If you're the kind of person who wants everything in one quick serving, I've got just the thing for you. Below are synopses of most games in my collection (Not all of them, I'm afraid: there are about 3 or 4 NES games and as many SNES games I never got around to capsulizing). Many games also have their own, full-length review, and will be linked when they have it.
Hudson's Adventure Island
When you play a game for three straight hours, withstanding the lackluster audiovisuals, sloppy play control and plagiarizing plotline to beat a particular game, that's commitment. When you give up after spending over an hour in one part of one stage, dying repeatedly in the same spot, and end up giving up two stages short of your goal, that's enough to make you never want to play the game ever again.
The Adventures of Lolo
One of the most intriguing puzzle games on the system. You'll get the hang of it quickly, and that's part of the problem: Once you've solved everything, most of the rooms pose little to no challenge. A room editing feature would've been a big help, as would a more rewarding ending.
The Adventures of Lolo 2
More of an addendum to a sequel, especially since the rooms are significantly harder than the same point in the previous installment. Not as inspired as the prequel was, and the sheer impossibility of some of the rooms makes me less likely to see this one as far as its predecessor.
The Adventures of Lolo 3
Now this is how it's supposed to be done. True, there's no level editor like I've been clamoring for this whole time, but there is a tutorial, a swingin' theme song, and the ability to stop in any room at any time and pick up a password. Bravo!
See, when you've got an interesting idea - such as a guy who can transform into some giant Tarzan-like superhero that can shoot laser beams (No, I'm not making that up), you gotta do something with it. You can't just give us the same side-shooter that everyone else makes. Especially if you're going to short change the presentation, and especially if, when not in super-buff form, Mr. Marine Dude dies at the slightest provocation.
One of the first "party" games released for the NES, and although its heart was in the right place, the execution wasn't all there. Like most board game/game show simulations, this one suffers from a lack of diversity in the number of puzzles it has available.
If only the ball didn't speed up quite so quickly, we'd have a darn near perfect game on our hands. The power capsules add a twist to the Breakout concept, but the later boards require a degree in Geometry to get the ball where it needs to be. Worth a look.
It's a noble attempt, I'll give you that, but nothing really comes of it. The super-sized sprites make for clunky play control. The plot is hit hard by the lack of animation in the cinema scenes, too, and the music is unimpressive. There are better games out there that do the same thing.
Bart vs. the Space Mutants
In the hands of a more competent game programmer, this could've been quite interesting. The concept of collecting, destroying, and hiding certain items in each level gives a welcome twist to the platformer genre. However, I have little patience for a game with skiddish play control and such a fragile hero.
Baseball Simulator 1.000
While I find baseball to be extremely boring in reality, this game does everything in its power to speed up the pace and make the games as exciting as one could hope. Some cute graphics and excellent music, as well. It's kinda easy, but that balances out the other baseball games in my possession.
Maybe if EVERY SINGLE GAME I played didn't wind up in a 10-run-plus defeat, I might have liked this game a little more. At fault is the field perspective that makes it impossible to keep track of your outfielders, coupled with their ludicrously sluggish movement on the field. For all the different baseball games on the NES, there's no reason to play this one.
The most realistic baseball series, but it's awful tough to play. The pitcher's-eye view of the batter's box makes hitting a chore, and on defense the outfielders seem lackadaisical when it comes to fielding the ball. None of the teams appear to have any significant differences in their strengths and weaknesses, either.
Pretty as the game is, each level is basically a variation on a theme: namely, Do X Or Die. Pilot a motor bike around walls at breakneck speed, or die. Navigate spike-lined snake pits, or die. Outrun a hypnotic disk, or die. Suffice to say, you'll be doing a lot more of the second option. And just to rub salt in the wound, if you ever finally manage to complete the game, you get an ending that almost goes out of its way to not redeem all the effort you expended.
From a technical standpoint, the game is sound - the music is rich with espionage undertones, the HP-building system is innovative, and even working with the bionic arm - which is a task in itself - comes off fluidly. But I don't enjoy the game as much as I do others, and to be honest, I don't really know why.
Blades of Steel
One of the more enjoyable representations of the sport. The graphics are relatively simplistic and the mechanics of shooting take practice after even a short sabbatical from playing, but in the end it's worthwhile, if nothing more than just to watch the clever in-game advertisement in the second intermission or the remarkable amount of detail put into fighting.
Visually and musically, the game is stunning. Even the layout of the stages was creative. But I can't stand the fact that your gun weakens whenever you take a hit, or that they didn't have the forethought to include a way to save your progress. I still enjoy the game, but this could've been rated much higher.
One of the most audiovisually unimpressive games out there, but also one of the most addictive. The passwords are a bit long-winded, but the concept is so simple and there's so many puzzles that it's mighty difficult to get bored. I only wish that the levels weren't timed.
If you like this game, fine. I think it's nauseating myself. Not only is the cuteness level cranked up to the point of gagging, the outright futility of the play control added to the sheer number of rooms you have to schlep through makes it difficult to get interested in.
Anyone who owns this game must not know of the existence of games like Skate or Die, T & C Wood and Water Rage, and Paperboy, because each of those titles offer most of the same challenges as are presented here in a far more palatable context. The only events you can't find elsewhere are those involving hacky sacks and frisbees, and I haven't seen much rioting in the streets for video games involving either.
All the thrill and excitement of a Las Vegas casino - that's exactly what you won't find in this game. The people who made Casino Kid apparently think that the only games they play in Vegas are Blackjack and draw poker, and dealers openly antagonize players, shooing them away if they don't have enough money. The games move agonizingly slow, too, and the music gets extremely grating by about the fifth iteration.
Dracula and all his morbid trappings are introduced to the NES quite adeptly in this first installment of the series. While I've never gotten used to Simon jumping like a bag of mulch or the life bar wasting away as the levels progress, the level design is great and the atmosphere drips with gothic goodness.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Subtraction by addition: Transylvania just doesn't work as a sprawling land, largely because the environs all look the same, and the in-game clock runs at almost light speed. The game is still playable, thanks to a far tamer difficulty level, although the puzzle element of the game was a bit underbaked. Besides, it's rather unfulfilling to beat the game, only to find that Simon dies anyway.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Their second attempt at widening the scope of the game beyond just Dracula's lair works much more successfully, because the new method of taking various routes to Castlevania stays much more true to the original premise. Throw in supporting characters, and the perenially high-quality audiovisuals, and you've got the best installment on the NES by a mile.
Clash at Demonhead
Hey, look, here's another game that tried the idea of using a network of routes to move around an overworld. But unlike Castlevania III, this one falls flat because you spend more time wandering around than you do working towards the goal. On top of that, the presentation is fairly lackluster, and the whole idea of having to pay money for a password strikes me as rather unfair.
This is one of those games that seemed to have been made for exactly two people: Me, and the guy I sold it to. Easily the worst of GameTek's game show conversions, with cloying music and clunky play control. It's still worth a few plays, though.
Clu Clu Land
A conundrum is presented in this game: clearly, Nintendo was looking for a Pac-Man-like puzzle game of their own, but their deviations from the template - namely, swinging around corners to steer - renders the game much more irritating than it could've been. They could've just gotten rid of that abhorrent idea and just had you control the character on your own. But if they're going to do that, what's the point of having the game in the first place and not just licensing Pac-Man?
Piloting a boat is not like driving a car - you'll figure that out after about the 17th time you steer into the walls. There's a variety of different challenges here, ranging from the novel (defusing the mines), to the pedestrian (the standard-ssue bosses) to the hair-rippingly frustrating (protecting the hostages).
The archetypal soldier shooter. While suffering from the same one-hit-kill fragility found in many other games in the genre, the 30-life code cancels that out quite nicely. The graphics and music have the same pinache as found in other Konami offerings, and I for one like the base levels.
I tried so hard to get into this game, but just couldn't do it. On its face, the game is all right, but having bosses immune to your attacks if you're below a certain level is lazy and unfair. It's unfortunate, because I was enjoying where the plot was taking me - just not enough to stomach the minimum level rule, or for that matter, the stacking of numerous commands on two buttons.
I thought that I was going to enjoy this game much more than its forefather Shadowgate, because of the novel private-eye theme and less reliance on the push-a-lever/open-the-door puzzles that the first game had. But too much aimlessness in the world map, coupled with the same finite playability, renders this game a little less entertaining. At least the music's better.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Proof positive that literary characters do not translate well to video games. Sloppy graphics and uninspired music make for a very unpleasant experience, and oh yeah - once you turn into Hyde, you might as well plug in your Zapper and control him with that. Neither apparatus does a particularly good job of controlling him. (Maybe if I got a Power Pad...)
Puzzle games really start to lose their charm once they're exposed to character placement, and Dr. Mario really isn't an exception. Despite good music and an interesting concept, the game simply lacks the pure, unadulterated addictiveness of Tetris, because instead of Tetris' "play until you lose" construction, this game divides the challenge into separate stages, and it just doesn't jive with the concept.
Donkey Kong Classics
Classic arcade gamers will love this cartridge, which contains both Donkey Kong and DK Junior. The problem is, they never added any new bells or whistles to the game or its presentation - they're basically the same games you had in the arcade. Fine enough, but if you aren't going to do anything with them, you're essentially letting them go stale.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math
Is it really fair for me to put this game under the same microscope I use for games that aren't hamstrung with the need to teach arithmetic to the chilluns'? Well, too bad, because I'm going to do it anyway. Admittedly, the actual game element is kinda interesting in racing around to arrive at the prescribed number, but you'd probably be far better off playing a game that isn't so unabashedly targeted to kindergarteners.
A passable translation of the Nickelodeon game show. The audiovisuals are very nicely done, including a remarkable job of drawing host Marc Summers, but the multiple choice questions are too easy, the obstacle course is too hard, and many of the physical challenges are just variations on a theme.
The game that started the smash-and-bash genre. While the Lee brothers are given a wide array of moves to learn, the game ultimately gets caught up in the drudgery of beating up wave after wave of Lopars and Chintais. The presentation is decent, but they seem to have spent more time on that than the execution of the game, which sometimes comes off as buggy or undercooked.
Double Dragon II
Remember that "wide array of moves" I just mentioned? Well in this game, in order to use any of them you apparently have to preface your command with "Simon Says", because your character typically only performs the move you enter about half the time. It's nice that they included three levels of difficulty, but if you're not going to let people play the later levels on the easier modes, then you've kinda wasted that goodwill.
If you're going to do a shoot-em-up and not set it in outer space or during World War II, then you might as well go whole hog and scorn all of its components. Dragon Spirit goes medieval on the genre, and in doing so puts its own spin on many of its conventions. Most of it works, and the cases that don't aren't enough to severely hamper the experience.
Hack-and-slash in its purest form. Later games will not get away with such a simplistic concept as just running around killing monsters just for its own sake, but this one does because it's really all we had to go on at the time. Besides, by the time you're getting tired of level grinding, you're pretty much at the end anyway. Even so, the audiovisuals were scant even at the time the game was released, and have aged about as well as unpasteurized milk.
Dragon Warrior II
And this is where the series goes awry, largely because the programmers had a hard time realizing that no, people really don't want to grind for hours at a time just so the monsters from the next cave on their itinerary don't splatter their party against the walls. Add to that just how easily you can get disoriented on the world map, and you've got a game that's bigger but by no means better.
Dragon Warrior III
Again with the overreliance on level grinding. At least there's a job class element to the game, which allows you some additional control over the development of the party, nominal though it may be. I still don't see anyone beating this game in less than a month, though, and given how much of that time would be spent battling flunkies for experience, that's not a good thing.
Dragon Warrior IV
As the series progresses, the game gets wider in scope yet again - this time, they divide the storyline into five separate chapters, each with their own protagonist. A great idea, except for one problem - level grinding is still the order of the day, and by the time you've gotten to Chapter 4, you'll start to wish the game would just get the hell on with things.
Disney's Duck Tales
If you're going to deride this game on the sole fact that it's too easy, you're forgetting who they made this game for. In any event, the atmosphere of the cartoon is brought to the NES with remarkable ease, although the game's kinda long to be a Quick Play and kinda short to get long periods of playing time out of it.
They needed to port this game to the NES? Really? As far as arcade classics go, this one's pretty far down the totem pole, and while it was probably easy for Taito to bring the game to the console, there couldn't have been much call for it. Especially if fans of the game - both of them - saw how ugly the game looked and sounded. I never got into it, because the levels seemed to drag on forever.
If you told me that 15 years after the release of this game that it would become one of the most iconic titles in the NES' voluminous library, I'd have told you to put down the bong. A mindless, simple game that's hard to turn off once you get going, largely because of the simple controls and the innovative (if ultimately undercooked) edit mode.
An ambitious, whimsical take on the space shooter, and it works - right up until the first boss battle, where your ship's one-hit brittleness hampers your chances severely, since all bosses are of the "dodge and look for an opening" variety. It's too bad, because in short stretches, the game's actually pretty fun - if not a little repetitive musically.
Adventure games need a sense of direction; if you don't know where the hell you're going, you're not going to have any fun getting there. That's the big problem with this game - about halfway in, it forgets to tell you what your next quest is. Maybe if the kingdom merited exploring, you might enjoy getting lost, but everything looks so brown and ugly that there isn't much to see if you're not going somewhere. It doesn't help, either, when your character needs to walk a fair distance before he starts running.
Despite the rather unusual choice for a video game license, they had a really good idea going here. Alas, most of the boss fights are incredibly annoying, because every single boss is pre-programmed to keep you directly in their line of fire. Couple that with a protagonist that controls as sluggishly as Fester does, and you end up with a pretty aggravating experience.
While Dragon Warrior laid the groundwork for console RPGs, Final Fantasy ran with it and created a quest that was brimming with atmosphere, intrigue, and customizability. Not to say it's perfect, though - too many monsters are capable of insta-killing your party members, and some inconsistencies - such as a character targeting a monster that was already killed - should have been resolved.
Fire & Ice
Finally, Dana from Solomon's Key gets a game that's actually worth playing. An interesting Lolo-esque game, with some challenging puzzles and an edit mode (whoopee!), but I can't shake the feeling that the puzzles are less about exploiting Dana's abilities and more about overcoming his disabilities.
Friday the 13th
Forgive me for not showing as much concern for the serial killer on the loose as may be warranted, but I can't help feel like the heroes in this game are counselors at Camp Whinylittlebitch. You're supposed to explore the campgrounds to light the fireplaces in the larger cabins, but every three minutes Jason goes after one of the campers, forcing you to drop everything you're doing to go after him. And if you happen to be in a forest or cave when the siren goes off, you might as well call the morgue right then and there.
I adored Fun House as a kid - which makes the mishandling of this game all the more reprehensible, because there's nothing about what you do in this title that even remotely resembles what happened on the show. All you have is room after room after room (after room) of skidding all over the floor shooting at targets while a rather creepy-looking JD Roth cracks the whip behind you.
If you liked the game in the arcades, then by all means, grab this one. (Although with the various Namco Museum offerings out there, you might as well grab one of those instead so you get a little more bang for the buck.) It's simple as can be, which serves as both its charm and its curse. One of the advents of the NES was that games now focus on completion instead of score, and that leaves Galaga fairly wanting when compared to other shmups on the console.
About as no-frills as you can get on the system: one course, no music, no variety in characters or equipment. While you may enjoy playing through the course a few times, its lack of personality and customizability results in a very limited shelf life.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode
It's almost as if the folks over at Vic Tokai got in a room and decided to make a game chock full of all the things that drive me up the wall. Let's see... vomitous graphics? Check. Lugubrious, plodding music? Check. Inane game mechanics? Check. A hero who can't stay alive for more than two minutes? Check. B jumps, A shoots? Check and check. There are worse games in my collection, but none that are so bad all the way around.
The Goonies II
This game seems to get surprisingly positive reviews from a lot of sources; I, however, found myself wandering around aimlessly a lot more than I ever was progressing through the game. I like the double-layered map idea, but if you do that sort of thing, you need to give players some sort of help as to where to go, and this game just doesn't provide it.
Is there a way to make the phenomenon of heroes and their vessels disintegrating when struck by a grain of kosher salt even worse? Apparently, yes - by forfeiting all your powerups upon death, and sending you back to an earlier part of the level when you die. That I haven't thrown this game off a five-story building in aggravation is rather surprising.
The Guardian Legend
The archetype of games that mesh two previously incongruous genres together. As much as it tries, it doesn't quite pull it off; the flawed space shooter is emphasized over a fairly solid isometric adventure game. I just got done bellyaching about dying with one hit, but just because you have a life meter in this game doesn't give them an excuse to inundate the screen with projectiles.
An novel little puzzle game that holds up surprisingly well, even if you need to use that whole "double-controller" method to play. It's also quite remarkable how clean and fresh the game looks and sounds despite how early on in the console's life the games came out - food for thought, considering how many games were released afterward that look and sound so decrepit.
Galaga in a circle, put succinctly. But one of the reasons this game succeeded while its forefather fails on the same console is precisely because they put in the effort to add a gimmick to the proceedings. It doesn't hurt to have a rocking rendition of Toccata and Fugue serve as your background music, either.
Considering the fact that it's a game show conversion, you shouldn't come into it expecting to be blown away. While it does a rather faithful job of bringing the '80s version of the show within reach, its downfall is like that of many other games in the genre: the pool from which the questions are drawn from isn't too deep.
The most reviled game in my collection - and it deserves every barb. Considering that the battle design is reduced to playing tag with the enemies, the save mechanism doesn't even work because they neglected to install a battery, the music sounds like an 8-measure loop from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Day Care, the setting of the game is Fairyland and the name of your hero is freaking Jim for crying out loud, I'm surprised the people who programmed this abomination don't ridicule it.
I realize that the game involves climbing a large mountain, but I find it rather ludicrous that my character can jump about 15 feet up but only about six inches laterally. This makes moving up the mountain a major pain, because unless you jump at the very edge of the hole you just made, you won't ascend. Not to say the concept isn't a decent one, but I really can't enjoy this game to degree of other early offerings for the console.
An enjoyable - if simplistic - rendition of the sport. Three different body types gives you a fair level of customizability for your team, and the music is jaunty and upbeat throughout the proceedings. The AI isn't terribly sharp, though - the players you don't control tend to focus on their own self-interest, which often forces you to skate the length of the ice in order to score.
Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition
If you enjoy the quiz show, you'll like this game. If you don't, you won't. That's pretty much all there is to say about this game - except for maybe the rather sloppy-looking characters.
Journey to Silius
One of the better soldier shooters on the NES. The audiovisuals really get the job done here, and the level of challenge isn't all that intrusive. The plot has its (understandable) hangups, though, and I don't see why the sub-boss and boss have to appear one after the other - especially since you waste all the ammunition you need for the latter on fighting the former.
Remember what I said about Gyromite, how the graphics and music all seem so tidy and vibrant despite the fact that the system was still very new? Well, this is the other side of the coin - Karnov looks and sounds like a mess. Throw in some very sluggish play control, and it's a wonder I ever had any sort of affinity for this game when I was a kid.
I guess "Icarus" is Greek for "missed opportunity". Between the wealth of Greek mythology they glossed over; the level design that made the first level much harder than the second; and the music which, although great, could've been spectacular given the right arrangement; everything about this game suggest much more potential than the folks at Nintendo managed to get out of the concept.
Kid Niki: Radical Ninja
About as bare-bones a platformer as you can get. The boss battles are kinda intriguing, given that you have to retrieve your knife each time you inflict a hit. Unfortunately, as radical as Kid-Niki may be, he's also very fragile: one hit kills him, which puts him in the same category of scores of other video game heroes.
I stand corrected - this is as bare-bones as you can get. Thomas does have a surprisingly wide variety of moves, though, and the way so many enemies are indigenous to one level gives each it own personality. Ah, who the hell am I kidding - if you just want to beat people up, there are worse outlets for it than this game.
Kung Fu Heroes
Culture Brain did a loooooot of borrowing when they made this game: all of the sound effects sound like they came from somewhere else (namely Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, or the aforementioned Kung Fu); even the level music sounds suspiciously like Wipeout. Beyond that, the characters are so blocky that it's tough to line up attacks at times, and for some reason, none of my attacks seem to do any damage from the third level on. I played this game for five minutes, and even that was a waste of time.
Legacy of the Wizard
Having four family members, each with their own abilities and characteristics, searching a massive dungeon for artifacts to retrieve a legendary sword and slay an awakening dragon sounds like an awesome idea - or it would, if you had any clue at all who to take when and in what direction. By the time you realize you're going the wrong way, you're stuck and have to kill yourself. What could've been an absolute classic ends up an aggravating chore as a result.
The Legend of Kage
If you don't enjoy this game for any other reason, at least appreciate the fact that your protagonist can jump over the Sears Tower if he wanted to. Setting that aside, the game is actually fun in short stretches, even if the game is basically trying to dupe you into playing it four times in a row with very few changes between each iteration.
The Legend of Zelda
Considered by many to be one of, if not the greatest video game of all time. Personally, I never cared for it that much. But I do appreciate its contributions - an enormous (for its time) kingdom, non-linear gameplay, innovative dungeon design, and two separate quests to sate both casual and devoted gamers. But I can't fawn over the game without first pointing out how cramped the dungeons can get, or the overreliance on hidden doorways.
The curse of the One-Hit Kill strikes again. Admittedly, the boss battles are fairly manageable, but getting to them can be a trying experience. It does boast some of the most impressive audiovisuals on the system to that point, though, and there is the 30-life code available if you're not as adept at avoiding all the bullets and the walls as they want you to be.
Well, whaddaya know, maybe FCI can do something right. Not the most involving game in the world, but given the right circumstances I can play this for an extended period of time. The control scheme for this game actually surpasses that of some other pool-based NES games, and having access to all 60 tables as well as the ability to alter table friction gives the game some nice variety.
Most point-and-click RPGs come off as stodgy and motionless, this game bucks that trend by giving the player free reign over the character's movements in a house that's loaded with personality and just a dash of retro flavor. Multiple characters allow various solutions to the same problem, but the game is just as unforgiving as it is accomodating: mess up just one step in a solution, and you're stuck. The music is a tad incessant, but the Edison family theme does rock.
The game's only a few minutes long, but it does pack one hell of a punch in that time. It can be extremely frustrating to finish this game for the first time, but once you do you'll be returning to it again and again to try and better your time. The audiovisuals are nicely surreal if just a tad spartan, and two different control alignments will give everyone a chance to handle their marble adeptly.
The first of the series was understandably basic, both in approach and presentation. For that reason, it does have its share of missteps - most notably, the last level's gauntlet of four bosses with no life or weapon recharges between battles. But you could tell that plenty of thought was put into the design of the game, and though the series hadn't fully matured, there were clearly some promising signs.
Mega Man 2
It all comes together here - beautiful graphics, awesome music, nearly spot-on play control, innovative and clever level design, and two levels of difficulty - equaling the best NES game in my collection. I've played through this thing dozens of times, and it just doesn't get old.
Mega Man 3
Though not quite as inspired as its predecessor, the third game of the series keeps the momentum going by livening up the presentation even more and actually putting some thought into the storyline. But not every update is an improvement - the Doc Robot stages end up being useless filler in what otherwise would've been a similar romp as the last game.
Mega Man 4
Every family has its underachiever, and the fourth installment of the Mega Man saga fits that title. The presentation is alarmingly bland, plot devices have been worn thread-bare, and the opening levels themselves seem rather pedestrian. Plus, they've neutered the password - there are 16 stages in all, but the most you can ever bypass now is the first eight.
Mega Man 5
Capcom gets back in stride quite nicely here. The music is probably the best from the series, and the level design is right back to being top-notch. But no series can go five iterations with the same premise and not feel just a little hackneyed - even if they threw in a relatively plausible red herring this time.
Mega Man 6
Maybe they didn't put their heart into it they way they could've since this release was essentially shovelware, but it still outpoints many other games in the genre in the audiovisual and design departments. It's just a bit too easy - largely because Rush's involvement has been broadened substantially - and the conflict has gotten laughably monotone.
Kudos (I guess) to Konami for having enough faith in this franchise to see it through to the point where it's eclipsed Castlevania as its marquee product. 'Cause if it were up to me, the Metal Gear series would've been dead and buried after this attempt. Bad enough that games typically expect you to overthrow despotic regimes with nothing but a Daisy air rifle. But MG doesn't even supply you with that - they throw you a pack of cigarettes and send you on your way.
When you bring something new and innovative to the table, you've got to show it off, and that's precisely what MetalStorm does. Not only does it introduce a very unique technique, but it tailors the levels specifically to put your new ability to use, to a dizzying and disorienting degree in some cases. On top of that, it's amazing how manageable a game becomes when you have the capacity to deflect a hit or two and not immediately die.
Sure, it introduced some new things into the fold, like the non-linear gameplay, the password system, and a female hero. But none of those counteract the sloppy play control, the abundance of cheap hits, and the repetitive level design endemic to the game. They got more wrong than they did right, and what they got wrong cripples the game's playability.
Mighty Bomb Jack
For a game that appears on the surface as being targeted towards younger players - what with the cartoonish hero and the happy-go-lucky music - this is one tough little bugger. You'll need time to get accustomed to the very floaty jumping controls, and the game has a nasty habit of throwing you back to an earlier stage if you take the wrong door.
Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!
Laughably anachronistic in its theme - not just because of the headlining act, but also the blatant ethnic insentivities surrounding pugilists like Piston Honda and Soda Popinski - not to mention the plug for the long-since-defunct Nintendo Fun Club. If you can appreciate the game for what it is - a test of reflexes and patterns, and very little else - you'll enjoy yourself quite a bit.
The only true purpose of this game is to play without having to worry about finagling with all the paper money, the asset management, and so forth. The game is not without its charm, and the game editor essentially doubles as a method of saving and resuming a game in progress. Still, if you're going to play Monopoly, you might as well just play the board game.
Maybe I'm being prudish, but the presentation of this game strikes me as rather disturbing. Maybe I could forgive that if the game was more playable, but between the unimpressive music, the rather clumsy method of attack, and the bosses that take forever to kill, this game ends up being a disappointing experience.
Most arcade ports fail on the NES because no effort is made to freshen up the game. Ms. Pac-Man avoids that trap by adding a whole bunch of new mazes, and adding both cooperative and competitive 2-player modes to the proceedings. It's unfortunate that the game is so hard to find, though, given Tengen's rage-against-the-machine practices at the time.
This is one of those games where, as soon as you begin playing it, you ask yourself, "Why the hell did they bother making this game?" Absolutely nothing can be found in this game that hasn't already been done - far, far better, may I add - in even the most pedestrian of platformers.
A revolutionary game, seeing as the plot wasn't given to you all at once in the front page of the instruction booklet. It also helps that the presentation is fairly solid, as well. Only trouble is, the game is pretty easy until the final few stages, where the programmers then try to compensate my making those last levels insanely difficult.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
Not quite as good as the first game in the series, because while they did polish up some areas - the graphics are less grainy and there's more thought put into the level design - the plot is a bit on the disjointed side and the challenge once again is heavily back-loaded.
There's absolutely nothing about this game that's going to make you jump out of your seat. A fair representation of the board game in every way, although the challenge level for the computer feels a bit stilted.
As an arcade game in the early '80s, Pac-Man was a perennial classic. As a console game on the NES, it's barely passable. Not just because they did nothing to spruce up the game's look and feel, but it actually seems as if they dumbed down the presentation just a tad.
Most puzzle games on the NES tend to be half-baked Tetris clones, but this one works primarily because of the way it makes you strategize which blocks to knock out when. The tournament feature is solid, and that's really the way to go when you play by yourself, because the standard 1-player version is pretty boring.
Another arcade hit gets brought to the NES, and while they weren't able to get the audiovisuals to the same level, the concept is still there, and given the lighthearted take on the childhood job, the game is still very enjoyable.
Like many of Nintendo's early releases for the NES, this game keeps the whizzbangery to a minimum. But the result from that is a game that's great for a 10-minute session, largely because you don't have to spend undue amounts of time trying to unlock every facet of the game.
Here's the problem: if they just left this as a translation of the hit '80s machine for the console, this game would rock. Alas, the programmers thought they needed to add some zing, and so they slapped on hazards like ball-eaters and flipper-killers, which completely screw up the playability of the game.
The only person more likely to say "@!#?@!" than Q*bert is you while playing Q*bert, because this is one hard and frustrating game. Even on the very first level, you're assaulted by so many bad guys that it's nearly impossible to clear a single level without dying. I'd like to have more fun with this game than I actually do, but seeing as I can barely get past the first couple of screens, that just can't happen.
As far as racing games go, this one is rather simplistic - especially since you're not racing against anything other than a clock. The music is a bit undercooked, but it's nice to have a choice of themes. The problem arrives when you have to get around cars that actively block your way - the maneuvers required to do so are awful difficult to pull off.
Rad Racer 2
They freshened up the presentation quite a bit, and though there's one less music option, both are far mor enjoyable than the first game's repertoire. They give you a new technique with the turbo start, as well. But sadly, they still make you bump the cars in front of you to pass, and that continues to be my Achilles' heel.
If you don't mind staying in the lower levels of the game, this is a pretty fun diversion - the atmosphere is great, and the voice effects are spectacular. They ramp up the aggression very quickly, though, and keeping one castle surrounded becomes extremely difficult once the yellow ships, tanks, and irregularly-shaped building blocks debut.
RC Pro Am
Not as terrible as some make it out to be, despite some rather inexplicable quirks - such as the yellow car going bonkers when wrecked too many times or the fact that your placement is based on where you're ranked when the first car finishes. If you can get past those eccentricities, you'll find a game that's clean-sounding and looking, and not that difficult to pick up.
The most tolerable of Hi-Tech Expressions' game show conversions, and even that isn't saying a whole lot. At least this time they put a fair amount of effort into porting this one, even if the characters still look hideous and the iconic Wheel of Jeopardy bonus round is conspicuously absent.
A rather dull offering, if you ask me. It's closer to a true boxing game than Punch-Out, but maybe that's the problem: all the fighters look exactly the same, and there really aren't any particularly significant strategies available. Not a whole lot of motivation to continue fighting, either, since each victory you accumulate comes with very little fanfare. (And of course, no synopsis of this game would be complete without mentioning the lewd acts the ringmen perform between rounds.)
River City Ransom
Every time I tried to input a password in this game, it'd get rejected. That's really too bad, because my experiences with this game have always been fun. The Kunio-Kun characters are expressive and varied, and there's some true development available for your characters. I just wish I didn't have to complete the game in one sitting.
Save the Petras by rescuing them on your hoverbike - then kill them all in one fell swoop when you crash. Isn't that heroic? Yes, it's another one of those games where contact with anything solid results in immediate death. Maybe it shouldn't be so frustrating, since the game doesn't technically end at any point so there's no goal you're missing out on, but if you can't get past the second level because of all the bullets and outcroppings you have to dodge, something's seriously wrong.
When all the challenge of your game is based on solving a steady parade of cause-and-effect puzzles, you make the game very challenging the first time through, but an absolute waste of time every attempt thereafter. Despite some obvious effort put into the atmosphere of the game - both in presentation and in script - there's no fun replaying a game where every mystery is already solved.
I'm bad enough at pool already, and now you want me to play a video game about it that uses an aiming system where the only path you see is the cue ball's? All the snazzy pool-hall ambience in the world is going to entice me into playing a game where I'm doomed to fail so spectacularly - especially since the pool balls move as if they're made of lead.
Skate or Die!
Who knows if they were really aspiring to provide any long-lasting enjoyment with this game, but it sure delivers on that merit. Each of the events highlights a different facet of skateboarding - tricks, speed, airtime, and of course, bopping each other with canoe paddles. Plus, the presentation is just "rad" enough without overdosing on the "totally gnarly mondo bodacious" slang.
Very similar to Rad Racer in premise, just on a mountain instead of a freeway. To that end, it's not bad - largely thanks to three different difficulty settings, and a music bed that's rather catchy.
It's nice that you essentially get infinite jet pods, but that really wouldn't be necessary if you weren't constantly ricocheting off the surface of the planet like a pinball. The programmers did show some ambition in adding forces like forward momentum and gravity to provide some physical realism, but that also creates its downfall, because you'll spend all your time returning to the mothership to replace the pod you just totaled 30 seconds after getting it.
An excellent puzzle game with hints of both Lolo and Mario flavor in the recipe fails tragically because of the lack of a save capacity. There are fifty rooms in all - the later of which are maddeningly difficult - and rather inobvious solutions to both individual rooms and the game as a whole. To force someone to do it all in one sitting is awfully cruel. For its time, though, the presentation is rather nice, with a delightfully exotic main theme.
This game boasts some truly beautiful graphics, and the musical themes are almost as good. But while the game shines in the presentation department, it lacks in execution - limited continues and lack of a password make this game much harder than it really needs to be.
Spot: The Video Game
Once you get past the personality exuded by the mascot (which I doubt anyone born after 1988 even recognizes), all you've got here is a rather lukewarm spin on Othello. Not to say that the game is especially bad, but the main problem with board game translations is that it's usually better to play the actual board game. But even though there is no tangible version of Spot that I know of, the game itself isn't really engaging enough to merit one.
It really is disappointing that the StarTropics franchise never survived past the NES - it doesn't even have a Super Smash Bros. representative - because so much of this game works. The plot is light-hearted and exciting, the audiovisuals are great, the melding of exploration and Zelda-like adventuring came together like peanut butter and jelly, and the ending is the best on the console. There is one rather significant hang-up, though: controlling Mike can be a chore at times.
Super Dodge Ball
If you're not enjoying yourself while playing this one, check to make sure that you still have a pulse. One of the most aesthetically pleasing games on the console, it's everything a good game should be: challenging but fairly easy to beat, accompanied by a terrific sountrack, and most of all, fun. If not for the graphical breakup, this game would be an all-around masterpiece.
Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo would not have become the 800-pound gorilla it was in the '80s if it hadn't given the consuming public such a high-quality game to pack in with its system. A true classic in every way, an absolute joy from start to finish. The score itself would be higher if not for the fact that the plot is a little trite, but I'll be damned if this game doesn't score high enough to merit Favorite status.
Super Mario Bros. 2
The Mario game that wasn't a Mario game. While some elements from the game eventually found its way into SMB canon, such as the carrying of items and a few random enemies, the fact that this game is so unlike any of its brethren is rather jarring. The game is still fun, but not to the same degree as the other NES releases.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Quite possibly the single most highly anticipated video game of all time, and it didn't disappoint. The Mushroom Kingdom is given a complete makeover, and the ingenius level design and sheer vibrance of the presentation make for an experience just as magical as the first game. But one thing is sorely lacking: with no way to save your game, you either have to complete it in one sitting or miss out on a lot of the fun.
Super Spike V'Ball
Sports games, by their very nature, tend to be rather repetitive. But volleyball takes that repetitive to the extreme by making every rally an exercise in the same three moves. They try to do more by providing different teams with varying strengths and weaknesses, but the difficulty of the game ultimately comes down to whether or not you use a turbo controller.
T & C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
It's hard to be a successful mini-game compilation when you only have two mini-games to offer the player. And even though the skating course is actually pretty fun, the surfing level is quite pointless. That means the only reason you'd put this cartridge in is for the skateboarding level, and it just doesn't have the longevity to withstand more than a few minutes of play.
Tecmo Super Bowl
Plenty of video games based on football have come and gone - the Madden series leaps to mind - and this is still my title of choice for gridiron simulation. Why's that? Because they manage to incorporate many of the nuances of the game - from play calling, to authentic team rosters, to reading open receivers - without getting so caught up in itself that you need to know everything about football to prevail.
Tecmo World Wrestling
If I use a turbo controller, I'm throwing my opponent around like a rag doll. If I don't use turbo, I get by brain beaten in. That's pretty much the conundrum in this game. They have some nice touches, like the excitable announcer and a varied array of moves for each wrestler, but ultimately it comes down to whether or not you enjoy pro wrestling, and I don't.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Frankly, I'm disappointed. Ultra had the premiere cartoon franchise of the late '80s, a great concept with the turtles' range of strengths and weaknesses, and some clever level design. It all collapses, though, because they completely frontloaded the difficulty of the game. I think I've managed to clear the second stage exactly once my entire life without using cheats of any sort.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
The extremely popular arcade game was brought back rather faithfully to the NES - that is, if you can forgive the fact that the audiovisuals are nowhere near what you saw in the arcade. The limited continues is kinda stupid, since you essentially had that in the arcade (provided you had the quarters). The added stages are a nice touch, though, and the blatant advertising for Pizza Hut is good for a giggle.
There's a purity to this game that you won't find in many other titles, not only in concept but presentation as well. The soothing, nearly hypnotic graphics along with the slow but steady acceleration of the falling pieces ensure that anyone playing will get wrapped up in the game without a lot of trouble. The B-Mode provides a separate challenge, one with a definite goal, and complements the open-ended A-Mode game quite well.
The rarer, more illicit rendition of Tetris attempts to bring more of the ethnic, traditional flavor of the game to players, and isn't without its own charm. It's not quite as good as the Nintendo version, though, because it's not as true to the arcade equivalent as I wanted it to be.
The Three Stooges
A series of mini-games wrapped around a fairly cute premise. The respect paid to the franchise is quite impressive - not only do the Stooges look and sound authentic, but they don't do anything that you wouldn't expect them to. Unfortunately, I'm not really a fan of the guys, so a lot of this extra attention is lost on me. Also, some events are far more playable than others.
Track & Field
Roughly 80% of this game boils down to how quickly you can mash the A button. Obviously, having a turbo controller eradicates most of the difficulty present in this game. Not the most involving title by a longshot, but if all you want to do is mash the A button for a while, this is your game.
Track & Field II
Subtraction by addition, part deux: by branching out to other events (many of which make the game's title a misnomer), they added some nice variety. But in prettying up the graphics, they made the athletes a lot more unwieldy. Indeed, there are some events where I have no idea what I'm doing, or how to do it better.
If you like Vegas, but don't like losing money, then this was your game. (That is, until Vegas Stakes for the SNES made this title essentially obsolete.) It works far better than other casino titles not just because of the variety of games, but also the fluidity of play - you're not stuck on a table until you clear some arbitrary benchmark - and the interactions with other gamblers provides a little extra flavor. The music could've been toned down a notch, though.
I've got it down to two theories: either it's the graphics and sound from the arcade version that made it so enjoyable, or it never really was all that fun in the first place. Once you take away the snazzy graphics and the voice samples you had in the arcade, you're left with a pretty disappointing game.
Clearly, there's some bias at work here, because if this game wasn't about a werewolf, you could probably cut this score in half. A very promising concept gets absolutely screwed over thanks to backwards controls and aras where your character will die inexplicably. If they had gotten the fundamentals down, I would probably play this a lot more often.
Wheel of Fortune
Easily the most popular of the game show translations, and for good reason: very little is tinkered with in the making of this game. The wheel layout is surprisingly accurate to the show, and there's a large number of puzzles. Sadly, with only three puzzles per game and no high-value wedges added on like in the show, the concept gets undersold a little bit.
Wheel of Fortune Family Edition
Pretty much the exact same game, but with different puzzles and bonus prizes. As much as I'd like to accept this game as just a sister edition to the original, the two flaws present above - only 3 rounds and no in-game bonuses - weren't corrected, which leads me to suspect that they didn't put a whole lot of effort into this version.
Win, Lose, or Draw
At least the other two game shows Hi-Tech attempted to port to the NES had a modicum of quality - this game is useless. When the premise of your game is drawing, but you can't figure out what anything looks like, and it's so clumsy to draw with the controller that you're better off with just a pencil and paper, those are some mighty big red flags. Besides, how can I get into a game where players celebrate by shouting "Neat", "Swell", and "Very Special"??
Wizards & Warriors
If anyone who was involved with programming this game is reading, I'd like to ask them a question: Why the hell was it necessary to have your character's life meter drain away like a chain smoker? The constant swarm of monsters assaulting me wasn't enough? And also, could we have made the low-energy alarm be not quite as annoyingly cheerful? They had a great idea here, and the look and feel of the game has a great medieval style, but the game itself is just agonizingly unenjoyable to play.
Wrath of the Black Manta
Just for camp value alone, Black Manta is a fun game. Between the obvious anti-drug message, the rather unusual interrogation techniques, and the eccentric cast of characters (such as the red agents in their handlebar moustaches). The gameplay itself is a bit pedestrian, but the various ninja magic arts add some variety to the game.
Most puzzle games, while very simplistic in premise, often conceal a lot of strategy and technique required to truly excel at the game. For that reason, I have a hard time figuring out why anybody would bother to play this game. It's extremely plain, not just in function but in presentation as well, and there's very little you can do with this game after the first three minutes of playing it.
Giving a game artifical intelligence so as to make the game adapt to your playing ability was a great idea. Basing the AI on how many shots you've taken wasn't. As a result, the plan backfires; I'm all too afraid to shoot anything, since I know I'll get shot at more if I do so. The audiovisuals and play control are good enough, but I usually die because I don't know when to defend myself.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
As I mentioned before, I don't worship the first Zelda game to the degree that most do. However, while most people have written the sequel off as a black sheep, I really enjoy it. The side-scrolling action scenes play remarkably well, and being able to develop Link both with spells and experience levels were nice touches. I just wish they didn't throw you all the way back to the start when you resume a saved game.
Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics 2
When I talk about a learning curve, this is the kind of game that I'm looking for: one in which you get a little farther every time you play it. This helps encourage you to play the game through to the end - which is especially important for this game, because lord knows the plot is so insipid that you're not going to find a lot of motivation there. Indeed, considering that this was the second-to-last licensed game released for the NES, much of the game seems to be just going through the motions.
A surprisingly well-crafted game, given its low profile. While first-person mazes should end up getting tedious and repetitive after a while, they avoid that by providing just enough variety in your surroundings to keep it fresh, and added some excellent musical accompaniment. They butchered the translation job, though, and your experience levels tail off significantly after the first dungeon.
Arkanoid: Doh it Again
They do about as much with the Arkanoid franchise as one could hope, throwing in new powerups, new debris, and an edit mode to make your own levels. I also like how they start the ball off real slow, so you're not thrown into the fire like you were with the NES version. Still, it is what it is - an update of a decade-old arcade game - and as such isn't exactly particularly captivating.
The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare
A quirky and ambitious take on the popular animated series gets absolutely ruined because of one of the levels therein. Everything aside from the Itchy & Scratchy stages are well thought out, presented nicely, and make clever use of the in-jokes present on the show at the time. That one level, though, is so atrociously designed that it makes the entire game less enjoyable.
Breath of Fire
I wish I could give this game a better recommendation, since an RPG chock full of anthropomorphic characters should be right up my alley. But the game design just seems glossed over - consider the icon-coded battle menu, the constant abbreviation of enemies and items (S.Rider? ProtnA? W.Ant? Huh?), and the rather uninspired audiovisuals. On top of that, the boss battles are excruciatingly nonsensical, since bosses often don't die even after losing all their HP.
As much as I dislike Bubble Bobble, at least they took the characters from that game and made a decent puzzler out of it. Compared to the arcade version, the presentation seems rather subdued, but that's not the real problem. What is, is that you're expected to clear 100 levels with just seven continues - and even the passwords you get can't get you around that limitation. Awful cheap, if you ask me.
A pretty unspectacular offering for the console, and yet I still enjoy it immensely. Unlike other billiard titles, the control of your shots is so precise you can virtually command the cue ball to do whatever you please. The tournament and challenge features are a bit overambitious, but just putting the game on freestyle mode is a fun way to kill half an hour or so.
I still have no idea what people see in this game. Beyond the stunning graphics and the multiple-ending gimmick, the game seems to be an exercise in bouncing aimlessly from eon to eon, until you're suddenly fighting Lavos. Also, the character development is sorely lacking - both in plot (none of the characters, beyond Robo and Frog, have any depth) and function (level grinding takes forever - a side-effect of the game's fixed-occurence battle system).
Set aside the refreshing, whimsical take on what's typically a very melodramatic genre of video games. To me, it's the design of the game that truly shines, because they take so many if-onlys present in other games and incorporate them into the battle system. This allows you to enjoy the thematic elements of the game that much more - even though it gets a little too quirky for its own good towards the end.
I guess since this was one of the three launch titles for the SNES, it affords the game some measure of leeway, at least in the presentation. But the challenge primarily seems to revolve around staying off the walls and hitting the jumps properly, lest your ride get destroyed, than outracing the other drivers. I'm also a bit perturbed at how every driver has their own strengths and weaknesses, but none of them can corner particularly well.
Like any other game show translation, you're not going to be playing this one for an extended period of time. But credit is due for bringing the presentation of the show to the SNES as faithfully as they did - right up to the families shouting "Good answer!" when you make a guess... and then groaning when it's wrong.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
I can't figure out if this was supposed to be some sort of ultra-simplistic RPG trainer, or a very weak attempt at a spin-off of the Final Fantasy series. Either way, it falls very flat, largely because the presentation is so slapdash and you're given no chance to connect with the storyline in any meaningful way.
Final Fantasy II
Clearly, the designers spent most of their time on this game focusing on the storyline, at the expense of the player customization that was present in the first game. Not to say it doesn't work: in fact, they do a fantastic job of wrapping you up in the storyline, and having enough characters surrounding the hero that you don't miss that element. It would rate even higher if the dialogue didn't sound so forced, though, or the graphics didn't age so poorly.
Final Fantasy III
A masterpiece, put simply. The graphics are breathtaking, the music phenomenal, the characters all with their own individual personalities and flair, the storyline rich and deep. Your ability to customize the party with Espers is complex, but not excessively so. Truly, the closest thing to perfection I've ever come across in a video game.
Hal's Hole in One Golf
The lack of time spent on programming this game is evident from the very first hole: not only is there a glaring lack of any sort of golfer hitting the ball, but once you manage to reach the green, you putt from the exact same screen as you did with the previous shots. On top of that, it's nearly impossible to hit the ball straight, and the general look and feel of the game is rather ugly and thrown together. Honestly, I'd rather play the old NES version of Golf than this.
Illusion of Gaia
Will is surrounded by a broad cast of supporting characters; unfortunately, none stand out. The locales are big and expansive; so much so, you're bound to get stuck in all of them for missing one particular corridor. Levels and experience are eschewed in favor of a small boost for every room to clear - which will leave you unprepared for the boss battles if you don't clear every single room. For all the bright ideas the designers had when making this game, none of them execute properly.
The Incredible Hulk
One of a glut of throwaway platformers created late in the SNES' lifespan. If you had no idea who the Hulk was and used this game as your sole reference, you'd think that his powers consisted of getting shot at, drowning, not fitting through small corridors, and punching. And speaking of punching, I find it odd that the Hulk, who obliterates tanks on a regular basis in the cartoons, needs at least two punches to kill the average flunkie soldier.
Jeopardy! Deluxe Edition
Just like Family Feud (indeed, both have the same score), a respectable translation of the game show, although not especially phenomenal. There are some nice features, like the ability to control what categories you see and a system to prevent people from buzzing in immediately, but the game takes far too long to play out.
Krusty's Super Fun House
I dig the premise - an Anti-Lemmings, if you will. And while the game starts off on the right foot getting you acclimated to the obstacles, they take things to a frustrating extreme when single-rat minefields and monster-populated areas are introduced. I also take offense to the fact that the password only serves to bypass entire levels, and not individual rooms.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Zelda really hits its stride in this installment of the series. It plays almost exactly like the first game - only with a lot more places to explore and features to seek out. They don't skimp on presentation either, as the graphics are beautiful and the music is valiant and energetic. It's a touch on the easy side, though, and they run out of ideas for room puzzles towards the end.
Mega Man X
Capcom attempts to take its premiere franchise (at least, at the time) in a new direction, and it works... to some degree. Only problem is, while they've finally rid themselves of the Dr. Wily crutch, their replacement isn't all that much better. Still, they continue to get the fundamentals down, with high marks for presentation and a creative way to upgrade your fighter.
One of the rare instances where the possession of the NES version of a game actually renders the necessity for the SNES version moot. The benefits of the NES game come largely from speed and ease of use. This version, however, actually plays more slowly than the unplugged version. And for what it's worth, the audiovisuals seem to be missing the same charm they had in the older version, too.
NBA Jam Tournament Edition
I despise blood and gore in my video games, but love kinetic violence - hence, shoving people around a basketball court is as cathartic and enjoyable for me as slicing off limbs would be for others. I don't see how they can reasonably expect you to play 27 times to beat every team in the league, though.
NBA Live '96
If there's one thing Electronic Arts can do, it's make sports games that are both accurate and enjoyable. The settings to make custom teams and players adds to the experience, but it lacks the charm and whimsy of NBA Jam, and 82-game regular seasons just don't translate well into video games.
NBA Live '98
One of the easiest ways to see if time has passed a console by is examining its sports releases, tailored for the next-gen system but dumbed down enough to work with the old one. It's clear that the SNES can no longer handle the presentation demands placed on it by this game, and while the new Practice feature is neat, that alone doesn't save the cartridge from ultimately being a disappointment.
Secret of Mana
It's not so much the juvenile presentation that bugs me, or the awkward dialogue, or the even way they run out of plot before they run out of real estate. No, it's the incredibly dumb AI that controls your travel companions, getting them tangled up on ledges and making them utterly worthless during combat, that makes this game so much less playable than it could have been. There are enough bright spots to redeem the attempt, but by Squaresoft's standards, it's pretty forgettable.
I've had a love-hate relationship with this game for years. I'll get enticed into building another experimental town every once in a while, only to abandon the prospect because they keep plateauing at about 330,000 people and I have no more room to build anything. There are ways to get around the space limitations, but having to circumvent the game's fundamental rules to accomplish its salient goal strikes me as cheap.
If I didn't have to constantly go back to town just to remove all the arbitrary roadblocks thrown in the way, and the music didn't sound so... well... fake, this game would be even better. As it stands, it's a pleasant experience, with a unique way of progressing through dungeons and rebuilding the various towns while you do it.
For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Super FX chip's maiden voyage, all it truly accomplished was to generate a landscape populated by crude, unimpressive polygons. And this isn't hindsight bias talking - everyone was complaining about the lack of detail in the graphics from the word go. It isn't a terrible game - it's got some neat elements to it, in fact - but the facet that was most trumpeted at the outset ends up being the game's downfall.
Street Fighter II
I have a general disdain for 2D fighters like this one, but Street Fighter II wasn't to blame - its eventual rival, Mortal Kombat, was. To that end, the arcade game is translated quite faithfully, and I always appreciated the broad spectrum of playable characters the series provided.
Super Baseball Simulator 1.000
Wow. It feels as if something came along and just sucked the fun right out of this thing. The game tries to mirror - identically, given the same musical beds present in this game - the whimsy and silliness of the NES version, but lacks the self-awareness the older game had. The NES rendition knew it was being silly; this one doesn't seem to realize that.
The Bomberman premise was meager by its own merit, but somehow they infused enough charm in the presentation to endear itself. But while the game starts out quite easy, it becomes much more aggravating once you use your first continue and forfeit all the power-ups you had accumulated along the way. This makes the final battle all the more frustrating, as it requires a power-up you probably won't have at the time and thus have to hope shows up randomly before you die.
Super Bomberman 2
How quickly the SNES revamping of the series went from "charming and inspired" to "going through the motions". From the graphics, to the plot, to the level design, everything about the game indicates that this thing was slapped together without much thought about how it would all gel. As a result, the game just isn't very fun - an alarming revelation, seeing as that's really the selling point of the franchise.
Super Caesar's Palace
Talk about your throwaway games - there is absolutely nothing about this game that makes it in any way superior to the other SNES casino title released at the same time, Vegas Stakes. In fact, most of the elements are downgrades: the dearth of casino atmosphere, no tangible goal, clumsy controls, randomly-scattered table limits, and a general lack of excitement and thrill while you're playing.
Super Mario All-Stars
Although the presentation lost a fair amount of its charm in being upgraded to 16-bit status, there's no disputing the fact that having all three tours de force from the NES - along with the Japanese sequel heretofore unknown to American audiences - in one tidy package, not only was a godsend to those of us who never had a chance to purchase the NES counterparts, but was also stroke of marketing genius, as evidenced by the myriad other anthologies that have come down the pike ever since.
Super Mario Kart
Nintendo gets away with a rather shameless borrowing of the Mario brand for an otherwise standard-issue racing game by going whole hog with the concept. It helps that much of what they imported - the powerups, for example, or the varied nature of the competitors and their rides - translates quite well into the new environment. That said, I'm not terribly impressed by the presentation, or the rather hyper-aggressive opposition that you face at the higher difficulty settings.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Though it plays more like a primer for the genre than a true RPG would - what with the combat controls and the rather simplistic character development - the end product is a nice marriage of the whimsical Mario universe and the typically overdramatic RPG family. I'm just a little concerned that the sideshow elements become more of a distraction to the actual game than a supplement.
Super Mario World
Maybe it's just because the NES titles were so pure and precisely crafted that I expected too much, but every time I revisit this game, I feel like they could've done things more cleanly. They could have been a little less shameless in their pimping of Yoshi, for example, or not been quite so frivolous with all the 1-Ups they offer throughout the game. Still a worthwhile game, but by Mario standards, rather disappointing.
Fixes all of the problems I complained about in the NES version, and then some. The atmosphere of the various zones match perfectly with their settings, exploring the planet means more than just searching for hidden passages, and controlling Samus is nowhere near as floaty or unwieldy as before (she can even crouch now!). If they had done all this in the beginning, I wouldn't have been so harsh on the original game.
Hardly what I'd call an enduring classic, but for an early release, it certainly holds its own. The lasting quality is hampered, though, by the lack of personality among the roster of players, plus the fact that it's just too easy to abuse your top-spin shot over and over again, which your computer-controlled opponent never seems to be able to return.
If there was ever a game that wholly represented the all-chrome-no-enduring-quality spirit that prevailed during Nintendo's "Play it Loud" campaign, this would be the one. Once you get past the pleasant graphics and fluid animation, you find a game that expects you to spend hours upon hours jump-looping through every racetrack and randomly button-mashing during the stunt courses. In other words, a remarkably vapid experience.
A logical extension of the NES' Vegas Dream, and an improvement on every facet of it. More games, better atmosphere, more ways for strangers to add or subtract to your stake, and even connectivity for a mouse if you have it. As jaunty as the music starts out, though, I'd much rather be able to turn it off after the 17th repetition of it.
Another game - of which there aren't many - that gets the Mario branding and ends up all the better for it. The music has some really top-notch selections to it, and the versus mode is one of my favorite 2-player competitive games, made even better by the surprisingly clever AI present when you play it alone.
You would think that porting this game from the arcade to the Genesis could be done with very little lost in the translation. But such couldn't be further than the truth: the graphics and animation are surprisingly sloppy, and the voice samples added into the game are absolutely cringe-worthy. I never got much of a chance to play this in the arcade - never had quarters with me - but my experiences with this game lead me to believe I wasn't missing much.
In the StarFox review, I griped about the game touting a graphics chip that didn't really do much for its aesthetic quality. Well, here's a game that sorely needs graphics acceleration of some sort - there are instances were the frame rate is literally in the single digits. Couple that with how your car corners like an aircraft carrier, and you end up with a game that's far too accurate to its title than it ought to be.
Having a game with 100 levels sounds like a great idea - until you realize that you have to play nearly every single one of them, all in sequence, in one sitting, with limited continues. That ultimately sours what could've been an otherwise excellent game, because the premise was very intriguing - just not enough to endure the slog that they expect you to go through.
Madden NFL '97
My first experience with the Madden series - and frankly, I'm surprised I ever went back to it after an utterly aggravating session with it. Against even the worst teams, I found myself getting decimated in 90% of the games I was playing. All the play-calling and whizzbangery in the world won't save a sports game if you can never win against the computer.
PGA European Tour
Hey, look, a golf game. Wheeeeeee. Exceedingly average in every way, I can barely get up the motivation to review it. You won't recognize most if any of the golfers on the roster, the presentation is stunningly pedestrian, and the weather conditions vary between "windy" and "very windy". You'll miss absolutely nothing by not playing this game, but it isn't outright horrible, either.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sega finally finds a mascot, and introduces him to the world with flair. It's the kind of game Super Mario Bros. would be if they had waited until the 16-bit age to come up with it, with expansive levels, spectacular visuals, and levels that were very cleverly designed. For all the work that goes into getting the secret ending, though, seeing it is quite a letdown.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
The first game was just long enough that I didn't complain about having no way to save your progress in the middle. The second game, however, is twice as long, and still lacks any ability to pause your campaign and return to it. Despite improvements in the audiovisuals and a return of the great level design, I just don't have the patience to see the game through to the end now.
An astonishingly large improvement over the NES prequel - three full rating points - and the score still can't get above sea level. While a large amount of the problems surrounding the original game have been cleaned up, they introduce new headaches to the fray by forcing you to keep a close eye on your food supply, the time of the day, and how much weight you're carrying. For that reason, most of the challenge comes from administration and not fighting monsters like it should be.
WolfChild (Sega CD)
In the years since I've been looking, this is the only game on any console I've seen that portrays a werewolf as a protagonist and gets it right. Great presentation, phenomenal level design, and a learning curve that challenging but manageable - and that's setting aside the obvious bias I have about the nature of the hero. Add that in - and the cinematic opening introducing him - and the fact that I lavish so much praise on this game is no surprise.
Of the 30 games present on this collection, there are really only three of them that bear any fruit. Granted, you're probably buying this game so cheaply that it's still worth the price, but be warned that there are plenty of so-called "classics" on this disc that demonstrate exactly why video games were in such dire straits during the 2600's waning years.
Dance Dance Revolution
This game - namely, this original version of it - has not aged well since its release, as harder stepcharts, more fluid graphics, and more varied features have rendered this game painfully obsolete. But give credit where credit is due: for someone who was just getting into the arrow-smashing craze, this game did its job.
Dance Dance Revolution Konamix
Marginally spruced up in the presentational department, the second American release of DDR for home players actually endears itself less than the first, because the songlist is comprised mostly of Club Version songs that all sound terrible. With only a few songs that are even worth having on this disc, it's an overall disappointment.
It's saying a lot when a fighting game that features a werewolf as a playable character can't get an average score, and much of the blame lies on the challenge level of the game. My skill in fighting games may not be terribly high, but if I'm playing on the easiest of eight difficulty settings, being able to at least defeat the other non-boss fighers is not that outrageous a demand.
Final Fantasy VII
Perhaps it's just backlash, but the more I revisit this game, the more I dislike it. It stars the single most unlikeable and unsympathetic hero in all video gaming, the atmosphere is suffocatingly gloomy, the core premise of the game has been swallowed up by all the side-quests and mini-games surrounding it, and I still flinch at the prospect of replaying it, six years after my first campaign. Excessive, overrated, and the moment Final Fantasy jumped the shark.
Final Fantasy Tactics
To be fair, I never played through this game, and there may be some residual resentment after my experiences with FF7, but what should be a perfect transition for Final Fantasy to move into the strategy genre, they botch it by overcomplicating the battle sequences. I believe the instant I was turned off from this game was when I discovered that only a certain class could use a particular healing item, and not until they reached a certain job level.
Marvel Super Heroes
Characters I readily recognize and aren't a bear to control? After the ultimately frustrating time I had with DarkStalkers, this was a breath of fresh air. At the very least, I could actually play this game on its easiest setting and not get by butt kicked.
Namco Museum, Vol. 1
Credit Namco for realizing that people may want to play games other than just the last high-gloss offering being touted in the gaming magazine of their choice, and repackaging their old classics to a new audience of gamers to appreciate them. Or, in my case, people who already respected the games and wanted to play them in as pure a form as was feasible. Not every selection off this disc is deserving of a second release, though: I still have no idea how to play Toy Pop, much less how to play it well.
Namco Museum, Vol. 3
If you're going to only get one of these Museum collections, this is the one to get. There's something quite nice about having Ms. Pac Man, Pole Position II and Dig Dug - three of the biggest hits in early arcade history - in one bundle. And one of the more obscure titles, Phozon, ain't half bad either.
NFL Blitz 2000
Maybe the NBA Jam-ification of football would've worked better if the games weren't so slanted in favor of the computer. (Then again, given Jam's penchant for fixing games through its "computer assistance", I probably should've expected this.) Roughly half the passes I throw are interceptions, my defense seems to have the run-stopping power of a bead curtain, and advancing 30 yards in four plays is not nearly as easy as they make it out to be.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
As someone whose experiences with a skateboard have been few, short, and unenjoyable, this was actually a fun little game. The different areas to skate in were varied and rendered nicely, with some bits of local flavor thrown in each one to nice effect. The scoring goals at later levels, though, are so ludicrously high that using cheat codes is almost mandatory.
Just like most other game show translations, Weakest Link is innocuous, light, and good for a couple of playthroughs but no more. It's nice that they managed to get some fresh-squeezed barbs from Anne Robinson for the game itself, and the presentation mirrors the show quite admirably. Still, nobody is ever going to crown this game as a must-have for the console.
Burnout 3: Takedown
While I admire the way they tailored the game to come off as some hybrid between a race and a demolition derby, it's not quite as good as it could be because none of the concepts are developed fully. Cars you just totaled return immediately in your rear view mirror during races, the "Road Rage" levels don't have a clear goal, and even the Crash mode - which should be the real selling point - becomes primarily an exercise in steering your wreck into multiplier icons.
DDRMAX: Dance Dance Revolution
It took until the series got released on the PS2 for the home releases to start approaching what we saw in the arcade. More songs (and more good ones than bad this time), much better presentation, and a multitude of unlocks available to the players. Some of the unlocks, however, take a lot more work to obtain than their really worth. (A 21-song Oni course? Please.)
DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution
DDR mixes rely heavily on their songlist, and the repertoire available in this mix is phenomenal - not only does it include many of the most popular songs from the arcade, but the new songs are of better quality than typically found on the home versions, too. Couple that with an interface that continues to improve, and this is probably the best home version I've played. (Granted, I haven't played many home versions beyond MAX2, but still...)
Dance Dance Revolution Extreme
This is the point where the home versions start to diverge from the arcade, and let me tell ya - that was a big mistake. The interface is now extremely clumsy with a truly nonsensical scoring system, the utterly asinine Mission Mode is unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, the songlist has some incomprehensibly bad choices (YMCA? Kids in America? Planet Rock? Seriously?) and worst of all, a bug in the controls makes playing with a dance pad a frustrating impossibility.
Dot Hack Part 1: Infection
The constant repetition of the same activity over and over again, while tedious near the end, is not this game's biggest problem. Instead, it's the way it forces you to unlock the later dungeons: by using an ability that doesn't always work, exposes you to status ailments, and kills you if you use it too much. And for what it's worth, playing a game that pretends to be an MMORPG is kinda pointless, since there are plenty of real MMORPGs out there that are probably more worthwhile.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
After having been assailed with RPGs that rely far too heavily on post-futuristic themes and angsty heroes for the last few years, going back to the fairy-tale feel of this game is like a cool, refreshing shower. It's comforting to see a game of this genre show a sense of humor finally, and though long, the quest itself moves at a steady pace throughout. The same cannot be said for other games of the era, or even previous chapters of the same series.
Dragonball Z: Budokai
It's kinda sad when the video game representation of an anime does a better job of advancing through the plot than the anime ever did. But as a fighting game, too much potential is wasted as the player control - which serves as the crux of a fighting game - is extremely flawed. Special moves are extremely unintuitive to pull off, and for heroes that can supposedly fly with great ease, I find it humorous that they can't even jump in this game.
Final Fantasy X
OK, so I may not like being clobbered over the head by the religion angle of the storyline, but at least they do a much better job of providing unique methods of fighting, levelling up and engaging in side-quests than they did with my last experience with the series. Even so, it still has the same flaw that FF7 had: I'm still reticent to play it through a second time because I know how large a task it will be.
Most music games tend to be for their own sake, but Gitaroo Man weaves a strangely cute storyline into things. The songs themselves are all very catchy, with the hero's trademark theme standing out as one of the best tunes in all of videogaming. That said, controlling your attacks is rather slippery, and the plot comes to a pretty abrupt end.
Guitar Hero II
Naturally, as a devotee of DDR, I immediately developed an interest in the game's premise. Indeed, the gameplay is as faithful to playing real guitar as could be done without overcomplicating things or intimidating greenhorns, and the broad catalog of songs is a welcome feature for someone who can't stand heavy metal and its offshoots. It doesn't hold my interest as long as DDR, though, since the chasm between Hard and Expert is so wide.
In the Groove
Give the guys who made this game some credit: at the time, it looked as if Konami had given DDR up for dead, and someone needed to bring it back. But ploddingly slow load times, coupled with several bugs regarding game saves, cripple the playability of this game right off the bat. And for what it's worth, if you knew about this game, you probably know about StepMania, so you could've played all this for free anyway.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
I don't know what's better: the fact that the game manages to pre-load each area as you approach so there's never a need to sit and wait for them to load, the infinite allowance of lives to get through the especially tricky spots, or the fact that they manage to have a wisecracking sidekick who doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the eardrums. In any event, it's gratifying to see how far the platformer genre has evolved since the SNES' attempt to kill it.
A game that was completely and totally unlike anything that was out there at the time - and that's what made it so great. If nothing else, it's one of the most comforting games out there, as rolling up the entire world into a giant ball is both soothing and cathartic. But that's really underselling the effort, as the presentation oozes with Japanese kitsch and controls are remarkably easy to pick up. Just don't be surprised when the game ends sooner than you think it should.
Madden NFL 2002
Well, at least the game isn't as fricking impossible as its older brothers on the Genesis. Still, its obsession to capture all the nuances of football is one of the primary reasons I get bored with it easily: thanks to all the chrome that's welded onto the game, it takes me an hour to play a game with 5-minute quarters. I can play an entire game of Tecmo Super Bowl in the time it takes to play one quarter of Madden, and honestly, I'd rather do the former.
Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Had the game been half as long, I would've embraced it a lot less reluctantly. While the varied missions are enjoyable enough and the game does invite you do go on wholly id-driven destruction sprees, the North Korean army has a tendency to single you out as a target, and it's nearly impossible to stay alive long enough to complete a mission once that happens.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
Maybe it's because I knew what I was in for this time around, but I found myself having less patience with this installment of the series than I did with the one before it. It's another case of skating around various locales, achieving goals for their own sake now and not for money. It was enjoyable enough to play through a couple of times, but don't expect me to be as compulsive about completing everything with every skater like I did with THPS2.
We Love Katamari
Usually, "more of the same" is a criticism rather than a compliment. But now that the game is no longer just a matter of making the katamari really big anymore, the variety and added challenge introduced to the game make it even more playable than the first. The soundtrack isn't quite as magnificent as the predecessor, but it's still got enough verve to it to be quite enjoyable.
The $1,000,000 Pyramid
Frankly, it's stunning how they managed to get so many elements of a classic game show so completely wrong. Never mind the fact that they're using the wrong version of the show (everyone loves the '80s version, everyone remembers the '80s version - why are they doing Donnymid?); even if Sony forced their hand, it doesn't excuse the slipshod graphics (with no Mii support - again), the utter stupidity of your computer opponents, the absence of a genuine multi-player game, the giving away of a million bucks every time you win the bonus round, and blatant errors in the clue-giving. An abject failure, through and through.
The major premise of the game - deconstructing various structures by an assortment of methods - is superficially enjoyable, except for the fact that lining up your throws is maddeningly imprecise, and your cursor has a nasty habit of losing contact with your Wiimote and locking up. That makes the story modes, where you often have to move quickly to accomplish objectives, especially maddening. And don't get me started on the Jenga levels, which seem to serve no purpose beyond crushing your soul.
Less of a game, more of a coloring book. That's not a knock on it; in fact, the premise of giving color to a blank world makes this game a great relaxation tool - and it boasts a tremendous listing of songs that grow more vivid and lively as your surroundings do the same. It's not hard, but I wouldn't expect it to be; most of the difficulty comes in handling de Blob's rather awkward controls.
Mega Man 9
The Blue Bomber returns to 8-bit form, and it's almost as if he never left. The ninth installment of the series carries on the same tradition of inventive level design, breathtaking presentation, and deadly accurate controls. Don't be too surprised if you find yourself dying much more frequently than in past games, though, as every level is filled to the gills with obstacles that threaten instant death if not handled perfectly.
Mega Man 10
While the series was notorious for being hard, none of the original recipe Mega Man games had ever been demonstrably cheap until this one. Gauntlets of enemies that wear your life down in every level, bosses with aggravating attack patterns whose weaknesses require specific manipulations of their key weapons... it's as if they forgot to make the game fun. Throw in one of the weaker soundtracks in the series and you're left with a game that's only playable just because the template is so rock-solid.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
It's funny - every iteration of the 2D Mario series is essentially a retread of those before, refurbishing the old tropes of games past while adding just one or two new twists. And yet, nobody ever complains about it because the end result is still top-notch. Superb presentation and level design once again carry the day as they always do. The multiplayer feature could've used some work, though - controlling four players on a level built for one can get troublesome.
Press Your Luck 2010 Edition
If you're not a game show nerd like me, you may not understand why we're so upset about this game. Everything about it is half-assed: computer opponents that don't know how many months are in a year, generic trips with the same value, a board pattern that's very easily exploited, and host banter that gets unbearably repetitive before you even finish playing your first game. There are better fan-made versions of this show out there; I suggest tracking them down.
The Price is Right
There are a few inconsistencies between the show and the home console game, but only major game show nerds like myself will probably notice them. More of an issue is the gameplay methods used, especially in the single-player modes of the game. You'll be amazed at how frequently computer players will be the beneficiaries of chance on the wheel - which will get incredibly annoying after a while, since losing on the wheel is one of the ways you get eliminated.
Samba de Amigo
Rhythm games rely so heavily on their play control and music library, that I'm surprised they didn't take more care tightening up the controls or providing a more diverse songlist. The latter can be forgiven, since the instruments are so specific to certain genres of music, but the former cannot; when I'm dropping a third of my shakes thanks to sloppy motion recognition, my enjoyment of the game is going to drop precipitously.
So Sega spends all kinds of advertising time and money promoting the new werewolf - sorry, werehog - gimmick for its iconic mascot, only to let its value as a plot device go completely to waste in favor of temples and planet fragments and Dark Gaia and other gobbledygook. More focus on Sonic's new condition might not have saved this ultimately tedious and clumsily-controlled platformer, but at least I would've been more compelled to defend it.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
The level of fanservice demonstrated by this game - from the characters, to the music, to all the various trophies, stickers, and power-ups - is staggering, and the ways they expand on the concept of beating Kirby or Luigi senseless is equally amazing. The controls and game design help novices like myself have a fighting chance against more skilled players. The Adventure mode does a decent job tying all the various characters together - although I'd hope that's not the reason you bought the game.
World of Goo
If you can work your way through the middle, when the enjoyment level of the game wanes and the issues with the touchy controls will really start to rear their ugly head, you'll find this game to be reasonably fun, thanks to some amusingly offbeat presentation and a storyline that goes out of its way not to be serious. Just don't be surprised when levels all start to look similar to each other.
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