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!

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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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!

Impressions: Castelian (NES)

December 10, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Castelian originally caught my eye when I read about its Commodore 64 incarnation: Nebulus.  Namely, it’s the interesting graphical effect it uses during almost all of the gameplay that drew me to it.  The game is a puzzle platformer where you’re some strange pig/frog creature and you’re hopping around platforms on the outside of a series of cylindrical towers in an effort to tear them down.  The effect used to display the rotation of the tower as you move around it is really convincing, and quite impressive for an 8-bit game.

I left it at that, though.  I don’t own a C64, so I wasn’t going to make much of an effort to play it.  But then I noticed this game called Castelian on the NES that looked really similar.  As it turns out, it’s actually the same game, just under a different name.  Why?  I dunno.  But I’ll take it.  It was a pleasant surprise to see I could play Nebulus after all!

So now that I have it, how does it fare?  Pretty well, so far.  My first impression of the game was that it was pretty damn hard.  I couldn’t even beat the first level.  Your pig/frog is not very mobile, doesn’t jump very well, and there are lots of awkwardly placed ledges to fall down and enemies to run into.  Then I remembered what Metroid and Metal Gear taught me: Be patient!  It’s not about busting through the game on a single life, it’s about exploring and learning the best way through the level.  Once I took that approach, I started to make some good progress.

So now I’m up to the fourth level (of eight) and the level design is really starting to come alive.  Stage 3 had some clever tricks to it, and stage 4 is even more intricate.  I’m really starting to like it, and I’m eager to see what’s in store for later levels.

I still suck at the bonus stages, though…

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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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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