Tag Archives: nintendo

Ranking the Games of the Sega Genesis Mini

us genesis mini box

Commemorating 30 years of the Genesis, Mega Drive to you non-Yankees, in comes the Genesis Mini to go along with your other mini consoles.

Did you think the era of the mini console was over? You would be forgiven if you had. Last year’s Sony Playstation Classic arrived with a thud. Originally retailing for $100, you can probably score one now for less than half of that as they clogged shelves during the holiday season and failed to excite. And it wasn’t a surprise. Sony just didn’t have the software muscle to make the Playstation Classic a must-own console. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Sony’s part. There was a clear desire to have this device harken back to the early days of the Playstation as a celebration of one of the most popular gaming devices of all time. The problem was it may have been too reverential for those early days as a lot of the software just hasn’t aged too well. And the games that had have been readily available for download or in compilation packages for years. Top it off with no dual shock and a hefty price tag just made the console undesirable. Maybe Sony still made money off of the machine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the electronics giant took a loss either.

bad genesis mini

Not to be confused with the awful other mini Genesis units out there.

If you thought that high profile failure would deter others from following suit, well then you would be wrong. Throwing their hats back into the ring is Sega, who has been licensing its old software and hardware for years as part of third-party plug-and-play devices of less than desirable quality. Even when the NES Classic was available, Sega had a Genesis Mini on store shelves that boasted wireless controllers and a port on the console for an actual Genesis cartridge. Everything about it though was clunky and pretty awful. Since it was licensed out, it likely cost Sega nothing aside from a hit to its brand reputation. Maybe Sega decided it needed to help that brand out while making another effort at tapping into that mini console nostalgia that has boosted Nintendo’s bottom line for a few years now.

To do so, Sega has sought the services of M2, the developer behind the Sega Ages compilations which have been universally praised for their emulation quality. Sega also is apparently handling the actual hardware in-house, and actual Genesis controllers will ship with the system this fall. This smells like an honest attempt at a quality device, the only question really is can Sega still manufacture and produce quality hardware? It’s not something the company has been involved with for decades now since the high profile failure that was the Dreamcast. Considering there isn’t much to these mini consoles, there probably should be some degree of confidence Sega can pull it off. By sticking with wired controllers there’s no worry about cheap, wireless, devices which plagued the prior models. And we already know the emulation end should come out quite well.

genesis mini tower

Sega is apparently going all-in on the nostalgia and even releasing a non-functioning Sega CD and 32X mini in case you want to remember this abomination.

What we also know is the price ($79.99, same as the SNES Classic) and contents of the package. The US version will include two classic 3-button controllers and 42 games. Yes, it would have been preferential to have the six-button controller, which will apparently be included with the Japanese version so perhaps there will be some six-button controllers for sale, but it’s not a deal-breaker since every game had to utilize the 3-button layout. Mostly though, look at that games total:  42! Where Nintendo seemed careful about what it included with the SNES Classic, likely wanting to adhere to placing a dollar value on each game, Sega has simply said “Screw that!” and put a vast collection of games on this set that well-represent what the Genesis was famous for. Sure, there are some notable omissions. Mortal Kombat was huge for the Genesis, so it’s surprising to see it excluded. Considering the game doesn’t possess the gameplay to match its visuals, it’s only a sentimental loss. An actual good game that is missing is Sonic the Hedgehog 3 + Sonic & Knuckles. It’s possible the lock-on function was difficult to duplicate, or maybe Sega just felt that would be too much Sonic. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of obvious omissions. Sports were huge on the Genesis, but licensing for sports titles is likely far too complex and expensive. Likely, most of your personal omissions are a preference for one game in a series (Shining Force vs Shining Force II, for example) vs another.

I’ve taken the time to rank the games of the other high-profile mini consoles, only skipping SNK’s, so I feel an obligation to do the same for the Genesis. This is the only negative for me of Sega including 42 games as I have to rank them all! This is no easy feat, but I’ll do my best. Now, I have played every game on this list, but that doesn’t mean I am supremely familiar with all of them. I’ll try to convey my familiarity where I can, but this is also just one man’s opinion so take it for what it is.

First of all, there are actually 2 games I have not played and they are the two most recent revelations:  Tetris and Darius. The Genesis Tetris was somewhat infamously discontinued before it got going. It’s one of the most expensive carts to this day. It’s Tetris, so you probably have played it before on another platform. I’m sure it’s good. The other game I have not played is the arcade-only Darius. A fan version of this game showed up on the internet and it’s speculated the version here is the same. It’s an auto-scrolling shooter from Taito so if you like that stuff I suppose you’ll be excited to play it. As for the other 40 games, well let’s just get right down to it.

altered beast boss 1

Altered Beast is memorable and was an early success story, but it was never really a good game.

40.  Altered BeastAltered Beast is an arcade classic, and as an early Genesis title, it does have some fans. On the other hand, it’s an example of how porting from arcade to the Genesis wasn’t entirely smooth and that arcade perfect ports were still years away. The transforming beast gimmick is neat, but everything else is rather terrible. It’s playable, and as a kid I liked it enough, so if it’s your worst title then that’s not too bad.

39.  Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – The mascot before Sonic, Alex Kidd is perhaps best forgotten, a super floaty platformer that is representative of a lot of the shovel-ware that would clog game systems during the era. There’s at least some skill to be formed while playing this one, hence why I put it ahead of the vanilla brawler, Altered Beast.

38. Virtua Fighter 2Virtua Fighter 2 is a late era representative of how porting from the arcade to the home was hard. This time, it’s because arcade hardware had more than lapped what was available for most gamers at home. If playing this title on the Saturn, then it’s pretty good. On the Genesis? Well, let’s just say it’s a shocker they even bothered.

37. Eternal Champions – Sega’s in-house fighting game entry, Eternal Champions was the straight to home fighting game that wanted to be violent and shocking. Instead, it’s just a one on one fighter with little charm that’s also some-what bogged down by overly complex mechanics. The fact that it was developed for the Genesis, and not the arcade, made it noteworthy at the time because that was practically unheard of for fighting games. It ended up being a harbinger of things to come as the arcades became more marginalized as the 90s wore on. Playable, but hardly memorable unless you really like the fatality-like Overkills.

36. Ecco the Dolphin – Pretty nice looking for a Genesis title and certainly unique given that you play as a dolphin and solve puzzles. It’s also one of the most boring titles I’ve ever played. Some people love it, and it was a huge seller, so maybe others will too.

35. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – I’m on the record as just not being a fan of this franchise. This version is naturally superior to what was on the NES, so if you like that game then you’ll love this one. I personally just find this game difficult to a fault, where it only cares about being hard and not being entertaining. Such a slog.

space harrier 2 4

Space Harrier 2 is certainly a unique shooter that was far more impressive back when it came out than it is today.

34. Space Harrier 2 – A strange behind-the-back on-rails shooter. You can move your character all over the screen to avoid attacks. It gets pretty chaotic, but if you’re a fan of on-rails shooters it might offer a nice change of pace from the typical approach.

33. Golden Axe – A solid arcade port that’s still plenty playable, Golden Axe is far more enjoyable with two-players. I’m surprised Sega went with the original here, but there’s not a ton separating the games in this franchise so I suppose it matters little. It’s fine, but I’ve played Golden Axe so much that it’s hard to get excited about it.

32. Kid Chameleon – A platformer in which you play as what appears to be a 50’s greaser and collect power-ups that impart new abilities. It’s a neat concept and if you stick with it you may find it rewarding. I’ve personally just always hated the “feel” of this one as the character is really floaty and slippery.

31. Comix Zone – One of the coolest looking games on the Genesis, Comix Zone has a great concept. You play as a comic book artist who gets sucked into his own panels. It’s just so unbelievably hard that all enjoyment is ruined. I guess you could save-skum your way through it, but that’s hardly what I consider fun.

30. Light Crusaders – An isometric RPG, it’s actually one of many RPGs on the Genesis Mini. It’s crazy how many there are. Is this one the worst? Probably. I’ve never spent a ton of time with it though so maybe I’m selling it short. I’m not a fan of the perspective or the visuals, finding it frustrating. It does at times feel like a precursor to the much superior Diablo given the perspective and the fact that there’s just one, really long, dungeon in the game. It did receive quite a bit of praise when it was released in 1995 so maybe I should give it another shot?

beyond oasis

Visually, Beyond Oasis strikes me as Secret of Mana meets Dragon’s Lair.

29. Beyond Oasis – A top-down action RPG, this one reminds me of Secret of Mana. It has some distinctive visuals, but the animations can be a bit chunky. Not the greatest controls either as you’re most likely going to find little snakes you have to crouch to hit to be the biggest annoyance. It’s an interesting game, but it’s somewhat made worse for its RPG elements as dealing with NPCs just feels tedious and dry.

28. Super Fantasy Zone – a shooter, but one in which you have full control of the vehicle similar to TaleSpin on the NES. It’s a pleasing title to look at and an easy one to just pick up and play when you have a half hour to kill or something. I prefer this style to auto-scrolling, even if it’s still not the type of game I seek out. It was also never released on the Genesis in the US, but was released on the Virtual Console in 2008.

27. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse – Disney and Sega had a nice thing going for awhile. Castle of Illusion was among the first and an early entrant on the Genesis. It’s a rather benign platforming title that might be easier than you remember if you last played it as a little kid. That is unless your skills in 2D have diminished, then it might be harder than you remember.

26. Earthworm Jim – This game was inescapable when it came out as the marketing was obnoxious. It’s a flashy looking shooter/platform type that gets pretty hard pretty fast. I think it’s a bit style over substance, but it does have an addictive quality to it. I know it still  has a strong fanbase to this day, which is probably why the character is set to attempt a comeback on the Intellivision Amico.

25. Thunder Force III – This game is a totally serviceable shooter in the same vein as R-Type. Not my cup of tea, but plenty fine. This is the best game in the franchise as it switched to the horizontal format and even introduced some elements that would be considered forgiving, a rarity in this genre.

24. Wonderboy in Monster World – Yet another RPG, this one is a side-scrolling action one. It’s perfectly playable and even enjoyable still today. It’s also a little boring when it comes to the RPG elements which is probably why Wonderboy never took off like Zelda did. Either that or it was because his name is Wonderboy. I mostly rank it this high on the list because I find the aesthetics of the game quite charming.

dynamite headdy

Dynamite Headdy was a later arrival on the Genesis so it may have been overlooked by many.

23. Dynamite Headdy – There were so many mascot plaformer types in the 90s that it’s forgivable if you forgot about Dynamite Headdy. He’s basically a bug without a neck who can throw his head at enemies. Interesting concept, for sure, and a totally fine platforming title. Headdy handles well and the game is bright colorful, what more do you want?

22. Alisia Dragoon – It’s kind of like Castlevania with lightning bolts and dragons. Alisia Dragoon is a side scroller in which you have lightning powers and multiple dragon sidekicks to cycle through. Like Castlevania, there’s exploration elements and hidden places to find. It’s also pretty relentless about attacking from all sides making it imperative to use your powers judiciously so they have time to recharge and strike out in all directions. This is a game I’ll likely spend more time with should I get a Genesis Mini.

21. Sonic Spinball – It’s pinball, but with Sonic the Hedgehog instead of a ball. I’m actually not sure if this title is overrated or underrated. When it came out, a lot of people were a little irritated it wasn’t a proper new Sonic game, but it’s hard to deny it’s a rather fun experience. It won’t blow you away, but you’re unlikely to have a bad time at least.

20. Columns – A Sega classic, of sorts, Columns was the brick-falling game not named Tetris. It’s a match 3 type of puzzler and it’s fine. It won’t wow you, but it’s easy to get absorbed in. I’d much rather play this than something like Yoshi’s Cookie, though I’d prefer to play one other puzzler on this set over it.

19. Landstalkers – Another isometric action RPG, this one is just much more enjoyable than Light Crusader. It’s nicer on the eyes, and while the story isn’t anything special the world is far more interesting to explore. The perspective is still more annoying than fun, but this is a title in need of some added exposure so hopefully the Genesis Mini is a benefit for it.

monster world iv

Monster World IV features a colorful and cute design that I just find so charming.

18. Monster World IV – The last entrant in the Wonderboy series on the Genesis and a game previously unreleased on the console outside of Japan. It has been included on compilations in recent years, but this will be the first time US gamers will get to experience it on Sega hardware. It’s yet another side-scrolling RPG, but it has charm and looks great. A surprise, but worthy, inclusion for the Genesis Mini.

17. Mega Man:  The Wily Wars – This one is almost like cheating as it’s a compilation of the first three Mega Man titles ported to the Genesis with enhanced visuals. It should be awesome, but I’ve never liked how it feels compared with the NES games. It seems slower and more deliberate almost as if Capcom went too far in updating the visuals and instead negatively impacted the gameplay. Maybe that’s why it originally went unreleased, being only available on the Sega Channel. I’ll give it another shot, for sure, as it’s still Mega Man and those three games are classics in their own right.

16. World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – I’m probably ranking this one too high, but it was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. It’s Castle of Illusion, but with two-players and much improved visuals. It’s a fun, breezy, platformer that should be beatable for even those who have let their skills diminish over the years. It just might take some practice.

sonic 1 main

Sonic’s gameplay is somewhat divisive, but what isn’t is the impact he had on Sega and video games as a whole in the 90s.

15. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega’s first real answer to Mario, you either love it or you don’t. The game is a constant battle with the urge to travel at top speed, because once achieved, you open Sonic up to a world of hurt in the form of spike traps and death pits. It’s a game of trial and error, and had it not been a success back in the 90s we might not even be here having this conversation. Still very playable, just not the best Sonic title any longer.

14. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition – It’s the arcade classic now on the Genesis. This is about as competent a fighter as you’re going to find, it’s just hard to get excited about playing it in 2019. The 3-button controller is not the ideal way to experience Street Fighter, but it’s competent at least. It’s still Street Fighter II though, which is a nice floor to have.

13. Road Rash II – The motorcycle racer that was a staple on the Genesis, until it wasn’t. This game was largely popular amongst my friends because you could attack other racers, but even absent that it was still a damn good time and a fun racer. I’m a bit surprised it’s the only racer on this set though, but I’m not sure Outrun has aged all that well and Virtua Racing is probably too hard to emulate.

12. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – Another stacking puzzle game, this is just Puyo Puyo but with a Sonic skin. Specifically, it’s done in the style of the cartoon Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the rare puzzler that’s better with two players. Probably the only puzzle game I prefer to it is Puzzle Fighter, which isn’t surprising since they’re pretty similar. Definitely check this one out if you never have.

11. Contra:  Hard Corps – The venerable Contra series on the Genesis. Some Contra fans cite this as their favorite entry in the series. I’m no Contra expert, so don’t ask me. It’s a fun and challenging shooter though. Too hard for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Have fun using save states on this one.

strider

Strider is Capcom’s forgotten hit franchise. Its visuals are a tad dated as this was an early Genesis title, but its gameplay is not.

10. Strider – This felt like Capcom’s answer to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Strider is a bit more vertical and the main character Hiryu has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Strider controls well and offers plenty of action, a good one to get lost in especially since the challenging difficulty will keep you busy.

9. Vectorman – Speaking of hard games, here’s another. Vectorman is a shooter/platformer with some gimmicky stuff as well as the titular character can change form. Visually distinctive, Vectorman is a game I enjoy despite the fact that I suck at it. Maybe I just need more practice. I’ll probably play this one a few times and struggle to make it to level 3.

8. Shinobi III – A challenging platformer, but one more deliberately paced. I’ve always preferred Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden or Strider because of that pacing. It’s easier to plot out an attack and feel out a boss fight. It’s also still hard, but often fair. Smart move by Sega to go with the third entry over the other two as this one has always felt like the most balanced entry in the series.

7. Phantasy Star IV – A more traditional JRPG, this series is basically Sega’s Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I’m a bit surprised they opted to go with IV over the more popular II, but either one is fine. I wish it looked and sounded better, but it’s strangely addicting thanks to its combat system and I look forward to playing through it.

toejam_and_earl wiener

The only game brave enough to refer to its characters as wieners.

6. Toejam & Earl – Too high? Possibly. This game is just too weird not to love and represents the oddball nature of the Genesis so well. You practically have to play it with two players, but the journey to piece together the spaceship of a couple lost aliens is certainly memorable and humorous. This is also the rare game where the power-ups feel more like a curse as they make it so hard to control the characters. This is definitely the go-to game when a buddy stops over. Maybe now I can finally beat it?

5. Gunstar Heroes – A more forgiving run and gun game than Contra or SNK’s Metal Slug. It’s also faster and has its own distinct visual style. This is routinely cited by many as one of the best games on the Genesis so it was a must-include for Sega. It’s surprising that this series hasn’t been able to live on as a modern-looking version would be amazing. We’ll just have to settle for this release, I guess.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – It’s like the first game, only everything is better. Maybe you want to say the soundtrack is better on the original – that’s fine. Every level here though is probably superior to every level in the first game. The inclusion of Tails technically makes it two-player, but no one has fun controlling Tails. He’s the original “give this guy to your little brother/sister” character as he can’t die and has no control over what is happening on screen. Which is why if I play any game with one of my kids it will be this one.

streets 2 uppercut

Arguably the best brawler ever created, it’s amazing that Streets of Rage 2 has maintained a stranglehold on that title for so many years.

3. Streets of Rage 2 – Considered by many to be the best brawler ever created. Even better than Final Fight or Double Dragon II. Streets of Rage 2 stretches the genre about as far as it can go. It has a surprisingly deep combat system and it looks great as well. So many games have attempted to rip it off, and none have come all that close.

2. Shining Force – If Phantasy Star was Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest, then Shining Force was its answer to Fire Emblem. Shining Force is a criminally under-appreciated strategy RPG. Maybe we just didn’t have the attention span for it back in the day, which explains why Nintendo never bothered with Fire Emblem until much later, but I never knew anyone who talked about this franchise. It’s great though, but I’m surprised Sega went with the original over the better sequel. It’s not a big deal though. If you don’t like this style of gameplay, then Shining Force won’t win you over. I’m a bit of a junkie for this stuff though, hence the placement here.

bloodlines 3

Bloodlines was sort of dismissed upon arrival, maybe due to Castlevania fatigue, but it’s one of the best games in the long-running franchise.

1. Castlevania:  Bloodlines – The secret best 16-bit Castlevania? A lot of praise gets tossed at Super Castlevania IV, but Bloodlines is the superior game. It returns the player’s sprite to a more diminutive size giving the game more space. It features tried and true Castlevania gameplay and a great soundtrack as well. Like a lot of games on this console, it wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been at the time, but at least there’s time to rectify that. This is a fabulous game on the Genesis, and if you love Super Castlevania IV but haven’t played this one much or at all then now is as good a time as any to rectify that.

That’s my opinion of the Genesis Mini’s software. It’s a great collection of games and the sheer amount likely pushes this one ahead of the SNES Classic in terms of value. What remains to be seen is if Sega can deliver on the quality, and while I’m fairly confident the company can, it’s hardly a sure thing. Performing this exercise has, more or less, convinced me to get one myself. And thankfully, it looks like the Genesis Mini will be a lot easier to come by than either of Nintendo’s offerings initially were. And if you think we’re done with mini consoles, well you are mistaken. Konami just announced a TurboGrafx-16 Mini so there’s that to look forward to. And the specter of a Nintendo 64 Classic will continue to loom large over the market until it’s either released or we all collectively decide to believe Nintendo that it isn’t coming.

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Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! or Baby’s First Pokémon

lets go pikachu boxI was four years old when I got my first video game. Like probably many individuals my age, that game was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Prior to that, I do not know where my exposure to video games came from. Most likely it was via television commercials and older cousins, though i have no specific memories. I certainly was a consumer of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but that arrived a year later. No matter, I was more or less hooked when I got my first game, and while games had a lot to compete with in my early years, eventually it became my number one hobby by the time I was 9 or 10.

This past April, my own son turned 4. It felt like a good time to properly introduce the boy to video games. Unlike me, he’s grown up with video games in his house since day one. Despite my rarely playing them when he’s awake, he’s still seen them and has always wanted to play them as well. And he has. Mostly he just plays Disney Infinity where he can run around in the Toy Box mode and is free to swap characters in and out. On occasion he also plays classic games as I’ve steered him towards old Sesame Street titles on the NES since they’re easy for him to understand and he learns something too. Sometimes he’ll want something else and he’ll struggle to make it more than a few screens in something like Rescue Rangers or The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, but he still insists he’s having fun and rarely wants to put the controller down.

lets go versions

Pokémon Let’s Go is available in four versions: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, Let’s Go, Eevee!, and versions of each that come with the Pokéball Plus controller.

Seeing his enthusiasm for video games made me want to find something he could play and succeed at. I also wanted it to be a shared experience as I’m not ready for him to go close himself off to the world and get lost in a video game. That’s how Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! ended up on my radar. My son had already been exposed to Pokémon at a young age. He knew who Pikachu was and had messed around on my Pokémon Go! app. I had no reservations about the material, but just needed to make sure it was a game we could enjoy together. After doing some research, I was convinced the title would work and for his fourth birthday my son got his very first video game.

My experience with Pokémon goes all the way back to 1998 when the original Red and Blue titles made their way to US shores. They were the games that finally convinced me to pick up a GameBoy and I ended up with both versions of the title, beating both more than once. It was a fun, addicting, light role-playing-game and I stuck with the franchise into the Gold and Silver era, but after that I was mostly done. I checked out Pokémon Pearl for the DS, but never finished it. After a few years on the market, I eventually grabbed Pokémon Y to see how the franchise had changed over the years and mostly enjoyed it. And I was a day one downloader of the Go! app and I still play it today. I was pretty confident I could navigate my son though Let’s Go, Pikachu! which is basically a remake of the original games with some of the elements from Pokémon Go! integrated.

pikachu interact

My son could probably play with virtual Pikachu for hours if I let him.

I opted to get the version of Let’s Go, Pikachu! that comes bundled with a Pokéball Plus controller, figuring my son would get a kick out of it. Getting it up and running was a tad tricky. Like most games now, Let’s Go, Pikachu! does not come with formal instructions and you basically have to wing it. This caused confusion when I initially booted it up with Pro controller in hand. The game won’t even recognize a Pro controller though because it wants you to play with just a single Joycon. After messing around, I figured that out and was taken to the controller select screen. It displays both Joycons, a docked Switch, and the Pokéball controller and you have to press a button on the controller you wish to use. I always go with the Right Joycon because it has a Home button on it. Had Game Freak just included a little message that said “Pro controller not supported” when I tried to use it that would have saved me some time.

no randos

The Pokémon now appear on the screen. It’s a beautiful thing.

From there, I was further confused at how I could bring my son into the fold. I could not find options for 2 player, and when I would activate the Pokéball accessory it would de-activate my Joycon. Frustrated, I started the game and we went through all of the usual junk until you get to actually play. I don’t know how we ended up figuring it out, but in order to play with a second player they need to activate a controller while playing just by pressing a button, or in the case of the Pokéball, by shaking it. Then a second player, a gender-swapped version of the character you created, appears. When you encounter a wild Pokémon, two Pokéballs will appear and you can both throw to your heart’s content. In battle, the second player will deploy the Pokémon in the second position on your party screen effectively giving you two actions to your enemy’s one.

After finally figuring all of that out, things were mostly smooth. Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a 3D game that seems to share assets with Pokémon Go! It’s very much presented like modern Pokémon titles with the only differences being in how you interact with wild Pokémon. They now appear on the screen and you’re free to engage them or try to avoid them as you please removing random encounters. This has apparently been a controversial move in the Pokémon community as some prioritize the excitement of what wild Pokémon has been encountered. Personally, I never want to play another Pokémon title with random encounters again. Good riddance!

catching clefairy

Catching is just like in Go! only now you physically “throw” the ball. Landing the ball within the shrinking ring will earn you a bonus.

When you do come into contact with a wild Pokémon, you no longer battle them. This is where the Go! influence comes in as you now just throw Pokéballs until the creature is caught. And since this is Nintendo Switch, you literally make a throwing motion with the controller in hand to throw balls. It works fine, though I find the Pokéball Plus to be a tad more accurate. The rings from Go! are present as are the various items that can make catching a Pokémon easier. What’s gone is the curveball, but replacing it is the dual ball. My son and I didn’t even catch onto this until way late into our adventure, but if both players simultaneously hit a Pokémon with a ball then a special animation plays where the balls essentially combine into one. This makes the throw more likely to be successful and also adds extra experience to the encounter. That’s right. Catching Pokémon is now your primary method of accumulating experience so your Pokémon level-up and become stronger. Thankfully, since you’ll be catching a lot of Pokémon there is no longer a computer storage system. You simply possess a box that can store your extra Pokémon and you can access it at anytime.

Charizard battle

Battles are largely unchanged. Each Pokémon is limited to four moves and each can only be used a set amount of times before needing to be recharged with an item or at a Pokécenter. Only difference from the classic games is that everything is now animated.

Battles are still largely the same as before, though they do take on greater importance now that you literally have to keep catching ’em all if you want your Pokémon to get stronger. Battles allow you to earn experience, but also money. And you’ll need a lot of money so you can continue to buy more Pokéballs. The only wrinkle with battling is the inclusion of the second player that I mentioned earlier. This allows you to attack enemies 2 on 1. It does forfeit the free substitution between matches that you would normally get, but that’s a small price to pay. Strangely, on the rare occasion you find yourself in a 2 on 2 battle the second controller will be disabled and Player 1 will control both battlers. That was frustrating for my son. Ultimately though, because of the 2 on 1 nature 99% of the encounters in the game are much easier to breeze through, but that isn’t the only thing making Let’s Go, Pikachu! an easy experience.

surfing pikachu

Pikachu now learns all of the HMs for you. Here’s surfing Pikachu!

Game Freak has finally done away with those annoying Hidden Machines. Instead, Pikachu (or Eevee if you got the other version of the game) learns Secret Techniques that function the same way. Yes, even Fly which causes Pikachu to pull out a bunch of balloons to fly around with. These moves only work on the field of play and not in battle so they don’t affect Pikachu’s move set at all. No longer do you need to drag around a Pokémon just for HM access.

In addition to those techniques, your Pikachu will also have the option to learn new moves from a move tutor throughout the game. These moves really help to make Pikachu a well-rounded attacker, and frankly, he’s way over-powered. One of these moves is Zippy Zap, which is basically an electrified Quick Attack that always scores a critical hit. He’ll also be able to learn Splishy Splash, an electrified water attack so ground enemies are no longer an issue. He also now learns Double Kick just thru his basic leveling-up which is quite useful at parts. He can even learn an electric flying move too, though I opted to not add that. Basically, there was rarely a reason to pull Pikachu from battle and only the compulsion to mix things up provoked me and my son to do so.

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A new Pokémon was created for this game, but you’ll need to catch him in Pokémon Go! if you want to use him in this game and complete your Pokédex.

The game is largely a remake of the originals, but there are some twists. The bicycle and fishing rod are gone and instead replaced with Pokémon actions. Pikachu can learn a Surf maneuver and when surfing you’ll encounter the many water Pokémon out in the wild. You can also ride on certain Pokémon to increase your movement speed on the field of play. And once you beat the Elite Four, you can even fly freely on the back of a Charizard or Dragonite. The Safari Zone is also no more and has been replaced by the Go Park, a place where you can import Pokémon from Pokémon Go! This is very useful for filling out the Pokédex as there are still Pokémon unique to each version of the game and some evolutions that still require trading (which you can bypass in Go!). There’s also a new Pokémon that can only be found in Pokémon Go! and it and its evolution can be transferred to Let’s Go, Pikachu!

flying charizard

No bike? No problem.

This is a solid Pokémon experience for me, but what about the boy I bought it for? Turns out, it’s pretty fantastic to him. He loves catching Pokémon, so much so that battles get boring fast for him. It’s a bit of a problem at times because there are points where you need to battle, especially since the kid flies through Pokéballs since he wants to catch everything he sees. He knows it’s a necessary evil though and trudges through the battles like a good soldier. It also stunk for him when we had to traverse water as that’s only one-player, but at least that didn’t take up vast sections of the game. I could even hand him the controller to catch anything I encountered too. He’s not great at moving the player in the field, but at least he mostly never had to since his job was to catch Pokémon. The other difficult part with a young kid playing is he has no interest in talking to non-player characters. This is a bit of a problem because you need to talk to everyone in this game because some give you important special moves and some might even give you a free Pokémon. His unwillingness to talk to people caused me to miss a few things that we eventually had to backtrack for. And any “dungeon” that didn’t contain wild Pokémon for him to catch was a real drag.

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In addition to the original 151 Pokémon, Mega Evolutions have also been added.

Shortcomings aside, the game largely did what I wanted it to do. It gave me something I could play with my son and we were both able to enjoy it. I’m not sure what we’re going to do now as we have already defeated the Elite Four and even captured Mewtwo. There’s still some slots on the Pokédex to fill out, but I wonder when my son will become bored with catching the same old Pokémon. There is some additional post game content, but it’s mostly battling related which isn’t very interesting for him, but we’ll see. We also have yet to utilize the external functions of the Pokéball controller. Like a Tamagotchi, you can load a Pokémon onto it and carry it around with you. It will earn experience and I think you can press a button on the ball to hear the critter chirp or something. The noises the Pokémon make are still the same as they were over 20 years ago, save for Pikachu and Eevee who have vocalizations from the anime. Nostalgia is nice, but it would have been neat if they went through and did the same for all of the Pokémon. And for that matter, how about some spoken dialog instead of text? I got sick of reading it aloud to my son and he seemed to as well.

Nonetheless, the game has been a big enough hit in my house to make my son a full-fledged Pokémaniac. He’s now watched all of season one of the anime on Netflix and loves watching YouTube videos on the subject. He’ll often tell anyone within earshot random Pokémon facts (“Hey mama! Did you know Haunter evolves into Gengar?!”) and I rarely see him without his Charmander plush. My daughter, who is only 2, has some-what embraced it as well. She loves Pikachu, and after we took the both of them to see Detective Pikachu in theaters (her first movie in a theater) she’s become a Psyduck fan as well. Eventually, I envision the two of them playing this game or a similar one together. In my dreams they’re enjoying themselves, though in reality there will probably be lots of fighting and arguing. That’s an issue for another day, for now, I’ve got a son who’s crazy about Pokémon and just beat his first video game (with some help from dad) which puts him way ahead of where I was at his age. Hopefully, a sequel is on the way that we can enjoy together in a similar manner. If it rights some of the few wrongs present here, then all the better.


The Mini Console Wars are Upon Us

ps classicPlug and Play games have been around for several years now. They’re those cheap little Atari-styled joysticks you see at electronics stores that when plugged into a television allow one to play games like Pac-Man and Asteroid. They’re novelty machines and an inexpensive way to say to someone “Remember this?” I don’t know how successful they’ve ultimately been, but they’ve persisted and may be responsible for bigger publishers to look at and say there’s more here than meets the eye.

Companies love money, and they love finding ways to make money off of things that require little or no capital. When Nintendo launched its Virtual Console service with the Wii it was a simple and inexpensive way for the company to monetize outdated games. Previously, Nintendo’s path to doing so was via its portable line which was always a generation behind the main consoles in terms of power. Porting a SNES game to Gameboy Advance was cheap, and gamers liked playing games they enjoyed roughly five years past on-the-go. It was a novelty, but a good game is a good game. When consoles finally reached the point where DVD and Blu Ray mediums meant storage was no longer an issue, retro compilations came into fashion. Few sold big numbers, but they didn’t have to since the cost to emulate the software was fairly cheap.

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The start of the retro craze?

All of that changed when Nintendo unveiled its NES Classic Edition System in 2016. The tiny device was immediately attractive to older gamers because it was so cute and tastefully done. Pre-packaged with 30 “classic” games at an attractive low MSRP of $60 helped to make it the hottest item of the 2016 holiday season. Nintendo famously could not meet demand, and it’s taken the company nearly two years to finally make the system readily available. Since then it’s also released the SNES Classic Edition. That came with a second controller and 21 games for the higher MSRP of $80, roughly approximating the price Nintendo has always placed on its NES games relative to its SNES games via the now dead Virtual Console service.

Since Nintendo had such unbelievable success with its products, it’s no surprise then that other companies have followed suit. Sega has licensed its Genesis hardware for similar mini consoles with the added feature that most have contained an actual cartridge slot to play physical Genesis software. The results have been less well received though as the Genesis knock-offs have been rather clunky. Prior to that, Sega was arguably ahead of the curve by licensing its product for portable systems. They too were pretty clunky though and I’ve never had someone actually recommend one to me.

neo geo x

SNK and Tommo tried to make the Neo Geo affordable and practical, but it didn’t work out.

The newest entrant to hit retail is actually an older one as well. SNK too was ahead of the curve with its Neo Geo X released in 2012. The NGX was basically the precursor to the Nintendo Switch. It was a handheld console with 20 pre-loaded Neo Geo games and room for expansion via game cards. It came with a dock that resembled the Neo Geo AES console and once placed inside that dock the games could be played on a television with the included AES style joystick. It was an ambitious, and expensive (but what Neo Geo item isn’t?), toy manufactured by Tommo as opposed to being a true SNK console. The hardcore fanbase didn’t have pleasant things to say. From stretched visuals to input lag, the NGX was more of a novelty than a true way to experience the Neo Geo. After all, most of the system’s best games are available across many consoles now and emulated quite well. SNK was so dissatisfied with the machine that it eventually ordered Tommo to cease and desist production less than a year after release.

The NGX may have been a failure, but it didn’t discourage SNK from trying something similar again. Likely influenced by Nintendo, the Neo Geo Mini is now a thing set for release next month. Unlike the Nintendo machines, the SNK Mini is both a portable and a dedicated home console machine. It resembles a little arcade cabinet and comes with 40 games pre-installed. It looks like it will be rather clunky and cramped when enjoyed as a portable, but it supports standard Neo Geo controller pads so it likely will get the job done when plugged into a television. Like all things Neo Geo, it’s pricier than the competition and will set you back 90-110 dollars, but SNK has an extremely loyal fanbase that will likely guarantee this thing is a sell-out.

neo geo mini

The Neo Geo Mini certainly scores points for cuteness, but how functional it is seems suspect when not plugged into a television.

And of course, the impetus for this post, is the just announced PlayStation Classic. Unlike the Neo Geo Mini, the PlayStation Classic looks to be a straight-up knock-off of Nintendo’s products. A mini PlayStation with 20 pre-loaded games and a single controller for $100, it’s a fairly no-frills duplicate. Sony has only announced 5 of the 20 games, and they’re a pretty representative snapshot of what the original PSX offered:  Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4. Sony made the decision to package the system with one standard PlayStation controller, which means no analog. The choice to do so is being spun as a way to celebrate the original release of the console nearly 25 years ago, but I’m guessing it was really done for cost reasons. The machine also resembles the original launch model right down to the additional port on the system’s rear (it’s guarded by a removable plastic tab and I don’t know if its present for aesthetic reasons on the PS Mini or if it’s hiding an additional function).

genesis classic

Sega has made half-hearted attempts to duplicate Nintendo’s success, but the results have been subpar at best.

The PlayStation was the highest selling console of the 1990s so there’s likely a lot of gamers who hold the system in high regard. Even so, there are factors working against Sony with the PlayStation Classic. For one, Sony has actually been very good at making its classic games easily available. The PlayStation 4 may have been left in the dust in some respects, but both the Vita and PS3 can download and emulate almost all of the biggest games released for the original PSX. They’re not free, but they’re also not prohibitively expensive and the cost varies from publisher to publisher. Likely Sony’s biggest ally in those days was Squaresoft, now Square-Enix, which has made almost all of its PSX games available in Sony’s Eshop. And if you’re one of the few who (like me) purchased a PlayStation TV then you have yet another avenue for experiencing these games. Even games like the ultra rare Suikoden II can be played rather effortlessly these days.

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The PlaySation Classic is about what you would expect.

The other issue Sony is going to run into is its price point and lack of analog support. Some classic PSX games made full use of the Dual Shock controller including Metal Gear Solid and Ape Escape. Other games were retro-fitted to utilize the new controller and made better, like Resident Evil 2. Since the console does utilize USB for its controller input it’s possible it will support the Dual Shock 3 and 4 as an input method, but it stinks to not just include that out of the box. And of course, the $100 price point is another tough sell. It follows the path Nintendo laid out with its retro machines of adding another 20 dollars for each successive console generation, but it does feel like there is a limit for what people are willing to spend. Gaming enthusiasts will still have interest, but will Sony be able to successfully attract that casual crowd that really drove sales for the Nintendo units? Considering the Sony brand isn’t as famous as Nintendo’s, despite the obvious success of the PlayStation consoles, it would appear that this unit is destined to be less popular. And on the business side of things, Sony just doesn’t have as many firs-party titles as Nintendo making the licensing more expensive. That’s likely reflected in the price-point, but it’s also possible that Sony also just isn’t going to pull in the same profit per unit that Nintendo can manage.

Revealing only 5 of the included 20 games from the start feels like a gamble on Sony’s part. Does the company think that the excitement of the initial announcement will be enough to drive pre-orders into near sell-out numbers? It’s possible, but it also feels like there’s a lack of confidence in the software. A lot of Sony’s biggest games come with obvious licensing hurdles. Gran Turismo boasted hundreds of actual vehicles. Tony Hark’s Pro Skater contains the likeness of dozens of unaffiliated skaters as well as sponsorships as well. Even Jet Moto and Wipeout featured in-game sponsorships or licensed music. It’s unlikely these licensing agreements factored in new retail releases down the road and license holders need to be re-engaged in some cases in order to include them. All of these things cost Sony money and might discourage the company from including some of the system’s most memorable games.

psc ad

The choice of controller may be a hindrance, but we’ll see.

Just like the remaining 15 games, it also remains to be seen how Sony views its newly launched Mini Console business. Does the world really need a PS2 Mini at this point? I’d argue no, but I also would not be surprised to see Sony try. They may wait to see if Sega or Nintendo jumps into that generation first though before dipping their toe into those waters. It’s also possible Sony sees this as the first of multiple mini PlayStation devices. Perhaps a second could mimic the redesign of the PSOne and include analog support. Maybe this one due out in December is to be expandable or new versions could arrive that include a different variety of games. We don’t yet know if there will be regional differences with these consoles as there were with the Nintendo ones too. And lastly, we don’t know how well this system will be at emulating these games. While many hold up from a fun-factor perspective, visually they have not aged well and may look troublesome on modern televisions. Sony at least has experience with the PlayStation TV (I bet Sony really kicks themselves now for not designing the PS TV to resemble a mini PlayStation) so we know they can make a quality plug and play device at a modest price point, but we also don’t know if we can expect the same level of quality from this device. All of these questions, and the fact that I still own most of my favorite PSX era games in a physical form, has me less than enthused about the PlayStation Classic. I’m not pre-ordering it, but I’m also not ruling out a purchase somewhere down the road. It is fun to think about though, and it certainly reaffirms the notion that we’re not through yet with mini consoles.


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.


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.

Main-Day

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.

Zelda-and-Link

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.

Breath of the Wild subboss guide

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!