Space Squash (Virtual Boy)

March 16, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

Space Squash - Title ScreenSpace Squash - GameplaySpace Squash - Map Screen

It’s a lot of fun when this happens.  I’ve wanted Space Squash for the Virtual Boy for something like 10 years now — since a little after I got the VB.  I never really bit the bullet because it’s an import-only game and was always kind of expensive.  Then I packed up the system for several years and never really touched it.  Well, I got it out a couple weekends ago, dusted it off, and started playing again.  Naturally, that made me want to buy more games for the system (such is the plight of the classic game collector).  Then, when some fairly reasonably priced new copies of Space Squash showed up on eBay (as they seem to be doing regularly now), I decided it was time.  But would it live up to 10 years worth of anticipation?  Surprisingly, yes!  And maybe more!

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Ninja Spirit (TurboGrafx-16)

July 25, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Ninja Spirit - Title ScreenNinja Spirit - First SpiritNinja Spirit - First Boss

As your footsteps fall silently upon the floorboards of the ruined temple at which you were born and raised, you barely have time to contemplate the untimely and unjust death of your father and the vengeance which you have sworn to obtain.  With swiftness and deftness that can only come with a lifetime of training, you dispatch foe after foe with ease.  But they are relentless.  Bombs, knives, and swords fly at you as your enemies swarm about, seemingly appearing from thin air.  Where are they coming from?  Why do they want you dead?  Why did they kill your father?  There’s no time to ask questions.  There’s no time to think, only to react.

Your sword slices through your attackers and shields you from their bombs and knives, but it is becoming more and more difficult to handle each wave of aggression on your own.  You defeat an unusual ninja in bright orange, and as if on cue, an apparition appears.  But this apparition does not attack.  Instead, you discover that it mimics your every move.  You gracefully jump hundreds of feet into the air and drift softly to the ground.  It follows you every inch of the way, without a hint of effort.  You look closer, and on the face of this apparition, you see yourself.  You see your anger, your hatred, your determination.  This apparition is your spirit.  It is invulnerable and has every drop of strength and skill that you have.  It will protect you.

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Virtua Cop (Sega Saturn)

July 15, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

Virtua Cop - Title ScreenVirtua Cop - Beginner LevelVirtua Cop - Medium Level

Light gun games have something of a linear history.  Virtua Cop may have shaken up the genre by bringing into the 3D era, but its gameplay is not nearly as revolutionary as its graphics were.  In fact, you can trace the gameplay straight back to one of the earliest NES games — Hogan’s Alley.  In Hogan’s Alley, you were a cop, wandering through a seedy area, shooting down thugs while trying to hold back your itchy trigger finger when an innocent appears.  In Virtua Cop, you’re a cop, wandering through a seedy area, shooting down thugs while trying to hold back your itchy trigger finger when an innocent appears.  16-bit light gun games were much the same (see Lethal Enforcers) as are modern ones (see the Time Crisis and House of the Dead series).

But saying Virtua Cop sucks because light gun games are all the same would be unfair.  It’d be like saying Soul Calibur sucks just because it’s a 3D fighter, or Streets of Rage sucks just because it’s a side scrolling beat-’em-up.  The real question is whether or not I have fun playing it.  And, quite simply, I do.  It’s certainly not worth playing with the controller, but get yourself a Stunner, and you’ll be mowing down baddies left and right.

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Streets of Rage (Sega Genesis)

July 7, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Streets of Rage - Title ScreenStreets of Rage - Choose your characterStreets of Rage - Two player

What’s this?  An early ’90s Genesis side-scrolling beat-em-up that doesn’t suck?  I originally intended to review Golden Axe, but it was so awful that I just couldn’t bring myself to keep playing.  (I’ll have to play it when I’m in a more masochistic mood, I guess.)  So when I decided to play Streets of Rage instead, I had low expectations.  It had been a while since I had played the game, so I couldn’t remember much and wasn’t sure what I was getting into.  I had fond memories, but I had the sinking feeling that those memories were of Streets of Rage 2, not the original.  Thankfully, it turned out I was right, and the game is pretty playable.

Streets of Rage is Sega’s response to Final Fight and is another entry in what used to be an extremely popular genre.  Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon, River City Ransom, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Altered Beast, Golden Axe… What the hell were we thinking back then?  I guess we really liked walking to the right and repeatedly pushing the punch button.  Streets of Rage is no different.  Like the rest of the group, it’s pretty much a simple button-masher with very little in the way of depth.  You can walk, jump, kick, punch, summon special attacks, pick up weapons, and… Well, that’s about it.  Oh yeah, occasionally you’ll grapple someone.

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Total Eclipse (3DO)

July 1, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

Total Eclipse - Title ScreenTotal Eclipse - World 1Total Eclipse - Volcano

Like with my first Saturn review, I spent some time debating what I wanted to cover first for the 3DO.  There are some great games for the system, but most of them are overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of crap that is available, too.  I wanted to pick something that I felt properly represented the spirit of the 3DO, and I think Total Eclipse does that.  It’s not because Total Eclipse is a particularly good game (or a particularly bad game).  I think it’s just a good representation of the games that are available for the 3DO — it’s prototypical for the system.

Total Eclipse is a fantastic technical feat for its time.  The terrain and enemies are all rendered in crisp, clear 3D with a slick, smooth frame-rate.  It features CD audio, pre-rendered cut-scenes, and does a great job of making loading times virtually transparent.  Unfortunately, it’s just not a very exciting game.  The first couple of worlds drag on without much of interest to report.  You’ll face straightforward terrain, easy enemies, and a soundtrack that alternates between dull, tired sounding guitar riffs and cheesy soap-opera-style saxophone.

Frankly, the whole time I was playing Total Eclipse, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just playing a polished but generic version of Star Fox.  They’re very similar games — both are futuristic rail-shooters where you take on the role of a fighter pilot heading off to save the solar system.  But while Total Eclipse excels in many of the technical areas of game design, it just doesn’t match Star Fox in terms of fun.

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Sonic R (Sega Saturn)

June 24, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Sonic R - Title ScreenSonic R - Resort IslandSonic R - Radical City

I debated for a while over which Saturn game I would review first. The Sega Saturn is one of my favorite platforms of all time, and I felt like it needed a worthy introduction. Would I pick one of its well known classics for a glowing review? Or one of my favorite lesser-known titles? Or something absolutely terrible so I could have a little fun with the review? In the end, I decided I’d take a look at a fairly well-known game where I might have a different view than most.

Most of the time, when people talk about Sonic R, (or Sonic 3D Blast or Sonic Jam) they start off by lamenting a bit about how the Saturn never got a true 3D Sonic adventure, and how, if it had, things could have been so much different. Well, I don’t want to talk about that. For one, it’s cliché and been done to death. On top of that, we’ve seen how the 3D Sonic games have turned out since then, and frankly, I don’t think we missed much. And most of all, I think taking all that into consideration taints the view of the game itself. How could you possibly enjoy a Sonic racing game if you’re harboring resentment that it’s not a platformer the entire time?

With that viewpoint explained, I feel confident enough to say that, quite simply, I like this game. If you strip away all the baggage that came with its release, (especially the fact that the Saturn was really struggling at the time) you’ll find an entertaining game underneath. It’s a simple but engaging game — bright and cheerful almost to a fault — and a nice technical demo of the kind of horsepower the Saturn actually had.

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Marble Madness (NES)

June 16, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

Marble Madness - Title ScreenMarble Madness - PracticeMarble Madness - Beginner

It seems there have been a plethora of marble-based maze games in the last several years.  I think the recent trend started with Super Monkey Ball and was soon followed by Mercury, Marble Blast, Kororinpa: Marble Mania, and others.  Well, they’re all rip-offs.  Every last one of ’em!  Marble Madness is The One True Thing and will always be the game that the others are compared to.  And for good reason, really:  it rocks.

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Bonk’s Adventure (TurboGrafx-16)

June 12, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Bonk - Title ScreenBonk - Level 1-2Bonk - Smash

I find it interesting to think about the 16-bit era and look at how the success of each console’s mascot parallels the success of the hardware itself.  Mario and Sonic were bitter rivals, but ultimately, I’d say Mario proved to be the stronger mascot.  Likewise, the SNES and Genesis were bitter rivals, with the SNES winning out in the end.

And then there are Bonk and the TurboGrafx-16.  Poor little Bonk.  Poor little TurboGrafx-16.  Though he’s appeared in many games on several different platforms, Bonk’s spiritual home is the TurboGrafx-16.  Unfortunately, he just didn’t have the star power to carry the system.  In the bitter playground wars of Mario vs. Sonic, Bonk was the oft-forgotten third player.  And, likewise, the TurboGrafx-16 was largely overlooked.

Was it poor marketing by Hudson and NEC?  Was Bonk just not an appealing enough character?  Or were his games just not good enough?  Poor marketing could be a solid argument, but I don’t think that tells the full story.  And Bonk, with his big head and goofy smile, is certainly appealing enough to sell games, so that theory is out, too.  That just leaves the games.

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