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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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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Out of This World (SNES / 3DO)

September 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Out of This World - Title Screen (SNES)Out of This World - Tentacles (3DO)Out of This World - Alien Encounter (3DO)

Out of This World was a landmark game when it came out in 1991.  By attempting to bridge the gap between cinema and games, it pushed the medium in new directions, but at the same time, it succumbed to what’s probably the industry’s biggest insecurity — the fact that it’s not film.  How many games have attempted to be “cinematic” throughout the years?  And how many have truly succeeded?  Were all those FMV games in the early days of the CD format really better because they were movie-like?  Is Metal Gear Solid the pinnacle of gaming because of Hideo Kojima’s obvious desire to be a director, rather than a game producer?  How many “cinematic” games are actually made better by the fact that they’re movie-like?  Maybe a more relevant question might be, “do games even need to be cinematic?”

Regardless of the relationship between movies and games, film’s influence in Out of This World is obvious.  But instead of taking the obvious route and filling the game with FMV and D-list actors, Out of This World is a little more subtle.  Instead of being a playable movie, it simply takes many of the themes of cinema and applies them to games — story, the creation of tension, attachment to characters, action, a complementary soundtrack, and so on.  All of these were groundbreaking for the time, and as a result, Out of This World holds a special place in gaming history for many people.

But calling it a “groundbreaking” or “watershed” or “landmark” game doesn’t necessarily tell you what really matters — does it stand the test of time?  That’s a difficult one to answer.  Taken in context of the time it came out, it’s fantastic.  But 18 years later, does it still hold its own?  Frankly, it’s a tough call.  To be sure, I like Out of This World.  I think it’s a very interesting game and well worth a play-through.  But at the same time, it’s definitely showing its age and its flaws are a little more apparent than they may have once been.

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Alex Kidd: High Tech World (Sega Master System)

September 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

alexkiddhightech1To the arcade!Alex Kidd: High Tech World -- Ninjas??

Having been a Nintendo kid, I find the Alex Kidd series kind of strange.  If I had to use one word to describe it, I think it would be “disjointed.”  This probably stems from the fact that a couple of entires in the series are actually just rebranded versions of other games.  (In fact, Sega’s other early franchise series, Wonder Boy, has a similar history.)  The series kicked off in a not-so-disjointed fashion with a couple of standard platformers: Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars.  But then it just turned kind of weird after that.  There was an odd Japan-only BMX game, which I know almost nothing about, and then there were Alex Kidd: High Tech World and Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.

Alex Kidd: High Tech world is actually a rebranded version of a Japanese Master System game called “Anmitsu Hime: From Amakara Castle,” a game based off of some anime I’ve never heard of.  Naturally, the US anime-audience being what it was in the 80s, that was not going to sell over here.  So, Sega slapped their mascot onto the game and called it a day.

But, what is it, exactly?  It’s actually a fairly interesting combination of adventure and platforming.  But instead of being an adventure/platformer, it’s literally a set of alternating sections of gameplay.  Sega also managed to throw a few tongue-in-cheek self-references into the mix, too.  In fact, the basic premise is that you’ve just found out from your friend that there’s a new arcade in town and you really want to go play the new Sega arcade games.  And you have to get there before 5:00, with the clock ticking the entire time.

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A Boy and His Blob (NES)

September 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

A Boy and His Blob - Title ScreenLicorice = LadderBouncing Marshmallows

I like side-scrollers.  I like adventure games.  I like “obscure” games that show up on “hidden gems” lists.  I like quirky games.  So it all stands to reason that I would like A Boy and His Blob, right?  Well, sure enough, I do.  No stylistic twist to get your attention here, I just plain like it.  It’s a good game.  Flawed, but good.

I had never heard of A Boy and His Blob (or, even its full title, “David Crane’s A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia”) back in the day, let alone actually having played it.  In fact, I was only clued into its existence sometime over the last couple of years.  I noticed that as I read a few “hidden gems” and “overlooked games” lists around the web and various retro games forums, this one kept popping up.  I knew it was an NES game, I knew it was an adventure game, and I knew you were a boy with blob that changed shapes when you fed it jellybeans (yes, jellybeans).  Beyond that, I didn’t know much else.

So with a fresh mindset and little in the way of expectations, I dove into A Boy and His Blob.  And then I got stuck.  After about five minutes of playing the game.  So I turned it off, and came back later.  And I got stuck again.  At the same spot.  So I turned it off and came back later.  But this time, I was determined to actually figure the damn game out.  And this is when it all started to click and I “got” the game.  I took notes on what all the different jellybeans did, I started making a map, and I remembered what Metroid taught me: never assume a dead-end is actually a dead-end.

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Metroid (NES)

February 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Metroid - Title ScreenMetroid - The BeginningMetroid - Exploring Zebes

In the hardcore gaming world, there are several series that have been elevated to almost sainthood status.  Series like Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy have fervent fan bases and traditions dating back to the NES.  More recently, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, and (maybe) Halo have started to build the same kinds of traditions.  For me, all of these series have one thing in common.  I’ve never beaten a single game in any of them.

Well, until today, that is… For I have finally done the unthinkable and played through a Metroid game from start to finish!  Back in 2007, I assigned myself a mini-mission of playing through Super Metroid because it’s supposedly one of the greatest games ever, and I hadn’t even played it before.  Well, that didn’t really go very well.  Quite frankly, I found the game extremely frustrating.

So what on Earth compelled me to play the original NES Metroid after not enjoying the SNES version?  After all, even many people that love Super Metroid find the original obscure and tedious.  Well, I didn’t really set out to play it.  I’ve been on an NES collecting kick lately, and Metroid came in a bundle that I got off of Craigslist.  I decided to pop it in and give it a shot, and I was hooked right from the start.

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Blaster Master (NES)

May 26, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Blaster Master Title ScreenBlaster Master Area 1Blaster Master Overhead Section

(Note: This is an unfinished, Evolving Review.  Stay tuned for futher updates as I complete more of the game.) 

I’m a big fan of “underdog” games, hidden gems that not everyone has played.  Yeah, everyone knows that Mario and Sonic and Zelda are going to be good games, but what about the games that flew under the radar and never became megahits?  There are some great ones out there with interesting and unique play mechanics.  Enter Blaster Master.

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Review Philosophy: “Evolving” reviews

May 26, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I’m going to do a slight format change that will hopefully encourage me to post more reviews.  I’m not a big fan of writing in the traditional review style where you play a game to completion and write a retrospective/post-mortem to sum up your thoughts and make a recommendation.  The main problem is that I don’t have much of an attention span with the games I play.  I’m usually playing several at a time and I jump around a lot.  Sometimes I’ll even start a game then let it sit for months before going back and playing it further.

So instead of forcing my play-style to change so that I can write more reviews, I’m going to tailor my review-style to my play-style.  I’m going to start writing what I’m calling “Evolving” reviews.  If I sit down and play through a quarter of a game, I’m going to post my impressions of that first quarter then slowly add to the review over time as I complete more of it.  So I’ll post the first part of the review, then if I get back into the game a week, month, or even a year later, I’ll add more thoughts on the additional parts I’ve played.

So, over time, a post will ultimately culminate in a complete review but will allow the reader to follow along as I play the game further.  This will even allow me to go back to games and reviews I’ve already completed and add additional thoughts on a second or third playthrough.

Hopefully, this will make the site a little more dynamic and fluid and keep it from going through long periods of stagnation.  Stay tuned!

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