Category Archives: Video Games

SNES Classic – Some Quick Thoughts

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The UK box had a bit of a rough ride across the Atlantic, it would seem.

So the SNES Classic is out and has been for a week. As expected, it’s been rather difficult to get one if you weren’t fortunate enough to land a pre-order (which was also rather difficult to obtain). Scalpers are out in full force, and based on the few bits of feedback I’ve received from some of those who waited in line on launch day, it’s the scalpers who are making up the largest portion of the buyers. That’s too bad, because this is a rather awesome gaming device. Niche it may be, it still contains some of the greatest games ever developed. I was fortunate enough to land two pre-orders:  one for the SNES Classic and one for the UK SNES Classic. It took my UK version an extra week to make it to my door, but I’m now ready to offer up some thoughts.

If you’re unfamiliar with the UK version of the Super Nintendo, it’s basically the same as the Japanese Super Famicom. Nintendo of America felt it needed to market the original NES as more of a secondary entertainment platform as opposed to a toy, and thus they redesigned the look of the machine for release in the US. For the Super Nintendo, they too also went with their own case design, though this one was far more in-line with the Japanese version as the carts were basically the same. I don’t know why they did this, and some speculate it was an ego thing, but I’ve always been partial to the Super Famicom design. When I first saw the Super Nintendo, I was underwhelmed as a child as I didn’t think it looked too “super.” Boxy with purple accents, it was kind of ugly. I got over it, of course, when I played Super Mario World, but I always wondered why some of those early games have a diamond shaped logo featuring three circular colors:  blue, red, green, and yellow. Years later I’d come to know that was the logo for the Super Famicom and it referred to the colored face buttons on the controller. I’ve never gone the extra mile and acquired a Super Famicom, but when I saw the UK SNES Classic, which is identical to the US one aside from the case and controllers, I knew that was the version for me.

IMG_1703Both editions of the SNES Classic are, naturally, pretty cute. Like the NES Classic they’re tiny and are closer in size to a game cartridge for the original system than the old system itself. They’re light, and pretty simple devices. Both feature working power and reset buttons that function the same as the ones on the original consoles. The eject buttons and cartridge door are non-functioning, and the there’s a little snap-off piece where the controller “ports” are that pop off to reveal the actual controller ports for the Classic edition. In the box, both units come with two controllers, an HDMI cable, and a micro USB cable. The US version has a USB to wall adapter that the UK one lacks, but any such adapter will work. The US version also comes with a poster with instructions on the reverse side while the UK version comes with an instruction manual designed to mimic the original. The UK version also comes with My Nintendo reward points, I’m not sure why the US version does not.

The software for both systems is the same. If you go out and import a Japanese unit you’ll get a few different games, but the UK and US get the same ones. The dashboard is slightly different as each one is mean to resemble the visual style of the actual unit, so the US dashboard has purple accents and the UK one has a power light in the bottom right hand corner. The little graphic of a controller beside a game is also updated to reflect the proper controller for each unit, so purple buttons for the US and multi-colored ones for the UK. Other features, like CRT mode, widescreen, and so on are all the same.

I’ve only had time to play a little, but the first game I fired up was Super Mario World. I wanted to test the game out and see if it felt like how I felt it should. Testing for things like input lag and any graphical stretching, I found the game to be picture-perfect. The emulation Nintendo has pulled off with both the SNES Classic and the NES Classic is fantastic and miles ahead of what the company did on the Virtual Console. It’s why whenever someone poo-poos these things and suggests just getting a Raspberry Pi I laugh at them. I think the Raspberry Pi is great, but games on that do not look and play as well as they do on these devices. There’s also something to be said for having an actual Nintendo controller in hand to play these things, which just feels right.

Following Super Mario World I made sure to play and beat the first level of Star Fox. I may want to redo my rankings and kick Star Fox to the end of the line because that game is a tad rough to play these days. I played it though because you have to beat the first level in order to unlock Star Fox 2. Truth be told, I don’t look really look forward to playing Star Fox 2 for any reason other than sheer curiosity. I suspect it has aged just as poorly, if not worse since it attempts to do more than just be a flight sim, and probably isn’t nearly as enjoyable an experience as most of the other titles on this collection. If I see fit to do so, I’ll post a review of it. Some day.

IMG_1710If you’re still unsure I can safely say the SNES Classic is worth the 80 dollar price tag Nintendo has placed on it. It’s a great little machine full of some truly excellent games, some of which would cost you hundreds to purchase on the secondary market. Like the NES Classic, it’s also not something you need to drop hundreds of dollars on to own so if you’re still looking for one I encourage you to be patient and not feed the scalpers. For now, Nintendo is claiming these will be shipped in abundance so hopefully they’re sincere and these are attainable for everyone who wants one. They’ll probably remain hard to get through the holidays, but if Nintendo keeps supplying them past 2017 they should get a bit easier to track down. If you live in an area with Amazon Prime Now, keep an eye on their social media accounts as it seems like they’ll be selling these exclusively through that service as well through their few retail locations and that truck thing they do. Supposedly, people who were able to pre-order through the US Amazon site are still waiting for them to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, Amazon’s European web stores seem to be getting stock regularly for their versions and most ship to the US. Sometimes they claim not to (when I pre-ordered my UK edition it said UK only, but it still went through), but will ship anyways. Just make sure to select the global shipping option, if offered. You’ll pay a few more bucks, but it might be worth your while, especially if you’re like me and prefer the UK look of the console.

As for my two units, I only wanted one. I plan to keep the UK version and gift the US one to my best friend who was not as fortunate as I. If you were concerned I’d betray my fellow retro-gaming enthusiasts and flip it on eBay, rest assured I have no plans to do so. I also do not need to collect mini systems and have a version of each. Hopefully who ever wants one will be able to get one because this thing is pretty cool. Don’t screw over your fans, Nintendo, and discontinue it while demand remains high.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

BreathoftheWildFinalCoverIt has taken me quite a few months, but I’m finally ready to offer up my full thoughts on the latest entry in The Legend of Zelda series:  Breath of the Wild. I first wrote about it as part of my initial thoughts on the Nintendo Switch. I was able to secure a unit at launch and naturally Zelda was the title I paired with it. Since its release, Breath of the Wild has been almost universally praised as not just one of the best titles in the series but as one of the greatest video games ever made. Currently it ranks fourth all time on game rankings.com, right in between Grand Theft Auto IV and Super Mario Galaxy 2 with an aggregate score of 97.28%. On metaritic.com, the game is in a massive tie for 6th all-time with a score of 97. The highest score of all time just happens to be 99, held by The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time.

The Zelda series is accustomed to tremendous accolades upon release. In some ways it’s Nintendo’s most pure franchise. While Mario will dabble in virtually every genre imaginable, the Zelda franchise is content to largely remain the same with some tweaks here and there. I’ve argued the franchise was starting become stale because of its reliance on its classic formula. The last main entry on a home console, Skyward Sword, was the tipping point for me as I found the game to be an un-fun chore that drew out the worst in the franchise. Perhaps Nintendo felt some of that as well as Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda title on a home console since maybe Zelda II to really try and break the mold.

As some have pointed out, part of what makes Breath of the Wild feel so fresh for the franchise in 2017 is an approach to the gameplay that’s reminiscent of the very first title in the series. In The Legend of Zelda, the player is dropped into the world with very little direction on what to do. There’s a cave immediately in front of the player’s character inhabited by the famous old man who bestows upon the player the sword they’ll most likely need to get their quest underway. After that, it’s basically figure it out, kid. Breath of the Wild begins with Link awakening in a cave. He’s an amnesiac with no knowledge of why he’s there. He’s immediately given the Skeikah Slate, a device that bares an uncanny resembled to the Wii U’s Gamepad that will play a pivotal role in the journey to come. Aside from that, Link merely possesses some ragged clothes and a voice in his head. That voice belongs to the princess Zelda, and she’ll urge Link to leave the cave and stop Calamity Ganon, who has overrun Hyrule Castle and imprisoned the princess 100 years ago.

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If the world looks big it’s because it is.

As is the case with most Zelda titles, plot isn’t always important. When Link emerges from that cave the game’s primary objective is clear, but overcoming it is not. An old man emerges to act as a bit of a guide in the game’s earliest portion. He’ll introduce Link to the towers that dot the landscape. Climbing them allows Link to download a map of the surrounding area to his Sheikah Slate (similar to the map function of Assassin’s Creed) and survey the land for shrines. The first part of the game takes place on a giant plateau that Link cannot leave. There are four shrines on this plateau Link must visit before departing. Each shrine contains a new function for his slate, and these new powers are what Link will rely on to complete his quest.

The shrines are not quite the dungeon replacement some though they would be. The shrines are mostly small areas that are puzzle driven and each one typically utilizes one of the powers of the Sheikah Slate. Those powers are:  remote bombs, cryonis, stasis, and magnesis. The remote bombs are straight-forward and reminiscent of the bombs in virtually all Zelda games. There are two shapes for the bombs:  rectangular and spherical. These bombs can be placed one each at a time and then detonated remotely. There’s a cool-down meter after each detonation to prevent spamming of the bombs and they’re about as useful as bombs usually are. The cryonis ability is mostly limited to being useful in the game’s early going. The ability allows Link to create up to three ice pillars on the surface of the water. Early in the game when Link’s stamina is low, this ability comes in handy to traverse large bodies of water he wouldn’t have the stamina to swim across. It also can be used to lift floating objects, such as a wooden treasure chest, out of the water by creating a pillar beneath the item. Stasis allows Link to freeze an object in time. When the object is frozen, Link can smash it repeatedly which stores potential energy in the object that will be unleashed all at once as kinetic energy once the stasis wares off. This allows Link to move heavy objects he can’t pick up. Later, it can even be upgraded to work on organic objects like enemies, which comes in handy for really tough enemies like the Lynels. Magnesis basically turns Link into a lesser version of Marvel’s Magneto as he can magnetically move and manipulate metal objects. He can’t, unfortunately, use the ability on himself or something he’s directly standing on for flight (though if you stack two metal objects on each other you can kind of create a rudimentary flying machine). This ability has pretty obvious uses and is probably overall the most useful ability Link acquires.

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The game tries to inject some true emotion into the plot, but it’s not all that successful.

Unlike past Zelda games, those core four abilities are pretty much it for Link as far as acquiring new abilities is concerned. There are no main dungeons to conquer containing a new permanent item, which is probably the most radical departure. Instead, Link can acquire equipment constantly throughout his journey. Armor is the only permanent equipment Link can acquire and he does so through conventional means such as buying it or by finding it in hidden treasures and shrines. Armor typically comes in sets with a head, torso, and leg component. Often these bestow abilities upon Link aside from just damage resistance and they can be upgraded at Great Fairy Fountains a maximum of four times each. Typically an armor set allows Link to resist elemental damage or move stealthily. Some of it is also just to look neat. Link’s offensive equipment, and shields, all have a durability score and will eventually break. Link is not a blacksmith and cannot repair his equipment, nor can seemingly anyone in all of Hyrule so once it breaks it’s gone. There’s basically no point in getting attached to anything. In addition to swords, Link can wield poles, axes, hammers, great swords, wands, and bows offering up some distinct combat style approaches. The only problem with that is that most gamers will naturally prefer one over the other, but sometimes all you have is one weapon type. Basically every enemy will drop whatever weapon they were using and Link can claim it, so weapons are easy to find, but good ones are not. There is, of course, a version of the Master Sword in this game. It too can break, but unlike the other items, once it breaks it just needs to recharge so at least you don’t have to go back and find it.

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The lumbering Hinox has one very obvious weak point.

As I mentioned before, the shrines are a main focus of this game though completing them all is not necessary to beat it. Once you leave the game’s first area, The Great Plateau, you’re actually free to beat the game whenever you wish. Completing all 120 shrines obviously is a help as each one gives Link a shrine sphere and those spheres are how Link expands both his maximum health and stamina. Health is self-explanatory, but stamina is just as vital as it allows Link to run, climb, and glide. Climbing is a huge part of Breath of the Wild as exploration is the name of the game with such a vast map. Link can climb almost any surface, as long as it isn’t raining, and the player is often rewarded for doing so. The map is gigantic, so crossing it on foot would take an extremely long time. When Link completes a shrine, it becomes a fast travel point adding even more of a necessity to find them all. Many are hidden in plain sight from the several great towers dotting the landscape, but several others are well-hidden, some even behind a side quest.  Most are fun, if not all  that challenging. They tend to be puzzle-like in nature, but the kind of puzzle where the objective is clear, but pulling it off is tricky. Some of them are strictly combat shrines where Link has to defeat a certain enemy to clear it. These were my least favorite as the combat never changes, it’s always the same enemy, and there are way too many combat shrines. Three shrines are hidden in large labyrinths which is kind of fun, and one great one exists on an island that setting foot on causes Link to lose all of his equipment. It’s definitely the most inventive out of all 120 of them.

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The spider-like guardians are probably the best of the new additions to Link’s cast of foes.

Separate from the shrines are the guardian beasts. These four beings are the closest things to dungeons the game has, aside from Hyrule Castle where Ganon resides. They’re colossal mechanical beasts that Link must first gain entry to in some cinematic fashion. Once inside, Link can manipulate the movements of the beast to make certain areas accessible. This is necessary to not only find treasure, but also activate nodes inside the beast to gain entry to the boss. As you may have guessed, these beasts are more puzzling than anything and it’s a test of mind more than a test of strength. Clearing each one gives Link a special ability, some more useful than others, and also weakens Calamity Ganon for Link’s final confrontation. As such, they’re optional, but only by clearing them will you experience the full story. And they’re fun, so why not?

Breath of the Wild’s defining feature is clearly its size. The world is vast and rewarding to explore, even if it’s not as exciting as some other open worlds from other games. There isn’t much civilization for Link to find outside of a few towns, it’s just mostly vast emptiness. Link will encounter a lot of the same enemies throughout his journey, but there are always some super-powered beings lurking here and there. These include the centaur-like Lynels, probably the most challenging foe Link will cross paths with. There’s also large ogre-like beings called a Hinox, and the very durable stone-beasts known as the Talus. While it does get tiring fighting moblins over and over, those three at least liven things up when they’re around. There’s also the guardians which can be pretty challenging at first, though like basically every enemy, once you figure them out they’re not as bad. Combat is largely the same as it has been in all of the 3D Zelda adventures. The notable distinction is that locking onto an enemy doesn’t protect Link from being attacked by other enemies anymore. Well-timed dodges allow for a special follow-up attack which is very useful against tougher enemies, though not essential for clearing the game. All in all, the combat is fine, but it’s definitely one area where Breath of the Wild feels perhaps too familiar as combat sometimes feels like an obstacle to exploration, and not just as a fun game mechanic.

 

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Look at me; I’m Link:  home owner!

Breath of the Wild is unquestionably a great game, but I can’t help but feel that Zelda sometimes gets too much credit for the changes it makes. The open world format is a great addition, but it really shows that this is Nintendo’s first real stab at this type of game. The land is huge, but lacking in variety. Sure there’s your typical layout of snowy landscapes, deserts, and lush forests, but the NPCs don’t bring much life to the scenery. There are not scores of diversions as there are with a Grand Theft Auto game, nor is there the wonder of encountering something really special like there is with an Elder Scrolls game. The game has numerous side quests like most open world games, but they’re painfully boring fetch quests with little or no pay-off. The crafting system is also cumbersome requiring Link to hold the components and then drop them into a pot. The end results aren’t particularly worthwhile either, and I know many people who basically ignored the cooking component in the game all together. Once I saw everything the game had to offer, I basically busied myself farming resources to better my equipment. This meant chasing down the mystical dragons (not as cool as that sounds) and hunting Lynels, the latter of which appear in only certain spots and once killed you need to wait for them to respawn. The whole map gets reset by the moon cycle, a red moon will rise and all defeated enemies rise with it. The sequence is particularly annoying since a cinematic comes along with it that also brings load times.

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The great fairies allow Link to upgrade his armor, as long as he has the necessary components to do so.

The game does boast weather affects and a day/night cycle, like Zelda titles before it. At night is when the skeletal stalfos emerge from the ground and serve as more annoyance than anything. The weather in most parts of the game means very little, but in the desert the nights get extremely cold necessitating Link to wear appropriate clothing or use an elixir to keep warm. And during the day it naturally gets quite hot requiring Link to do the opposite. Lightning storms can pose a problem if Link is wearing anything metallic, and rain is the biggest obstacle of all as slick surfaces are essentially impossible to climb. I mostly like the inclusion of these effects, but the rain one is extremely annoying as if you’re in the middle of scaling a mountain or tower you either have to give up or wait it out, and who plays a video game just to stare at the screen and wait for the rain to go away? In that sense, the rain is a lot like the weapon durability. It’s kind of neat and certainly adds realism, but does it make the game more fun? I don’t think so, and I hope the weapon durability in place here is never repeated. Same for the more realistic approach to horses. In past games Link had Epona who could be summoned when needed, in Breath of the Wild Link has to capture and train horses and stable them at one of the many stables. He can’t though, just call on his horse whenever he wants which, for me, resulted in me basically ignoring the horse component of the game. On the plus side, Link can ride bears and deer, which is kind of fun.

Technically, this version of Breath of the Wild is essentially a port. The game was developed for the Wii U and ported to the Switch for a simultaneous release on both platforms. As a result, the game looks like a Wii U game and it even possesses a few relics of bygone eras. I can’t recall the last time I played a game with this much pop-in as the game sometimes struggles to populate areas, especially when gliding. Frame-rate drops are frequent, those most noticeable when the Switch is docked, and there are a lot of vast open areas to likely limit the strain on the processor. Artistically speaking, the game is nice to look at and is similar in style to Skyward Sword. Voice acting has been introduced, but only sparingly and Link is still mute. What’s there seems fine to me, but I know some have been very critical of the voice acting. The music, often a major component of Zelda games, has been de-emphaiszed as well. I assume it was a style choice to emphasize how large the world is and how alone Link is, but I’ve also seen a few complaints in this regard. I for one was fine with that aspect of the game. As for the final dungeon and battle with Ganon, I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s thankfully not a re-tread battle. While not the best, I found it satisfactory, if a bit on the easy side. Hyrule Castle, on the other hand, is pretty fun to explore. The only drawback is that it does make me wish the game had more dungeons like it, instead of just the one.

On the Switch, I mostly played the game in portable form. Playing it docked with a pro controller is probably a slightly better experience, but being able to just play it off TV is too convenient for me at this stage of my life. As a portable, it’s not the greatest as open world games tend to want to demand at least an hour, if not more, per session so playing in 20-30 minute bursts during a commute isn’t very rewarding. The game does allow you to save whenever you want and the Switch seems pretty good at conserving battery life when in sleep mode. I could basically get a little over 2 hours out of the console in handheld mode before needing to charge it. The back of the system does get pretty hot though after just a half hour, but so far I’ve seen no signs of over-heating. The game does offer gyro-scoping controls for aiming the bow and looking through a scope, which I find cumbersome in handheld mode. Disengaging the two joycons does minimize this, and even comes in handy for a couple of gyro-puzzles as you can move the controller while keeping the screen stationary. Doing those puzzles any other way is practically impossible.

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Cooking is part of the game, though not a particularly fun or essential part.

Criticisms aside, Breath of the Wild is one of the best Zelda games made and it feels like the most important since Ocarina of Time. Many reviewers rushed to give it a perfect score when it was released alongside the Switch, but I think the extra months have given me some clarity. It’s by no means a perfect game, and some of the changes made to the old Zelda formula are not for the better, but the overall product is still excellent. After playing Breath of the Wild I can say i never want Zelda to not be an open world experience. I never want a map to be smaller than what is here. What I do want though is more dungeons, refined combat that is actually fun, and for some of those old items to return. This game badly misses the hookshot which could have made mountain climbing more tolerable, especially in the rain, and some more inventive enemies would really add to the wonder of the experience. And while I never expect much from the storyline of a Nintendo game, I do still want the ultimate goal to be something more imaginative than simply saving the princess from the bad guy. Calamity Ganon is a step back for the Ganon character as he’s just an ancient evil in this world who exists to cause destruction. Though really, all he did was take over the castle and unleash his incompetent minions across Hyrule. The towns and villages seem fine, and I bet they don’t miss those expensive Hylian taxes! Seriously though, this is a game that’s not to be missed. If you have a Switch, you don’t need me to tell you to buy it because you already have. If you have a Wii U, but no Switch, I don’t think you need to wait for a Switch to experience it since it’s a port. And if you’re on the fence about getting either of those consoles, I can say this game is probably worth it, but it’s totally understandable to wait for the Switch’s library to expand or for the Wii U’s price to come crashing down further. I’ve also updated my Zelda rankings to include this game, and I do think it’s one of the best in the series, just don’t expect perfection when you go to play it or else you may be setting yourself up for some mild disappointment. Hopefully Breath of the Wild is the game we look back on as Nintendo’s baby steps into the open world genre that was but a precursor of the greatness that was yet to come.


Do We Really Want a Nintendo 64 Classic?

N64-20th-anniversary-625x352You’ve probably heard by now about the SNES Classic coming later this month. If you’re even remotely interested in owning one, you’re also either happy you have a pre-order, concerned your pre-order could be cancelled at any moment, or absolutely furious that you couldn’t secure a pre-order. The NES Classic released in 2016 was notoriously difficult to obtain before being abruptly cancelled all together after just a few months of shipments. As a result, demand for the SNES Classic is at an absurd level as fans who want one are worried about having to pay the ridiculous scalper rates on eBay or else risk never getting one.

Wal-Mart was the first to release pre-orders for the SNES Classic in late July, only for the company to pull an “oops” and say they didn’t mean to release them when they did. All of those happy gamers who secured one that evening (they went live online at around 11 PM EST) were crushed when the company cancelled all of the orders. Things were quiet until the wee morning hours on August 22nd when Best Buy released pre-orders on their website. Amazon followed, but rather than post them on the placeholder page for the product, the company created a new listing and anyone that had signed up for alerts through Amazon or third party sites weren’t notified. That didn’t stop them from selling out in mere minutes. Later that morning, the other retailers went live and they too sold out in minutes. GameStop opened up pre-orders for instore customers only setting off a mad dash to all of the retail outlets. Many secured their orders, and many more were turned away. Eventually GameStop, as well as its sister site Think Geek, offered up expensive bundles for pre-order. Even though they were loaded with crap no one likely wanted and were thus much more expensive, those too sold out. Lastly, Wal-Mart released a few more pre-orders in the evening hours of the 25th, since then it’s been dry with pre-orders likely done.

If you did not get a pre-order then you’re likely holding out hope for release date, but getting one then will likely require hours camped outside a store hoping there will be enough for everyone in line. Toys R Us elected not to do pre-orders of any kind so they’ll likely have the most supply on September 29th. The other big box retailers are expected to have some as well, but no one is releasing numbers at this time and likely won’t until the 28th, if at all. Wal-Mart recently cancelled several pre-orders made by people attempting to order more than one device, so there’s perhaps a sliver of hope they’ll release a few more pre-orders, or perhaps they’ll just include those items previously spoken for in the launch day release. Amazon will likely do what it did with the NES Classic and reserve the bulk of its units for its Prime Now delivery service. It’s few brick and mortar locations may have some as well. And if you’re in New York City, the Nintendo Store will have probably the most SNES Classics in one place. Like Toys R Us, the Nintendo Store did not do any pre-orders.

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This goofy three-handled controller is possibly the determining factor on if we get a N64 Classic.

And all of this madness is to secure a plug and play gaming device that has 21 games built into it, 20 of which have been available in various forms for 20 years. It’s easy to be dismissive of the device as a gimmick, but if you’re a gamer it’s hard to argue that the SNES Classic isn’t going to be a pretty great way to experience some of the best video games ever made, which makes it all the more frustrating that it’s a limited release. Simply put, this is Nintendo’s fault. They’re making a device that people want and there’s great demand for, but they’re creating this scarcity by intentionally only offering it for a limited time. They’re emboldening scalpers and retailers like GameStop that will jack up the price for their fans, and it’s not as if Nintendo profits off of any of that. Nintendo could likely manufacture twice the amount of SNES Classics it plans to release and still guarantee itself a sell-through. There’s no reason to have even stopped production on the NES Classic! People want it, so why won’t Nintendo make it?

Naturally, as consumers prepare for the launch of the SNES Classic many are wondering what will follow it. Does Nintendo continue along with these mini retro machines? One would assume a mini Nintendo 64 would be next. The technology in the NES Classic is rumored to be powerful enough to handle Gamecube titles, so it’s not a question of if it can be done, it’s will it? And more importantly, as consumers do we want it?

Nintendo could continue making retro machines that aren’t the N64. A retro GameBoy that is both portable but can plug into a television is possible. Perhaps the screen would be too expensive to keep the current price point, though if the screen were the equal of the original GameBoy I can’t imagine it would be that expensive. Nintendo could release a Super GameBoy edition of the SNES Mini to get around that. Still, the most likely is a mini N64, but it too presents challenges. The NES and SNES controller is pretty simple and cheap to produce, but the N64 controller is more complex and likely more expensive to manufacture, especially if one wants to include rumble. And the software is a bit murkier as well. Game development windows were growing wider come the era of the N64 and fewer first party titles were available. After all, there was only one Mario game made for the N64. Rare, at the time a second-party developer for Nintendo, made a lot of the most popular titles for the N64 and the royalties may be a bit complicated concerning sales of the N64 Mini. Still, I suppose we should speculate on what would be included before getting dismissive. The SNES Mini has 21 games, 20 of which were previously released. The N64 Classic would likely have fewer, so for the sake of simplicity let’s speculate on 15.

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  1. Super Mario 64 – obviously. A launch title and the one everyone was talking about in 1996.
  2. The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time – one of the most beloved games of all time.
  3. The Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask – the NES Classic included both Zelda and Zelda II, so it’s likely the N64 Classic would include its two Zelda titles as well.
  4. Mario Kart 64 – another no-brainer. Many people still consider this the best in the series. They’re crazy, but it’s certainly a beloved classic.
  5. Paper Mario – the unofficial sequel to Super Mario RPG, an underrated classic, by Mario standards.
  6. Mario Party – I don’t think much of this series, but it’s been a big seller for Nintendo and it all started on the N64.
  7. Donkey Kong 64 – a Rare developed titled, but it’s Donkey Kong so they kind of have to include it.
  8. Super Smash Bros. – the one that started it all
  9. Wave Race 64 – a Nintendo developed racing title. It’s fine, but it was pretty popular at the time so it likely gets included.
  10. Kirby 64 – it’s not a great game, like most Kirby titles, but it’s also not a bad one. Nintendo likes to push Kirby (the SNES Classic has two Kirby games!) so it probably gets included.
  11. Pokemon Snap – in case you haven’t heard, these pocket monsters are pretty popular. Snap is a better game than it has any right to be, though few would miss it if Nintendo left it off.
  12. 1080 Snowboarding – it’s a Nintendo produced title so that gives it a leg-up on other titles. It’s a fine snowboarding game, if you like snowboarding games.
  13. Excitebike 64 –  a call-back to an original NES game? Seems like it would be included for that reason alone.
  14. Star Fox 64 – another obvious one to include. Probably the best game in the series (unless Star Fox 2 is a lot better than the leaks make it out to be).
  15. F-Zero X – it’s not a particularly good game, in my opinion, but since F-Zero is included on the SNES Classic I would guess it would be included here.
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It’s worth mentioning, despite how unlikely it is to be included.

Other titles worthy of consideration:

Yoshi’s Story – it’s not a good game, but it stars a prominent Nintendo character.

Dr. Mario 64 – Dr. Mario was included on the NES Classic, that’s pretty much the only reason to include it here though.

Banjo-Kazooie – the Banjo games were really popular on the N64, so they feel like they should be included, but Rare owns the characters and DK 64 is essentially the same game.

Pokemon Puzzle League – it’s Tetris Attack but with Pokemon. It’s an excellent puzzle game, but Nintendo left Tetris Attack off of the SNES Classic so they may do it again here. The Super Famicom Classic will have Tetris Attack, so maybe Japanese gamers would get it. I’d personally take this over Pokemon Snap any day of the week, but it’s just my gut telling me that Snap is more likely.

Blast Corps –  a pretty fun Nintendo/Rare game that probably should be included, but probably won’t be.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day – I probably don’t need to explain why this won’t be included, but it’s the best thing Rare ever did with the 3D platformer genre.

GoldenEye – it’s a beloved game for the N64, and it recently turned 20, but licensing issues will keep it, and it’s spiritual sequel Perfect Dark, off of any N64 Classic (though if an exception were made this is the game Nintendo would make one for).

Pilotwings 64 – certainly worthy of inclusion, but Nintendo didn’t see fit to include the original on the SNES Classic so it doesn’t bode well for the sequel.

Mario Golf/Mario Tennis – these are solid games, and would stand a chance at inclusion if Nintendo felt it needed a sports title to round out the mix.

WWF No Mercy – I just felt it merited discussion since it and the other THQ wrestling games were so popular, but licensing issues would keep it out

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A N64 Classic would be a great excuse to revisit this little gem.

After running through the games, I’m actually slightly more optimistic at the prospect of it. Nintendo published a lot of worthwhile software, more than I remembered, to easily ignore the holes left by third parties on the N64. While it’s crazy to exclude Capcom and Konami after both had such a large presence on the NES and SNES Classic, neither company really did much on the N64 that warrants inclusion. If Nintendo wants to completely ignore the contributions of Rare it probably could, though it would feel a bit dishonest since Rare came up huge for the N64.

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You kind of need to be able to have 4-player play, right?

Still, it begs the question, do I want nintendo to put out a Nintendo 64 Classic Edition? It’s not just about the games, wanting one also means dealing with intentional scarcity likely to follow. It also probably means paying a higher price. The NES Classic was $60, and the SNES Classic is $80, the N64 Classic could command $100. And unlike the other two, the N64 Classic practically requires four controllers to truly replicate the experience and spare controllers for the NES Classic were the only things harder to find than the NES Classic itself! Could Nintendo package it with four controllers to help soften the $100 price point? Maybe, but if those controllers are expensive to produce then it may not be possible. And do we really want to spend $100 or more on a mini N64? An actual one with multiple controllers would run you about the same and those cartridges aren’t super scarce and quite durable. It’s certainly not the nostalgia boner the NES and SNES induce. So really – I don’t know. I look at that list of games, factor in the cost and aggravation, and I really don’t get the same sense of want that the SNES Classic gives me. Part of that is just that the games from the N64 era haven’t aged particularly well, so my desire to revisit them isn’t particularly strong. On the other hand, I know me and I tend to want what’s new and what’s popular where games are concerned so there’s a good chance I’d try to get one. Unlike with the SNES Classic though, I don’t think I’d go above and beyond to secure one. I need the SNES Classic (obviously I don’t, but the level of want I’m experiencing feels like need) and will get one no matter what, but I could probably go without a Nintendo 64 Classic and not feel too bad about it.


Fire ‘N Ice (Solomon’s Key 2)

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North American box art

At this blog, I do not get the luxury of many short posts. I tend to say a lot about the subjects I cover, but on this occasion I think I can keep my words to a relative minimum. I say this to myself, of course, as I begin writing this entry so who knows if that will hold true or not. The reason for my optimism is because I’m here to talk about a little puzzle game for the NES called Fire ‘N Ice. Being a puzzle game, there’s not a ton to talk about, but don’t confuse that as me saying this isn’t a post worth reading or a game worth playing.

Fire ‘N Ice is a game produced and developed by Tecmo and was released in Japan in 1992 and other parts of the world in 1993. If you’re at all familiar with the history of video games then those dates probably mean something to you. This was of course after the release of the Super Nintendo, and if you collect older games then that’s something that can be discouraging all by itself. Being an 8-bit game in a 16-bit world means Fire ‘N Ice was pretty much ignored upon release. Being a puzzle game, and prequel to the under appreciated Solomon’s Key, meant Fire ‘N Ice was always going to have a limited audience, but it’s timing made it so much worse. As a result, the game was produced in low quantities and tracking down a cartridge today is going to set you back a few hundred bucks, which is a shame because this is a title worth playing.

When I sat down to play Fire ‘N Ice for the first time I had no idea how rare and valuable a game it was. I was just in the mood to play a puzzler that’s not just another Tetris clone. I was familiar with Solomon’s Key, but it wasn’t a title I had any particular affection for. This game just seemed appealing because of its bright colors and simple design. In Fire ‘N Ice, you play as the apprentice wizard Dana who has been bestowed with a magic ice wand by a fairy to save the land from an evil wizard named Druidle. The story isn’t important and can be ignored, but if you’re into continuity Dana is the same Dana from Solomon’s Key and this is essentially how he got his start.

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The stage select screen.

The game is comprised of ten worlds with ten individual levels within each world. Dana moves along a map to each world and they can actually be tackled in any order, except world 10 which becomes available after completing the other nine. The stages themselves are single screen levels in which you are tasked with extinguishing the little fire enemies onscreen, which will vary in number. Extinguishing them requires Dana to either drop a block of ice on them or kick a block of ice into them. Dana’s wand enables him to create these ice blocks, but he can only make them appear diagonally in front and below him, as opposed to directly in front of him or directly beneath his feet. He can also make the ice blocks disappear in the same fashion. Dana cannot jump, but he can climb onto a block that’s directly in front of him. If a block is in front of him with no wall or other block behind it, then Dana can kick it and it will slide until it meets an obstacle. Contacting an enemy or fire results in death. The gameplay is quite simple, but like any good puzzle game this simplicity is built upon to create some brain-teasing levels and maximize its usefulness as a gameplay mechanic.

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An early, fairly simple, level. The object is to either drop an ice block or kick an ice block into the flame to extinguish it.

As the game progresses new elements are introduced. There are blocks that are permanent and can be pushed around one “tile” at a time. There are jars that Dana can climb onto or walk across that become burning jars if contacted by one the flame enemies and cannot be extinguished. Dana is also unable to create blocks of ice on top of these flaming jars making it a dicey proposition to consider when dropping an enemy onto one. Pipes are also introduced that Dana can move through which add a new dimension to some of the stages and it’s one used some-what sparingly so as not to become over-exposed. Each world ends with a boss stage that often introduces a new gameplay element. Some of these stages include enemies that move around the stage and will kill Dana by touching him. Others are scrolling levels where lava is slowly rising and Dana has to dispatch of the enemies without being consumed by the lava. The only true boss fight is saved for the game’s final level, but it’s still approached with the same spirit as the other levels. It’s actually one of the easier stages in the whole game, to be honest.

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The much more interesting non North American box art.

The game is appropriately challenging while also being forgiving. Perhaps disappointing to some is that most levels only have one true way to complete it without room for much deviation. One wrong move or lack of foresight can sometimes doom you to repeat it. At any point, the game can be paused and the level restarted which is definitely a welcomed inclusion. Since the regular flame enemies are also stationary, there’s typically no harm in just letting the screen idle while trying to plan your next move. I found that I would mostly start slow and then get into a rhythm after a few stages and breeze along until something came along and stumped me. The game requires you to think in a certain way to figure out most of its puzzles and often times when I got stuck I’d eventually have a “eureka!” moment and admonish myself for not thinking of it sooner. The game also possesses a password system so you can come and go as you please. The passwords aren’t terribly long and complex, which is always welcomed. There’s also an in-game timer for each level that exists purely for your own amusement. Beating the game’s ten worlds also opens up a bonus section of worlds consisting of an additional 50 levels, which is quite a nice reward. Also included is a level editor in case you want to create your own puzzles, but unless you have a Famicom copy, you can’t save your own creations which kind of defeats the purpose.

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A later, far more complicated, level. Dana can travel through the red pipes and will immediately pop out the opposite end.

Fire ‘N Ice may have a pretty ho-hum name in North America (in other territories it was simply called Solomon’s Key 2), but it’s a pretty entertaining puzzle game. If you have access to it, I heartily recommend it. Unfortunately, having access to it via legal means is rather challenging. Tecmo has never released the game digitally through Nintendo’s Virtual Console service (though it did for Solomon’s Key) nor has it even included it on any compilations which is disappointing since this would be a great portable game. As I mentioned earlier in this post, an after-market copy is prohibitively expensive and as much as I enjoyed the game I can’t recommend it if the cost is as high as I tend to see it. There are sellers on eBay offering clone carts, which while not entirely legal is probably your best bet if you want to experience the game on an actual console. And of course, there’s also emulation and ROMs floating around the internet. I’m not an advocate for piracy, but in the case of a game like this that the original publisher doesn’t make available to consumers (and hasn’t for 25 years) I can’t exactly find much harm in just downloading the game. It’s a game worth playing, and it’s a shame to see such a title become lost to time and old hardware.

I can’t believe I just spent over 1300 words on this one. Better luck next time!


The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II

81lhuCL-5kL._SX342_Here at The Nostalgia Spot, we don’t just celebrate that which is old, but also that which celebrates the old. Few modern devices apply as well as a JRPG video game. The JRPG once dominated the video game landscape in the later stages of the 16-bit era and through the 32-bit era. Following that, the western style of RPG began to dominate the RPG subgenera. Titles from the likes of Bioware and Bethesda were often praised while former titans such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest slunk to the sidelines.

Today, the JRPG is basically a niche genre though plenty of developers still support it. As you could probably guess, these developers are largely Japanese and many of the games do not make it out the far east, but a surprising amount still do. Many of them are smaller budget releases for older hardware such as the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita, which are both home to Falcom’s Trails of Cold Steel series of games.

Back in February, I reviewed the first entry in this supposed three-part epic. After over 80 in-game hours and several months of play, I’m here to review the sequel. If you did not read my entry or experience the first game yourself, all you really need to know is that Trials of Cold Steel II very much carries forward the JRPG experience with a few twists and additions to the formula here and there. You control the young Rean Schwarzer, a military student, who together with his classmates has become embroiled in a civil war that really broke out at the conclusion of the first game. Rean possesses many JRPG tropes in that he’s an orphan with unexplainable powers who is genuinely kind-hearted and a natural leader. The sci-fi, steam punk, setting means guns and tanks are met on the battlefield with swords, spears, and magic. Cats talk and ships fly while everyone takes turns hitting each other. Really, if you do not like the slow pacing and gameplay style of traditional JRPGs then you will not like Trails of Cold Steel II.

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Activating an Overdrive triggers a splash screen with still images of the participating characters. Expect to see many awkward poses for the women designed for maximum titillation.

The game picks up immediately where the first one left off. I do not mean to spoil the conclusion of that game, but if you intend on experiencing these games cold then maybe skip this paragraph. At the conclusion of the first game, mech battles were introduced and Rean was separated from his allies and crash-landed in the mountainous region near his home of Ymir. Rean will have to reunite the members of Class VII, who as fugitives to the Noble Faction, have all gone into hiding. All of your equipment from the first game is gone, though you do start out at level 40 instead of 1. Rean will also have to re-form social links with his allies and earn experience for his Master Quartz, as that is sadly reduced to level 1. The only thing that really carries over if you import cleared save data from the first game is your romantic interest and a bonus item depending on what level you were at when you finished the first game. The romantic interest only contributes an extra bit of dialogue here and there as you’re free to pursue another woman should you wish. And for those of you hoping to make Rean romance once of his male compadres, you unfortunately cannot.

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Battles should feel largely familiar to those who played the first game, and that is not a bad thing.

The battle system is largely the same as the first game, but there are a few twists to liven things up. The Overdrive system is new and is comprised of two meters that gradually fill up during the course of battle. It usually takes several encounters with enemies to fill both completely, but once one meter is full, two characters can participate in an Overdrive series of attacks. Activating Overdrive is done during a characters regular turn in battle, and whomever they are linked with will be the second participant in the Overdrive. What it does is provide a bit of a recovery effect to HP, MP, and CP while giving the duo the next three turns in battle, meaning whomever activates it will get two turns with the second character getting a turn sandwiched in-between. All actions during an Overdrive will lead to a critical hit, if a physical or craft maneuver is used, or in the case of a magical “Arts” attack ignore casting time and take effect immediately. Overdrive is very useful for boss encounters, especially if you have magic users who match-up well and can unleash a triad of devastating attacks in a row. The only catch to the Overdrive function is that the ability for characters to utilize with one another must be unlocked via special blue trial chests hidden throughout the world. Rean can use Overdrive with anyone though, by default.

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These two will become fast friends.

The other new addition comes in the form of mech battles, which were introduced at the very end of the first game. These encounters are largely scripted throughout the game, meaning you’re never able to just roam around in a mech and lay waste to your enemies. Rean is on his own in these battles, but he can utilize his allies as support characters. For the most part, the mech fights are just a simpler version of standard encounters that focus more on resource management. CP is at a premium and EP can be restored by your support character, but it will cost them a turn. Support characters also have their own Arts abilities, usually two per character, that often take on the form of one attack and one buff/debuff maneuver. You’re also very dependent on link attacks, when you land a critical blow you gain one brave point and 3 are needed for finishing moves and 5 for special unite attacks with your support character, and gaining enough brave points sometimes feels like a matter of luck. Your opponents will usually have three places on their person that can be attacked and you have to guess which is the weakest given their current stance. They’ll change stances during battle, and thus change their weak point. Hitting a weak area is the best way to score a link point, but it isn’t a guarantee. Despite this though I found the mech confrontations to be a nice change of pace and the randomness didn’t make them all that more difficult, just longer.

The rest of combat is largely the same. You’re permitted four members of your active party with often four or more in reserve. You can switch out a character with another during their turn without any sort of penalty. Characters can link with one another, and overtime their link level will increase allowing for follow-up attacks following a critical hit and other bonuses. Characters can attack either traditionally, with magic, or with crafts. Crafts are carried over from the first game, and you level up your old crafts will be replaced with better ones. When a character has a minimum of 100 craft points, out of a maximum of 200, they can unleash devastating S-Crafts that consume all of their CP but can be activated at any moment. I found in this game I really exploited crafts more than I did in the first game, perhaps because it seems like it was easier to restore craft points quickly. I relied far less on the S-Craft moves, often only using them to finish off a boss or disrupt the flow of battle if the enemy was about to get a guaranteed critical attack or other bonus. Delay is the name of the game in Trails of Cold Steel II as it’s an affliction that can basically delay an enemies turn to the point where they never even land an attack. Bosses are resistant to it, but few are immune. Once you figure that out, the game becomes pretty easy though there are harder difficulty settings that I did not play on. There were still a few moments where things got tough, but for the most part I saw the Game Over screen very infrequently.

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Fie is a master of the delay technique and will likely be a mainstay in most battle parties.

The game moves at a quicker pace than its predecessor, and the environment is changing almost constantly as you no longer have the Military Academy to return to after every mission. The entire map of the fictional Erebonia is also open to you from a  very early point in the game until the end. For the most part, you’re free to pursue main objectives as well as side quests and activities at your own leisure. Usually quests come in groups with some being hidden. Ignoring the side quests and undertaking the required main quest will often cause you to forfeit attempting the side quests. At certain points you’ll also have downtime in certain locations where you’re given bonding points to spend on your allies at your own discretion. Using one leads to a scene where you will usually learn something new about your companion and ultimately earn a bunch of link experience. These points are finite on a first play through and it’s impossible to see every characters bonding events, so don’t even try. Just spend them on the characters you like best. There are few mini games like fishing and snow boarding which have their own rewards if you see them through, but are mostly just simple diversions.

The game’s story and presentation obviously need to be interesting enough to support a roughly 80 hour campaign. As I said its the first, the structure of the bonding events and such naturally lend to Persona comparisons. And, as was also the case with the first, if you’re looking for Trails of Cold Steel to match that series in its character development and personality you will be let down. The main cast of Class VII are a bunch of milquetoast, boring adolescents who never fail to do the right thing. They’ll give each other a pep talk and are rarely modest. If one compliments another then a complement returned is sure to follow. They’re likable, but decidedly boring, and they’re embroiled in a conflict that has a GI Joe level of actual casualties with minimizes the story’s impact. There are some interesting twists in the story’s plot, and there at least a few NPCs who’s allegiance is cloudy for much of the game, but for the most part the game is kind of a breezy romp despite the war backdrop. Basically all of the voice actors returned from the first game, and they’re adequate though you’re sure to find some you like more than others. Some of the girls tend to have such a high pitch voice it can become grating, but that’s not atypical of anime localizations.

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In addition to the members of Class VII, you’ll also be able to make use of guest characters at certain points in the game.

The rest of the presentation is merely adequate. Being that this is a PS3/Vita game, the visuals are not all that impressive. Even judging by the standards of the hardware, they still come up short in places. Generally, the character models looks good but the environments are small and bland. Most of the locales you’ll visit in this game are lifted directly from the first game with only a few exceptions. The game features what is basically a tradition for developer Falcom in that it opens with an anime intro set to some up-tempo synth metal reminiscent of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal style. It’s fun, but don’t expect to see much more in the way of anime scenes or that style of music. The rest of the soundtrack is more atmospheric and fairly basic. There’s not a ton of variety, but it has its moments.

Add it all up, and what you have in Trails of Cold Steel is very competent JRPG that tries to combine a lot of elements from other popular games in its genre and does so adequately, but without really mastering any. The combat is the game’s clear star as it’s combination of turn-based actions with strategic formations is rewarding, but perhaps leading to instances where it can be exploited too easily. The story isn’t high art, but it’s not boring and I am genuinely curious to see where the series goes with the third installment (currently in development for PS4) takes these characters, though I’ll continue to hope they find a way to make the characters more interesting. Trails of Cold Steel II is an easy title to recommend for JRPG enthusiasts, especially those looking for some gaming on the go with the Vita.


Ranking the Games of the SNES Classic

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It’s coming…

Nintendo dispatched with what little suspense there was relating to the SNES Classic this week by unveiling the plug and play device as well as just about everything we needed to know about it. Ever since the company shockingly pulled the plug on the NES Classic, the plug and play mini Nintendo Entertainment System that proved nearly impossible to find during the holiday season, the gaming community has been wondering when the company would show off its successor. It was basically a foregone conclusion that a SNES Classic Edition would be made, the only real questions concerning it would be when is it coming and did Nintendo learn anything following the NES Classic fiasco?

Well, yes and no to that last question. The biggest complaints, aside from availability, surrounding the NES Classic were in regards to the controller cord length and the selection of games. While most of the very best non-licensed games from that era were represented, there was also a lot of padding with games such as Balloon Fight and Ice Climber that most people were not eager to revisit, The controllers were wired, which in the age of wireless feels odd enough, but to make matters worse the cord length was only two and a a half feet. The SNES Classic seeks to improve on both by legitimately featuring a wealth of quality, classic games and by featuring longer cords. Unfortunately, the length was only extended to five feet which is shorter than what is featured with the original SNES controllers. There’s no word from Nintendo though on just how many units will be produced, only offering up that it will be significantly more than the NES Classic. Helping matters some is that each unit will come bundled with two controllers, as the only thing harder to find than the NES Classic last Christmas was a second controller to go with it. The SNES Classic will come in at $80, which is $20 more than the NES Classic, and will feature 21 games as opposed to 30.

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The UK edition which is identical to the Japanese Super Famicom. The actual Japanese version will include different titles.

I’ll review the device in time, when it’s actually available, but like I did with the NES Classic, I wanted to rank the games that are coming with it. Last fall, I speculated on what would be included on the device assuming it would include 30 games, so naturally I picked more than what was featured. I actually only missed on three games:  Kirby’s Dream Course, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and Star Fox 2. The latter of which I mentioned as thinking it would be asking too much since Star Fox 2 has never been officially released. It’s definitely the biggest surprise that came out of Nintendo on Monday, and I’m sure millions of Nintendo fans across the globe are eager for an official release. Kirby’s Dream Course, I just plain didn’t consider while I omitted Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts from my list mostly as wishful thinking. Given that its predecessor was featured on the NES Classic, I had a hunch it would be included, even though I don’t know anyone who wants it. The only game I’m surprised isn’t being included is Pilotwings, as being a first party title and SNES launch game, I had just assumed Nintendo would include it. Capcom naturally is including Street Fighter 2, and the only question around that game was what version would we get? The US is getting Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting, while curiously the Japanese market is getting Super Street Fighter 2. What did we do, Capcom, to deserve this slight?

I could go on and on about this product, but I’m going to cut myself off here and get to the meat of this post:  the games. The 21 US/UK games are below in order of how awesome I think they are starting with the worst of the bunch. This set, as a whole, is rather excellent with only a few titles I’m not too high on. And even though I’m starting with the lesser titles, the first one comes with an asterisk:

Star_Fox_2_2017#21 – Star Fox 2* (2017)

Star Fox 2 is obviously the most mysterious title of the bunch, but given that it has “leaked” to the internet it’s not as mysterious as it once was. And even though I think the finished game included on the SNES Classic is likely not much different from the ROM that’s been available for years, I don’t feel comfortable ranking it just yet without playing the completed game. So while I’m ranking this as #21, it’s basically unranked, and I don’t think it will be the worst game on the set. What it probably will be is the first game most people play after the plug this baby in.

 

250px-GhoulsSNES_boxart#20 – Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991)

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a hard game, which is probably its defining feature. The SNES game is the sequel to the original, though it’s not much different. It certainly looks better, but as an early SNES title it’s not likely to impress in that respect. For those who really want to be challenged, this is probably a satisfying game. For me, I just don’t find it particularly enjoyable to play. It’s not cheap or anything, it just isn’t fun to control Arthur or particularly rewarding to complete his quest. I wish Capcom had opted to include the spin-off Demon’s Crest instead, but I did not expect that to happen.

snes_f-zero_boxart#19 – F-Zero (1990)

F-Zero is another early SNES title and when it first came out it was pretty impressive to behold. Playing it though? Eh. It’s basically a glorified tech demo for the SNES Mode 7 graphics which did a lot for the racing genre as you no longer needed to rely on onscreen prompts to know when to turn, you could just see the turns coming up ahead. It’s a hard game that strangely is strictly single player. Since it was a launch title, some fans might have a fondness for the game as it was one of the titles to turn to after finishing Super Mario World, but a lot of people would probably rather play another popular racing game from this collection.

dkc_snes_boxart#18 – Donkey Kong Country (1994)

I’m guessing most people will rank Rare’s resurrection of the Donkey Kong franchise higher than I am, but I was just never that into the game. Kind of like F-Zero, the game is a bit of tech demo sorts for the pre-rendered three-dimensional graphics that the game makes use of. With everything being pre-rendered, there’s a disconnect between the Kongs and the environment surrounding them. I, of course, didn’t know this when playing as a kid but I did feel the disconnect. It was impressive to look at, but not a lot of fun to play.

superpunchoutbox#17 – Super Punch-Out!! (1994)

The less popular sequel to one of the NES’s most popular games, Super Punch-Out!! is probably a more arcade perfect version of the original Punch-Out!!, though the NES version was so popular it became the definitive one. As a result, this game lacks its predecessor’s charm. Little Mac isn’t so little given the behind the back view of the game which really changes the feel of the game and undermines the underdog factor the game is supposed to possess. It is a game I haven’t played in years and I’m interested in resisting it to see if my opinion has changed.

contra_iii_game_cover#16 – Contra III: The Alien Wars (1993)

It’s Contra, I probably don’t need to go into any additional detail. You know what you’re getting here. It fills a nice void on this collection for its co-op play, and Contra is probably the premiere run and gun franchise. It serves a nice callback to Super C from the NES Classic, so it was a foregone conclusion it would be here. A lot of Contra fans consider either this or Hard Corps, which was released for the Genesis, as the best in the series so Contra fans should be happy this one is here.

250px-star_fox_snes#15 – Star Fox (1993)

I know we’re all really excited to be getting Star Fox 2 on this set, but I feel like it must be said that Star Fox is possibly Nintendo’s most overrated franchise. The original game is, and I’m sounding like a broken record already, a tech demo of sorts for the Super FX chip. And if you didn’t know, the Super FX chip was the SNES’s primitive way of introducing polygons to gamers. It looked dated from the moment it first showed up, but there was some charm to the game’s visuals. Those have been lost to time as the game is borderline ugly at this point, but it’s a solid behind the vehicle flight simulator. Star Fox 64 was much improved and the 3DS version of that game is probably the best game in the franchise. And pretty much all of the other games are either decent or bad, but at least the first one is still solid!

smk#14 – Super Mario Kart (1992)

The launching of a franchise juggernaut, Super Mario Kart was an instant crowd favorite due to the combat elements of the game. Battle Mode is still pretty fun, though the Mode 7 graphics do show their age at this point. It almost seems like Mario Kart 64 has taken over as the game most people feel the most nostalgic for, but I do feel the original game was actually better than that one. It probably wasn’t until Double Dash for the Gamecube that the original was finally surpassed and it has since been lapped a few times. It is dated, but still fun and challenging.

250px-Kirbydreamcourse#13 – Kirby’s Dream Course (1994)

This is probably the weirdest game included on this collection, and aside from Star Fox 2, the most unexpected. Kirby gets a lot of the spin-off, gimmick, treatment and most of those games are mediocre or worse with a few gems here and there. Dream Course is one such gem even though it probably sounds pretty stupid. The game is basically a cross of mini golf and billiards with Kirby serving as the ball. You shoot him into enemies with the last enemy on the screen serving as the goal of the stage. The objective of the game is to get Kirby into the goal in as few “strokes” as possible. He can still copy powers which introduces strategy into which enemy you take out first. The billiards element exists in your ability to apply spin to Kirby popping him up in the air or causing him take off in a given direction. It’s a fun game though it does depend a lot on trial and error, so once you figure out each hole, you’ll probably not come back.

earthbound_box#12 – EarthBound (1994)

The JRPG was really starting to take-off at this point in time so it’s no surprise that Nintendo sent its lone game in that genre west for the first time. EarthBound is a game fondly remembered for its setting and humor, being for the long time one of the only JRPGs to be set in a non-fantasy setting. This is another game that many people will probably rank higher than I am (I think IGN recently placed it in the top 10 RPGs of all time or something), but believe me when I say the game is very dated by today’s standards. About the only thing progressive EarthBound did at the time from a gameplay perspective was remove the random battles, but enemies are much faster than you which minimizes that advantage. The inventory management is easily the game’s biggest drag and everything moves at a glacial pace. As someone who loves JRPGs, I can find enjoyment in the game, but I don’t think it’s on the same level as the other SNES greats like Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger, but that’s just my opinion.

kss_boxart#11 – Kirby Super Star (1996)

Kirby Super Star is your dose of traditional Kirby on this set, and Super Star is probably his best outing still to this day. It’s not particularly challenging, like his NES outing, but the copy powers of Kirby make the game a lot of fun and give you the ability to change things up with each play-through. You can also have a second player control an enemy character for 2-player co-op which is also a lot of fun. It’s quite possibly the best co-op platformer I’ve ever played as even Mario and Sonic have struggled in that area. And as a late entry to the SNES, a lot of people may not have be as familiar with this game which may make it feel new to a lot of people picking up this collection.

35497-Street_Fighter_II_Turbo_-_Hyper_Fighting_(USA)-1453510943#10 – Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1993)

Now we’re getting into the top 10, and the games that helped define the SNES as one of the greatest gaming devices of all time. Street Fighter II was a huge game and instrumental in the fighting-game craze of the early 90s. Without it, who knows where the fighting genre would be? It was also one of the first arcade ports to a console that felt almost perfect making Street Fighter II a game that both simultaneously prolonged the life of the arcade and helped to hasten its demise. The game is a classic and still holds up quite well, to the point that Capcom recently re-released a version of Super Street Fighter II on the Switch with updated visuals. Because of that game, it’s possible SNES Classic owners are getting short-changed with the Turbo edition of the game with Capcom hoping to not impact sales of their Switch title. At least, that was my assumption until I saw that Japanese gamers were getting Super Street Fighter II on their Super Famicom Classic Edition, so who knows why we’re getting Turbo? It’s still a great game, just not as good as Super.

250px-secret_of_mana_box#9 – Secret of Mana (1993)

Often considered Square’s answer to Zelda, Secret of Mana is very much its own thing and even does something it would take Zelda many years to introduce:  co-op play. Secret of Mana can be enjoyed by up to three gamers at a time, but I have no idea if the SNES Classic will be able to accommodate more than two players at any one time. It’s possible, but doesn’t feel likely. Even without that, Secret of Mana is a great game with a great soundtrack, look, and gameplay. I’ve actually been playing its sequel recently, so I’m eager to go back to the first SNES game (which is technically a sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure for the GameBoy) for comparison purposes as I’m undecided on which is my favorite. This one should be a nice, meaty, adventure for SNES Classic owners and its a nice alternative to both Zelda and Final Fantasy.

super_castlevania_iv_north_american_snes_box_art#8 – Super Castlevania IV (1991)

This a favorite of many in the Castlevania fanbase. In some ways, it’s the last classically designed game and is essentially the first three games perfected. It’s classic Castlevania with enhanced visuals and music and still looks great to this day. It might play a little slow for some, but the controls are tight and the difficulty is fair. There’s not much more to say about this one, if you’ve played any of the first three Castlevania titles you’re getting more of the same, just a better version.

supermariorpgsnescoverartus#7 – Super Mario RPG (1996)

The SNES Classic features three traditional JRPGs that all play about as different from one another as a JRPG could. Super Mario RPG was a Nintendo-Squaresoft collaboration with Square doing most of the heavy lifting. Kind of like Capcom’s collaboration with Square on Breath of Fire, Nintendo would take over the Mario RPG franchise going forward and it’s still debatable which title in the now long-running series is the best. The original is still a lot of fun with a lot of humor and charm throughout. The timed button commands in the battle system introduced a layer of interactivity not present in a lot of JRPGs at the time and the pseudo 3D visuals were pretty impressive at the time. They’ve aged a little better than the Super FX games though the title still looks a little dated by today’s standards and maybe a traditional sprite-based game would have aged better. That said, it’s a lot of fun with a solid amount of challenge and its running time will help give your SNES Classic a long shelf life.

yoshis_island_super_mario_world_2_box_art#6 – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995) 

Yoshi was the Super Nintendo’s break-out star, so it wasn’t surprising to see him assume a starring role in the Super Mario World sequel. What was a surprise, was to see baby Mario playing a supporting role, or maybe that should be an antagonist role? Baby Mario sucks and a lot has been said on that subject over the years, but beyond that Yoshi’s Island is a meaty platformer with a lot to see and do. The levels feel massive compared to its predecessor and Yoshi in some levels introduces a surprise element on a first play-through. How those vehicles handle is a bit of a mixed bag, but everyone agrees the game looks fantastic and it was the best application of the Super FX chip I ever saw (technically Super FX2 chip). Because of that though, the game has been hard to emulate properly so it has never been available on Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Hopefully it’s faithfully recreated on the SNES Classic as I found the GBA version available to 3DS Ambassadors underwhelming.

mega_man_x_coverart#5 – Mega Man X (1993)

Mega Man was probably the biggest third-party star on the NES, so it was expected he would make the jump to the SNES. What wasn’t certain was how he would do that. Mega Man 5 and 6 both released very late on the NES making it seem like that series would remain an 8-bit fixture while the SNES received Mega Man X. At first confusing the X for a roman numeral, I was perplexed how the franchise made it that far without my knowing, but once I played it I didn’t care because Mega Man X was the perfect evolution for the Mega Man franchise. Now referred to simply as X, Mega Man could dash and wall jump in addition to his other maneuvers. He had a cool sidekick in Zero, who would later become playable in the sequels, and a new enemy in Sigma. The game was a blast and it’s justifiably included here as one of the premier run and gun platformers. Eventually traditional Mega Man would come to the SNES in the form of Mega Man 7, a game not remembered fondly so Capcom was wise to lend X to the SNES Classic.

250px-smetroidbox#4 – Super Metroid (1994)

For a time, it seemed like Samus would miss the SNES as it took her a long time to arrive. Thankfully, her arrival on the console was definitely worth the wait as Super Metroid is still the best game in the series and a true 16-bit classic. The game isn’t that much different from its NES predecessor, but it’s a lot bigger and more impressive to behold. Samus handles better than ever and feels like a being truly equipped for the mission at hand capable of wall jumping, morph balling, dashing, directional shooting, and all that other jazz. The game opens up little by little with Samus finding new and better equipment that allow her to reach previously inaccessible areas. In that, Samus is very similar to Link though you would never confuse Zelda with Metroid. This is Nintendo’s best action franchise, so it’s a shame the company promotes it so little, but at least we’re getting a remake of Metroid II for the 3DS this fall. Enjoy this one though as it’s one of Nintendo’s best games.

510ahyhdidl-_sx300_#3 – Final Fantasy III (1994)

Possibly the greatest game in the long-running Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy III was the title that really put the JRPG on the map in the west. Of course, we all know it now by its real title, Final Fantasy VI, but for a long time American gamers thought it was the third game in the series. It features a huge cast of characters and one of gaming’s most memorable villains. Each of the playable characters does something no one else does which makes party construction a lot of fun. There’s also the “final” battle fake-out which leads to the World of Ruin, and I loved that there was an instance of permanent death for a certain character if you messed up. You may have passed on playing Final Fantasy on the NES Classic, but definitely don’t ignore this one.

250px-super_mario_world_coverart#2 – Super Mario World (1990)

Still the best Mario game! I love Super Mario World and you probably do too because it’s a game that’s hard not to like. It’s also a game most have played to death because it was the pack-in game with every SNES sold. Some are probably disappointed Nintendo is including this game and not Super Mario All-Stars & Super Mario World, as that would have essentially given us four additional games, but I wasn’t expecting Nintendo to be that generous so I’m not surprised, but I can’t disagree that it would have been awesome had they done so. Even though I’ve beaten this game many times, finding all of the gates in each stage, I’ll probably play through it again on the SNES Classic because the game is so fun and it will be a nice measuring stick to see how well the emulation is done.

attp#1 – The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past (1991)

It may be boring, but could any other game be #1 on this list? A Link to the Past isn’t just arguably the best Zelda title, it’s arguably the greatest game of all time. It looks great, handles well, sounds awesome, and the adventure is long and satisfying. This one introduced a lot of items and gear that would become staples of the franchise going forward, and the only reason to not play this game on the SNES Classic when it comes out is because you’ve already played it a million times. And even then, that’s still not a great excuse.


Right Place, Wrong Time – Games Worthy of a Remake

Kotaku has an article up this week about one of my favorite games:  Xenogears. In it, the journalist, Jason Schreir, was able to ask director Tetsuya Takahashi about that infamous second disc and why the game went to a narrator instead of letting the player experience the moments the narrator discussed. Fans have mostly assumed that they ran out of money, and that’s still mostly true. Naturally, Squaresoft being a big company could have easily injected more cash into the project, but they were holding the development team to a 2 year development cycle. When the team, and Takahashi attributes it to being a young team, couldn’t make the deadline they were either going to have to release the game in an abridged format, or do something drastic like cut content from the second disc, which is the way they went. Back in 1998, there was no releasing a bare-bones version of a game and adding to it down the road via downloadable content.

Given the two options, Takahashi probably picked the lesser of two evils, but it doesn’t change the fact that he basically didn’t get to make the game he wanted to. For that reason, I’ve always felt that Xenogears is a game worthy of a remake. It likely never will be remade since Takahashi and Square-Enix are no longer affiliated so Square-Enix would have to do it without him. And I don’t know how much you pay attention to the current goings on at Square-Enix, but they’re pretty tied up with another big re-make in Final Fantasy VII with no end in sight on development there, so remaking a lesser title (in terms of sales potential) is out of the question. Nintendo, after doing remakes for its two N64 Zelda titles, just announced at E3 that a remake of Metroid II is coming this September to 3DS. Sony also announced a remake to Shadow of the Colossus for PS4. So yes, remakes are very much “a thing” and there are many games that are deserving of them. Since Xenogears is on record as being one of my favorite games of all time, I want to start there:

oh-my-gobrino-xenogears-1280x720

Some improved visuals would be welcomed as well.

 

Xenogears

Orignal Release: Playstation 1998

As I said in the intro to this post, the second disc of Xenogears was essentially a half-measure. An excuse for a remake is right there – just “make” the second disc. In addition to that though, the game’s visuals have aged rather poorly, and the abundance of text begs for some voice overs. I enjoy the modern 2D sprite look embodied by DuckTales Remasterd or the recently announced Dragon Ball Fighter Z. Keeping the sprites would be fine by me. Refining the combat would be welcomed as well and making the “magic” attacks more integral would add some strategy to the non-mech combat. In addition to that, adding more complexity to the mech combat would also be fun as I always felt piloting those mechs should have felt like a blast. Instead, the combat is simplified to a degree with an added resource management tacked on in terms of fuel. Other obvious enhancements would be eliminating random battles and streamlining the interface, though the current one is actually fine. Xenogears is already a good game, so it doesn’t require a lot of refinement, it just needs to be officially “finished.”

Yoshi_Species_-_Group_Artwork_-_Yoshi's_Island_DS

Just Yoshi, no babies. Thank you.

 

Yoshi’s Island

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1995

There’s some unknown aspect to Super Mariod World 2:  Yoshi’s Island that prevents it from being re-released. Sure, it was ported to the Gamboy Advance but some effects were lost in translation, and yet that’s the version that has appeared on the Virtual Console. The original SNES version has never been made available again, and I have to believe it’s due to some technological limitation since it’s clearly not a licensing issue for Nintendo. Nonetheless, a re-release would be appreciated, but a remake would be better. Aesthetically, the game still looks nice because of its art direction. It’s not as syrupy as more recent Yoshi titles and balances the cute aspects of the franchise well against the typical Mario backdrop. So visually, a remake isn’t really needed, but anyone who has ever played the game would welcome a remake that does one thing differently from the original:  get rid of the crying baby! I’ve read some studies that say an infant’s cry is designed to unnerve its father and I totally buy that. When one of my kids cries it creates a certain anxiety that’s different from what I’m used to experiencing. Mario’s screams bother me in a similar way and I really can’t stand that game sometimes as a result. So Nintendo, how about a remake that just removed Mario? I don’t care if you even adjust the story to explain it, just get rid of him. For whatever reason, all of the Yoshi games that have followed this one have been significantly worse than the original, to the point where I honestly can’t recommend a single one, so a remake of the first one would be more than welcomed now.

35228-Secret_of_Mana_(Germany)-1459171091

The original Seiken Densetsu has been remade more than once, but the much better sequel has not.

 

 Secret of Mana

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1993

Like Yoshi’s Island, Secret of Mana is still quite playable in its current form. Also like Yoshi’s Island, the sequels to it that have made it west have not been nearly as good as the original, making a remake feel more desirable from that point alone. Mostly though, a remake for this title would be welcomed because, like Xenogears, it was kind of released in an incomplete state. Secret of Mana was being developed to take advantage of the Super Nintendo CD, when that deal fell through, Squaresoft had to scrap some content and change development so that it would play without the peripheral. As a result, there’s some buggy portions in the game and the audio is most likely not realized as it was intended. A remake, with a more modern combat approach, would probably be a lot of fun. Just don’t make it a Kingdom Hearts clone.

Actraiser-pic-06

One of the first SNES titles, ActRaiser tried to be many things and was good at them all, but great at none.

 

ActRaiser

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1990

ActRaiser was an ambitious title. It attempted to combine the godlike properties of a Sim City styled game with an action-platformer that also had some RPG elements. Naturally, being really the first of its kind, it came up short in some respects though it was still a really cool game in its own right. The platform sections could stand to be refined with more combat maneuvers for our avatar, meanwhile, the god mode portions could really use an injection of excitement as they’re definitely a bit tedious as-is. The foundation is in place, but decades of new concepts and ideas being integrated could create an incredible gaming experience.

37152-Megaman_Legends-2

We just weren’t ready for this in 1997.

 

Mega Man Legends

Original Release:  Playstation 1997

For some reason, I was really excited by the concept of Mega Man Legends, an action RPG starring everyone’s favorite 2D action star. The problem was, no one really knew how to make that game in 1997 and no one really would until 2001’s Devil May Cry, interestingly enough, also a game created by Capcom. Even so, DMC is not a great comparison since it’s more focused on melee combat while Mega Man is a shooter. The original Legends is a visually ugly game with poor controls. Capcom really struggled with 3D controls (see Resident Evil) on the Playstation and it took awhile for them to figure it out. More modern titles like Resident Evil 4 (which even that is over ten years old now) refined that over-the-shoulder camera which would work really well for a modern Mega Man Legends. There would still be a challenge to introducing Mega Man styled platforming, but that’s where the DMC experience would pay-off. In short, Capcom wanted to make this game in 1997, but it didn’t know how. In 2017, I think that’s changed and a truly great game in this franchise could finally be realized, and why not just start over rather than try to make Legends 3 (again)?

 

There are obviously plenty of other games that could stand to be remade, and most of them would come from the 16 bit to 64 bit era. I’ll stop here with this post, but feel free to share some of your own. Other games I considered were X-Men (the arcade game), Rocket Knight Adventures, Baldur’s Gate, Bushido Blade, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Final Fantasy VI.