Tag Archives: super nintendo

SNES Classic – Some Quick Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ranking the Games of the SNES Classic

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It’s coming…

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

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

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

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

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

Star_Fox_2_2017#21 – Star Fox 2* (2017)

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

 

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

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

snes_f-zero_boxart#19 – F-Zero (1990)

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

dkc_snes_boxart#18 – Donkey Kong Country (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smk#14 – Super Mario Kart (1992)

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

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

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

earthbound_box#12 – EarthBound (1994)

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

kss_boxart#11 – Kirby Super Star (1996)

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

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

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

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

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

super_castlevania_iv_north_american_snes_box_art#8 – Super Castlevania IV (1991)

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

supermariorpgsnescoverartus#7 – Super Mario RPG (1996)

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

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

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

mega_man_x_coverart#5 – Mega Man X (1993)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Other Disney Afternoon Games

Capcom recently released a digital collection of NES games called The Disney Afternoon Collection. It’s available for Playstation 4, Steam, and Xbox One (though curiously not for a Nintendo console despite all of the games originating from one)and is a pretty solid collection of not quite classic games at a budget friendly price. And that last part can’t be understated since copies of DuckTales II sell for hundreds of dollars on the aftermarket thanks to low release totals. By most measures, the collection of games represent Capcom’s best licensed titles, but certainly not all of them. It also doesn’t capture every title released with the Disney Afternoon branding and this post is about the leftovers.

1Bonkers (Super Nintendo 1994)

 

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Expect some indirect cameos from famous Disney characters.

Bonkers was a short-lived series that ran from September 1993 to February 1994. In that window, the show managed to feature 65 episodes, the magic number for most Disney cartoons as that met syndication guidelines. Bonkers is reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as it pairs a cartoon bobcat with a human who both work for the Toon Police. They go around solving crimes in a toon world that’s basically inhabited by all of Disney’s classic characters, many of whom make cameos in the show. Disney even allowed Mickey to cameo breaking with tradition that basically kept Mickey shielded from the television properties.

 

In December of ’94 Bonkers came to the Super Nintendo. In a game developed by Capcom (who else?), Bonkers allowed the player to play as the titular character as he tried to recover some famous cartoon assets stolen from a museum. His partner, Lucky, is laid up in a hospital bed forcing Bonkers to go solo. The items he needs to recover, and the places he visits to find them, should feel familiar to Disney fans young and old as they include Mickey’s iconic sorcerer’s hat and Ariel’s voice.

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The Genesis Bonkers wasn’t developed by Capcom and took the gameplay in a very different direction.

The gameplay for Bonkers is very similar to a Konami contemporary, Buster Busts Loose, released in ’93 and based on the Tiny Toons character Buster Bunny. Both games are platformers with large sprites where a main feature of gameplay is a dash meter. Bonkers can dash as a means of attack and to navigate the levels. Special items will bestow upon him invincibility and unlimited dash for a brief period, which is also a feature of an earlier Capcom Mega Drive/Genesis title Quackshot starring Donald Duck. The dash is your bread and butter and what a player needs to master in order to make it through the game. In addition to that, Bonkers can take out most enemies Mario style with a jump attack and he also can toss bombs, though his supply is limited. The game contains just five levels, with the first three being selectable from the game’s hub menu and can be completed in any order. Bonkers never earns additional power-ups or special abilities beyond what he starts with, so there’s no preferred order to them.

 

Bonkers for the SNES is a solid title, though not really spectacular so it’s not surprising to see it’s not a fondly remembered one. The cartoon from which it came is also not one that possesses a huge following, though it was an interesting premise and is probably worthy of revisiting. Bonkers also received another video game, this one for the Genesis and developed by Sega. It’s kind of like a tower defense game in which Bonkers is primarily featured in the foreground defending a position by tossing items at enemies in the background. There are some platforming parts as well, but most probably agree that the SNES game is superior. There was also a Brazil-only Game Gear title called Bonkers: Wax Up! that I know very little about. Judging it based on some YouTube long plays, it doesn’t look like a title that needs to be sought out.

250px-SNES_Goof_Troop_BoxGoof Troop (Super Nintendo 1993)

Following DuckTales, the flagship series for the Disney Afternoon seemed to shift to Goof Troop. Starring Goofy and his son Max, Goof Troop was a mostly wholesome program about adolescence and being a single parent. It’s really melancholy for a series starring Goofy and definitely added a new dimension to a mostly one-note character. For fans of the more action-oriented cartoons like Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop was a bit of a hard sell, but I recall watching it somewhat frequently and thinking it all right.

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A standard screen in Goof Troop with a standard set of obstacles for Goofy to navigate.

The game is definitely an odd duck amongst the other Disney Afternoon titles. Once again developed by Capcom, Goof Troop is an adventure game in which the player controls either Goofy or Max and simultaneous co-op is possible. I suppose it isn’t surprising that the game is unlike its sister titles since Goof Troop, being more of a sitcom than most cartoons, doesn’t have a natural ability to become a video game. In this one, Goofy and Max somehow end up ship-wrecked on an island and need to find a way off of it. It’s basically a survival game, and the player controls one of the two Goofs from a top-down perspective similar to The Legend of Zelda. Goofy and Max can hold a maximum of two items at a time, and the player has to constantly find and drop items in order to progress. The game is more puzzle-like than the others, and since Goofy and Max can’t directly damage the enemies they encounter you’re almost encouraged to avoid conflict.

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Co-op is the preferred way to tackle this one.

The game was developed by Shinji Mikami, who was basically the mind behind Resident Evil. Yes, Resident Evil owes something to Goof Troop and it’s rather remarkable to see how some of the survival elements from that series were first born in Goof Troop. Even right down to how awkward it is to control Goofy and Max and how frustrating it can be to avoid enemies. The game feels like it’s designed for two players as opposed to one as some rooms are really hard to clear without the aid of a second player. The other player can help act as a lure for enemies allowing player one to activate a switch, move a block, or trigger something else on the screen. In two player mode, Goofy and Max can only hold one item each, but it’s an easy trade-off to make in order to gain an ally. Playing solo, I had a hell of a time trying to clear one room where the enemies could kick blocks, blocks that I needed to kick into a certain spot to pass the room. The problem was getting to the enemies and taking them out before they could kick one into a spot where I couldn’t make any use of it, forcing me to leave the screen and re-enter, also re-spawning the enemies.

Goof Troop is an interesting game, and played through the lens of knowing it’s a pseudo Resident Evil predecessor certainly adds to it. As a change of pace from the other Capcom developed Disney Afternoon games, it’s acceptable, but I found it a bit too frustrating to really want to come back to it again and again. Given the license though, this is probably the best Capcom could have done short of just making a platformer that made little thematic sense.

250px-Gargoyles_game_coverGargoyles (Genesis 1995)

Lastly, we have Gargoyles, our only featured game to only be released on the Genesis without a SNES counterpart and (gasp!) to not be developed by Capcom. This one was done by Buena Vista Interactive, and if you know anything about Disney you know that’s likely the name for an internal studio. At some point, someone high up at the company must have got the bright idea that they could make more money if they developed their own games rather than licensing them out to Capcom. Big mistake, as doing so ultimately lead to a severe reduction in quality for Disney based video games and Gargoyles is no exception.

Gargoyles is a series I’ve covered pretty extensively here. It was basically The Disney Afternoon’s answer to WB’s Batman which aired during Fox’s afternoon block of programming. Batman was a hit, so naturally others copied it and Gargoyles was perhaps the most blatant. Don’t confuse that with criticism, as Gargoyles was a pretty entertaining show and was able to develop its own identity during its run. And unlike say Goof Troop, it pretty obviously lent itself well to video games being an action-oriented show starring some pretty bad ass characters.

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At least it looks pretty good.

The game stars Goliath and is essentially another platform-styled action game with some exploration elements. It’s sort of like DuckTales on steroids and with an overt gothic theme. The game starts off in the past with the fall of the castle and the gargoyles being turned to stone before taking the player to the present timeline. All of the main baddies from the show make an appearance, and Goliath handles like Goliath should possessing powerful strikes, a running attack, and the ability to climb walls and double-jump with his wings.

Visually, the game is probably the best out of any Disney Afternoon title and is one of the better looking Genesis titles around. The music even sounds great and you could almost trick someone into believing it came from a Super Nintendo. Sadly, that’s where the positives mostly dry-up. While the music is great, the sound effects are horrendous with awful enemy death screams that sound like they were recorded through a tin can. Goliath is a chore to control as negotiating tight spaces is problematic and his ability to cling to walls is automatic, resulting in numerous occasions where he’ll grab a wall when you don’t want him to. The opening level is particularly frustrating as it features lots of tiny spaces and towers to ascend. Enemies will routinely strike from offscreen and finding enough room to get a running start to smash through a wall can also be harder than it should be. Goliath should feel like a powerful beast, but he’s too easily felled by the humans who serve as foes. The rotten icing on the cake is spotty collision detection when attacking enemies, making their defeat feel wholly unsatisfying.

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There are plenty of familiar faces from the show.

Gargoyles is one of those games that I want to like, but it just makes it too hard to do so. It’s a great license that should have lead to a great, or at least passable, game and it looks awesome. Unfortunately, it just isn’t remotely fun and I’m sure lots of people were conned into buying, or renting, this one based on the track-record of Disney Afternoon titles and because the screenshots looked promising. The game ended up being released only in North America, and there was a Super Nintendo port planned but it was scrapped, either due to poor sales of the Genesis version or because the 16-bit era was essentially over. Stay away, stay far away.


The Final Word on the NES Classic

nes_classic_retro_blast_splashIf you read this blog even semi-regularly, you’ve probably seen me talk about the NES Classic already. When it came out I ranked the 30 games bundled with the device and also speculated on what could be included on a likely SNES Classic. What I didn’t do was actually come out and review the device. I figured I had nothing left to add to the general opinions that already existed across the internet. Which is to say, the NES Classic Edition is a fun little device, but it’s hampered by short controller cables and not every one of those games is really worth owning in 2016. Since then, the NES Classic became the hot holiday item and was also probably the hardest to come by. Nintendo evidently didn’t anticipate how popular it would be, as it couldn’t meet demand though it assured consumers more were on the way. Now we’re in April 2017, and the NES Classic has been discontinued.

If you were one of those individuals who got a NES Classic then you’re probably feeling pretty fortunate right now. It was never in stock to the point where you could walk into a store and take one-off the shelf. I suspect those who didn’t get one during the holiday rush probably expected them to eventually be in stock in reasonable numbers, just like Nintendo devices from years past. And while the fervor died down a bit following Christmas, consumers still needed to be vigilant in order to get one.

If you’re still pondering getting a NES Classic you’re probably down to third-party sellers as your only option. As of April 27th, the Nintendo store in NYC has stopped selling them and most big box retailers have either unloaded all of their stock or will do so this weekend. Online, no one has had stock since early April except Amazon’s Prime Now delivery service which has had flash sales sporadically and appears to be done as of this writing. And people selling Classics on Amazon or eBay know full well that the item is still highly sought after and essentially unavailable at retail and the prices reflect that. If you were lucky enough to encounter a Classic in the wild, you were likely charged 60 bucks to purchase the console which came bundled with one controller, a micro USB cable, wall adapter, and HDMI cable. A few places up-charged, and Gamestop offered mostly bundles full of other stuff no one wanted, but for the most part retailers stayed at the MSRP. During the lead-up to Christmas, prices climbed high enough to more than quadruple the MSRP with some even fetching around $300. After the holidays, the prices came down to the $120-$150 range, which was still a lot considering the MSRP, but perhaps not prohibitive. Now they’re back up to $300 and higher and who knows where they’ll settle at as they become more and more scarce.

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The NES Classic! Available at all of these places! Maybe!

At $60, purchasing the NES Classic wasn’t much of a dilemma. At that price point it could be considered a novelty. Had it actually managed to be well stocked it probably would have been a popular impulse buy. At the prices they’re going for now though, it becomes a much tougher proposition. I was fortunate enough to purchase two NES Classics. When the item was first announced, I got it in my head that it would make a great Christmas gift for my best friend, so I went to great lengths to acquire one eventually scoring one on Prime Now in a city that wasn’t my own. I had to pay extra to have the item shipped by UPS after having it delivered to one of its stores, but it was a small price to pay to secure a cool gift for my buddy. After Christmas, I happened to be at my computer at the right moment when Best Buy’s website put some up for sale and was able to get one for myself. I’ve had the NES Classic for months, so I feel well equipped to tell you what it’s worth.

To properly judge the NES Classic, you have to consider what it does well and what it doesn’t and why you want it. It contains 30 Nintendo games, about half of which are classics. Some of that lesser half is still playable, and some of it are titles you’ll likely play once and then never again. For sixty bucks, you’re getting each game for essentially $2, so it’s hard to get upset about Ice Climber when you also have Super Mario Bros. 3. None of these games are particularly rare, but you’d be hard pressed to find many for less than $2 if you were trying to get actual NES carts. This makes getting a lot of the best Nintendo games pretty convenient and pretty affordable. Of course, this ignores emulation piracy which I know a lot of people engage in. You don’t need me to tell you that you could probably download all of these games at no expense to you with probably minimal risk of actually running afoul of the law. Don’t confuse that statement as an advocation for illegal ROM downloading, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality. In other words, these games are all easy to come by and probably for really cheap. And if you were an early adopter of Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, you even received a bunch of these games for free from Nintendo itself.

What it all comes down to, you only have a few reasons to actually buy an NES Classic:

  1. The emulation is great and probably the best way to play these games. There’s no latency even when played on a modern television. You can play these games in crisp, bright, HD or opt for a filter that mimics a CRT television (my preferred mode). Nothing else I’m aware of does a better job, including Nintendo’s own Virtual Console service. Simply put, while these games are of limited value visually speaking, they’ve also never looked better and likely never will.
  2. The novelty of it all. And really, this is probably the big reason why people want this thing. It’s cute. It’s a tiny Nintendo Entertainment System that fits in your hand. It’s exactly the type of thing people get nostalgic over and want. Even people that know they won’t actually use this thing much still want it because it looks cool.
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If you actually get one, you probably should also get some controller extension cables. They’re practically mandatory.

There’s also a third reason, though it ties into number 2, and that’s this thing has no protection built-in really what-so-ever. It’s a popular item for modders to hack, and its storage capacity is vast enough that some claim it could store the entirety of the N64 library on it. For those who are really into emulation, it’s kind of the ultimate device because it’s an official Nintendo product capable of playing every single NES game in glorious HD with save states to boot. Considering most that are into emulation do so because they just want to play the games cheaply and easily, they’re probably no longer willing to pay hundreds of dollars to get a novelty box for their illegal games. Especially when you consider that if you mess up the ROM dump you can brick your tiny NES and that just doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking considering what they’re worth.

The decision to purchase or not purchase the NES Classic isn’t that complicated: you either really value silly little niche products or you don’t. If you have a ton of money at your disposal, then have at it, but if you just thought it would be fun to play these games again on a novelty device then passing on it at quadruple the retail price should be pretty easy. That said, if prices come down over the coming months then I could foresee a price range that would have made me comfortable that exceeded retail. At $100 to $120, I could probably talk myself into buying this thing all over again (if I for some reason wanted two of them), but I’d probably stop at around $150. If you really want to play a game or games that are included with the NES Classic, it’s just too easy to go elsewhere for a similar experience.

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What’s harder to get than the NES Classic? The extra controllers. If you have some old NES controllers hanging around, these work great, plus you can take advanage of the original’s  longer cord!

This whole post also assumes that the NES Classic has truly been discontinued. It makes little sense for Nintendo to cancel the thing. It costs them very little to produce, it likely has little or no impact on Switch production, and Nintendo probably isn’t selling tons of copies of these games via its Virtual Console platform. It’s possible Nintendo just wanted to make a quick buck, but was afraid of cannibalizing its virtual shop. It’s also possible the NES Classic was a bare-bones test run of a dedicated Virtual Console set-top box. Perhaps Nintendo will just release a new version later this year that is capable of adding software and likely would be harder for modders to crack, as it would seem the ease of doing so with the current NES Classic was a big factor in its cancellation. At least, that’s the only thing that makes sense. A rumored SNES Classic is on the way, so hopefully the scarcity of the NES Classic wasn’t intentional and the SNES Classic arrives in far greater numbers. If I can’t pre-order it I’ll probably lose my mind, or I’ll likely just end up outside a gaming store hours before it opens to get what I want silently cursing Nintendo the whole time.


Ranking the Zelda Games – The Top 4

5caa2739-c222-443c-8d6a-dff6048064c4We’re down to the top four in our rankings for the best games in The Legend of Zelda franchise. As far as climaxes go, this one is probably fairly anti-climactic as there’s a pretty clear top two in this series that the majority of gamers agree on. Though, as these games collectively get older there is undoubtedly more affection for the more recent games as suddenly a title like The Wind Waker is a normal gateway for players in their teens and twenties. Nostalgia always plays a role in a subjective exercise such as this one, though I sincerely feel these four games are the most dense and most fun Zelda experiences that Nintendo has put out. And I’m also not beholden to them. I really hope the next game in the series dethrones our champ, or at least forces its way into the conversation. Time will tell.

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Link’s Awakening is the rare Gameboy game to utilize cut scenes.

4. Link’s Awakening (Gameboy 1993) – Of the three titles I’m going to highlight in this post, Link’s Awakening is probably the one with the least tenable hold on the number three spot and the most fluid of the titles. I mentioned it in part two, but games six through three are really interchangeable. The order isn’t that important, but I chose to put Link’s Awakening in the three spot because it’s a very unique entry in the series, an important one, and it’s also a damn good game. Link’s Awakening is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, which is probably why the cover art is almost indistinguishable from that of A Link to the Past. When it first came out, I actually thought it was just a Gameboy port, but I of course found out I was mistaken. It’s the first portable entry in the series and is quite easily the best game released for the Gameboy, and it’s color edition is the best on the Gameboy Color, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. It laid the groundwork for all of the portable Zelda titles to follow establishing certain trends like the ability for Link to jump and equip any combination of any two items he wishes. Want to walk around with bombs and the bow? Go for it! You don’t need to just carry sword and shield everywhere. It also features a totally offbeat approach to world-building. This game is pretty wacky, and of particular delight are the numerous cameos from characters common in the Super Mario universe, in particular the US edition of Super Mario Bros. 2. There’s a lot of genuinely funny dialogue and the plot is very care-free and loose. The Gameboy hardware has some obvious limitations when it comes to handling a Zelda title, but it’s surprisingly capable here. The only aspect of the game where the hardware limitations persist is really in the two-button control setup. It does become rather tedious switching between items constantly. There’s no shortcut to do so forcing the player to pause the action and access the items from the game’s menu. It’s an inconvenience, but a necessary evil. That’s really the game’s only negative for me. It’s challenging, provides a lot of replay, and is pretty unique among the other games in the series. If you never played it, it’s available on the Virtual Console. Go for the DX version as it’s in color and has a bonus dungeon. It’s truly one of the best Zelda titles around.

BreathoftheWildFinalCover3. Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Switch 2017)

The newest entry in the series has forced me to update these rankings. What was once a post about the top three, is now about the top four, and Breath of the Wild has forced itself into the top three, nearly top two. What made me rank it behind Ocarina of Time? Well, I think start to finish Ocarina is just a little more fun. It’s the perfect Zelda experience, but in 3D. – finding dungeons, collecting new gear, defeating Ganon. Breath of the Wild ditches that old formula in favor of a more relaxed approach that leans heavily on its vast map. It’s a phenomenal game and that approach may lead to a newer, and better, standard for the Zelda franchise, but right now it feels like it’s just scratched the surface of what makes an open world game so special. If you want more thoughts from me on Breath of the Wild, I made a nearly 4,000 word post on the subject right here.

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Hyrule may not look as good now as it did then, but many games from this era have aged worse.

2. Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 1998)  – Ocarina of Time has become perhaps the defining, and most popular, game in The Legend of Zelda series. Its use of three-dimensional polygons makes it modern, and since the game is almost twenty years old it’s become a popular introduction for many gamers to the franchise. It’s also a well-crafted, expertly paced, and visually impressive title for its era which has since been improved upon with a 3DS re-release.

Let’s go back to the mid 90’s for a minute and reminisce about the era defined by the Playstation and Nintendo 64. There was a battle for supremacy between those two consoles, and poor old Sega was left behind in the dust thanks to the Saturn. When Sega created the Saturn, they foolishly decided not to make the system natively capable of 3D graphics (it had no geometric processor and achieved 3D with the use of 2D sprites). It was a puzzling move since Sega had been at the forefront with such technology with titles like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. The Saturn was built to be a 2D powerhouse, and it was as it was the only title that could probably handle the Marvel VS series. Since it couldn’t do great 3D, consumers and game developers largely ignored it leaving Sony and Nintendo to duke it out for console supremacy. And when it came to 3D titles, Nintendo had an advantage with its more powerful hardware and analog control stick which Sony had to add years later. In this era, many popular 2D titles tried to make the move to 3D and fell hard. Eight and sixteen bit legends like Castlevania and Mega Man just couldn’t cut it in 3D, but Nintendo had great success with its properties. It started with Super Mario 64, one of the most well-received games in history, and it continued with Zelda.

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These guys were freaking terrifying in 1998.

Nintendo’s solution to making Zelda work in this new environment was to move the camera behind Link. The toughest challenge with any 3D game is the camera and getting it to be in the most optimal position, especially when negotiating jumps. Nintendo, realizing Zelda was never about platforming, decided to institute an auto-jump feature for Link. To attack enemies, the Z-trigger was used as a lock on mechanism where pressing the button would cause Link to lock onto an enemy. This was called Z-targeting, and once Link engaged an enemy no other enemies would pester him. As such, the combat was essentially a series of one on one affairs. While locked on, Link’s controls changed slightly allowing him to dodge left and right and hop away and towards enemies. This approach was called context sensitive actions, and it applied mostly to the A button on the N64 controller which was used for almost every action in the game. This all sounds elementary to anyone who grew up with the game, but at the time this was the kind of thing that stumped developers, but Nintendo figured it out.

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Another one of Ocarina of Time’s popular additions:  fishing.

Ocarina of Time’s defining trait, aside from the whole 3D thing, was the ability of Link to move back and forth through time. In the present he was just a kid, but in the alternate, dystopian future (does any other type of future exist in games?) he was an adult. The game didn’t require too much back and forth which helped keep it from getting stale. It also featured one of the better plots for a Zelda game that even saw the titular princess get her hands dirty. It introduced Ganondorf, the humanoid version of main villain Ganon, and even gave him a pretty interesting backstory. Gorons and Zoras also became more fleshed-out in Ocarina of Time and have largely remained unchanged since. The game has been so popular and so successful that every console edition of Zelda has basically played the same. That’s somewhat a weakness for newer games, but for Ocarina of Time I hardly consider it a weakness. Like the original Legend of Zelda, the game’s only real weakness is that it was limited by the technology of the time. The open fields of Hyrule are sparsely populated and pretty boring by today’s standards and it’s a damn shame the game was on a cartridge and not a CD as the score is too good for such compression. That’s all fairly trivial though. I’d tell you to go out and play the game if you haven’t already, but you probably already have numerous times.

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This world still looks beautiful to me.

1.A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo Japan 1991/North America 1992) – In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising A Link to the Past wasn’t titled Super Legend of Zelda, following basically every other naming convention of the time. It may not have received such a lazy title, but in many ways A Link to the Past is simply Super Zelda, because it feels like the game the original Legend of Zelda was trying to be. Not only does it look and sound much better, but it’s huge, boasting more items, more dungeons, and two whole maps! The Legend of Zelda felt like a beast of a game when it came out, and it’s crazy that in a relative short amount of time it could be bested and improved upon so completely. It makes me miss the days of old when a new console was clearly a new, and more powerful, entity.

A Link to the Past basically added everything that has become standard to the Zelda franchise. Running, tossing items, changing worlds, ocarinas, you name it – A Link to the Past has got it. The game also features a tighter narrative so gone are those cryptic messages and random puzzle switches. It might not be as hard, as a result, but it also isn’t an easy game. Be prepared to die and hear that horrid beeping sound when low on health as you try to make your way to the next dungeon. The path isn’t always clear, making the game feel like a true puzzle at times. Remember the shock of going to The Dark World for the first time and finding Link transformed into a rabbit? Or pulling the Master Sword out of the stone for the first time? A Link to the Past is full of classic moments and classic sounds. The score is legendary now and is probably still the best of the series, even if it’s not as grand in scope as the more recent entries due to limitations of the time. It’s also no less fun to play. I challenge anyone to play this game for an hour and not have a good time.

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One of the game’s many boss encounters.

A Link to the Past arrived early in the life cycle of the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t a launch title, but gamers only had to wait about a year for it. And since the console launched with Super Mario World they had plenty of time to kill before Zelda dropped. It was a must have title when it did, and my friends that got the game first became very popular overnight. Playing through it and completing it felt like a serious accomplishment, because games just weren’t routinely this big at the time. The same phenomenon would repeat itself with Final Fantasy II and III. It wasn’t that games like this were overly difficult, they just felt like serious tests of endurance. In truth, they just highlighted how much time average gamers spent playing video games. We probably spent as much time on Super Mario Bros. 3, we just weren’t as aware of it.

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Atta boy, Link!

A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game because almost everything in it has been carried over into the games that have followed it, even more than twenty years later. It also holds up in every respect. It may not be in 3D, but it’s still easy on the eyes and possesses a lot of visual charm. I already mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, and it’s suitably challenging and a bunch of fun to play. If I had to find a fault with it then I’d say its storyline isn’t very compelling, but that can be said of just about every Nintendo first-party title. They’re not storytellers at Nintendo, just game makers, and with A Link to the Past they may have created the greatest game ever made.


Demon’s Crest

Demon's Crest (1994)

Demon’s Crest (1994)

There is something about the 16bit era of gaming that I just find inherently charming. This is the era where games started to grow up, tell complex stories, but without losing site of what makes games fun. The visuals, music, sound effects, pacing – it was like gaming nirvana. That’s not to say it’s been all downhill since; far from it, actually, but I always enjoy going back to these games. And when I can find a good, quality game from that era that I’ve never played? Well, that’s just divine.

Demon’s Crest is one such game. Released by Capcom late in the Super Nintendo’s life-cycle, Demon’s Crest has garnered a reputation as a cult classic. Because of its late arrival, few people actually picked up a copy and experienced it in 1994. The Gargoyle franchise also has never been one of great importance for Capcom. For those unaware, Demon’s Crest is the third game in the Gargoyle trilogy which started on the GameBoy. The main character of these games, Firebrand, is that annoying red, flying enemy from the Ghosts ‘N Goblins games thrust into a starring role. The storyline for these games isn’t all that interesting or important, but credit Capcom for spinning off a seemingly random enemy into its own franchise. Since the end of the 16bit era and the dawn of the retro era, Demon’s Crest has become one of those handful of SNES carts that fetches over 100 bucks routinely on the secondary market. Thankfully, the Virtual Console exists so these games can be experienced by anyone with a Wii/Wii U console and a game like Demon’s Crest can get the recognition it deserves.

Cap com apparently saw something in this little, red, demon to warrant giving him his own game.

Cap com apparently saw something in this little, red, demon to warrant giving him his own game.

Demon’s Crest is essentially a side-scrolling platform game, but it’s a hybrid title in that it incorporates elements from the run and gun genre and the RPG. As Firebrand, the player explores various stages from the ground, in the air, and underwater. At the start, Firebrand can shoot a fireball as his lone attack, cling to walls, and fly through the air. The flying mechanic is neat and doesn’t feel cheap, as it often does in many games like Super Mario Bros. 3. By pressing the jump button while in air, Firebrand deploys his wings and can hover indefinitely. He can move side-to-side but cannot gain altitude (a power-up later in the game allows him to ascend in the air from a flying position). He can still attack, and pressing the jump button again causes him to drop and re-pressing the button at anytime while falling will initiate the process all over again.

After the first level is completed, the player gains access to a world map not unlike what is seen in the Final Fantasy titles from that era. Firebrand can fly to any stage from here and the game can essentially be completed at any point, though playing thru every stage multiple times is encouraged to collect power-ups and explore every nook and cranny. Firebrand is on a quest to recover various crests, each one grants him a new power. The earth crest, the only one that basically can’t be missed, removes Firebrands wings but gives him access to a dash move and a ground-hugging projectile. The water crest lets Firebrand breath underwater, the air crest lets him fly freely, and the best crests are basically a jack-of-all trades kind of power. Additional projectile attacks for Firebrand’s normal form can also be found, along with other power-ups, bottles for storing potions, and vellum for spells. The goal is to conquer the enemy Phalanx, but the secondary goal is to collect everything and get the best ending plus additional content in the form of power-ups and additional boss battles.

Some of the game's bosses dominate the screen.

Some of the game’s bosses dominate the screen.

At first, the game seems like it’s going to be massive, but it can be completed in an afternoon, especially if you’re not after the best, ultimate, ending. There’s an element of trial and error at play, as the game intends for the player to acquire new powers to advance past certain spots. The game is forgiving in this regard as it grants unlimited continues and you can always quit to the map if a scenario seems too difficult. The levels are not simply “go right” kind of levels. They encourage exploration in all directions, and additional gargoyle powers will open up new sections so re-playing levels is practically essential to completing the game. Uncovering new powers is addicting and fulfilling and I was always eager to try out each new one I found.

Acquiring these new special abilities make the game easier, which is welcomed since the game is fairly challenging. No, Demon’s Crest is not among the most difficult of games to grace the SNES (like the title it’s spun-off from) but it isn’t a breeze. Most of the early challenge involves getting used to Firebrand’s controls. He handles easy enough, but the mind needs to be trained in order to best utilize the hover/flying ability. There are usually numerous enemies at ground level and in the air to contend with, and learning to dodge is the best way to succeed. The game is also fairly cryptic in that it doesn’t explicitly tell you what your new powers are capable of. As a result, the player has to experiment a little which may lead to some deaths here and there, but it’s not too bad. The game is fairly generous with restorative items and the in-game currency allows the player to stockpile health potions and the like. There are also some mini games to spend time on, though nothing exciting. The boss fights are usually a test to figure out what the best approach/power to use is. Some boss fights will seem impossible without the right ability, but once found, they’re a piece of cake. The hardest bosses are a challenge no matter what. They’re not controller-tossing hard, but will offer a nice test for the player.

Acquiring new crests opens up new forms and powers for Firebrand.

Acquiring new crests opens up new forms and powers for Firebrand.

The music in the game is heavily reminiscent of other gothic-inspired titles, most notably Castlevania. It’s tempo is slower and Demon’s Crest finds it’s own sound. It’s not on Castlevania’s level, but it’s very enjoyable. As a later era SNES title, the game is pretty nice to look at. Firebrand is nice and big without dominating the screen. Many of the boss characters have a lot of personality or take up the entire height of the screen. The regular enemies, the canon fodder, are a little boring though and the game gets bogged down at times when a lot is going on. Sometimes the slowdown is actually helpful, but it is a weak point of the game. The controls are quite good, but there’s some missed opportunities to be found here. The shoulder buttons are not utilized when they could have at least been devoted to cycling thru Firebrand’s gargoyle forms. It gets tiresome having to constantly pause the game to switch relics, and many boss encounters require this very thing. The spells available to Firebrand are also fairly useless, and the only potion worth spending money on is the best one which restores all of Firebrand’s health.

When it comes to old games, I always prefer to experience them as they were intended: on their original console. When that is not possible (or in this case, too expensive), the Virtual Console is more than adequate. I played the game exclusively on the Wii U Gamepad utilizing the Gamepad’s screen instead of a television. The game plays just fine, and the ability to save is definitely welcomed. The original cart only provides a password save functionality, and while the game isn’t terribly long, it’s one I chose to experience in one or two hour at most sessions. It probably took me around six hours to finish the game, with some additional time spent after the fact going back and finding the items I missed to tackle the secret boss. This strikes me as being a pretty average game for the era in terms of length making it comparable to Super Metroid and Super Mario World.

Demon’s Crest is an excellent example of a forgotten classic. It’s probably not a top 10 game on the SNES, but that’s only because the SNES has arguably the greatest library of games of any console. Demon’s Crest is a unique blend of several genres, and its setting and style help set it apart from many of its contemporaries. If it sounds like something you would enjoy, I can’t recommend it enough as it’s worth the 8 bucks Nintendo is charging. And if you’re on the fence, I still say give it a shot because it’s a game that’s just inherently fun. Hopefully, this re-release on the Virtual Console makes Capcom some money and inspires them to revisit the Gargoyle series. A modern take on the franchise would be a most welcomed thing, indeed.


Ranking the Mario Games – Conclusion

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

images-155There’s certainly very little suspense with these kinds of things.  Anyone familiar with the Super Mario franchise can figure out at this point which two games are going to top my list, whether people disagree or not is another story.  Rather than dive right into these last two games, I think it is important to point out just how many of the games that I’ve talked about could have been number one.  Super Mario 64 seems like an easy one to argue in favor of.  What the original Super Mario Bros. did for the 2D side-scroller, Super Mario 64 did for the 3D platformer.  Only the games to follow in that genre have really done very little to deviate from the Super Mario 64 style of gameplay.  Sure the worlds have gotten bigger, and the graphics have certainly improved, but the core mechanics are still mostly in play.  Super Mario Galaxy 2 could also be argued as top dog.  The inventive gameplay of the Galaxy franchise has a ton of appeal, and Galaxy 2 is bigger and harder than its predecessor.  In a world where Mario games seem to be getting easier and easier, it’s nice to know some of the games are trying to hang onto some semblance of difficulty.  And of course Super Mario Bros. 3 will always have a claim to best Mario title on the planet.  It’s the game that really expanded on the Mario world for the first time giving gamers tons of variety in terms of level design, power-ups, boss fights, and basically every other aspect of the game.  Many of the titles today still borrow heavily from Super Mario Bros. 3, and I feel like I could go on for another two-thousand words on the subject and it still wouldn’t feel like enough.

In short, Mario has had a lot of great adventures over the years.  As overexposed as he tends to get, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of just how important the character has been to gaming.  A lot of people my age claim to have outgrown Mario, but I don’t think that’s possible.  You can’t outgrow fun, just lose touch with it.

2.  Super Mario Galaxy (2007, Nintendo Wii)

For the first time ever, Mario gets to spend an entire game in space.

For the first time ever, Mario gets to spend an entire game in space.

Super Mario Galaxy wasn’t the first title to take Mario into space, but it’s definitely the most memorable.  Galaxy is basically the sequel to Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 64 before it as Nintendo decided Mario’s 3D adventures were ready to continue on the Wii.  Many people were curious how the Wii’s motion controls and Mario would meld, as I think many assumed Nintendo would use the game as a way to showcase what the console was capable of.  Instead, the developers for the game mostly downplayed the Wii’s motion controls in favor of a fairly traditional scheme.  Mario was still controlled via analog stick and he could bounce around just as he could in the two previous 3D games.  The only addition for the Wii was a spin attack that could be initiated with a simple flick of the wrist.  The Wii remote could also function as a pointer and could fire star bits.  These star bits could momentarily stun enemies but it mostly was just a tack-on feature.  I assume most forgot the feature even existed while playing.

Where Nintendo sought to distinguish Galaxy from the prior Mario games was to place an emphasis on gravity.  Mario would travel from galaxy to galaxy, planet to planet, and encounter all kinds of unique situations.  Some levels had Mario sticking to tennis court sized planets that were still large enough to apparently have a gravitational pull.  This could lead to some really disorienting experiences with Mario basically upside down or sideways but the game’s camera was so well crafted, and Mario so weighty, that it rarely felt as bad to the player as it looked.  I know initially I was skeptical at just how good a game could be that focused so much on trying to disorient the player but Galaxy proved me way wrong.  Running and jumping from planet to planet, sometimes within a level, was pure joy. The only comparable experience I can even compare it to are those warm, fuzzy feelings I had when playing Super Mario 64 for the first time.  Mario handles so well and the level design is so spectacular that it’s hard to not constantly wonder what’s next while enjoying the present.

I think Donald Duck tried this once.  It didn't go too well for him, from what I recall.

I think Donald Duck tried this once. It didn’t go too well for him, from what I recall.

Since this is a Mario game, there are numerous power-ups available to experiment with.  Of the new ones, the best and most enjoyable is definitely the bee suit which allows Mario to fly for short bursts.  Bee Mario flys just by holding down the A button, but he can ascend for so long before he needs to “recharge.”  It’s all pretty quick, but the ability to fly is curbed just enough to keep the player from flying constantly.  For more intense flight, there’s a special power star that lets Super Mario impersonate Superman.  It only exists in kind of a bonus level, but is fun while it lasts.  Some of the new power-ups are duds, like spring Mario who can do nothing but bounce which gets frustrating, and there’s some sequences where Mario has to balance on a giant ball.  For the first time in a 3D Mario title, the fire flower makes an appearance as does its opposite, the ice flower.  Both are kind of interesting in that they function very much like an invincibility star in that they only bestow Mario with special abilities for a brief period of time.  This does lend itself well to some puzzle situations, but it is a little disappointing to not be able to remain as fire Mario until damage is taken.

Mario gets shot out of canons (pipes) quite frequently in this one.

Mario gets shot out of canons (pipes) quite frequently in this one.

From a technological standpoint, Super Mario Galaxy is a star.  The Wii was never considered a powerhouse by any means, but Galaxy looks great.  The environments are varied, the color pallet is gorgeous, and many of the enemies dwarf Mario, especially Bowser.  The music is high quality as well, composed mostly of orchestral instruments giving it a very “Zelda” feel.  The plot for the game is basically the same as always, though the character of Rosalina is introduced which makes things slightly more interesting.  The game’s storyline may not be enough to get gamers to keep coming back, but the numerous objectives and hidden stars will.  As with Super Mario 64, each level has stars for Mario to collect and after collecting a certain amount challenge stars begin to appear.  This is where the game really turns up the difficulty and gives Mario vets a true challenge.  It’s probably not as hard as its sequel, but it strikes a very nice balance between challenging and frustrating.  That, along with all of the other positives I’ve cited, is why Super Mario Galaxy is the best of the 3D Mario titles to date.

1. Super Mario World (1990, Super Nintendo)

The layout of the world according to Mario.

The layout of the world according to Mario.

The mark of a truly special game is one that is inherently fun.  There are many games where aspects of them fit this description.  Mindlessly rampaging in any of the Grand Theft Auto titles is always a blast, political correctness be damned.  When it comes to multi-player, I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun with a  game than I did with Super Bomberman and three of my buddies.  Both of those games contain moments of pure joy, but neither is able to achieve that and hold it for the entire duration of the full game.  Super Mario World is a game that is non-stop entertainment from start to finish.  Expertly crafted level design, colorful visuals, and tweaks to the Mario formula helped introduce a legion of fans to the Super Nintendo making Super Mario World not just the best Mario game, but the best pack-in game of all time.

Super Mario World was not the leap forward for Mario that Super Mario Bros. 3 was.  It didn’t have to be as that game was nearly perfect itself.  It only needed to improve upon it and give gamers a reason to play Super Mario World other than its inherent “newness.”  Obviously, that’s easier said than done as many developers have tried to improve upon a game like Super Mario Bros. 3 and failed.  When it came time to create Super Mario World, it would seem Nintendo took a back to basics route when comparing it with its predecessor.  Power-ups were de-emphasizd as the game only included two permanent power-ups (aside from the mushroom) for Mario and Luigi:  the venerable fire flower and the shiny new super feather.  The fire flower worked the same as always, but the feather gave Mario a yellow cape and the ability to fly.  Rather than have the cape mimic the raccoon tail, it worked in an entirely different manner.  Mario still had to run to take-off, but once airborne Mario zoomed to the top of the screen before dive-bombing back to the ground below.  This could double as an attack, but if the player so desired Mario could be made to “parachute” his cape for extended flight.  It took some getting used to, but once mastered a player could easily soar Mario over an entire level.

Mario's dino-buddy Yoshi, was the most talked about addition to the Mario universe.

Mario’s dino-buddy Yoshi, was the most talked about addition to the Mario universe.

The other major gameplay addition was Yoshi.  Yoshi functioned as a power-up himself, giving Mario not only an extra hit but also giving him a new attack.  Atop Yoshi, Mario could direct his dino servant to devour all kinds of enemies.  As a bonus, certain turtle shells gave Yoshi special abilities such as fireballs or his own ability to fly.  Mario could also use Yoshi to reach higher places or travel over certain terrain.  Green Yoshi was the standard, but different colored Yoshi’s existed in the secret Star Road area that had limited power-up potential, but also an exploitable skill (the blue Yoshi, for example, would sprout wings and fly with any turtle shell in his mouth, while green Yoshi could only do so with a blue shell) that had its own advantages.

The storyline for the game was really no different, other than the fact that Mario is on vacation in Dinosaur Land.  Mario still has to topple Bowser’s seven children before facing him to save the princess.  Where the game stands out is in its scope.  Super Mario World is appropriately titled.  It may not seem huge compared to today’s games, but at the time it seemed massive.  Each world is distinct and varied as well, and they’re full of hidden exits and secret levels.  This made Super Mario World both challenging and highly replayable.  Some staples of future Mario games were introduced in this one, such as the Ghost House or Wiggler enemy.  Furthermore, the game was hard.  It eased the player in with the deceptively tame first world but the difficulty increases as the game moves on.  There are plenty of scrolling levels, levels with small platforms for Mario to negotiate, and levels requiring some puzzle solving to escape.  The boss encounters with the koopalings were also more varied, and the final showdown with Bowser was satisfying as well.  And if the main game was too simple for some, the Special Zone provided its own brand of torture with many having their own personal nightmare level among one of them.

Secrets abound in Super Mario World.

Secrets abound in Super Mario World.

Aside from the bells and whistles, Mario also handled better than ever and the score was another strong addition to the Mario universe.  The main melody is used throughout, though I was also most fond of the subtle bongo notes introduced whenever Yoshi shows up (a trend that has continued over the years).  If the game has short-comings, it’s that there are less mini games when compared with Super Mario Bros. 3.  The lack of more power-ups is also a slight mark against the title when holding it up to the others, but it’s the gameplay that matters most.  Always.  When it comes to Super Mario World, there just isn’t a better Mario game on the planet.  Everything that came before it was refined and improved upon to craft the perfect platformer.  Nintendo wisely chose to not truly follow-up on the title for well over a decade because it couldn’t be topped.  There was nothing left for Mario and Nintendo to prove with this genre.  And over twenty years later, Mario still hasn’t appeared in a better game.