works. Like many other Mode 7 racers, the raceways love to crowd you with large car sprites that also just love to bunch up into impenetrable packs. And getting by these packs is a damn nightmare because the slightest contact with an opponent is gonna send your vehicle spinning out into the grass, FUBARing your race. I don't think I managed to prevent this from happening a single time.

It's a shame too, because without that flaw I think I could have enjoyed this game. In fact I do always enjoy it up until that first crash. And the game does have a lot going for it otherwise; the game looks nice, the frame rate is probably above average when compared against the rest of the SNES racing field, and the controls are a bit odd, but you adjust quickly. It's a hard thing to explain, like maybe they're very "deliberate?" Does that make sense? I just know they always initially feel sluggish, but that after a few laps I seem to fall into a groove.

But yeah, those damn collisions are just too much for me to overcome. I can never completely prevent them from happening, which means I can never seem to crack the top of the standing in any individual race. And repeated failure just isn't very fun for me, and pushes me away from wanting to play on. Maybe that makes me a wuss, or a quitter when it comes to racing games. But if I can complete the likes of Lord of the Rings Vol. 1, I'd like to think that indicates I have a fairly strong gaming constitution. So is it me, or the game? Maybe it's a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B at work here.

So if you like racing games, this is miles better than other stuff I've covered like Redline, or GP-1, or the Kawasaki titles. And there is a lot of content here for you to sink your teeth into. But you'll need skill and patience if you expect to be able to stick with it. And with me, as is usually the case with racing games, I just can't do it.

Did I beat it?
No.Goshdarn grass.

#584 - Super Solitaire

This is exactly what you think it is. A collection of various solitaire card games, that you probably haven't played since you owned Windows 95 and were stuck waiting for your sister to get off the phone so you could play online Quake and this is all you had to do in the meantime. As in, something to play when you had six minutes to kill and there were no other options.

Do I even need to explain how these games work? I guess for those who are too young to know what Windows 95 was, they are card games where you have a full deck, laid out in various manners, tasking the player with arranging the cards based on suit, color, descending order, and so forth. Played "solitaire," or solo. It's the sort of thing people did to entertain themselves before video games were invented. And to my eye it has always been a game that is heavily dependent on luck, for better or worse. Not to say that there isn't skill and strategy involved, but luck seems to be always lurking, ready to crush your efforts. So fans of RNG probably love this stuff.

I don't know how many variations of solitaire exist, probably infinite, but this game packs in nearly a dozen of what I assume are some of the more popular layouts. Besides the traditional one we're all acquainted with (Klondike, apparently?), you have stuff like "Scorpion", "Cruel" and "Dozen't Matter." Maybe those are real names for real modes, or maybe they're "cool" names made up by the developer "Krome," or the publisher "Extreme." All I know is if I'd avoided mentioning playing cards in this review you'd have been forgiven for thinking I was covering a radical mascot platformer.

The game also offers some rudimentary tips on how each of these games work, but I found these confusing and unhelpful for the most part. Maybe I'm just stupid. But if you ever wanted a setup where you have nine stacks to work with, some of which may or may not allow a card to be played for whatever reasons, and they may or may not have symbols put on them, and you are allowed just a single pass through your own deck, well this game has you covered.

I should also clarify that just because the game has a number of modes doesn't mean it has any sort of variety. If that makes sense. I guess I can try to make up a horrible analogy to explain it:
You know how all Mexican (or maybe Tex-Mex) food can be summarized as the same ingredients, just combined or arranged or prepared in ever so slightly different ways? It doesn't matter what you order, you're getting tortillas, beans, rice, meat, salsa, cheese and lettuce? Well that is every mode of solitaire; stacking cards based on number and suite. Barely differentiated variations of one roster of ingredients.

The presentation here is pretty rough too. Most menu options are represented by shapes, which all appear rather obtuse to me, and would have been much better suited with something as simple as "Yes" or "Okay". And the graphics are pixelated and blurry-looking, which is pretty pathetic considering the limited scope of a damn solitaire game. Every time I have a stack going I have to squint my eyes at the cards trying to discern if I was working with a Nine of Hearts or an Eight of Diamonds. Some modes even allow the "tableau" to pile up thirty (or more) cards on top of one another. Good freaking luck trying to read anything in that mess, because it's impossible.

So I guess if you're a fan of this stuff you might get something out of this release. I don't know why anyone back in the day would purchase and play this over the software bundled with copies of Windows, especially since a controller is definitely not the preferred instrument for card games. But it's far from the worst game on the SNES, as I would much rather play than this anything I've already covered for this project. I even admit to getting moderately invested in completing the games I started, though I never really felt any great pull to play again, or boot the cart up in the first place. So overall a lackluster release, of a genre that's a questionable fit for the console, that you may or may get any enjoyment out of.

Did I beat it?
I won a game in several of the modes.

#583 - California Games II

The 16-bit follow-up to the eponymous mini-game fest that appeared on every system under the sun, California Games II lets you shred the gnar in five more radical events. This is also the final installment in the series (as far as I know), which may mean people were growing tired of the track and field style of game that was so prolific in the '80s. I don't blame them. So reminisce with me, as I look back at the swan song of the Southern Cal-Hardbodies-Playing-Psuedo-Sports series:

Hang gliding - The first event in the rotation, and easily one of the most confusing. Your bronzed dude will launch out over the ocean, nailing tricks and pegging floating targets with water balloons (wtf?), while carefully taking advantage of updrafts to keep afloat. The controls are extremely awkward here, making this the event that takes the most practice to master. Or I should say, takes the most practice to accomplish much anything whatsoever instead of just diving into the ocean right away. Overall it's probably my choice for the second weakest mini-game.

Skateboarding - In true 1980s style, you skate down a long Southern California-style aqueduct doing tricks off the lips and flying through concrete tunnels. I find it pretty hard to enjoy the sport in this primitive form after being spoiled with so many Tony Hawk games back in the day, but it's not terrible for what it is. The whole event is overly-long as it can take a couple minutes to complete a single run, and the action is pretty repetitive overall, but it's easy enough to get a handle on the controls and mechanics,and the moderately varied moveset at least gives the illusion of some depth. Still, I never found it interesting enough to not get bored before the end, or ever had any desire to return to it.

Boogie boarding - Probably the most confusing event, and the only one I wasn't able to master in my time with the game. You're supposed to ride a wave for as long as possible performing tricks (if you could call them that), before the run ends with dodging a bunch of random beached obstacles as you come into the surf. The controls are pretty wretched as it seems really hard to get any momentum going once you're on the wave, and I never could figure out how most of the tricks work. Occasionally I pulled off some pretty weak one-eighties, but that's it. So it gets my vote for worst mini-game of the lot. Luckily runs only take about thirty seconds.

Jet skiing - Another confusing one, this time you're on an ocean track of sorts, scoring points for jumping over things (sometimes? I have no idea how this works) and... uh, just staying afloat I think. The default speed of your craft is pretty slow so that's not very hard to do, but if you give it any throttle at all it becomes almost impossible to make the turns thanks to how slippery the controls are. If this was a racing game it would be one of the worst ones I have ever played, but because it's so laid back in what it demands of you it's merely an annoyance.

Snowboarding - Another short one, this time you're on an insanely vertical run that takes up about 10% of the screen. All you need to do is jump over a series of obstacles and chasms, staying upright as long as possible. It plays alright, kind of like an endless runner. I just wish the viewing angle wasn't so awkward and there was some more depth to it. Why constrict the action to such a tiny portion of the screen? Still, I never hated my time playing it, and again, each run is mercifully short. Call this event middle-of-the-pack.

Overall, a pretty weak bunch. When it comes to this type of game I'm going to primarily judge them based on how well they control, and how much depth each mini-game has, and CGII is a big fail for the former. Snowboarding is probably the only event that controls decently, and that's because the game barely has you do anything, and boogie-boarding and hang-gliding are both a nightmare. But I do think there is some depth here, for those who would want to master a game like this. I know I wouldn't, but this series does seem to have its fans. So again, overall one of the weakest track-and-field styled game on the system, but not a completely terrible experience. With some better controls it could have even been a decent enough title.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I completed every event and got somewhere between 150,000-200,000 points on each of them. Boogie boarding is the only one I feel I didn't master.

#582 - Sterling Sharpe's End 2 End

Poor Sterling Sharpe. Near the end of the 1994 NFL season he suffered a devastating neck injury that ended his career and fast track into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. It's the sort of tragedy that reminds you just how dangerous the sport is, cutting down one its biggest talents during his prime. And then the very next spring this "thing" gets released, his last hurrah for the sport as it were. So not only does he lose his career, relegating him to be forever known as that "other" Sharpe brother, or as a pub trivia answer, but I imagine he had many opportunities to demo his own video game while recovering from his injuries. What a horrible fate indeed.

As is typical, there are no licenses at work here. You can always tell when this is the case because the game tries to slyly cover that up on the box cover. Sterling is obviously wearing his Packers uniform in that pic, but you can't quite see their trademarked logo. Subtle, Jaleco. Real subtle.

The graphics are... I dunno, alright I guess. They're not completely wretched looking like Pro Quarterback, or as pathetic and effortless as Emmitt Smith at least. I'd also say they're probably a slight notch below the likes of the Quarterback Club and latter Madden games, which isn't bad company to be in. Sterling also looks like a bit of a doofus in the menus, but that has more to do with the era's stupid infatuation with crappy-looking digitized images than it does with his own goofy mannerisms.

The primary reason the game is ranked so low is its slow pacing and unrefined play balance. In the passing game any route up the field is almost a guaranteed touchdown, as once a player is past the defense he cannot be caught. As in, he does not need to slow down to catch the ball, and there is no "catch-up" mechanic for the defense like was the norm with football games of the day. You'll immediately understand why every other football game ever did that once it happens to you because it is very frustrating to get burned like that. Stopping the run is also pretty damn hard because defense move too slow to hit the runner before he gets to the line of scrimmage. So making stops basically means praying for a turnover.

Now, it at least has some features like a real video game would, such as full season play, and an actual postseason. And it plays at a normal pace and actually resembles a real game of football at times, which is more than any previous game can claim. So those things alone helps prop it up above the second lowest echelon of football games like Troy Aikman and Football Fury. But I still can't really think of a reason as to why anyone would ever want to play this. Besides the disturbed souls who play every SNES game on the platform for 5,000 hours so they can write enormous threads that no one cares about. And poor Sterling , stuck promoting his own game, incapacitated and unable to escape...

Did I beat it?
Yes, with the Packers. I think. I don't remember.

#581 - Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension

Goddamn these reviews are really starting to move at a crawl. When it's endless platformers, licensed games, and sports titles that are all mired in one form of mediocrity or another, it really presents an issue with giving me enough to work with to come up with a review that stays fresh in any way. But I will struggle onwards, and do my best to make the 500s as engaging as possible...

Zool is another one of those billion Amiga games that got ported over to the system, and definitely one of the lesser entries we received. Or at least one of the most nondescript. It's one of those games that I can't really imagine anyone would have the patience to stick with unless they grew up with the game and had all the time in the world to memorize the hazards, level by level, until the end. And even then it was probably a pretty painful experience. But what choice did you have when you owned like six games?

I don't know what the story or setup is here, or what the Nth dimension is, or if the game even tries to bring you up to speed on any of this, so let's just assume there's something throwaway in the manual and move on. And for supposedly being a ninja, Zool certainly doesn't seem very ninja-like to me. He can stick to walls if you jump into them, and he has a ranged attack that may or may not be a shuriken, and some sort of dashing attack, but Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi this ain't. In fact forget I mentioned either of those two franchises because this isn't even in the same universe as them in any conceivable way, and there shouldn't even be a subconscious association between the two.

There are also two major issues that are responsible for crippling the game, and they both go hand-in-hand with one another. First off, this is the umpteenth platformer with controls that are too loose, lending to an "out of control at all times" feeling. Coupled with platforming which can be fairly demanding at times, and relatively early on to boot, and you have controls that are just not up to the task at hand. That is never a good thing with a platformer, where the entire genre is built around such mechanics. So the game's foundation is already eroded.

Issue number two, which finishes off that already shaken foundation with an explosive demolition, almost killing the game entirely, is a view that is too zoomed in. This makes attaining any real progress a huge chore, and battle of patience. I'm sure the Genesis version with its higher resolution is exponentially more playable thanks to this too. Say what you want about the two systems, but that extra horizontal viewing distance on Sega's system really does make a difference for some games. So the loose controls and lack of viewing distance both contribute to an overall "rhythm" of trying to survive long and labyrinth levels that are fully of samey-looking scenery, with cheap deaths from enemies that are barely onscreen long enough to register in your mind before they kill you. Major "Bubsy syndrome," yet again.

If Zool had a slightly more manageable viewing distance it could have been an average game. Or it would be about par with some of the other middling Amiga titles. And if the controls were improved as well it could have almost been a good game. Instead, it's a mediocre game with a few fun bits ruined by two major flaws, which make it overly annoying to play, and overall really isn't something I can imagine anyone actually having a great time with. The giant eyeball boss in the screenshot above kind of makes me want to press on and see what else the game offers, but not enough to actually follow through and do it.

Did I beat it?
God no.

#580 - King of the Monsters

Oh...kay, I guess I lied about already covering all of the wrestling games I hate because this one always skips my mind. And I guess I don't hate this one, I just find it intolerable to play. But at least I can destroy Tokyo while I'm doing it. And at least I can do it with a giant scarab I guess.

I remember a friend of mine renting this game when I was younger, and though I loathed fighting games even at the time, this one got my hopes up big time. "You can move in any direction? You can destroy buildings? Fighter jets are flying by trying to attack me? Cool!!!!" Yeah, we were pretty damn excited... at first. Then the match timer ran out before either one of us could figure out how to win. So we played it again. And got the same result. And then it happened again. And again. And again. No one ended up winning a single match and after we returned the game to the video store we vowed to never speak of it again.

Nowadays, I'm older and (a little) wiser, and have figured out tricky things like options menus, so I was at least able to overcome that one major hurdle by bumping up each stage's time limit. And I was actually was able to progress through the game with the added time cushion, though I'm not sure if the experience made me appreciate the game more, or less.

You see this is a wrestling game, a genre I detest for its endless ability to baffle me. Like is usual with these things, you bash on your foe until his life/stamina bar is empty, and then you try to pin him. There's an electric fence on the edge of the fighting arena that you can bounce off of to propel yourself at your opponent, just like in the traditional wrasslers. It even has the exact same button-mashing grappling that I hate so so much. And just like with all of those other titles I've already covered, I don't exactly know how any of that shit works. I assume grappling is determined by whoever taps buttons the fastest, or the soonest, or at a specific time, but I never could figure it out. It seemed random. Ditto for pinning. Sometimes I could pin my opponent after knocking him down a handful of times, and sometimes I had to do it a couple dozen times or more. I have no idea what works and what doesn't work. WHY DO THESE GAMES FEEL SO OBTUSE?

The game also only offers a two player versus mode for multiplayer, cutting out the arcade version's cooperative play. Since this was an earlier title that's understandable, but it's still lame. And the roster is also tiny, offering all of four characters to choose between. That's pretty damn weak even for 1992.

So since I've done nothing but bash the game so far, I will say that I at least find the game more appealing, thematically, than the other wrestling games. I can't get excited about some mulleted guy on steroids, but I can get behind giant beetles and lizards. And there is a game mechanic where you can grab power ups and eventually earn levels to (I assume) increase your power. Granted this barely makes any sort of difference, and merely does a palette swap on your character, and can only be done twice, but I like the idea.

Overall it's another stupid wrestling game, with mechanics that bewilder me, and controls that tire my hands out. But at least I was able to stick with this one until I beat it , which is far more than I was willing to take with the previous six(!) titles. And feel free to take these rankings with a huge heaping of salt. I mean you can do that with any game as this is very much a personal project, but that's especially true with this genre. So if you like wrestling, or like wrestling games, take any ranking I've assigned and bump it up 100-200 spots. If you love wrestling, bump it up 300-400.

Did I beat it?
Yes, but just on easy. Technically you have to clear it on very hard (Mania) to consider the game truly beaten and I sure as shit am not even entertaining the thought of trying that out.

#579 - Bulls vs Blazers and the NBA Playoffs

#578 - NBA Showdown

So like everyone else once upon a time, Electronic Arts regularly pumped out a series of basketball titles. Maybe they still do, I dunno. And it originally featured a traditional sideline camera, slow-paced gameplay, sticky defenders, and the era's typical lack of offense. It also originally billed itself as the "Playoff" series, begun with Lakers vs Celtics, and wrapping up with Bulls vs Blazers, which we're covering here, which was also the first entry to get a SNES port. In case you don't know your NBA history, those were the matchups in the championship each season, presumably in an attempt to cash in on the excitement the NBA finals once garnered. In 1993 the series was rebranded as NBA Showdown, and given a fancy new artwork scheme to match the other re-launched EA sports lines. Nothing changed with the actual gameplay, just the name and box art. And every single one of those games sucked ass.

So it obviously goes without saying, especially since I keep repeating this with every basketball sim, but this is before the NBA Live series came around. In fact this series is actually the direct precursor to that franchise, obviously, since it was re-launched yet again the following year. And it shouldn't be a coincidence that they kept shaking things up with this series, with new names, and then eventually an entirely new engine and gameplay style built from the ground up, because the original series...es (what is the plural of series?) was garbage, just like all basketball games of the time. That's why they kept changing things up; they knew what they had wasn't good enough.

If you have ever played any old school basketball game, whether that's Double Dribble, NCAA Basketball, or Pat Riley, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. Long, lanky players slowly make their way down the court, defenders sticking to them like glue. You can pass the ball around to try and get an open look, but this is basically futile. Eventually you can grow bored, or run out of shot clock, and heave up a desperation attempt, which will more than likely land like a brick and bounce off the rim. There does not appear to be any way to call plays, speed up your player, or even screen your defender, so generating offense is hopeless. In some games this means resorting to finding an exploit in the defensive AI and abusing it over and over again. But I never could find one in either of these two games.

I remember once Christmas when my next door neighbor got Bulls vs Blazers as a present. This would have been after around 1995 or later, which means his parents must have found it in a clearance bin or something (he had 4 games total, poor guy). And I distinctly remember every one of his friends refusing to play it with him because you just couldn't go back to this stuff once the genre finally evolved into something playable. I'll give both games a little bit of leeway because they are fully licensed with teams and players, and they are pretty padded out with features and stats. And who knows, maybe there is a trick to scoring, or getting open looks. But I never could stick with them long enough to figure it out.

So overall this series is not as grotesquely awful as the Barkley or Bill Laimbeer games, and they at least resemble a fully complete and finished product unlike Super Slam Dunk, but they're still not something anyone should play. Luckily I think this is the last time I'll have to say that because the remaining b-ball games are at least moderately enjoyable in some fashion. So, bid adieu to the final "bad" tier basketball games and we finally move on to stuff that is fun.

...oh fuck, I forgot about NCAA Basketball. It never ends.

Did I beat Bulls vs Blazers?
No. I'm sure I never did anything more than a single game before turning the system off.

Did I beat NBA Showdown?
No, I honestly can't even be bothered to try. These games put me to sleep.

#577 - Rocko's Modern Life: Spunky's Dangerous Day

Another Nickelodeon property made into a platformer. To my memory, the titular Rocko was an Australian wallaby who got into various predicaments with his beloved pet dog Spunky and idiot friend Heffer the cow. There was also some asshole frog neighbor, and the B-52s did the title song. That's all I can really remember. Though something about that setup and the show's overall aesthetic definitely reminds me of the exponentially more popular Spongebob Squarepants, not that I've ever actually seen a full episode of that newer show, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, this is another video game adaptation of a television show that is entirely escort missions. Just like Eek! the Cat and... something else... what was the other one? Was there another one? I've played too many crappy games in the last year or two because everything is already starting to run together in my head. In any case, has anyone in the history of video games ever enjoyed one of these games, pre-Ico at least? I sure don't. Escorting is not fun, especially when you have a stupid charge and/or bad controls, both of which apply to this game. This time you need to escort Spunky through various beaches and caves (and probably other places later in the game), propelling him onto platforms and knocking out various birds and attack dogs that want to eat him. Exactly the same as EtC. You even have a mechanic to try and change his direction because just like the sleepwalkers in Ocean's game, he is continuously moving foward in a straight line like a moron. A really aggravating one at that.

Now, I will say that this game is at least a significant improvement over Eek!. For one thing, the controls are way, way better. They're still pretty subpar relative to most games, but EtC had the bar so low that Rocko's only-slightly-out-of-control-ness is a breath of fresh air in comparison. Not to keep on bashing that other game, but Eek! seriously has to be the slipperiest mother fucker on the planet, I swear to God. So the fact that Rocko can actually jump onto platforms like you want him to makes the game fifty times better already. Of course RML has some other issues such as attacks that are kind of tricky to use thanks to some wonky hitboxes, and having to wait for a few frames of animation before your attack strikes anything. Since Rocko doesn't have a healthbar (just Spunky does, same setup as EtC), it tempers the frustration from enemies wailing on you over and over again. The levels also seem to go on for much longer, with solutions that aren't always immediately clear. And I would say they ask a lot more of the player, with more demanding sections, and way more enemies. Of course the better controls and more durable charge mean the game is still probably easier overall.

Overall it's not a horrible game, just not one I like to play. And just like with EtC I couldn't really be bothered to make a serious attempt at completing the game (yet). I believe it has passwords after x number of levels, but I just couldn't bring myself to play the game for more than 45 minutes at a time. The game definitely is manageable once you get the mechanics down and play the levels enough to know what to do and where to go, but I just find this formula too aggravating to stick with for long. And unlike EtC I probably will return to this game in the future to finish the job, though I'll probably be annoyed with it the whole time.

Did I beat it?
No. I didn't get anywhere.

#576 - The Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckaroo$

Disclaimer: I had to emulate this game and play it on a keyboard. While I tried not to let that factor into my final opinion of the game in any way, it did significantly hamper my ability to progress very far into it. I've tried to acquire the cart for every game before it came time for review, but that just didn't happen here.

One of the two straightforward platformers in the Super Nintendo's Ren & Stimpy portfolio, Buckaroo$ is my vote for the lesser entry. But it was a close race, with both titles annoying me in slightly different ways and trying my patience for the vast majority of the time I spent with them. I guess this franchise was just not meant for video game adaptations. Or at least games that are fit to play.

I never bothered to watch the introduction so I don't know what the storyline is. I'm guessing you need to collect a lot of cash for some silly reason. And just like with Time Warp I have no idea what all that cash does, if anything. With games like these it's hard enough just to survive, much less worry about grabbing a billion superfluous collectables, so I didn't exactly go out of my way to seek them out. If that affected my playthrough in any way I didn't notice. Not that I noticed much of anything other than my own endless deaths, but that's the price you pay when you're playing with a keyboard. C'est la vie.

The controls are decent, which for a R&S game is well above par. Ren can run and jump with some accuracy and I never really felt like he was out of control trying to navigate the hazards or nail the trickier jumps. That's a godsend. And you have access to a pretty large variety of weapons and attacks, many of which are even ranged. Another freaking godsend. Time Warp and Veediots might have been somewhat playable if they had provided this game's arsenal.

On the other hand, the level design here is very cheap and very repetitive. They all go on for way too long, and there's too many enemies, too many blind leaps of faith, and too many situations that are reliant on having anything other than the base slap attack. Which all means this game can get real hard, real fast. If you run out of ammo you're pretty much screwed, and that will happen frequently.

That difficulty, and some pretty vanilla game design, mean it just isn't very much fun to play. Though the argument that you need physical carts in order to play games nowadays is pretty much a misnomer, what with flash carts, hack-able PSPs and SNES classics, and myriad PC emulation options, I do like to play my carts. And part of the reason I have yet to acquire this one is because I don't want to play it. It's just not very good, and it's not a very compelling experience that would keep players coming back.

At the end of the day this game just isn't very good, suffering from so many of the same problems that drag down the endless platformers I have to keep writing about, and yet it's still miles better than Time Warp. I hate that game. I simply dislike this one. And really, isn't the nicest thing you can say at times?

Two not very interesting facts about this game:
- Howard Phillips worked on it
- The NES version is completely different

Did I beat it?
No. Maybe if I had the real game, but playing hunched over a keyboard is not conducive to repeated tries.