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#625 - Troy Aikman NFL Football

Spoiler-alert: Basically any game on SNES that is "sponsored" by a pro athlete is garbage. Especially the two games with Cowboys on the cover. In fact when I was a kid the Niner fan in me totally revelled in how bad they were and how letdown my friends were.

If you look closely at the screenshots, you may notice that the game might kind of look familiar. Something about the awkward stance everyone assumes, or the off-putting color scheme of everything. Well that's because in the first installment of this project (and like 40 football games ago), I covered one of the earliest SNES titles called Pro Quarterback. It's one of the worst games on the system; hideously ugly, completely unplayable, and lacking any features besides a single game option. Well both games came from Tradewest, and even appear to share the same engine, so we're going to consider TAF to be the spiritual sequel to that hot garbage. And in the years that came between these titles the developers seemed to have figured a few things out. Namely, that being able to generate any sort of offense whatsoever is usually in a football game's best interest. It's a novel idea, right? Actually letting the player score touchdowns in a game where the most exciting thing that happens is scoring touchdowns. Of course they also went too far, and in fact overcorrected this mistake by making it too easy, but I'll take it at this point.

The other major improvement over its predecessor is that TAF is also fully licensed, which was close to the norm at that point in the SNES's life cycle. Playing as generic "San Francisco" was no longer good enough, people wanted to play as the real teams, with real players, and real announcers. Of course that also means we have Troy's haunting, CTE-ridden gaze upon anytime we look at the cart or cover art, but it's a fair trade-off.

As for the actual gameplay itself, I guess the best word that comes to mind is "loopy." For example, immediately after hiking the ball you can hit the dive button and your QB will more likely than not fling himself forward for an easy 7 yard gain. Even if there are defensive lineman in the way they will make what I can best describe as a huge "backwards tackle", taking the runner down as they simultaneously change directions and gain massive speed. In fact the only way to ever make a play on defense is to make sure you always dive before hitting the ballcarrier, something the AI almost never does. Many of the football games on the system have a problem with both lines creating a huge mass of players that is almost impenetrable, making any sort of run up the middle of the field near-impossible. Whereas with this game the lines may as well not exist with how big the gaps are.

Football checklist:
Running game - Laughably unstoppable and broken, as long as the defense doesn't dive at you, which the AI won't.
Passing game - Pretty poor overall, and usually a crapshoot. It's one of those games where you'll have an open receiver and toss it his way but by the time the ball reaches him the defense has caught back up to him and makes the play
Playing defense - ...actually not that bad, as long as you always dive. You can effectively scheme against the pass, and you can scheme against the run as long you personally the one making the tackles

Is the game terrible? No. Unplayable? No. It's just not very good, and it's terribly unbalanced. And it doesn't come close to having the goofy charm of something like ABC Monday Night Football or Football Fury. So call it a D+ overall. This also all but wraps up what I would call "bad"-tier football games (finally), as every remaining title at least qualifies as mediocre in my mind.

Did I beat it?
Yes, I did an entire season.

#624 - No Escape

Does anyone remember this movie? No? Hell, I'm a movie buff with an exceptional memory for this stuff (so I'm told) and I can't remember a damn thing about it despite watching it with my dad and liking it. I guess after Goodfellas the Hollywood execs thought Ray Liotta might have a future as an action star. Well, that hope died along with this movie at the box office, and this game did nothing to help it out.

The game plays kind of like any of the other "cinematic platformers." By that I mean games that control like Prince of Persia, usually with rotoscope animation (but not in this game), with each move starting an extended animation where you will lose control for a frame or two. It leads to a very methodical type of game where you're usually trying to solve puzzles and figure out how to pass by some sort of hazard using that moveset. It's also a very fragile balance; if it is off by even the slightest amount those same methodical controls will feel clunky and unresponsive and the gameplay moves from puzzling to frustration. No Escape peters just on the wrong side of this balance.

Right off the bat the game throws you to the wolves by chasing you with a large mob of enemies and a number of hidden traps to stumble across. It's a rough way to start a game and clues you in pretty quickly that this isn't gonna be any sort of hidden gem, with fugly graphics, confusing levels, and finicky mechanics. And I'm sure this intro was meant to be faithful to the plot of the movie, but it is not a fun way to start a game. You don't even have a chance to figure out the controls or how the game works before being forced to make a frantic and confused escape. Luckily your guy can take a pretty absurd amount of punishment so it isn't especially hard.

After the initial chase and a short boss fight (where you get to find out how just how bad the collision detection on your attacks is) you're taken to a map of the island and a choice of several levels. That is actually a rather cool idea, and probably the game's high point. Not only is it fairly nonlinear, but you have an inventory that you will use to progress in different levels. I wouldn't go so far as to compare this system to a Metroid game or anything, but at least it represents the game trying to do something.

Unfortunately the level map and inventory of tools also makes it very unclear as to what you are supposed to do or where you are supposed to do it. And to make matters worse, when you do get your ass kicked or find seemingly dead ends it's hard to tell if that's because you're trying to do things in the wrong order, or if you're missing a key item, or if the game is just being stupid and cruelly difficult and obtuse.

After a couple game overs and being kicked back to the main menu I had had enough and retired the cart. This is another entry where there is a good game hidden in here somewhere, but the developers lacked the time, talent, or competence to unearth it.

Did I beat it?
Not so much.

#623 - The Adventures of Mighty Max

Remember Mighty Max? He was the star of a Saturday morning cartoon about a smart-alecky kid that... did... something. Probably protected the world from some Big Bad by preventing them from retrieving the McGuffin of the week. In any case it was basically all an excuse to promote the tie-in line of toys (or maybe I have that backwards), which themselves featured little mummy/snake/bug-shaped cases that opened to reveal a ton of tiny little action figures and choking hazards-

It was all pretty derivative and charmless, and disappeared as quickly as it came.

Well this is the video game tie-in, and it was published by our favorite boys from Bristol (or wherever), Ocean! Which you know means it features:

1) horrible controls
2) terrible level design
3) ugly graphics
4) Z-grade music
5) unfun gameplay

As far as I can tell your goal in each level is to wander around a large area and find all of the doo-dads to open up a level exit. Has any game in history made that design fun? I'm trying to think of a single one and failing. And in AoMM I can't even figure out how you're supposed to get the items to wherever it is they're supposed to go. You can lift them up and throw them, and there are balloons strategically placed that will carry the item away a short distance, but I've never actually managed to "solve" one of them. Or figure out how one would even do that.

The controls are also, like I said, terrible. Some of the worst on the platform in some ways. You have what I like to call a "Legend of Kage" jump, in that it sends you up into the stratosphere without any sense of gravity or inertia. And you move way too fast for your own good which will send you recklessly into enemies repeatedly. It all lends to an overall sense of feeling out of control. And to a lot of deaths. You have several health points, and several lives, but be prepared to burn through all of them quite quickly until you get a feel for the game. If you can. Your best best is probably moving very slowly and deliberately so you can clear out enemies before you run into them, and avoiding jumping at all costs. Sounds riveting, right?

Anyway, I've tried a couple times to make some progress, and have never succeeded. With most games that would usually mean it was time to bust out a guide or longplay to help hold my hand, but I can't even be bothered to do that here. Which pretty much sums up my thoughts on this game. Bored apathy to such a degree that I won't type "Mighty Max SNES Longplay" into my search bar.

Did I beat it?
No. I'm not sure even cleared a single level.

#622 - Kawasaki Superbike Challenge

The first of the two Kawasaki games on the Super Nintendo, neither of which is actually related in any way with different developers and publishers and completely different playstyles. That doesn't stop them from being nearly equally as bad, and a massive chore to attempt to play. So we'll call it a coincidence that they are two of the worst racing games on the system, occupying spots in the list that are very close to one another.

Superbike Challenge was the latter of the two releases, and probably the one people are less familiar with. It also has to be one of the most baffling games on the system. Regardless of the number of tries I put into the game I have yet to be competitive in a single race, or even fully understand what is going on. I've even read the manual and watched a longplay, to no avail. Now to be fair to the game I'm pretty terrible at racers in general, and often have a pretty low threshold for suffering their abuses, but KSC pushes me away even faster than usual. Hell, even resident racing queen Bea hates this game's guts, and she loves terrible games.

Like most of the racers on the system the game gives you a choice of several different options including single race, championship, and the Suzuka 8 Hour event. I'm not entirely sure what that is, but most of the motorcycle games seem to offer it so it must be the Super Bowl of bike races or something. Beyond that you have the usual tuning options to tinker around with before you head off to a race. It's definitely not as deep as some of the formula one simulations, for better or worse I guess.

The racing action itself is a mixed bag. The graphics have some nice detail, and give a nice sensation of speed, but suffer from some pretty bad pop-up and a dipping framerate when other racers are onscreen. Not that they're onscreen much because they're usually too busy blowing past you. And both of those shortcomings contribute towards making the already unforgiving turns into racing deathtraps. Touching any object will cause a crash and and trigger an extended animation of your rider launching off of the bike, tumbling head over heels for a bit. I'd also say a single one of these kills your chances of hoping for a competitive finish, but I have yet to finish in anything other than dead last so I don't actually know how to be competitive in the first place.

Which takes me to my main issue with this game; it's too damn hard. I'm not very good at racing games; it took me many, many tries to finish a game as simple as Top Gear, and I have yet to finish classic Nintendo games like F-Zero or Rad Racer. But I can't even make headway on the opponents of the first race here. So either this game is incredibly unforgiving and difficult, or I'm just exceptionally bad at it, or I'm completely overlooking some core aspect of the gameplay that is crippling my performance. Either way, I've tried it four different times, all ending in the same result. That is more than enough time spent on this POS.

Did I beat it?
I almost didn't get dead last once. No, that's a lie, it was never in doubt.

#621 - Timon & Pumbaa's Jungle Games

Jungle Games is a collection of mini-games based on The Lion King, centering around the obnoxious charming duo of miscreants voiced by Nathan Lane and some guy. Each mini-game is a barely disguised rip-off of other, more successful franchises or genres, and ranges in quality from fairly terrible to slightly terrible.

Jungle Pinball - Easily the worst pinball game I've ever played. The ball physics are nonexistent, the table is barren and boring, the controls are unresponsive (how is that possible when the only thing you need to do is move flippers?), and the lost balls are plentiful and always frustrating.

Hippo Hop - The world's worst version of Frogger. You guide Timon across hippos, logs, and turtles, gathering insects and... actually that's it. There's no finish to reach, no enemies, no higher goal. Or maybe there is and I never got far enough to find out thanks to the unresponsive controls and delayed character animations. At least you get to drown Timon. (note - I now see in the pic above that there is a spot in the grass you're supposed to guide him to. Oh well)

Burper - Similar to early shooters like Galaga or Space Invaders. Shoot falling insects with Pumbaa's toxic belches, and try to squash them with your tail if they land. Somehow this is even worse than the previous two mini-games. The mechanics are stupid and not fun, your rate of attack is even slower than Space Invaders, it controls like shit, and once again, I don't know what the overall goal is. If it even has one. I found playing this for more than a few minutes to be intolerable.

Slingshooter - Shooting gallery where you use a slingshot against various jungle animals. I don't entirely understand it; you need to hit x number of targets each round, some of which count, some of which do not. Hitting a hyena moves you closer to your goal for obvious reasons, but why do some birds help and others do not? Why am I murdering squirrels? Does the Serengeti even have squirrels? This is probably the closest thing to a real game in the lot, but I also question why a game meant for children has you shooting animals in the face...

So for a kid's game you could do worse. It may be a shitty end product but it isn't as mind numbingly boring as the preschool games, or as insulting as the Barbie game. So it's got that going for it.

Did I beat it?
Er, can this be beaten?

#620 - Revolution X

So... a light gun game that mixes a dystopian future with Aerosmith? Sure, why not? Anything and everything was being greenlit back in the day so this shouldn't be a shocker to anyone.

I'm trying to figure out other ways to say "this game is shit" because I feel like I've typed that a lot already. This game is sans fun? An unpleasant experience? It's as good as a shooter featuring Aerosmith could possibly be? Or not be... Anyway, Revolution X is probably the worst light gun game I've ever played, and easily the worst one on the SNES. And I really don't care for T2: The Arcade Game, so that is saying something.

The biggest problem with the game is that everything about the design is cheap as hell and was obviously meant to suck up quarters in its original arcade incarnation. The enemies take an absurd number of shots to put down and spill endlessly out of every corner of the screen in bunches. All the time. So playing the game means trying to contain the onslaught and not getting overwhelmed. That does not make for a fun experience. Sometimes the enemies even shoot you from offscreen. I mean, really? I've never heard of that happening in this type of game, probably because everyone else had the good sense not to do it. (update - T2:TAG does it as well. Fucking Acclaim)

The slowdown is also extremely bad. Your main gun is some sort of machine gun deal, but when enemies start filling up the screen it starts acting like a semi-automatic. What's worse is that when you hold down the fire button your gun also launches CDs for extra damage. Doing any real damage is dependent on this, but it slows down the action even more. So using them with any accuracy becomes nearly impossible.

The boss fights are a damn mess too. This is one of those games that didn't think it was necessary to tip you off with some sort of onscreen indicator that you're actually doing damage, which leads to all sorts of guesswork trying to figure out what to do. Since every one of the bosses has various components that need to be individually destroyed you just have to put extended fire into each and every sprite until it does or doesn't explode. The final guy is the worst offender of all because he is a massive bullet sponge. You'll be forgiven for thinking you're doing something wrong after pumping a thousand rounds into him with seemingly no impact or feedback.

The graphics, like any game of the era that used digitized images, have aged horribly. Assuming they weren't always considered terrible. And all of the animations and character models suffer from pretty low detail or are compressed to hell. Thank God this style of art design died out along with games like this.

As you'd expect the soundtrack features a few Aerosmith song samples here and there, such as Dude Looks Like A Lady during the ending. But mostly it consists of what is otherwise just generic crap. Perhaps that has something to do with the limitations of the SNES and the cartridge format, but just like with RapJam Volume One I have to wonder why they even bothered tying their game to a band if they didn't plan on fully exploiting their catalog. Or maybe I'm mistaken, and all of the tinny, repetitive "tunes" you can barely make out in the background actually are (supposed to be) Aerosmith songs. Either way I shouldn't complain because I do not care for their music at all, but it seems like a tease for any actual fans.

There's also a number of soundbites from the band members. Every one of them is delivered in a very stiff and unintentionally funny way. Clearly none of the 'smith boys have an acting bone in their collective bodies:


"These guys are maggots, they're putting chemicals in all our food." Tommy Wiseau would be proud of that delivery.

Did I enjoy anything about this game? Well, the ludicrousness of it all gives it a little kitsch value. And one of the levels has you riding in an elevator while Love In an Elevator muzak plays. I thought that was pretty clever.

Did I beat it?
Yes, it has unlimited continues so anyone who feels like being miserable for an hour can do it.

#619 - ESPN Baseball Tonight

The second baseball game so far, and the third game from Sony's ESPN line. This is a game I really wanted to like. I mean, I try to like every game in the interest of giving everything a fair and honest shake for this project, but I seem to try extra hard with baseball games. Maybe because I love the sport or maybe because the games have relatively large learning curves that tantalize the promise of hidden depths to discover and master. In any case, this game just can't seem to requite that love, or fulfill that promise.

First off, the game is fully licensed, which I always appreciate. You can immediately adjust your pitching strategy if Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds steps up to the plate. It's harder to judge when it's a generic made-up player. Plus I always love to rock my hapless Oakland Athletics.

The graphics are not very good. For whatever reason that is another trend with the ESPN line, as every single game has looked somewhere between hideous and subpar. It ain't as bad as Speedworld or Sunday Night Football, but it's still in the running for ugliest baseball sim on the platform.

The gameplay, is very much a mixed bag. It has all the elements in place that should make up a good baseball game; a decent number of pitching options, relatively straightforward batting that isn't overly finicky about making contact, a good fielding angle, and a pretty good pace of play. The problem is that nothing ever plays out organically, or ever resembles a real baseball game. Despite the seemingly infinite number of possible pitch and swing combinations, virtually every ball put into play seems to follow about one of a dozen set patterns. Most of the time you'll either line it to the first or third baseman, or hit it foul just outside the line. Occasional bloop hits will always bounce once and then move towards the 2B or SS, or they'll go just over the infielder's head. Ropes to the outfield always go to the gaps, or are 450+ foot home run. Short flares will always go just over the infielder's outside shoulder. Every single play seems to fall into one of those categories and there is no such thing as a pop up, or a hit to center field or the pitcher, or a hit directly to an outfielder, and so forth. And in case you can't guess, that is a pretty significant flaw for a baseball game.

The baserunning is also a trainwreck. I swear to God that the controls depend on where the baserunner is, because nothing seems to happen consistently. Or maybe it just eats the hell out of my inputs, I can't tell. Sometimes it seems the solution is to hold the A-B-X-Y buttons to signify a runner, and the d-pad tells them where to go. But sometimes this does nothing. And I can never seem to make anyone leave 2nd without mashing every combination of buttons I can think of. It's a disaster. On the bright side though, is the fact the AI is completely incapable of picking you off. So my advice is to send all of your runners all the time. If you're not gonna beat out the throw just send them back, because the AI is not smart enough to throw the ball back to their original base. I exploited the hell out of this to play through the game.

The AI is also completely and utterly [insert a not PC word here]. 95% of batters can be baffled by endless change-ups down the middle of the plate. It doesn't matter who the pitcher is, who the batter is, what the count is, or who's on base. They'll either strike out looking, or line-out out to the first baseman. This only becomes pronounced later in each game too, for whatever reason. In fact I'd say every run scored against me was in the first three innings of a game, despite my pitching strategies never changing.

Just like everything else, batting does not stand up to any level of scrutiny either. 95% of the pitches the AI throws are going to resemble Mariano Rivera cutters. By that I mean it's a fastball with sudden sharp movement towards the end of the pitch. Any baseball fan knows that these are basically impossible to hit. The solution? Swing at every single pitch, regardless of where you think it's going, always trying to pull the ball. As long as you can occasionally make contact, accidentally or not, the odds of getting on base end up being pretty good. Just don't try to waste your time reading pitches or adjusting your stance. You can't play this like a real baseball game after all.

I could go on forever with the flaws in how the games play out. Any ball you line to the wall will still be a single thanks to the mach speed of the outfielders is an automatic double because there is no cutoff man. Picking off a base runner seems impossible, even if they try to steal on a 98 mph pitch down the middle of the plate. Hitting or predicting the cutters is impossible. And on and on. I don't know if this game just wasn't finished when they shipped or what, because this definitely feels like a decent game that only got halfway through development.

But is it fair to judge this game solely by how closely it resembles real baseball action anyway? After all many of the system's best football and basketball games play out in a very unrealistic, arcade-like manner too, and I don't always hold that against them. And I adore Super Baseball 2020. Well I don't know. I try to play every game on its own terms with an open mind, and I feel like BT is a failure even in that sense (if that even makes sense). It's a game that tries to be a simulation, but plays like the beta of an arcade game, clearly unfinished and rushed out the door.

Did I beat it?
No, but I am currently working on it as of this writing
Yes, I did a perfect 11-0 postseason with the Padres, sometimes winning by 20+.

#618 - Air Cavalry

The first of many air combat games on the system, and my pick for the worst of the lot. Air Cavalry is an extremely lackluster helicopter sim that is confusing, frustrating, poorly controlling, ugly, obnoxious, and not a ton of fun. But it does have cooperative play and a decent amount of content, for whatever that is worth.

First off, consoles are not really the natural habitat for this sort of game. When you think of great air combat simulations of the day you think of classics like Sid Meier's F-15 Strike Eagle I/II or the numerous offerings from Jane's, on PC with a flight stick and a keyboard. There you have full control with buttons dedicated to everything from your landing gear to your windshield wipers and the horsepower capable of rendering a 3D landscape and models at more than 3 frames per second. Anything on a console is probably gonna be a bastardized version of this experience, compromising depth, control and options for a more intuitive arcade-like experience capable of being enjoyed with a controller. And some games get away with this better than others.

AC offers the choice of three campaigns, each of which represents a different tier of difficulty, and consists of roughly a dozen individual mission. Each of those missions will task you with destroying x number of enemy vehicles, SAMS, or fuel tanks, or will be a rescue mission. Regardless of your objective they all play out almost exactly the same. Depending on the sortie you'll be given control of various helicopters including Blackhawks, Apaches, Little Birds, or something called a ____ (note - what the fuck was that thing called?) which is super overpowered and lays waste to everything. Perhaps it was an early design of the Comanche or something, I dunno. None of these choppers play noticeably different from one other, they just have different armaments, and seem to be able to take differing amounts of punishment before they crash.

The missions themselves are fairly simple affairs that pop you into a rectangular map that is absolutely chock-full of enemies. And by that I mean you're usually under fire immediately, and you better get used to that too because this game is relentless. It's rare that you'll have an opportunity to take a breath and orient yourself or plan a strategy, or even simply regain your composure, because you are seemingly always being attacked. And even with most of the buttons dedicated to moving your craft in various directions, it's pretty damn hard to dodge anything for the most part too.

There is no in-game timer, but you're better off pretending there is because it's always only a matter of time before you're either shot down or your fuel tank is shot up and you crash. So killing your enemies quickly and making a beeline to your objectives is the name of the game. Which only brings even more issues to light, like the fact that you can never tell where you are; everything looks exactly the same and you cannot access the map from in-game (you get a glimpse of it during the mission briefing, that is it). Or the fact that the missions are extremely unbalanced and unpredictable in their difficulty or requirements. In fact it is sometimes possible to complete your objective in under ten seconds if you know where to fly. So don't expect any of the campaigns to ramp up in difficulty because they're all over the damn place. And finally, indistinguishable from the enemy are your own allied tanks and APCs. The only way to know which are which (besides their position, which you'll rapidly lose track of) is a description of your target located down below in the cockpit. But this is a game where you need to shoot first and ask questions later if you want to have any hope of surviving, and unfortunately in this case killing a teammate in just two different missions will automatically send you to the game over screen, regardless of remaining lives.

So it's a schizophrenic experience. A simulation that has to be played like an arcade game if you want to get anywhere, but at the same time endlessly punishes you for it. A game without an identity in other words.

In addition to the three campaigns there are several multiplayer modes, including cooperative play, but, like I've said so many times before, I never got a chance to try them out. Cool idea, but I can't really weigh it in my opinion.

So overall, not a very enjoyable experience. I'm generally pretty forgiving with these games, and most of them will appear relatively high in the rankings. But I hate games that are a never-ending bout of anxiety, and that's exactly what this is.

Did I beat it?
Yes, just the Middle East campaign though. I'd need to recover for a year or three before I'd be brave enough to attempt Indonesia or whatever the third one was.

#617 - Championship Pool

Okay for the record I really, really do not like the sport of pool and I especially cannot stand pool video games. I love most other sports, I love video games, and I enjoy other bar games like shuffleboard and darts, but it's just not for me. Something about the entire experience I find quite maddening, or perhaps alcohol just impedes my ability to do basic geometry or see straight. Any way you put it though, this game is horrible.

Championship Pool offers several different types of gameplay modes, which you can see up above, and different options within those modes. For obvious reasons I focused on the single player modes of tournament and challenge for the purposes of writing this review.

The tournaments are pretty straightforward. You're given a choice of 8-Ball or 9-Ball, and placed in a bracket where you must advance through a series of head-to-head matchups. Perhaps that is how real pool tournaments work, I don't know. All I do know is that despite hours of trying I have successfully defeated the first opponent of this tournament almost once. Maybe twice. 95% of the time it's not even close. And that is due to two glaring problems with the game's design...

One - If you miss a shot you probably lose. If you miss two shots you definitely lose. That's probably fairly realistic for an actual tournament, but this is a video game, not real life. Or at least you'd think the earlier opponents would offer a softer challenge to ease you into the game a bit. This also ties directly into the other issue...

Two - There is a random element to every shot's trajectory. To my best (albeit limited) understanding of the game, this is something that can never be reduced or removed, which is crazy because it is completely at odds with the first problem. If you have a game that must be played error-free in order to succeed, you cannot force errors onto the player. So beating an opponent seems like a series of coin flips where you'd have to successfully call it five consecutive times in order to win. There's also no continues or save scumming that can be taken advantage of either, so you do the math on the odds of actually winning the entire tournament.

Now perhaps I'm just a moron and this game successfully confused me. Or perhaps there are mechanics or tricks to it that eluded my simpleton brain. But the notorious reputation of the difficulty of both this and of NES version tells me I'm probably not too far off. Plus it's a Mindscape game and God knows those idiots seem incapable of doing anything right. So I'm assuming the game is as broken as it appears, and another player's experience will mirror my own. And no-one is gonna have fun when they're dealing with a sky-high frustration factor and an extreme lack of forgiveness. Not that pool is a very forgiving game in the first place, but this game is merciless. So if you have to play this damned sport on the SNES, play Side Pocket. That game also kind of sucks, but at least you can probably get good at it if you so desire.

Did I beat it?
Nope. I struggle to get past the first round.

#616 - Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball

LJN does baseball. Need I say more?

A number of baseball games feature what I like to call the "shimmy." By that I am referring to pitches that can be slown down, sped up, and moved all around. In other words, you can move the ball in mid-air. If you've played black box Baseball for NES you know what I'm talking about. Games that offer that level of control generally favor the defense because of just how unpredictable this movement is, which makes it extremely hard to read or react to. And it's a mixed bag with Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball because of how lethal the AI's batters are.

When pitching in this game you're best off completely avoiding any type of fastballs or changeup because both seem useless; the AI will lay wood to 99% of them for easy hits to the outfield (or worse). So you're gonna have to rely on what approximates a slider or cutter; fast pitches that will break in or away from the batter. You see this is one of those games where the only way to fool the batters is to find a blind spot in the AI, and exploit the hell out of it with every pitch. This isn't very fun to me and it gets very old very fast. In the later innings your pitches will cease to have any movement at all. I think that's how the game tells you the pitcher is tired, though I wish it had some sort of onscreen stamina meter or something.

Generating any sort of offense also seems nearly impossible. There is only one type of swing so you just need to make good contact, but that never seems to happen, so you cannot string any hits together. This is also one of those games where the fastballs are so fast and the changeups so slow that you just have to guess what is coming and commit before the ball even leaves the pitcher's hand. Granted that is similar to how the real sport works, but at least there the players have studied the pitcher's tendencies and can try to spot his tells or his grip on the ball or something. In a video game it's just complete chance. My advice is to just guess fastball every time, swing, and hope for the best.

The fielding is the worst part of the game though, and is overall a massive pain-in-the-ass. Probably the worst I've ever seen in any baseball game outside of BBB. Besides the fact that you cannot tell the depth of the fly balls due to the way camera orients (low and behind the outfielders shoulder) is the way the controls for throwing the ball in are the reverse of other baseball games. By that I mean it is intuitive to think holding left will aim towards the base on your left, which in this case is first. But it doesn't, it throws to third. That would make sense if the camera was pointing out towards the outfield from the batter's box, but it's not. This is something I can't ever seem to get used to, and any sort of pause on your part whatsoever will usually cost you a base. A really, really stupid design snafu here.

This is also one of those baseball games where pop outs will trigger all of your runners to try and advance; there is no innate AI for tagging up. So you have to manually corral them all back to their bases and fly balls are thusly a nightmare. Usually I don't even notice until they get thrown out. It's bad enough I can't get anyone on base, but then the few who do then sabotage me further? Very frustrating.

This is an early title so of course there are no licenses of any type. Par for the course there. Though they at least tried to make everything match up with real life in an intuitive way I guess. So the sluggers in Oakland are named Jose and Mark Bash for example. That has to count for something.

So, yeah, what else needs to be said? I compared this thing to the NES black box title several times, and that's all you should need to know if you've played that game before, because that is not the sort of company you want to keep. Everything about the game is a poor effort, with no single part or mechanic shining through, and way more frustration than any sort of enjoyment.

Did I beat it?
Of course not.

#615 - Dennis the Menace

Ocean strikes again with another poorly designed, poorly controlling, and overly-annoying movie platformer that never had any business being a game in the first place. And, like usual, the game itself has nothing to do with the movie, a few likenesses aside. Well, I guess I'm just assuming that, since I haven't seen the Dennis the Menace movie since it was in theaters over twenty years ago. But Iím calling it a safe bet.

The Super Nintendo game gets off to a wretched start by immediately dropping you off into a relatively open-ended level with an unkillable Mr. Wilson and one of the most frustrating shades of ďhunt for every objectĒ gameplay youíll ever encounter. Itís such a horrid introduction that I doubt 99% of players last more than a few minutes before throwing in the towel. In fact, I'd say this is probably the hardest and most confusing level in the first half of the game. Just a completely brainless and stupid move by the developers.

The controls are pretty bad, but they're at least more functional than what we saw in previous Ocean games such as The Flintstones. This is the sort of game where you need to be constantly holding the run key in order to successfully make most jumps, but you also need to be constantly firing your weapon. So prepare for some hand and finger gymnastics.

With that being said, horrid opening level, and demanding controls aside, everything is passable enough for most of the game. You can adapt to the controls and open-ended levels. The bosses can be beaten. Itís all manageable. At least, it is until later in the game when you hit the sewers and the need for precision jumping and flawless play skyrockets, and the game really starts to fall apart. But I'll get to that in a bit here, because Iím getting ahead of myself.

Each world consists of four levels (or three on easy), followed by a boss fight. And each level tasks you with locating four large coins and then a level exit before the clock counts down from 999. Luckily, this limit is more than adequate on most of the levels. With a few exceptions; mostly the boiler levels that make up World 2, which are quite expansive, and do a good job of hiding some of the coins. You're probably going to be repeatedly climbing to great heights just so you can take some blind leaps back down and hope you catch sight of a coin on the way down. If you overlook one - and this is a very real possibility - you'll be in jeopardy of running the clock out. And if you do that you get an immediate game over. This can mean up to 9 lives lost, all at once. Now, I've only had this happen once, but I got close a few other times, and I would have turned the game off if it did, because itís an unacceptable design. Just a really, really stupid decision by the developers.

Back to the sewers, which are found after the boiler room. Once you reach this area the game's difficulty curve really starts amping up and the game steadily moves from mildly irritating, to extremely challenging and extremely annoying. In fact, I'd say the sewer levels are where things really start falling apart. A game's controls and mechanics need to be completely solid to support this type of unforgiving level design, and let's just say that is not the case here. There's no room for error on the endless jumps over instant-death falls, and the platforms you're required to land on are often very tiny. You can reasonably expect to suffer most of your deaths for the entire game here. The boss of this world is also a massive headache. It's a sardine (or something) that tries to skewer you while you have to move between two disappearing platforms and a rotating wheel of (also disappearing) platforms. It's a fucking headache and a half. I actually beat the final boss in one attempt, whereas this stupid fish had me plunge to my death at least a dozen times.

Luckily, despite all of these flaws the game is very beatable because it is super forgiving with lives and continues, and routinely throws you extra lives. So even the most tedious of obstacles can eventually be overcome with some persistence and practice.

Overall, this is a game that could easily be in the bottom 50, as I really cannot think of any redeeming factors to it. Dumb levels, dumb controls, dumb license, aggravating second half, everything.

But since I actually managed to get most of the way through the game before I got a single game over, and then I still stuck with it until it was completed, it tells me one of two things must be true. Either I've been drunk every time I've played it and lost the ability to make rational decisions. Or. The game is just tolerable enough to let it escape the absolute bottom ranks. Probably both things.

Did I beat it?
Yes. It took awhile but I fucking did it.

#614 - The Sporting News Baseball

Three baseball games nearly in a row? I swear that wasn't planned, things sort of just played out that way. When you're ranking 700+ games that have wildly varying genres, scope and production value, you just kinda have to use your gut when deciding where everything is gonna go. And I guess my gut is telling me that I had a pretty similar experience with all three.

We'll start with batting this time, and boy does it feel harder here than anywhere else by a pretty decent margin. There's usually a learning curve to hitting in these games, which I think is a good thing because it lends them some depth and an air of realism. You'll need to learn the timing of your swing, and how to adjust to the ball's movement, especially in titles that let the pitcher "shimmy" the ball in mid-air. Well, none of that happens here because the pitches are either overwhelmingly fast, or extremely slow. So just like with Roger Clemens MVP Baseball you're gonna have to guess what's coming before it leaves the pitcher's hand and hope that you get lucky. You won't even have time to check your swing most of the time, so you're better off just predetermining whether or not you're gonna go for it ahead of time. It's very unsatisfying, and probably second only totheCal Ripken game for offensive ineptitude.

Pitching is pretty nondescript and by the books. You have limited options so you really just choose a pitch type and then let it sail and see if you were lucky or not. I couldn't find anything resembling an exploit, and there didn't appear to be much of a pattern to what was successful or not. The AI would either record three quick outs, or hammer half a dozen balls to the outfield in a row. I couldn't ever identity a reason for anything happening, so I'm calling it purely luck driven.

This is actually the second Hudson Soft title on the list so far, after Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball, which I think further validates the theory that knowing how to put together a platformer or shooter doesn't mean you'll know shit about producing sports games. Of course this game is also a part of a series that had three other Super Famicom-only releases, so maybe I don't know what the hell I'm talking about and Hudson Soft was nailing it. Color me baffled.

Did I beat it?
No, I have beat very few baseball games on this system.

#613 - Super Godzilla

So I guess the idea with this game is that you are Godzilla, tasked with destroying a greatest hits collection of his rubbery foes in a mash-up of the strategy and fighting game genres. And much like with the movies themselves I'm sure fans will eat it up whilst everyone else will be briefly amused before boredom and/or bafflement slowly settle in.

The game plays out in different phases. The first, where you'll probably be spending most of your time, resembles a quasi-turn-based strategy game, and has you moving Godzilla around a square-grid map representing various areas or cities in Japan. You'll need to avoid walking into buildings or mountains lest you destroy them and injure yourself in the process, and you'll also have to fend off the military in the form of tanks parked in many of the maps' chokepoints. Why are they attacking you when you're trying to save Japan from the other rubber monsters? I have no idea. I never really understood the franchise's ethos in this regard, and didn't even try to change that by following the storyline here. Assuming it even has one.

Moving around the map is automatic, the only thing you actually control is which direction 'zilla faces, and he will lumber forward at a steady pace. Hazards and enemies will pop up once you get near them, and you can decide whether or not you want to barrel through them or find an alternate path. Sometimes you'll encounter objects or characters that trigger an event, such as the appearance of your foe. Eventually you'll track down your enemy and enter the second part of the game, the fighting mode of sorts. This is where things fall apart.

The mechanics of these fights are... unique. I can't really think of anything else like it. Probably because everyone else had the sense to implement something fun. You and your foe are on a 2D plane and can slowly move towards one another to get within attack range. Nothing too unusual about that. What is unique, are the attack bars below the action that are constantly moving up and down. The rough idea is that these represent your attack power or readiness or something and that you should strike your opponent while yours is high and his is low. This also sets up the ability to trigger a follow-up special attack, which again is dependent on the bar and the distance between you and your foe. Now if there is a secret to consistently getting good results from this system, it is beyond me. Your foes generally have a longer reach than you, and can sit back and wait for you try to make a move. As you slowly lumber towards them it's almost impossible to try and time anything in coordination with the power bars, and you'll be at their mercy. So be prepared to get hit by enemy specials over and over again while you're merely trying to maneuver into position. It gets very old, very fast.

Kind of like the film series this is based on, I really wish I could like this game. I generally like strategy games, and the idea of a tactical game where combat plays out like a fighter is not a bad one; in the right hands it could be a wonderful mix. But when the fighting engine is as badly implemented as it is here it drags everything else down and ruins the experience. I'm sure Super Godzilla has its fans, and there's a good game buried in here somewhere, but at the end of the day the bad outweighs the good.

Did I beat it?
No, I got through several missions before my continues were bled dry.

#612 - Faceball 2000

What's the world's first shooter? Battlezone? Or perhaps some obscure but similar title? Well if the first landmark title for modern shooters is Wolfenstein 3D, and I had to place Faceball 2000 somewhere on a scale between those two titles, it would be much closer to the former. That's a bad thing.

FB2K does add a number of things to the formula that did seem ahead of its time when it was first released on the Commodore 64 in the mid '80s. The graphics are fully 3D, there are multiple enemy types each with their own behaviors, tons of secrets, regenerating health, and even a second campaign that can be unlocked. It was an ambitious game, that probably more than accomplished what it set out to do.

Unfortunately the way every single one of these things was implemented, and every other aspect of the gameplay, has aged horribly. I know there have been a number of debates on the internet as to whether or not that is even really a thing (you can guess where my flag is planted), and if you think the idea is rubbish, then there is probably nothing I can say that will change your mind. But if you do subscribe to the theory, understand that this is the game that perfectly captures the concept. Every single part of its design is rendered so obsolete by the million titles that have come since that it is nothing more than a historical curiosity piece at this point in time.

First off, the gameplay is extremely basic. Each level sets you down in a small arena with various polygonal enemies zipping around in pre-set patterns. The goal is to destroy each one of them at which point a level exit will appear. Each arena is not only small, but is packed full of enemies and devoid of anything resembling a safe spot. I guess the idea is to always keep you on your toes. I just feel perpetually anxious waiting for an unseen and completely silent enemy to bite into the back of my head. It's not a good feeling.

Your main (only) attack is a slow firing pellet that travels out in a straight line in front of you, not stopping until it hits an enemy or a wall. It moves at about .01 miles per hour, will obscure the entire screen when you fire, and it will quickly become apparent why no other shooter has ever mimicked it. Because it's so slow, and because you are blinded every time you fire, it makes hitting anything a real chore. And not only that, but it becomes hard to even know if you did hit anything.

The graphics are understandable basic; this is a port of a game from the mid-80s after all. And to even get the thing running at all they had to squeeze everything into a tiny window in the middle of your gargantuan (and useless) UI. So you feel like you're playing through a periscope or something. And don't even bother trying the multi player, the frame rate is already painful enough with one player.

So in summary, imagine playing Wolfenstein 3D, but it's way uglier, the levels are a thousand times smaller, you only have a pistol, the bullets travel at a crawl, you're blinded every time you fire it, there is no audible or visual clues to let you know you hit or killed your enemies, there's no strafe, the frame rate is lumbering at best, and everything about the experience is a pain in the ass. That's this game.

Did I beat it?
No, but I got a pretty decent amount of the way through it.

#611 - Kawasaki Caribbean Challenge

The other Kawasaki Challenge game that, again, have nothing to do with each other; playing completely different and coming from different developers and publishers. I'm calling this is the better of the two mostly because I can almost compete in the races, but it's still a bad game with endless frustration and irritating mechanics. In fact I think I must have this as the lowest-ranked top-down racer, a genre awash with mediocre-to-bad titles mostly because it's a formula that is very hard to get right.

Caribbean Challenge offers motorcycle and jet ski racing, though they both play very similarly, if not exactly the same. I'm not entirely sure how the main campaign works, just that it breaks things up into groups of two or more races at time, requiring you to earn a certain threshold of points across those races in order to progress, with each one being four laps around a smallish track against three opponents that takes a couple minutes to complete at most. And then at the end you presumably win if you have earned x number of points in total.

The racing itself is very straightforward; A for gas, B for brake. That's it. And that sort simplicity can work very well in racing games. I'm a pretty big fan of stuff like Off-Road and Indy Heat, and the Micro Machines franchise is great. But it is just not done very well here. Your vehicle feels excessively slippery going around turns, which often spells disaster. If you so much as touch any one of the track barriers you're gonna be ground to a halt, and very likely cost yourself the race. I have yet to complete a lap of any race without doing this at least once. Furthermore the opponent vehicles love to move in a predetermined path around each course, and they're pretty good about hugging the inside corner of the turns too. If at any point you get anywhere near any of them you're gonna get knocked around and crash into the barrier. And since the turns are your best opportunity for passing them, you can see how this all adds up to a very frustrating experience. It's a game where you need to place well to advance, and in order to place you well you need to not crash, which means passing the other racers on turns, which means crashing and losing. It's the Catch-22 of Super Nintendo games.

Since I'm terrible at racing games I once again did not get very far for this review. And just like with Redline and Superbike Challenge I only have the first 10-15 minutes of the game to go on despite trying it quite a few times. Perhaps the tracks get better later on, or the game adds some new wrinkle to make things more interesting. I'll never know.

Did I beat it?
No, it's a racing game so that is a foregone conclusion.

#610 - WWF Super Wrestlemania

#609 - WWF Royal Rumble

#608 - WWF Raw

Booooo! Hisss!
I grew up with these games!
Hey writer guy, you fucking idiot, you don't know what you're talking about.

I am perfectly aware that these games are held in relatively high regard. And I don't just mean by hardcore wrestling fans and nostalgia enthusiasts, but seemingly everyone...

...and I've tried to understand. I've played every mode of all three games. I've put the time in to try and get a grip with the mechanics. I've tried to adopt the mindset that these are a genre unto themselves and that you cannot think of them as fighters, brawlers, or sports titles. I've even tried to put myself in the shoes of a 10 year old kid running home to watch the show and then re-enacting the fights with his action figures and video games afterwards.

And it's all failed. I just. Don't. Get it. It's like taking someone who has never watched a minute of American Football in his life, and tasking them with playing Madden. They'd be hopelessly lost, and for good reason; that shit is befuddling to the uninitiated. And that is exactly how I feel about wrestling games. But it's not just confusion on my end that lead to these low rankings, because I swear there is no way these can be considered objectively good either. I mean, if you applied this gameplay to say, a Double Dragon game, would anyone think it was put together well? Would anyone think it was anything other than unplayable? Or am I comparing apples and oranges and I'm asking an invalid question? I truly don't know.

Here is my best understanding of what each title entails:

Super Wrestlemania - LJN's first stab at a 16-bit wrestler. Very barebones, but seems to set all of the foundations in place for the sequels.

Royal Rumble - Barely an evolution of the first title, this installment mixes up the roster a bit and adds a "Royal Rumble" mode where everyone piles into the ring at once for an indecipherable writhing mass of humanity. Besides some very small tweaks it appears to play exactly the same as SW.

Raw - Mixes up the roster again, and adds several more modes, including 4-player and 3-on-3. Besides some very small tweaks it appears to play exactly the same as the other two titles.

Now everyone please feel free to correct me on any and all of this, but here is what I understand of the gameplay. Regardless of the mode selected, you're generally trying to wail on your opponent(s) until their health bar is low. At that point you need to try and pin them, though some modes reward you for throwing them out of the ring as an alternative. In order to actually accomplish all of this you're gonna want to grapple with them and throw them down over and over again. And therein lies the issue; these games seem built around the grapple. Yeah you can punch, and kick, or climb up onto the ropes and launch yourself at your opponent, but really the grapple is where you're gonna see results. And that mechanic is built entirely around manic button mashing. You and your opponent embrace each other, you hammer the buttons as fast as you can, and eventually someone gets thrown down. After they gets up rinse and repeat. A million times. My hands are tired of this after about 30 seconds.

So, are these games literally just button mashers? Is button mashing ever a good thing? Do people have fun doing that? What am I missing, or is the reverence for these games entirely nostalgia-based? Because I encourage anyone who has never played one of these games to try them out and let me know if I'm way off base on these observations and criticisms or not.

One last thing, you may have noticed the omission of Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game. Those who are familiar with the game probably know why. For those who are not, let's just say it's different enough from these first three LJN/Acclaim WWF titles to warrant an entirely different judgement in my opinion. Which means I obviously think higher of it too.

Did I beat Super Wrestlemania?
What do you think?

Did I beat Royal Rumble?
What do you think?

Did I beat Raw?

...no of course I didn't.

#607 - Mario is Missing!

#606 - Mario's Time Machine

If you want to play a video game while also testing your knowledge of geography and history, play the Carmen Sandiego series. These Mario games are poor knock-offs that not only fail to do anything better than the CS series, but added frivolous and unfun gameplay elements into the mix which only succeeded in bogging down the entire experience.

Mario Is Missing! - The first of the two to be released, it places an emphasis on specific countries and their cultures. You'll travel to famous cities, walking around their grid-like maps visiting landmarks and collecting culturally significant items, and then, after matching those items up with their correct locations, move onto the next area. It gets pretty old pretty quickly.

Mario's Time Machine - Changes up the formula a bit by making areas you explore much more constrained and tightly organized, so that there is less of an emphasis on wandering around. This time the settings also focus on historical cities during specific eras. For example you'll visit Orleans while it's under siege from Joan of Arc, Florence during the Renaissance, Vienna during a Beethoven concert, and so forth.

For most people this is probably going to sound very redundant when talking about educational games, but I'll say it anyway; these games are very dry, very boring, and a drag to play through. They're also extremely repetitive, and basically have nothing to do with the Mario franchise, other than the shared sprite designs of the characters.

For both games you progress through each area, talking to various citizens or historical figures in order to learn more about local events or culture, and then use that knowledge in order to satisfy each game's specific criteria (placing items in MiM, filling in the blanks of a scroll in MTM). Then you move on to the next area, rinse, and repeat. Suffice it to say you're best off playing these game in small doses at a time, lest you nod off to sleep.

I should also point out that MTM has a series of events needed to travel to each era that I can only call "bizarre." I won't focus too much on the initial steps needed to identity a time period and submit it into your time machine, but let's just say they're very badly done. No, what I want to talk about is the inexplicable "jet ski" mini-game that you must complete in order to make the trip back to previous eras. It tasks you with collecting mushrooms and avoiding whirlpools in a simplistic Mode 7 ocean. If you did all of the steps above correctly, you progress. If you didn't, you don't. I have no idea what they were thinking here, or what it has to do with time travel, or anything really. A ludicrous moment in Mario history.

Overall, both games are just too boring and tedious to really recommend, and feel absolutely nothing like first party titles with none of Nintendo's usual charm and polish. Of course it goes without saying that they aren't Nintendo-developed products but were instead sourced out to some crappy American developer just like the Mario Early Years games and the various CDi abominations, and it shows. And as a history and geography buff it's telling that I have a hard time finding anything to enjoy from either title. So you're better off with the aforementioned Carmen Sandiego games, or by reading an encyclopedia. Literally.

Did I beat Mario is Missing?
Yes, I struggled through it.

Did I beat Mario's Time Machine?
Yes, several times actually.

#605 - The Pagemaster

For those who probably (barely) remember, The Pagemaster was one of the Macaulay Culkin vehicles that came out in the wake of his smash hit Home Alone, but before he discovered heroine. And like basically all of those other movies it was pretty unmemorable and has been all but lost to time since.

I'm not sure if it was a Don Bluth production or some other animation house, but Disney it was not. The plot, going by memory here, was some sort of Neverending Story rip-off, where uber-nerd Culkin enters an animated fantasy universe (and becomes animated himself) after meeting up with Christoper Lloyd and being dubbed The Pagemaster. Along the way he crossed paths with Dr. Jekyll, Long John Silver and... probably other people too. I can't remember. Check the Wikipedia page if you want a more detailed description that isn't based on 25 year-old (alcohol-addled) memories. The point is it's a forgotten property, built on recycled or stolen ideas, that no-one cares about anymore.

The game itself is probably as forgettable as the movie. It consists of three different worlds, each themed around the genres of horror, fantasy and adventure. What does that mean? That you'll be dodging birds and monsters in some dark dungeon levels, dodging birds and monsters on pirates ships, and then dodging birds and monsters on Humpty Dumpty's wall. Staying fresh is not one of this game's strengths.

The controls can best be described as slippery. It's not as dreadfully awful as those in games like Dragon's Lair, but it's pretty pronounced and something you'll have to adjust to. Luckily 95% of the levels seem designed to accommodate this, by which I mean death-defying jumps and quick moving enemies are not common occurrences, so this isn't actually a huge roadblock to playing the game. In fact, the game overall is extremely easy and generous with lives. After spending 15 minutes adapting to the controls and building up a stockpile of 1UPs you'll most likely cruise through the rest of the game.

Occasionally you'll come across an object that lets you transport to a short mini-game. These range from a quick platforming race-against-the-clock, to some small areas chock-full of power-ups and/or enemies, to a Mode 7 flyer on what appears to be a magic carpet. That one is pretty horrible; full of blind turns, bad controls, and an awkward perspective. Luckily, all of these segments are optional and do not punish you for failing.

The game probably has around 30-40 levels, spread across the three worlds. But since each one can be completed in under a minute if you know where you're going it ends up being a rather short affair. Which isn't a bad thing; the game isn't varied or challenging enough to demand anything more. Of course that also means the game ends up being extremely unmemorable. In fact that is the best word for this game. You'll play it, and then forget it ever existed 20 minutes later. There's no bosses, no setpieces, no great levels, no stand-out spritework. No memorable tracks in the OST. Nothing.

So is The Pagemaster a bad game? No, not really. Just uninspired. If The Tick is an evil game made by sadistic psychopaths, this is a paycheck game made by a crew that had no interest in the property but at least had marginal pride in their work. And because it's so forgiving (after the initial hump), it's probably not a terrible introduction to the genre for younger kids.

Did I beat it?
Yes, it's not as hard as it initially appears.

#604 - Virtual Bart

In case you don't know (I didn't), Virtual Bart is the follow-up to Bart's Nightmare, featuring six more mini (macro?) games. And just like its predecessor, each and every one of them is an endlessly frustrating affair. If anything it's probably worse this time around.

There isn't much semblance of a story, as it's more of an excuse to try and link all of the random games together. Bart is at the school science fair and wanders into a room where he is hooked into a virtual reality spinning wheel contraption thing. Wherever he stops on the wheel determines the order you play each game. That's it. The games themselves have almost nothing to do with the series, save for a three second clip of baby Bart that one of them is loosely based on. None of that matters though, just how badly everything plays, so let's get to it:

Doomsday Bart - Bart rides a motorcycle through a post-apocalyptic Springfield, fending off attacks from the likes of Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney, while trying to survive for 10 miles. It handles and looks fairly good, but everything else is a mess This is one of those games where you are constantly being hit by shit, and there isn't much you can do about it. Enemies repeatedly spawn behind and ahead of you, and your shotgun attack is extremely unresponsive and finicky. Aiming your gun and bike both use the same controls, which is extremely awkward, and not really conducive to both hitting your targets and avoiding obstacles on the road. I don't think I've ever made it even halfway through this one.

Baby Bart - Presumably based on the image of Bart twirling on the clotheslines in some old episode, though why they bothered is beyond me. This is a fairly demanding platformer that has no checkpoints, instant death if you fail once, and goes on forever. I've made it out of the first section all of twice, despite putting more effort into this one than any other mini-game.

Mount Splashmore - Bart heads down a tube slide, avoiding millions of Krustys, sharks, Blinkys, dead ends plugged up by Homer, and so forth. You have to constantly try and collect clocks in order to extend your timer, but the loose controls and unpredictable turns make doing any of that more chance than anything. Probably one of the better games, but still pretty bad.

Pork Factory Pig Bart - Bart is transformed into a pig and must rescue all of the pigs in the factory from being butchered and processed. This is probably the best overall game, or at least is the most playable. The gameplay mixes simple platformer mechanics, including a DuckTales-style pogo attack, with some light puzzle and maze mechanics. The timer is too unforgiving, and the level gets really confusing, really fast, but overall the frustration factor is much lower here than everywhere else.

Virtual Class Picture - Bart trying to nail his teachers and classmates with tomatoes as they cross the school's front lawn. This one is horrendous. Hitting anything more than 10 feet away is way too hard, and everything about this lacks anything resembling fun or strategy. Overstays its welcome after about 30 seconds.

Dino Bart - Oh god, this one is even worse than the tomato throwing. It's another platformer with a giant ass Bart sprite, so you know you're gonna be taking endless hits, who has to navigate through endless gauntlet of cheap trial-and-error hazards, pitfalls and respawning enemies.

Overall just yet another game where I swear no-one responsible had any idea what a fun video game actually looks or plays like. I'll give them a few bonus points for having a relatively diverse lineup of different gameplay styles, and I have a soft spot for anything resembling The Road Warrior, but overall I'd be loathe to play any of these again, save for maybe the pig episode. And even that is still pretty subpar when compared to most real platformers on the system. The poor Simpsons deserved better than what Acclaim did to them.

Did I beat it?
No. I can't even beat any of the minigames.

#603 - Beethoven: The Ultimate Canine Caper!

So, arguably another one of the biggest publishers of crap on the Super Nintendo is Hi-Tech Expressions. My understanding is that they were a Korean outfit (update - they weren't) that would contract developers to quickly throw together games for whatever licenses they managed to get their hands on. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, and yet for whatever reason I don't usually hate their games. They control just well enough, or keep the frustration to such a minimum that I can play them without wanting to put my head through the wall. And considering this entry is a platformer based off the sequel to a movie that was about a large St. Bernard eating Charles Grodin's turkey dinner, that's pretty damn high praise.

Beethoven aka Beethoven's 2nd aka Beethoven The Ultimate Canine Caper! (depending on your source) is a typical platformer that tasks the furball with finding each of his pups and then delivering them to the safety of their mother. So each world is split into two levels; one where you track the kid down, and then a second where you have to lead him to safety. Each level can be beaten in roughly 2 minutes once you know what you are doing, leaving kids with a 15 minute game after they've memorized everything. And that's not a bad thing because games like this don't need to be any longer than they are.

The platforming itself is kinda clunky and not terribly inspired, but it gets the job done well enough for what the game asks of you. Beethoven has a ranged bark attack, a pick-up with his mouth that grabs items and heals, and a button to shake, which when doused with water will put out any fire hazards. Beyond that it's a simple "hop over everything until you reach the exit" sort of affair. There's a few tricky jumps towards the end of the game, but beyond that it's relatively straightforward. I will say that the unusually long length of the Beethoven sprite does present a tiny learning curve, but it's easy enough to adjust to after a couple levels.

So yeah, it's another kid's platformer that's not great, or inspired, but isn't terribly broken or unplayable either. The fact I beat it once and would happily do it again says a lot about a game. Or at least it says I'm not constantly tempted to smash the cart like I am with a game such as Time Warp.

Did I beat it?
Yes, and I'd do it again. Mostly thanks to how short it is.

#602 - Cutthroat Island

Acclaim gives us another crappy brawler based on a crappy movie. Or I should say, a game based on a box office bomb that also has a crappy reputation. I haven't seen Cutthroat Island since it came out but I like director Renny Harlin's other work so I'm gonna say it's probably pretty decent. And it probably made more sense than any of the Pirates of the Carribean movies. Plus it has Frank Langella.

Anyway, the game itself plays like so many other games I've covered so far; a mix of typical left-to-right levels you fight your way through and god awful vehicle stages. That must have been a design requirement for all bad games based on movies.

Developer - "...and then when you get two swords you can use both action buttons to-"
Manager - "Does the movie have any horse races or carriage fights or jet skis or anything?"
Developer - "Well yeah, there is one scene where they get in a cart and-"
Manager - "Kids like driving things. That's your new second level."
Developer - "Okay, but-"
Manager - "Meeting adjourned"

I guess I'll never understand why the companies were compelled to provide two different gameplay styles when they couldn't even get one of them right in the first place.

The game begins by letting you choose between the Geena Davis and Matthew Modine characters, but this does not affect anything other than your appearance as far as I can tell. It also gives you the choice between two fighting styles (swords or brawling), but all that seemed to affect is your attack speed and damage output (fast and low, or slow and high). Either way you're gonna be using various swords you come across so it's kind of a misnomer.

Level one introduces you to the pretty simple beat-em-up (or I should say hack-and-slash) gameplay. The hit detection on your weapons can be pretty wonky, and the enemy behavior can be unpredictable, leading to cheap hits. These levels are pretty short overall though, especially if you know where you are going. Later levels do introduce some nonlinearity and side paths you can take to try and find weapons, heals, and extra lives, but I'd only recommend you do that for the lives, and only if you know exactly where they are.

Each of these levels also ends with a boss fight, all of which are extremely annoying. Getting through any of them without suffering a death is something I have yet to do, which is incredibly frustrating because this game has no continues or passwords. Once you run out of your few lives, it's game over and back to the main menu. I even watched a longplay to help get through them, but it didn't change anything.

Things are mixed up every couple levels with a vehicle stage. I was able to reach two of these, both of which were pretty horrible. The first has you guiding some sort of cart down rolling hills, avoiding trees and boulders. Since the only control you have is moving your cart right or left you'd think it wasn't that hard. The problem is that the perspective gives you a very limited heads-up of incoming obstacles and the rolling hills only further obscure your vision, so it's pretty hard hard to react in time. And if you so much as brush any of the obstacles you automatically lose a life and start the level over again. In the end I figured there were two options; memorize the level, or repeatedly pause the game so you can assess the track. I chose the latter.

The second vehicle level I made it to is a ride on the roof of a carriage, but I never had enough time to try and figure out the mechanics or what I was supposed to do. A few deaths later and you're restarting the entire game, hoping for another chance to make it that far in hopes you can learn a little more about how that level works. This gets very grating, and I eventually lost the patience I had to keep slogging through it. So I never reached Cutthroat Island, and I don't know what the second half of the game holds. Probably more of the same cheap bosses and horrid vehicle levels.

Overall the experience can be summed up as "just not very good." It's not a horrible game, and it's leagues more playable than stuff like Last Action Hero, but I can't imagine anyone willingly returning to it after clearing it. Or, more likely, after giving up after a couple failed runs. If the developers had just given you some continues or passwords to work with this game would have been at least 100 spots higher, but as it stands it's just too frustrating overall.

Did I beat it?
No, and I worked my ass off trying.

#601 - Lethal Weapon

Okay, I know I said up above that Ocean loves to adapt nothing but horrible movies into horrible games, but that's not entirely true, because Lethal Weapon is a classic and staple of the buddy cop and insane Mel Gibson genres. Of course this game came out in 1994 and features the cover from Lethal Weapon 3 so I guess I don't know what this is actually an adaptation of. The screen cap with the giant alligator tells me probably nothing at all. And it isn't a horrible game, just an uneven one. So, where am I going with this... I guess it's an okay adaptation of a movie franchise, that is named after the first installment, uses the poster from the third one, but has nothing to do with any of them.

You start the game at the station with Riggs. Or maybe it's Murdock, I can't remember who is who. From there you have a choice of four doors, each one representing a different mission. Since you can go into them in any order it gives the game a bit of non-linearity, which is nice, as well as the option to practice any levels that give you more trouble than others. You'll probably need it too, because despite the game being extremely generous with hit points, lives and continues, it's pretty damn hard with long levels, tricky jumps, and some fairly merciless enemies at times. And if you are able to complete all four missions (something I have yet to do in one go) you'll unlock a fifth and final mission. Since I've never reached it I can't comment on it, but I'm holding out hope that it's a fistfight with Gary Busey on the front lawn.

Overall the gameplay is decent enough in design, but the levels are pretty wildly uneven, with a difficulty curve that is all over the place. Hell, the first assignment is actually the one that gives me the most trouble and is probably the hardest one overall, mostly because of the clumsy platforming mechanics and situations that the game forces onto you. In fact I'd say this game is more of a platformer than an action game or shooter, despite three references to a gun on the cover art alone.

There are a hefty number of enemies to shoot, especially in mission three, but your primary obstacles are going to be the endless number of jumps you need to make, spiked floors you need to avoid, and alligators and sharks you need to swim around. And though the controls are passable enough, and much better than any of the other Ocean games I've already covered, they still have some pretty glaring flaws. The biggest is that when jumping you lose all forward momentum when you land. It's kind of hard to explain, but it definitely feels very rigid, like you expect the controls to be a little more slippery on the descent and landing. Again I have to point at the mechanics in Super Mario Bros. as the perfect model for all of this, and to which this game completely fails to replicate. But I guess it's better than the alternative; you won't be overshooting your jumps, which is usually a worse fate.

For attacks you have your service pistol, and a roundhouse kick that you should only use if you run out of ammo for your gun. Extra clips are usually sprinkled pretty generously through the levels, but you can accidentally destroy them, and a few areas do have more enemies than ammo. Overall it's not usually a big issue, but sometimes you're better off just killing yourself when your pistol runs dry instead of wasting your time with the kicks.

Some of the levels also cap off with a boss fight. None of them are put together particularly well, but I at least appreciate that the game tried. Platformers and shooters without bosses just seem so lazy and anticlimactic. Granted I'm struggling to actually remember any of them (they're always some dude with slightly buffed up attacks and hit points), but I'm giving the game kudos for it regardless.

So is the game that bad? Not at all. It certainly can be frustrating, and it could have been a lot better, but I had an enjoyable enough time with it that I was willing to put in a half dozen attempts towards beating it, without becoming too annoying or aggravated at any point. Hell, it's still on my list to beat, so it still hasn't driven me away. So consider this cap on volume three of this project to be a bit of a milestone; every game going forward has at least some good in it. Or at least the games will stop driving me as crazy as consistently.

Did I beat it?
No, but I'm still trying