Latest Haul and Impressions: Firestriker (SNES)

August 13, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

I’ve said it several times before (including in my last review) — I’m a fan of bouncing ball games, for whatever reason.  Pong?  Breakout?  Arkanoid?  Sign me up!  So, when I caught wind of Firestriker on SNES, I knew I had to have it.  And as of last week, I do have it.  But this isn’t any old Breakout clone – it’s a Breakout clone with a twist.  It’s a really bizarre Breakout/Pinball/RPG hybrid, mixing elements of lots of different genres in a way that, as far as I know, has never been done before or since.  Check out the video below for an idea of how it works (thanks, SNESguide!)

Interestingly enough, I actually beat the game the day after I got it.  It’s not a long game, or an especially difficult one, but it’s definitely unique.  I enjoyed it, and I plan to play through it again.  The reason I’m only doing an Impressions post instead of a Review, though, is that there’s a neat two-player mode that I want to try before I make my final evaluation.  The 2-player mode is actually completely different than the main game, in that it’s a competitive mode.  It even has multi-tap support so four people can play!  Too bad I don’t have a multi-tap and three more people who would be interested to try it…

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Robo-Squash (Atari Lynx)

August 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

  

How many other sites on the internet have not one, but TWO different reviews of futuristic squash-based video games?  Not many, I’ll tell you that.  So, I’m feeling pretty special right about now.  (Heck, how many squash video games are there, anyway?)

When I bought Space Squash, it instantly became my favorite Virtual Boy game, so I had high hopes for Robo-Squash on my new Atari Lynx.  The concept of Robo-Squash is almost identical.  It’s the future and war is being fought in the form of a game loosely based on squash.  Your objective is to defeat the enemy by getting as many shots past them as possible in what is essentially a game of 3D Pong.  Get three shots past your opponent, and you win the round.  But unlike Space Squash, where you’re facing off against a succession of different opponents (and even some boss battles), Robo-Squash has you facing the same computer opponent in a 16-round match.  Accrue the most points over all 16 rounds, and you win the war.

Unfortunately, Robo-Squash lacks the same charm and tight controls that made Space Squash so engaging.  The Lynx lacks the dual d-pad setup, so properly angling your shots is much more difficult.  The direction your ball will bounce depends on where on your paddle you make contact with it.  If you hit it on the left side, the ball will careen off to the right.  Hit it on the top of your paddle, and it will shoot downward.  That wouldn’t be a big deal if the Lynx II had a better D-Pad.  But as it stands, it feels a little bit mushy, which means you never feel 100% in control of where your paddle ends up.  It’s hard to get pixel-perfect placement, so you won’t always be able to hit the ball in the direction you want.

On top of the less-than-perfect controls, the game also lacks variety.  You don’t face off against a series of different opponents with different strategies, like in Space Squash.  Instead, you’re battling the same generic looking opponent paddle 16 times in a row.  On top of that, every stage is the same size and configuration.  All that changes is the layout of the power-ups and point tiles.

But maybe I’m sounding too harsh.  I didn’t really mean this to be a 100% comparison to Space Squash, and it’s important to remember that it’s on a different platform from a different era.  Robo-Squash is for the Atari Lynx, an 8-bit, color handheld that came out in 1989.  The game itself came out in 1990.  Space Squash came out on a 32-bit tabletop console in 1995.  (There I go comparing the two again… Why can’t I get away from this?)  Differences and limitations are a given.

With that in mind, is Robo-Squash a good game on its own?  Well, maybe.  I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan of bouncing ball games like Pong and Breakout, so this game inherently appeals to me.  If you have a similar affection for the genre, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of it, too.  I like the power-ups, like the ability to shoot explosives, catch the ball, enlarge your paddle, or preview where the ball is going to bounce.  They add a nice bit of strategy.  The game’s point-based gameplay adds strategy, too.  The objective is about more than just getting three shots past your opponent.  You have to collect bonus points along the way.  Additionally, the levels are laid out in a grid pattern, and you get even more bonus points if you win multiple levels in a row or column.  Going for the corner piece that will complete both a row and a column, knowing huge bonus points are on the line, adds a nice bit of tension to the action.

One recommendation: play the game on “Insane” difficulty.  It’s not really that insane, and the lower difficulties are slow enough paced that it can get dull.  “Insane,” despite the name, is actually just right.

Final Thoughts:  There’s a reason Robo-Squash didn’t take the world by storm.  (Well, yeah, it’s on the Lynx, but other than that…) It’s a pretty simple game, and maybe even a bit monotonous at times, but you may get some enjoyment out of it if you like the genre.  It won’t hurt to give it a try.  I’d love the chance to play two-player via link-up, too.  I think it could be a lot more fun against a human opponent than the computer.

YouTube Pick (via GameVideoOnline):

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Blue’s Journey / Raguy (Neo Geo CD)

July 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

  

The Neo Geo isn’t exactly known for its platformers.  When you think of the Neo Geo, you usually think of the likes of King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Metal Slug.  Or, if your tastes lean that way, shooters or great arcade-style sports games.  But platformers?  Really, it only has a handful that could even theoretically fall under that banner.  There’s Top Hunter, Magician Lord, Spinmaster, Cyber-Lip, and maybe a few others that aren’t coming to mind at the moment (appropriately enough).  But ultimately, those all fall under the general “side-scrolling action” category, sharing more in common with run-n-gun games like Metal Slug or 8- and 16-bit action games like Shinobi than they do with good old-fashioned hop-n-bop platformers like Mario and Sonic.

So, can you even say that the Neo has a single true platformer?  I think you could make the argument that it doesn’t.  Or, you can make the argument that it does!  (How’s that for a literary twist!)  And if you were to make the argument that it does have a true platformer, Blue’s Journey (known as Raguy in Japan) is Exhibit A.

I guess all that pontificating was to say that Neo Geo has bupkis for platformers.  So if you’re looking for one, your “choice” is Blue’s Journey, and you better like it.  Thankfully, it’s not a bad game.  In fact, it’s a pretty decent little game.  I’m sitting here trying to think of good phrases to sum it up, and all I can come up with are slightly condescending compliments like “not a bad game,” “a pretty decent little game,” and “a light-hearted little romp” (seriously, I almost used that one).  I think that says something about the game.  It’s good, but not inspiring.  It’s entertaining, but not amazing.  I look at it the way I look at a weiner dog.  “Aw, cute… *smiles and pats it on the head*”  Ultimately, I like it, and it makes me smile, but I think I also pity it a bit.

In fact, I think that sums it up perfectly.  Blue’s Journey is actually a pretty good game, but I feel a little sorry for it.  Good as it is, it will never hold a candle to the last platformer I reviewed.  On top of that, there are a few technical issues that make it seem like even the developers didn’t really respect it.  I mean, really?  You put important HUD information in the overscan area where 99% of CRT TVs will cut it off?  Really?  That’s amateur hour.  And that translation… Oh, god, the translation.  It’s as if they found the one guy on staff who had taken a couple years of English in high school and had him write the script.  Then they used the first draft of it.  I seriously began to wonder if it was intentionally bad and was some sort of parody of itself, but given the fact that nothing else in the game would imply that it’s supposed to be funny, I’m just left with the conclusion that it’s bad.  Thankfully, it’s gone way past the awkward zone and into the so-bad-it’s-good zone.  But that might be the pity talking.

Alright, so we’ve established that Blue’s Journey is a platformer on the Neo Geo, but what about specifics?  You’re Blue, a little fairy insect thing, and you’re out to save your home and your girlfriend from the evil empire that has moved in and is polluting everything to death.  You’ll hop through several brightly colored worlds along the way, with several different upgradeable weapons to aid you.  There’s a leaf, exploding acorns, and a boomerang.  The leaf stuns enemies so that you can pick them up and throw them at each other, while the exploding acorns and boomerangs both destroy the enemy outright, with various ranges and explosive powers.  On top of all that, you also have the ability to shrink yourself to an even smaller size to fit into special paths and secret areas.  It’s also a little easier to dodge enemies when shrunk, and I think you can jump just slightly better, but you’re also completely defenseless because you can’t use any weapons in that state.

The game always starts off in the same world, but after beating the first boss, your path will branch, and you’ll play through two of the next four worlds.  After that, you’ll end up in the evil empire for the final world.  Along the way, there are several secret areas to find, shops to visit, bosses to fight, and characters to meet.  The branching paths combined with multiple endings and secret areas/characters add some replay value to what would otherwise be a very short game.  You can easily complete it in a single sitting (since it’s an arcade game, after all), so most of the challenge will come from seeing all the endings or attempting to complete the game on a single credit.  But if you don’t want to finish it in a single sitting, you can also let the timer run out on the Game Over screen to get the option to save your progress.  You will then be able to load your progress the next time you start a new game.  There’s also a two player mode if you want to conquer the empire with a friend.

The graphics are brilliantly colorful, with lots of rich greens and blues.  It’s a very appealing looking game.  The controls are simple, so they work just fine.  The sound is appropriately upbeat and bouncy, though nothing that will stick with you for a long time.

Final Thoughts: Ultimately, I think the good parts of Blue’s Journey outweigh the bad (and some of the bad swings all the way back around to be good), so I can safely recommend you give the game a try.  As far as Neo Geo games go, it’s on the cheaper end, so you won’t necessarily feel cheated by its flaws.  And it’s actually not hard to look past the flaws in the first place.  So if you do, there’s an enjoyable light-hearted little romp to be had. (Sorry, I just had to say it.)

YouTube Pick (via cubex55):

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Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

July 2, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

*96 Autumn on Yoshi's Island

Despite the fact that this site has lain dormant for a good year and a half, I feel compelled to share my thoughts today.  Just a few nights ago, I was reading about someone’s experience with replacing batteries in old game cartridges.  That made me feel a little bit paranoid about my own games, so I decided to take out a couple and check to make sure they were still holding my saves.  One of the games I decided to check was Super Mario World, since it’s one of my older battery-backed games.  Thankfully, I found that it was in perfect working order and still had my saves from when I beat the game back in the early nineties.

But this post isn’t about rediscovering old saved games.  As fun as that can be, the topic has been covered.  Instead, this post is about how absolutely wonderful of a game Super Mario World is.

When I went to test the cartridge and discovered it was still holding my saves, I thought to myself… “You know, it’s been a really long time.  I think I’ll play a few levels.”  Then “a few levels” turned into “a few more levels.”  Before I knew it, I was on a mission.  I was going to complete the whole game.  As a kid, I beat it, but I used the Star Road to almost entirely skip the last couple of worlds.  In fact, my winning save shows only 53 of 96 goals completed.  There was so much more to see!

As I made my way through the first world, and then the second, and then the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, all along I kept thinking to myself how amazing the whole experience was.  The game is charming, it’s challenging, it’s beautiful, it’s bold, it’s expansive, it’s enigmatic, it’s satisfying, it’s… well… special.

I enjoyed this game when I was younger.  I have fond memories of friends coming over after school to play it.  I remember the final Bowser fight and how excited we were to beat him.  I remember the sense of discovery every time we found a secret exit.  I remember finding the brutally difficult Special levels and gleefully taking turns, playing them over and over and over to see who could finish them.  But for some reason, on this playthrough (some 18 years later), something clicked.

It’s like I was playing the game again for the first time.  I was noticing details that I never noticed before.  I was finding secrets that I never found before.  I was playing levels that I never played before.  I was noticing the beautiful use of color, the clever level design, and a sense of depth and attention to detail that I never noticed before.  At the risk of sounding cliche, I think I was discovering the true artistry of the game for the first time.

And that is why I still play old games.

Final Thoughts: Super Mario World is now one of my favorite games of all time.  It deserves not just a Retro Star Award, but an extra big one…

Retro Star Award

YouTube Pick (via SNESguide.com):

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Impressions: Super Mario Land (Game Boy)

December 10, 2010 by · 6 Comments 

I decided earlier tonight that it was about time I sat down and played through a Game Boy game.  After all, it’s been ages, and I haven’t really given my Super Game Boy a good run, so let’s do this!  I figured I’d start off with Super Mario Land, which I bought at the last Midwest Gaming Classic.  Actually, my real motivation here is that I want to play Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, but figured I ought to play through the first before that.  So here we go…

Day 1: The first thing I told myself was “There’s something wrong here.  Is this really a Mario game?  It feels so… Wrong.  Well, whatever, I’ll stick with it and give it a chance.”  Really, no kidding, there’s just something “off” about this game.  But either way, in my first sitting, I played through level 4-1 before calling it a night.  That must be about half way through, right?  Right?  Imagine my surprise when I checked online to see how long the game is and discovered there are only four worlds!  And with only three levels per world, this is an especially short game.  I get the feeling I’ll be beating this one pretty quickly.  I guess I should get to work on that Princess Tomato review, or I’ll have another post to add to the “to-do” list before I know it…

Day 2: Well, yep… Beat it.  Frankly, I’m kind of glad it wasn’t really any longer than it was.  I started playing through the game again after completing it (a harder mode with more enemies unlocks), but didn’t really find it compelling enough to keep going. One more to check off my Backloggery, though!

Princess Tomato Completed!

November 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been (gradually) playing through Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom and recording my thoughts in an impressions post.  I just completed the game tonight, so if you haven’t been following along (who am I kidding, who would really be checking in every day to see if I’ve updated it?), then be sure to check out my full impressions here while I work on getting the full review up!

Impressions: Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)

October 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingom

This post will be a spot for me to record my thoughts as I play through Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom.  The game is a graphical/text adventure in the same style as Deja Vu, Shadowgate, etc.  Keep checking back to follow my progress!  (Beware some minor spoilers, though!)

Day 1: I briefly gave Princess Tomato a try back when I bought it (a year and a half, or so, ago?) and I decided it’s time to dig in further.  The game so far is a pretty charming adventure game.  Its cheery fruits and vegetables theme makes it seem like it might be meant for kids, but there’s some weird stuff going on here.  A visit to a cabaret where you can buy a sexy Apricot and Lemon a round of drinks?  A drunken drifter passed out on a park bench who needs your help to cure what is clearly a hangover?  An underground network of resistance fighters trying to overthrow an evil pumpkin invader?  And I’ve only played the first two levels…

Day 2: Levels 3 and 4.  After playing through Zillion, I’m crazy happy this game has passwords to continue.  I’m getting into the meat of the game now.  The gameplay has been shaken up a bit with a couple unusual sections — some Rock/Paper/Scissors matches and a maze to explore.  I’m attempting to reach the Resistance base, but keep running into obstacles and puzzles. (In an adventure game!?  Imagine that!)  Some of them are a little too obtuse, though.  I don’t like how some destinations and objects don’t appear until you do otherwise obscure/totally unrelated actions.  But on the plus side, the game doesn’t seem to let you do anything to really screw yourself over.  It’s more of the LucasArts style of adventure, rather than Sierra, in that you can’t die or lose.  It’s nice to know you can experiment without fear of having to start over.  By the way, what’s with the “DUMP” action?  Why didn’t they call it “DROP”?  “DUMP” has… other… connotations.

Day 3: Level 5.  I breezed through this level.  I think I’m getting the flow of the game down — I’m getting used to retrying actions that previously failed after I trigger plot points.  Oh, that door was locked before, but now that I’ve talked to this seemingly entirely unrelated person, it’s still locked, but now I can break in even though I couldn’t before?  Okay, sure, why not…  But I am left with a couple questions.  Why are the numbers and letters on the password input screen ordered from top to bottom, right to left?  Is this some leftover from the Japanese release?  That screen was confusing until I realized what was up… Also, why is Princess Tomato’s sister human?  I don’t trust her. (Yeah, I’ll trust the talking Watermelon… But not the pretty human lady!)

Day 4: Level 6.  Another maze.  More Paper/Rock/Scissors battles. (PROTIP: The enemies have patterns in the battles.  They’re very easy if you pay attention).  Level 6 was harder than level 5, though.  Also, I’m not sure if the game’s puzzles are getting more logical or if I’m just getting better at the game.  I’m not getting completely stuck as often.  Realizing I can safely try anything without worrying that it will ruin my game has been a big help.  It’s also removed some of the challege.  At this point, most of the difficulty just comes from trying to figure out what will trigger the next conversation change/plot point.  It’s almost like I’m playing against the game’s internal programming logic and not the puzzles!  Interestingly, I think the fact that I’m a programmer is helping me “get” how the game behaves.

Day 5: Level 7 and some of 8.  I infiltrated a town, disguised as a Farmie but armed with my Resistance Crest to identify me to allies.  Nothing much of note here, except that I enjoyed some of the low-key humor you get when you check out all the stuff in the shop.  The level finishes with a simple maze (well, simple if you talk to the right people).  I actually got stuck in Level 8, making my way through the castle.  I must have missed something, but I thought I tried every single action and every single item on every single screen and couldn’t figure out how to get past the guard.  I will have to come back to this.

Day 6: Levels 8 and 9.  I managed to get through Level 8 this time.  I have to say, the flaws of this game really rear their ugly heads in the last couple of levels.  There’s a super long maze, several rock/paper/scissors battles, and LOTS and LOTS of cases where you have to repeat mundane actions for items and plot points to appear.  But still, not all of the game’s charm was lost.  They even snuck in a Milon’s Secret Castle reference!  But anyway, I’m all finished now.  The game was fun, but not without its flaws.  Look for a proper review in the future!

Zillion (Sega Master System)

October 8, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Zillion Title ScreenZillion - Mission DebriefZillion - At your ship

Back when I first decided I wanted a Sega Master System, I didn’t actually know much about it.  I knew there were a few highly regarded games, like Alex Kidd, Phantasy Star, and Wonder Boy, but I didn’t know much else.  I really just wanted it because I love getting new hardware — especially the more obscure, “failed” systems.  Since the SMS was so heavily overshadowed by the NES during its run, it fit the bill perfectly.

Then as I began to explore the platform more, I kept reading about this game called Zillion.  Supposedly, it was the Master System’s answer to Metroid.  That seemed intriguing, so I decided I wanted it.  Then at the Midwest Gaming Classic, I found a complete copy, and the search was over.

So what’s my point here?  Well, my point is that this is a great game, but it’s clearly not at the forefront of the Master System mindset.  Everybody who know knows about the Master System knows about the basics like Alex Kidd and all the arcade ports like Outrun and Space Harrier, but it apparently takes some extra digging to get to the likes of Zillion.  Then if you actually want the game, you have to get past hundreds of unwanted copies of Hang-On/Safari Hunt, Black Belt, and After Burner to get there.  It seems to me that this game was probably overlooked, even in its heyday.  And that’s a shame, because if more people played it, then the system might have received more games like it.  And if it got more games like this, then we might not look at the Master System as such a failure today.

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First Impressions: Cloud Master, Shinobi, Gangster Town

October 8, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

First impressions are important.  If you meet someone for the first time and they make a bad first impression, it takes something like four positive experiences to reverse that opinion.  I think things work similarly with first impressions of a new game, too.  The first few minutes can completely shape your opinions.

With that in mind, I played each of my three new games for about 15 minutes.  I don’t necessarily intend to dig into each of them much further in the near future, but I think this post will be interesting to come back to when I do.  Once I play the whole game, will my opinions differ from my first impressions?

  • Cloud Master: In general, this seems like a solid little side-scrolling shooter.  At first, there was nothing remarkable about it, but then I started to pick up a bit more of the power-up system and discovered a secret door that led to a magic shop.  I think there could be some hidden depth here.
  • Shinobi: Stiff.  Wooden.  Ugly.  One dimensional.  I’m not really feeling the love for this game, despite its good reputation.  Perhaps there’s more to it that I haven’t seen yet?  The first level did make an interesting switch into a first-person view point and changed up the game mechanics, so maybe there’s more going on.  Or maybe people were just blinded by the arcade version?
  • Gangster Town: Holy cow, I wasn’t expecting this!  It’s an 8-bit light gun game, so I expected something with about the level of depth of Hogan’s Alley.  But no, there’s a lot more going on here.  There’s a surprising amount of interactivity — you can shoot the hats off of the enemies’ heads, then shoot the hat again while it’s in the air for bonus points.  You can shoot the tires off of cars.  You can shoot down signs.  I’m impressed, and am looking forward to playing more of this one.

Impressions: Cosmic Spacehead (Genesis)

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Cosmic Spacehead

Cosmic Spacehead boxart

Well, how about this… I’ve already beaten a game I got on Saturday at the Midwest Gaming Classic!  I was giving all my new games a quick test run and wasn’t planning on spending much time with them yet, but this one managed to grab me enough to keep playing.  A full review will come later, but for now, I thought I’d share some initial thoughts.

Cosmic Spacehead is a nice little game.  It’s a hybrid point-and-click adventure/platformer (kind of like Alex Kidd: High Tech World….. but not as bad). The story is that you’re playing as Cosmic, and you’ve just discovered planet Earth. The problem is that, when you return home to tell everyone, nobody believes you.  Now, you’re off to set the record straight.  You have to find a way back to Earth to take pictures and return home with proof so you can get the hero’s welcome you deserve.

Overall, the game is pretty easy and pretty short, but generally well-made.  I really love the colorful, cartoony graphics (it’s one of the few Genesis games with a great color palette) and the general tongue-in-cheek style.  Basically, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s always a plus in my book.  That’s all for now, stay tuned for a full review!

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