Actraiser and I became acquainted rather abruptly. I remember as a kid hearing about the game, and maybe spotting a screen shot in a Nintendo Power, but I never spent any time playing it. Like Call of Duty to a World of Warcraft player, or Sonic to a Mario fan, it’s one of those things you hear about and know is popular but never got around to experiencing. Before beginning my task to take down the mountain of SNES games, I had been involved in a bit of a back and forth challenge with friends regarding classic games. This was when I had a brief thirty minute encounter with Actraiser. My initial reaction was that it was a bit too difficult and the handling wasn’t my cup of tea. Only a few months later it dawns on me that Actraiser would again be coming down my pipeline as I tackle the SNES challenge. I braced myself for the worst, but turned out actually enjoying it. Like A.S.P Air Strike Patrol, judging the game on just a quick play through wasn’t enough.
ActRaiser1_2The first thing that bears repeating is that I am terrible when it comes to lore or a story line. Unless it’s particularly important, as is sometimes the case with RPG’s, I usually disregard paying much attention to it. I know this is terrible, but I’d prefer it if the gameplay itself told the story. I don’t want to read a wall of text to know why I’m killing person X for item Y. In Actraiser you start off talking to an angel in a sky palace, and from just the first interaction you get a basic sense you’re a deity. Enter a name and now I’m in control of a living statue doing some classic platforming. OK, I’ll admit I’m lost already, but the actions started and I’m ready to whack away with my giant sword.

Swinging this sword is your only form of main attack, although you’ll be able to choose an additional magic ability later on. The attacking is pretty generic and standard, however I couldn’t get over the positioning. While jumping or squatting you continue holding the sword perpendicular to the ground. I suppose this was meant to make him seem regimented but it looked more like he had a metal rod for a spine. This made each jump feel strained and rigid. It’s hard to imagine why the developers went this route as animating the upper body couldn’t have been a herculean task. You start with a relatively decent amount of health which lets you make a few mistakes as you first get your bearings. After you get through this initial platforming tutorial, you’re introduced to the other aspect of the game.ActRaiser1_3

The cupid clone is back and now you begin the city building portion of the game. Throughout the game you’ll be bouncing back and forth between building/managing the cities and the platforming sections you started on. As the angel, you’ll build roads and help the city grow while shooting down monsters. You only move in the cardinal directions, so sometimes trying to take out a monster can be surprisingly frustrating. In the beginning creatures are relatively tame, but as you progress, they actively avoid your attempts to kill them and terrorize your populace. These monsters are coming from summoning circles, and building roads to them will invoke a cult ritual where the citizens  banish the spawn point. The idea is to spread out as much as you can to increase your population and rid the area of the spawning creatures. You also have magical abilities to control the weather that will help remove trees to expand, or help crops grow. ActRaiser1_4Over time the buildings in your city will get more modern allowing for a larger population, but if you are not growing fast enough you can use your magic to raze an area and try again. This part of the game is fairly simple and I originally stressed far too much on trying to build an optimal city. If you simply expand as much as you can, you’ll reach the population goals you’re aiming for. Though a neat mechanic, towards the end I felt it overstayed its welcome. There isn’t really any chance of losing during this and it started feeling a lot like book keeping. You’ll go from city to city helping civilization regain its faith, but mostly just waiting for your population to increase and getting back to platforming.

The reason you spend your time city building is because as you reach your population goals, the health of your statue man increases for the platforming. This adds really nice cohesion between the two different sections of the game that otherwise would have felt disjoint. With your buffed health you progress through each platforming section until reaching an end boss. The platforming sections have beautiful, detailed, backgrounds that show the time and effort put into making it a unique experience for each level. Along the way there are little pedestals containing life, which can really be a life saver at points. ActRaiser1_5 The bosses each have their own gimmick, but given just a little bit of time, you could find a way to cheese them. Some were obvious, and some I never figured out. There is one wheel boss with a piggish face that will forever confuse me as to how it could be done flawless. That isn’t to say taking damage was a huge issue. Most of the time you had plenty of health and it actually wasn’t a big deal just to take a hit and gun it through a section. This seemed to be a preferred strategy for the speed running videos I found online, which are always worth a look before beginning a game.

Finally, once you have conquered all the end bosses you reach the ultimate task. ActRaiser1_6The final boss comes at the end of a boss rush of previously faced bosses. I have really mixed feelings about this. On the plus side, it requires actually learning these boss fights rather than merely spamming his attack. You don’t have enough health and lives to survive the entire onslaught and you must do it all in one go. The other pro is there is definitely a sense of challenge and strategy. There is something about knowing you need a certain amount of health to beat a boss (curse you pig wheel of death) and strategically learning to perfect a strategy on one boss to save health for another you’re less comfortable with. On the other hand, it’s a bit lazy to just send the same bosses back at me. Throughout the whole game, each platforming section was unique, and then at the end they start recycling content. It also breaks the conditioning you had throughout the game that you could take hits and still be fine. You go from being fairly carefree to nitpicking each individual health point and hit taken. I guess the end should differ a bit from the rest to signify the end, but this was a bit too jarring for my taste.ActRaiser1 The final boss looks like an arthritic beetle and isn’t any more complicated than the ones you’ve been fighting all along. If you managed to get to that point, you’ll have the tools to beat it.

Overall the game is definitely worth picking up. It’s pleasing to the eyes and I enjoyed working my way through the platforming levels. Though the handling was fairly solid, mobility felt rigid and a handful of times I felt jumping was cumbersome. The city building section could be removed in my opinion, though this may just be hindsight after it got stale. You’ll definitely feel accomplished when you get through it and replay is definitely there. However, I think I’d be much more likely to revisit this game if I didn’t feel like the population growth of the cities was in real time.

Resources:

 

The Verdict

7.0Good

The Good: Platforming, Handling, Difficulty, Boss Rush

The Bad: City Building, Rigid Movement, Boss Rush

I’ll preface this by saying the score is barely a reflection of this game. For that matter, even calling it a game is a bit misleading. This isn’t a game meant to be beat, but is more meant for creativity and relaxation. However, I would have trouble scoring it based on that since it would dull the flaws. Poor handling is less of a detractor when you’re not avoiding obstacles or skidding off a cliff. This game has a few options, though only one actually (barely) counts as a “game” in my definition. We’ll save that for last.

ACME_1The entire game is mostly a creation studio. You can create a drawing, make an animation, and match those with your own constructed sounds. Since this obviously revolves around the Looney Toons universe, you’ll be creating using their characters. I focused on Marvin Martian and K-9 and tried to recreate them as close to their originals as possible on a psychedelic planet. It wasn’t super creative, but it’s amazing how quickly you run out of colors. There are fifteen preset colors, but you can modify them with a neat in game feature. This will change all colors on the map that used the original to the new color. Because of my character choice, I ended up using five out of my fifteen colors on green just to get some shading right. At this point there was no doubt I was a generation past the intended audience.

After making my background I decided to create an animation and add it to the picture. With the limited options, the only real choice for the martian planet was another Marvin Martian. ACME_2I think in hindsight I should have created one as evil with a color swap and some back story, but the artistic juices just weren’t flowing then. In the animation studio you have multiple frames contributing to the animation. You can color each slide individually and then play it to see how they all blend together. It’s the equivalent of a flip book, and would probably be a pretty exciting concept to me twenty some years ago. This is the only time during the artistic process that the games handling had me flustered. The particular animation I had was of Marvin pulling out his laser pistol and shooting. This includes him twisting his foot into a position that made coloring the red outline of his shoe a significant chore. Trying to get a standard controller to a single pixel takes the patience of a Buddhist monk making a sand mandala. It is compatible with the SNES mouse though, so at least some kids were saved this frustration.

ACME_3The last thing that was needed to complete my masterpiece was the background music. The game provides some simple drum, guitar, piano and wind instruments. From here you place the sounds on the staff to change their scale or octave. I spent very little time on this part since I didn’t want to get carried away with an orchestral recreation of a Tchaikovsky symphony in bleeps and bloops. In about an hour or two I had created something that I felt explored the creative gameplay options and felt I could move on to the “game” component.

Simply put, the “game” amounts to randomly clicking on boxes and hoping you win. It’s like a glorified scratch off ticket. The idea is to find matching Looney Toons characters before you click on three bad boxes, but there never seemed to be any pattern. You simply clicked around until you you either won or lost, with nothing to inform your next click. ACME_5However, since this was the only thing that was beatable, I figured it would be a nice end to the experience. The puzzles have a time limit which actually does come into play if you aren’t paying attention. I went with the 3×6 setup for easy clicking which meant there were 18 possible boxes. I believe there were 4 possible “bad” boxes leaving 7 pairs to find. Since it didn’t matter where I clicked, the entirety of the game devolved to being lucky enough to click 16 different boxes without clicking three bad boxes, while remembering where the pairs were. Assuming that I could remember the pairs before the time ran out, it just became a game of numbers. To win it requires two of the four bad boxes to be the two boxes I don’t click on.(Let’s call these boxes A and B) At the start, the chances A is a bad box is obviously four out of eighteen. Now B is one of the remaining seventeen boxes and there are three bad boxes left, leaving its chance of being a bad box at three out of seventeen. The odds of both being a bad box is then (4/18)*(3/17) or roughly 4% chance.  After more time than I care to admit, I eventually prevailed, simply to be returned to another set of boxes.

Overall the game itself was fine for its genre. I could see it being mildly enjoyable as a kid since it was about Looney Toons, fairly basic, and easy to use. However, that would really only be the case if it was readily available. I can’t imagine a kid wanting to go out and actually have their parent buy this. The main component of the game is basically a limited coloring book. The animation part is also just a coloring book, and the music section would not maintain any kids focus for more than a few minutes.  The matching game, if we’re still willing to call it that, is probably credited with more broken controllers and beaten siblings than hours of fun.

 

 

The Verdict

4.2Poor

The Good: Short, Multiple Modes, Color Changing, No Objective, Relaxing

The Bad: Limited Replay, Rough Handling, Bad Puzzle

Just seven games in and it’s back to sports for the third time. This time it’s football, yes, good ole American football. Take that 90 Minutes European Prime Goal. Even with a sport I’m more familiar with, there was no excitement brewing for this game. Every football game I’ve ever played has played out relatively the same. The options are identical, pick a play from a sketch and then either pass or press a button to choose a receiver. I had no doubts this game was going to be a Madden clone. If a clone is what this aimed to be, it was definitely in the reject batch.

To start off, if you were looking to play as your favorite team you can forget it. Although you may get a hint of the team they were trying to represent, each team is like a sad generic cereal. I went with NY, being as it is my home state, and since the helmet is green I suppose it’s the Jets. ABCMNF_6It should go without saying that the players are generic as well, even to the point where they all appear to be the same number. With all the elevens, it’s what I imagine a peewee team  full of Phil Simms fanatics would look like if duplicate jerseys were allowed. The players don’t have faces, which I suppose is a bit more forgivable being released multiple years before the aforementioned soccer game. Likewise any pictures including the stands looks like a Magic Eye with all the repetition.

Graphics aside, the majority of the game handles pretty much like any other SNES football game could be expected to. It’s hard to critique a game on mechanics when there is little more than picking a play and then picking a receiver. The only time where a new mechanic will come into play is with power plays. Every half you have the ability to throw and run using a different setup.ABCMNF_4 The way it works is that if you call a power play, the screen fades after the snap and when the running back or receiver gets the ball, you repeatedly tap your A button to outrun the defense.  Likewise if you are playing defense you have to repeatedly tap the button to catch the opposing player. As long as you don’t horribly fail, this usually leads to substantial gains and if used properly can lead to some serious scoring. Ideally I saved this for places where I needed a first down, or was within a reasonable distance from the end zone. The computer seemed to have the equivalent button mashing power of a morse code operator on the titanic. This meant I wasn’t going to be getting from end zone to end zone and it also meant that if they called a power play I’d gain more by picking my nose than breaking my digits on the controller. ABCMNF_1This frustrating aspect aside, the advantage is still to the player. Used at the right time, you can turn would be punts and field goals into touch downs. In a similar fashion to the thrice mentioned soccer game, you start caring less that the PC is scoring off bogus power plays because you are simply overwhelming them.

One last point that can’t go unmentioned is the games way to congratulate or admonish you after each and every play. There is a short graphic of fans that either cheers or boos whether you complete a pass or fail respectively. Every. Single. Time. To add insult to injury the image looks like it was saved repeatedly as a jpeg at increasingly worse resolution. Then the amorphous blobs in this abomination of a clip start headbanging their misshapen, oddly colored heads like a crowd in a Disturbed concert. It goes from interesting to frustrating to hilarious. ABCMNF_8By the end of the season you can’t help but join in the headbanging as you laugh like the deranged person you’ve become.

I used the same pass and run patterns through almost the entire game, as well as punts and field goals as needed. It’s possible that the computer adapted after I kept using pass too frequently, but I wasn’t sure if that was true or just me getting frustrated after some failed attempts. Eventually you develop a rhythm with the power plays so that each match is fairly simple. You can reset during the game to avoid losing, but it really won’t be necessary. Towards the end, I played for the AC East championship and then went to the Super Bowl. I assume it’s the Super Bowl, but the final screen just said I was the Super Champion. Maybe this was slang for the Super Bowl Champion back in the 90’s but I oddly don’t recall that. At this point, the whole game just feels so cheesy that you can’t help but laugh.

ABCMNF_7Overall it just isn’t worth picking up. There are multiple football games for the SNES including a slew of Madden’s, and there just isn’t anything to distinguish this other than the lack of real teams. The attempt to add a new mechanic is commendable but is so poorly balanced that it feels like a last ditch effort to keep the game from being scrapped by Data East. There is no replay value since there is no attachment to any team or any player. The only reason I would toss this back on the emulator would be to get a .gif of the incomplete pass animation and set it to Down With The Sickness.

 

 

The Verdict

4.0Poor

The Good: Ease, Handling, Comic Relief, Power Feature

The Bad: Visuals, Power Feature

ARM0If you were a kid during the Nick heyday in the 90’s, you can’t see this title and not immediately get swept back on a wave of nostalgia. For those who weren’t around, or weren’t the right age during the time, this era was filled with some of the greatest cartoons of all time. This was the time of Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold, Angry Beavers, Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, and Kablam! This was the time of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and Legends of the Hidden Temple. This is when legacies were made. For those unfortunate enough to not know the background, the show is about three monsters (Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm) as they go to school to learn how to scare humans. They are taught by the Gromble who is a blue green slug looking man with hair tufts that wears red pumps…it’s odd how unsurprising that seemed as a kid. He is usually flanked by The Snorch and Zimbo, who to my excitement actually make appearances throughout the game. Although the Gromble is strict in the show, he isn’t really an adversary, and in good Nickelodeon fashion we are provided with a goofy antagonist. Just like the more recent Mr.Crocker from the Fairy Oddparents, there was Simon the Monster Hunter trying to prove the existence of monsters! Spoiler to who is the final boss!

You play as all three characters and each has their own unique ability. This is like the Nickelodeon adaptation of The Lost Vikings except when you swap between the characters, the other characters follow with you. This allows you to use special abilities like using one character to prop up, or throw another. Here we come to a major pro and major con of this game. Movement in this game is great, but handling is infuriating. This may seem contradictory, but by movement I mean how the game wants you to traverse. ARM2There are side scrolling sections, there is climbing, platforms, floating on fans and even fast paced slides. You don’t always start on the left and end on the right, you’re moving in all directions, and it’s great. However, actually performing these actions is not always a simple task. The jumps don’t stick as well as I’d like, but definitely not as bad as I’ve seen. I’d give it a pass, but some of the level design makes for tight jumps off platforms, with little head room . The floating on fans I previously mentioned are finicky and you start having to develop a pattern to get the “sweet spot” to make it register. Having to redo a section because of a missed jump or a non-registered fan usually means battling through some creatures again and that’s hard to swallow when you really didn’t do anything wrong. Towards the end of the game there are geese shooting bubbles out of the wall, and as they do they make an obnoxious honking noise. When you go on to fail a further section and end up back at these geese, it’s like pouring salt in a wound. Finally, for how much they ensured you’d be moving all over the map, there are only a few sections where you absolutely need to use a characters ability to traverse a section. I guess nobody wants to constantly be swapping characters, but it seemed to be used more to reach neat bonuses (1UPs, Fish Bones, etc.) rather than an integrated part of the game. I ended up never using Krumm’s scanning ability except to see what it actually did. I just stayed as Ickis unless I needed Oblina’s boost.
ARM3Each level is introduced by the Gromble where he shows the object to be acquired to complete the level. This transition slide has shoddy graphics akin to 3 Ninjas Kick Back and really only exists to give the player a way to rest between one area and another. It’s even more jarring because the actual in game aesthetics are pretty nice. The colors pop and lines are crisp. The contrast between background and enemies is usually defined enough so there are no surprises. This is nice given how much movement you’ll be doing. You don’t want to be making guesses as to where your one character is about to fling the other. At a later stage you’re in a library and you have to climb a filing cabinet when the drawers open. Even though the entire thing is an odd yellow-gold, you can tell where the landing areas are, saving potential hours of frustrating plummets to the bottom that would occur had detection been worse. You’ll explore schools, sewers, libraries and even Simon’s place. You won’t have time to get bored with a certain surrounding.

I found that damage I took was from a nice balance between environment and the creatures. There are spikes on walls, laser traps, etc. to avoid while platforming, but also children stampeding and those awful honking gooses. ARM5There are a few areas with instant deaths, which the game could really have done without, as it felt more like a cheap ploy to encourage 1-UP hunting. The 1-UPs will regenerate after every death, so particularly hard sections can be potentially trivialized if you’re lucky and observant. In fact, there is at least one respawn section I found where there are two 1-UPs. This means I could get both and then die gaining one life and repeating it since they regenerated. This took a lot of worry out of the game since the chance of losing all my lives and having to start at the beginning was almost nil. The lack of saving would be a huge pain, but I suppose their assumption was that there were enough ways to maintain your life supply that only your lack of exploration would keep you at risk.

The boss mechanics are relatively simple, for one fight you manipulate levers to have boxes hit the enemy. This was the peak of creativity, where even Simon’s fight amounts to hit a button, scream and repeat. That’s not to say it’s not fun. Simon’s animations make it enjoyable and in the end he gets trapped in a crate and shipped off. It’s satisfying to play, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and at the end you are presented with your diploma. This is a little odd, and admittedly I may have missed some story line, but in the beginning I’m at my midterms, and at the end I’m getting a diploma.

ARM4Overall it was better than I expected even if we ignore nostalgia. I always think that games based on shows and movies phone it in to capitalize on an eager fan base. This game however put in the time and effort and it shows. It is by no means a masterpiece, but given the limited investment needed to beat it, it would be worth playing if you’re a platform lover. You probably won’t come back to it after you beat it, as replay is pretty much non-existent, but that’s OK, it clearly wasn’t meant to be a cornerstone of your game collection. It may however have you scrounging YouTube for show clips.

The Verdict

6.4Fair

The Good: Aesthetics, Level Design, Mobility, Multiple Characters, Nostalgia

The Bad: Handling, Saving, Level Transitions

ASP3The release of the SNES came during the same year (1991) as the end of the Gulf War. It was inevitable that games released during this era would take creative license with these events. A.S.P. Air Strike Patrol wraps a whole isometric shooter around a thinly veiled Gulf War scenario…sort of. In the game, the Zarak(Iraq) troops are invading Sweit(Kuwait) and we must stop the incursion.  The whole game takes place in a desert, naturally, and primarily during the day. You are given a set time, from around 2 to 3 days worth, to complete each of the eight missions. Each mission runs about eight hours, game time of course, but only in the last mission do you actually fly at night. At least when Pilotwings did it, it didn’t fly in the face of a core mechanic. Fly in the face of, get it? Ok, moving on.

I have to admit I picked this up knowing it wasn’t something I’d usually like. I was immersed in platformers and RPGs for most of my life, so flight sims weren’t really on my radar. On my radar…no? Anyhow, at first glance all my worries seemed confirmed. The menu is horrific, I don’t know what I’m doing, and just getting the first mission to start was a feat. I started late at night so I could get a feel for the controls and hit the ground running the next day. Thirty minutes was not enough and I went into day two dreading it. It’s extremely important to push past that first hump. The game is by no means a masterpiece, but once the controls and menus are figured out I actually enjoyed it. You can set it to easy and manually save between missions, so even if you progress slowly, eventually you’ll power through.

ASP2All missions require you to bomb something on the ground. Sometimes it’s buildings, sometimes it is a mix of both buildings and troops. You can see your progress between mission runs in the horrible menu system, and building targets can be accessed during the mission on your map. This is super helpful, but sadly leaves off the troop targets if they are needed. Checking status between mission runs will leave targets as red if they are untouched, yellow if they are partially destroyed and looking like a green fire if they’re totaled.

That being said, not all planes can actually hit targets on the ground. Some, like the A10 bomber, will drop a limited number of bombs and have an infinite fire for ground troops. I used this guy throughout the entire game. The problem is that it can’t hit the fighter planes trying to shoot you, so you spend the entire time dodging them. The other option is to take a plane that only shoots these other planes, clear the area, and then coming back to bomb. The change of planes it costly on time and it’s unnecessary. I’m sure they were aiming to make them more unique, but it resulted in sticking with just one for the entirety of the game. I never unlocked the other ones, was never sure how, and it wasn’t needed.

ASP4As you race the clock to complete a mission you balance your destruction of the opponent, management of supplies and public opinion. Each of these metrics is presented to you when a run is over. Public opinion is the only one that caused me issue since one level I apparently bombed a few civilian places to pieces. If this occurs to a bad enough degree, your game will end and you’ll have the media berate you. They’ll probably do this anyhow, as the game will allude to the constant coverage of the Gulf War by CNN. In game it’s the “GNN”, but for some reason still called the Gulf War. Seriously game developers, I’m only five games in and 60% of them have some obvious lack of imagination in the naming department.

The flying in the game is a bit difficult at first because you have limited direction to smoothly guide the plane. It takes a bit to turn, which is more realistic, and once you get a feel for it the controls are manageable. Not great, but functional. The hit detection however is spot on. You can argue that the bomb didn’t drop where you thought it would given your position, but when it lands, you don’t have to worry about being a pixel or two off. This is true for enemy attacks as well. It adds to the feeling of accomplishment when you rotate the plane just right and hit a small truck, turn, and do it again.

ASP5The targets were usually a decent size, such as oil buildings and scud missiles (two major focuses of the Gulf War). This made the primary buildings fairly easy to destroy even if one wasn’t a sharpshooter. Only later in the game do they require any accuracy, but since you are fighting tanks, you can just fire your normal rounds that don’t damage nearby buildings.

I said this game was clearly based on the Gulf War and I’ve tried to point out some of the glaring relations. In addition to all of this, there are also billboards of someone who looks like Saddam, and if you look at the date, it’s early January towards the end of the game. (Just like at the end of the Gulf War) However, all along the game starts making weird statements. Weird metal is found, and soon you find out that there were aliens behind the whole thing. Yes, reread that, aliens. In the end it turns out the Zarak troops were either aliens, or guided by aliens, which I can only imagine was to mess with us or to keep people from getting PTSD.  It’s OK to have bombed all those buildings and people, it was just evil aliens. OK SETA, whatever helps you sleep at night.

ASP6Beating the game results in a few endings depending on your stats in those three metrics. I had a little tough time with the public after the accidental building damage, so I received the ending where terrorist attacks occur and they think I should stay away from politics. Next time I’ll just let the aliens at them.

The game overall is decent. It’s a shame that it has a bit of a ramp up time until you’re feeling comfortable. By the time you really know what you are doing, the game is almost over. Other than the menu system, there really aren’t any major glaring flaws. However, there also aren’t really any major selling points. It’s reasonably short and on the easy side (when set to easy), everything else feels pretty average. I wouldn’t say replay value is high on this, but it’s definitely there, even if it’s to catch the humorous moments you might have missed. I didn’t set the bar high, but this game definitely exceeded my expectations.

 Guides:

Video Playthrough by Patrick So

 

 

 

 

The Verdict

5.3Mediocre

The Good: Hit Detection | Map in Mission | Difficulty Setting| Game Length | Save States

The Bad: Confusing UI and Options | Aiming | Limited Planes

2020SB_2 2020 Super Baseball as it is called in my games list, is more than likely Super Baseball 2020. Even the main screen drives this point home. However, I subjected myself to it, so we’ll use the first naming convention and add it to the list of games starting with a number.

I am much more comfortable with baseball than I am with soccer, having played it up through my teenage years. This is probably a good thing since areas that were traditionally foul, are fair, and places that would have been home runs are now reduced to singles and doubles. This is actually a neat change that encourages use of more of the field. It almost feels like they are blending in a bit of cricket. You never realize how unjust it is to discount a great hit because it drifted a few inches to the left or right of the almighty line until now. Thankfully in six years we find a solution. The problem I have is that in at least three cases that I remember the ball would get stuck in these areas, one of which occurred during the world series match. Admittedly I benefited by getting an in the park home run, but it doesn’t speak well to the game in general.2020SB_3

The other major difference between your run of the mill baseball game and this is the ability to upgrade your players. In the game you have a monetary system for each match. As the innings go by, each play gives one of the teams a bonus. For example getting a hit will give you 300 dollars/credits/renminbi or whatever it is, but a pop out awards the fielding team 800. After accruing some currency you can put it towards increasing the hitting/throwing/etc. power of your players. These come at multiple levels ranging from A->C with C being the best and most expensive. This buff lasts all game. I usually wait until I can get someone to second base with less than two outs and use it to try to squeeze in runs. The earlier you can reasonably upgrade the better. You’ll be more likely to get a hit which will up your money and your later at bats will benefit from the power up. The only downfall to rushing is if you get people in scoring position and cant capitalize since you can’t upgrade the current batter.

2020Baseball_3There are only two modes in this game. Full league mode and two player skirmishes. This made deciding what was “beating” the game fairly easy. There are two leagues, the “Exciting League” and “Fighting League” and within the exciting league are the “American Dreams”. Sold. The players are made up of men, women and robots with comical and sometimes seemingly racist names. The Tokyo Samurais have players such as Tenpura, Susi, Sasimi, Katana and Tunami. We see what you did, and we’ve had just about enough after 7th Saga. (More about this later)

Each match is a full nine innings at least, and a full season is fifteen games. There is no options panel so there is no way to shorten the game or the season. There is also no way to scale down the difficulty on the opponent AI either. There is, however, a password given after almost every game to return to that point in the season. The only time this isn’t true is after the last game of the season before the world series. The last game and the world series are played in tandem, so if you’re like me and lose it in the world series, you’ll be forced to play the last two games over again if you want the win.2020SB_5

For the most part the mechanics of the game play are fine. I did find that diving didn’t always get you there faster. It has a neat animation with the jets shooting out your back, but it seemed you had to dive to the left and right to really benefit. After you dive there is a decent delay until you could move again, so it was fairly situational. Sometimes there is auto-fielding, usually for popups. However, I have assumed it would be automatic and been rudely corrected as it drops a few feet in front of my pitcher. You have to make sure your player’s hands are raised to catch it. It will never be someone already covering a base, since they apparently get cemented upon touching them, leaving the rest of your team to actual field the ball. One gripe I have about the fielding is that the mini map shows only runners and not the fielders. This makes both fielding and running the bases difficult. You can hit the ball into right field only to have it bounce back towards the second baseman. You’ll start to run thinking you are fine and then from outside the viewable area an infielder will snag it, and now you’re pants down in the base path.

2020SB_4Overall the game is fine, but repetitive. Other than the ratio of robot/human players per team and their jersey color, all the games play out the same. It looks good enough, especially the cut scenes for special catches, but then you take notice of the fact only five unique people make up the stands behind the catcher.
There simply is no replay value except for nostalgia, though I suppose this could be said for many sports games. The thing that sets the game apart, the big modification of changing the field to be unique, leads to a fundamental game flaw of getting a ball stuck. It just felt like it had potential but was overshadowed by being rough around the edges.

As a last point, I mentioned earlier I would address the names of the players. In my World Series match I played against a team with a, let’s say, unique list of names. This included Himmler, Goebbels, and Kamikaze. Now, it is very possible/likely that this was someone modifying the ROM, but I kept my passwords and intend to get a screen capture. I’ll post this separately when I get around to revisiting the game.

 

The Verdict

4.6Poor

The Good: Passwords | Aesthetics | Upgrades | Reasonable Leaderboard | Creative Idea

The Bad: Lack of Difficulty/Game Length Options | Ball Glitches | Fielder Location

90Min_2

It’s important to preface my review by explaining how little I know and care about soccer. I also don’t care what the back of the box says, and what it’s called elsewhere in the world. Here in the US it is soccer and it will remain as such so that I won’t have to write “American Football” in just a few games. Lucky for me the World Cup was recently in the news and so I had some justification for picking Germany rather than closing my eyes and picking randomly. I quickly did a web search to see if the teams contained real players and it didn’t appear so. This means even if you follow the sport and know a certain player, you’ll still be reduced to just picking your favorite country (other than America of course). Yay nationalism!

90Min_3The game has a few different modes. The first two options allow for a quick game, or skirmish between the computer or another person. Why you would subject another person to this is beyond me, but there it is. The “You’re a Hero” and “All Star” also from my understanding are skirmishes, but with a twist. Obviously the Cup Championship is just the last match. For truly beating the game I needed multiple games, so this meant either doing a tournament or a league championship. Since the league championship was longer and resembled a “season” the most, this is what I settled on. There are thirteen teams other than your own, and you play each twice, making for 26 matches. On the bright side, the options tab allows for you to shorten each half to just a minute and make the AI a bit easier.

The game play is fairly simple though there are still pieces I didn’t truly figure out. During your possession of the ball B will pass and A will shoot. It took a bit to get the directions right not to launch it into the stands as a souvenir. On defense, B will steal if you are near the opponent and Y will perform a sliding steal. I loved this sliding steal, it was more satisfying than it probably should have been. That is, of course, unless I fouled the opponent near my end leading to an almost guaranteed goal.

Speaking of guaranteed goals, the opposing AI was a master at lobbing the ball up and head butting it in. It got to the point that as soon as the ball went up in the air I just braced for the annoying screech indicating they had scored. My goalie in his infinite wisdom felt the best defense was a good offense and would come out of the goal to greet the opponent as he did this. At some points I was able to jump and get to the ball before the AI, but more often than not the goalie would end up staring up at the ball in wide eyed glee as it went screaming past. Once I was done spinning the controller over my head like Petey Pablo in Raise Up, I would reset and start again.

Wind6_190MinuteEuropeanSoccerThe game will automatically save after each win/loss. I wasn’t entirely sure when the game went through the save process and after tinkering with it and taking a loss in game two I thought it best to reset a few seconds before the end of the second half. No flawless season for me though. With the short game time, you at the very least feel that you’re making process.

After a few matches I realized that you can change your setup in the beginning. Having no idea what this meant I just used trial and error and landed on the “4-4-3″ formation. I don’t know what that means, but it seemed to place people in a position that didn’t leave me too undefended or unable to score. This is also roughly the time I found the perfect shooting position. This is probably the single most important and useful thing I was able to find during my play through. If you can shoot from the bottom corner of the goal area, the goalie makes some questionable movements and is unable to block it. There is some timing related to this because as you approach the goalie will come out to meet you and if he is able to do that it will be blocked. However, if it requires the goalie to dive, he’ll miss completely. My route when I got the ball was pretty standard. I dodged down, then up to avoid the first two opposing players and then headed for the sweet spot. Done correct you can go from getting the ball to a goal in seven seconds.

90Min_4Having this key spot and knowing how to abuse it made the games fly by. Matches were only two or four minutes depending if overtime was needed, and almost all the matches became wins. I simply continued to steal as best as I could from the opponent and didn’t fret their headbutt goals. They would score, but since I could get upwards of eight goals in a game it didn’t phase me. Goals became pretty easy to get and the game that started as torture became trivial. This doesn’t excuse however that the score board didn’t seem plausible.

As I mentioned, I lost my second game (to Belgium). As I began my win streak I realized that now Belgium was also going undefeated. This meant I was going to stay permanently in second place until I had another shot at playing them. It provides the constant feeling that any one single loss could cost you the whole thing, and that you need to be near perfect to win the league. I found it took away any excitement from watching the leader board. There was no hope that I would gain, or increase, a lead because of another match. In the end it just made the wins/losses look silly rather than making it look like a tough competition.

25_1Seasons90MinuteSoccerOverall the game is just poor. The graphics are rough and super pixelated, to the point that the characters in game have no discernible faces. Normally I wouldn’t bash the graphics because this is an older system, but this game was released in 1995 and was the last game Namco produced for the system. I would have hoped that human face definition would have been a bit better by then. The AI is decent competition even on the lowest setting making me discover a repetitive “auto-win” move to reliably have a chance. Once you do this, any potential fun is replaced by repetition. Replay value is practically zero since the teams are made of imaginary characters and the ending is just a sepia picture of a generic team. Generic is probably a good definition for the entire game, as there is nothing that stands out about the normal game play. Maybe the “You’re a Hero” mode gimmicks are worth it, but I doubt it. The handling is pretty good though, so mechanically there isn’t too much to complain about. If you absolutely love soccer it could be worse, but for the rest of us, we’ll pass.

The Verdict

4Poor

The Good: Save Points | Adjustable Time/Difficulty | Stealing

The Bad: AI Scoring | League Rankings | Visuals | GOAL Voice

7thSaga_2 The name 7th Saga alone doesn’t really tell us much about what to expect, but one look at that box art and you know this is going to be an epic adventure. Looking back, “7th Saga” still doesn’t really make sense. Sure there are seven characters, and we’re going to hunt for seven runes, but how does that make this the “7th Saga”. This implies there were six previous Sagas. Maybe that’s the case, because there is time travel at one point, but the game doesn’t touch upon it. To be fair, I don’t read most of the text when I have a walkthrough, but I think I would have caught wind of these previous adventures.

We begin with choosing our character. In classic fashion we see Humans, the Elf and the Dwarf. However, if that’s too mainstream, there’s also the choice of a Demon, Alien or Robot. Early on you’ll get an apprentice, and your team will remain a team of two for the rest of the game. You can switch out your apprentice, but with a team of two I felt like the choices were limited. This is even more true when you factor in later events in the game. Melee do well against melee, and likewise magic users will be stronger against magic. This means you should probably keep one of each.

Melee: Alien, Robot, Dwarf
Magic: Demon, Human(Caster), Elf
Both: Human (Knight)

Having only one class that was in the middle eliminated him from my picking since with only one apprentice, my strengths would be lopsided. This would leave me fighting either melee or magic with this gimped half-useful character. Later in the game you’ll fight one “traitor” from this bunch, but it will never be the Robot, the Elf, or your apprentice. I wanted to avoid fighting a magic user because to compensate them for their low defense, they’re usually extremely strong. Due to a leveling nuance in the game this could be very bad, trust me. Of the non-elf casters, the Human (Valsu) is stronger so I went with him as an apprentice. This meant I needed a melee and seeing as I had recently been watching Desolation of Smaug, this was a no brainer. The dwarf (Olvan) it was.

7thSaga_3Walking around the world is standard, but one nice feature is the way an encounter is handled. Using Mode 7 graphics, the map is rotated to create the battlefield as your perspective changes. This is just so much nicer than a fade out and into the battle. The number of mobs in this game is noticeably limited. In the beginning it’s understandable, but as you progress through the game you just keep seeing reskinned versions of previous enemies. The attacks are mainly reused, the stats are simply raised. A significant number of these mobs, including mini bosses, are part of their own Power Rangers team, and even the names are lazy. In the above image we’ve got (from Left to Right) Demon, S.Demon, B.Demon, and R.Demon. Though I should be grateful since when they tried being creative, the three undead became Undead, Unded, and Undeed. Just awful.The townsfolk are identical, but it doesn’t hit home as hard since you aren’t dealing with them constantly. You are however subject to grinding the repetitive mob rainbow brigade. As a former Runescape and WoW player, this grinding wasn’t really bad at all. 7thSaga_5

One unique aspect in this game is the fighting systems application of defense. Normally we view defense simply as a way to reduce damage when we know a large damage dealing ability is on its way. 7th Saga uses defense also as a way of counterattacking by increasing the power of an attack after a round on defense. This forces a bit more thought than merely button mashing “attack” with a melee.

Once you acquire the first of seven runes, the wind rune, you can use it to teleport to any town you’ve already been to. In town you can heal up for just a few gold. This early teleport doesn’t work in caves, but it brings a flow to the travel that is perfect. You can explore with relative safety, but completing a long trek is still challenging. Distances between towns and castles/caves are enough so that the open world is still a consideration. This is a mechanic that at first glimpse seems overpowered, but is handled just right.

The monsters you encounter at times have you feeling clearly outmatched. Outside you’re wiping the floor with them, step into a nearby cave and all of a sudden a Sage hits you and your apprentice for full damage at the same time. It’s volatile. You’ll even take down an opponent and realize that someone else on the team can resurrect, creating a pecking order. You get used to it after awhile and every new enemy has you immediately on your toes. It’s actually a bit exciting, but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. Leveling and gearing up over time will solve this. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time. But Red was wrong, because once you get to the 3rd and 4th rune (Star/Sky Rune) all bets are off.

For both of these runes you find yourself fighting one of the original seven adventurers. To ensure that your neighbors will be privy to your extensive vocabulary, Enix places your opponents level five higher than yours and makes you fight them without your apprentice. Even this may not have you pushing your vocals to the max, so let’s talk leveling rates. (As I understand them)


From what I gather, the leveling progress is different in the Japanese and American versions. Leveling is faster and the rate of increase also improves as you level up in the Japanese version. This would normally just make the pacing of the game slower in the American version, but the apprentice opponents stay at the same rate as in the Japanese version. So for each level where your attack goes up, theirs will go up further. Since they will always be five levels higher, and their stats grow faster, leveling actually makes it harder! As a demonstration of the absurdity, the above YouTube video includes multiple matches clipped together to show how difficult this part becomes. There is a trick/bug that you can exploit, but still won’t give you any guarantee. The idea is to have your first character die and enter the battle with your apprentice. Since your opponent can’t make it a solo match with you (since you’re dead), they’ll one on one with your apprentice. At this point your apprentice can resurrect you and it becomes a two on one. It’ll level the playing field a bit and eventually you’ll persevere. Still may not want to attempt these parts while children are around.

Each new rune, except the last, can be used as a buff. For example, the water rune doubles as a reusable potion, and the sky rune will regenerate MP. This is super useful in the constant grind, and will keep you from having to continuously return to town for supplies. It also lets you save a bit of gold. Again this gives the immediate impression that it will be completely overpowered, but the balance is maintained pretty well while also giving you another reason to collect the runes other than “because that guy told me to”. Later in the game (during that whole time travel bit I mentioned earlier) you won’t have access to your runes, making MP management more crucial and travel away from cities more painful.

7thSaga_4 Past the 3rd/4th runes, the game can simply be outgeared and outleveled. The story line will carry you along from location to location until you have acquired all seven runes. At this point you find out that the person you set out to gather the runes for is your worst enemy and you’re a moron for handing over these powerful things. You wake up without your runes 5000 years in the past, hows that for punishment? You now set out again, leveling and grinding until you rescue the person capable of returning your runes to you. This time the runes won’t double as reusable items but instead will allow you to damage the final boss. Start with the Wizard Rune (the 7th rune) and then apply all the others until Gorsia is susceptible and you can return to your normal battle methods. I was level 50 at this point. The dodge on the boss is a little goofy, it doesn’t show him moving, you just miss. At first I thought I didn’t use the runes properly and ended up resetting and having to run back from the town. I guess when you’re chained up, you can’t move much…but then how exactly are you dodging me?

One last point is about the currency. When you die you will lose half the gold in your possession. To avoid this, at the towns you can buy gems. Since they are items they aren’t affected by death. They sell for the same as you buy them for, with the most expensive being a diamond at 10k. All items are capped at nine for carrying, so maxing out on gems of all types lets you hold 173,700G without risk of losing it. This is a large amount, but items in the end game can run upwards of 50,000G. Needing a weapon and armor for each of your two characters as well as an extra item like a shield means you may need six items in the 30-50k range. (Nothing like dumping hard earned gems so your caster can wear his sparkly tiara) Assuming you had nothing to trade in (you will) the total to gear out my two people comes to 296,000G. Even with gear to trade in, this number is still massive. After trading in the gems painfully slow to get the gold you’ll still come up short. I had hardly any deaths, and almost none cost me a large sum of gold but I found myself poor by the end of the game due to upgrading each chance I could.

Overall the game isn’t bad. It’s a fairly straight forward RPG and there are some neat new concepts like the defending and early teleportation that make it worth trying out. I can’t however get past the fact that in the American version there is a severe road block with the leveling issue. This makes the game nearly unbeatable and punishes those who don’t know about it ahead due to research or walkthroughs. Many players like to level up to a very comfortable level to enjoy the game, but as I stated, leveling up too high could put you in a spot where the other adventurers are far too strong when you have to go and fight them. At this point it’s too late, as you can’t level down, and you have no choice but to use the apprentice two-on-one “bug” to win. If there was a Japanese port, I would suggest using that, because I’d rather learn the Kanji and enjoy the actual gameplay rather than deal with those two sections. Plus, I’m interested in the translation that made Undead, Unded, and Undeed.

 

Resources:

The Verdict

5.8Mediocre

The Good: Early Town Teleporting | Defense Battle Mechanic | Reusable Items | Battle Transition

The Bad: Skewed Leveling | Repetitive Mobs/Townsfolk | Currency System

3Ninjas_2

There is something about the late 80’s and early 90’s that just screams martial arts. On television, there was the widely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) and Power Rangers (1993). Our gaming systems were just starting the franchises for Street Fighter (1987) and Mortal Kombat (1992). At the movie’s we saw the emergence of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and of particular note for this game, Karate Kid (1984). Since I’ve never actually seen a 3 Ninjas movie the choice of character didn’t mean anything to me. Regardless of who I picked, I called him Daniel-san. The grandfather “Mori”, you guessed it, he’s Mr. Miyagi. For the record, I picked the Green Daniel-San.

The game has fairly strong handling. You will move where you want, and jumps are clean. Your character doesn’t run like it’s skating on ice. The combat is a simple button to attack with direction to modify it slightly. There are bombs as well, but I never got the hang of them. One bomb drops like an egg and the other is thrown. Ninjas are always trying to give me a bear hug, so I usually throw it past them. The egg ones can be useful, but are usually more work than they’re worth. The only thing worth actually learning outside of being a neanderthal button masher is that for Green Daniel-San (Not sure about others) you can use the Up+Attack ability to create a helicopter motion that can also deflect shurikens.

The game makes use of ropes and branches at a few points and sometimes the detection is hit or miss. 3Ninjas_3To compound this, there are usually traps under them which punish you for having the audacity to use the in game mechanic. Punishing me for poor detection continues later on, but thankfully in only a few places. Most games have conditions for trying to get into a hole in a wall. Usually you can jump higher and as you fall down the wall, you will slip into an entrance. If this isn’t the case, a simpler remedy is just to have a tiny ledge for you to land on. In 3 Ninjas, they decided the best idea would be for you to play “Thread the Needle” for a minute. Landing the jump exactly is not a trivial task, and usually the punishment for missing is a few seconds of returning to your launch point to try again. Ninjas_5 You find throughout the game that the obstacles are much more deadly than any of the ninjas walking around. The hardest regular opponent (a dragon) involves just learning to jump and duck repeatedly. No brilliance required.

The traps can be infuriating. Putting aside swinging on ropes, the game starts you in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones, running from a giant boulder. You quickly learn it’s indestructible and massively painful, so much so you will gladly rocket your character through falling spikes to avoid it. Not thirty seconds later you are faced with a smaller boulder which can be destroyed by whacking on it. So I’m thirty seconds in and all I’ve figured out has been proven false. The spikes are a recurring theme which will test your memory for the rest of the game. Ninjas_8 The designers made sure to blend them in to the background so well, you simply stop looking for them. You eventually take the hit and remember on your next run through where they were. This holds true as well for the fiery pillars that shoot out of the ground. Between the hidden spikes above and holes below I was hit so many times, by something I didn’t see, they should revoke my license. The game accidentally does a great job in keeping your eyes darting all over the screen. Not only are we facing threats from above and below, but the standard enemies and turrets that appear on screen from the sides fire as they enter the frame. This means you can’t be playing Where’s Waldo for those traps as you enter a new area, and you better have the reaction time of a goalie. All of these things could be avoided if you could take your time, but the levels don’t allow for a leisurely pace. This is a game where you can run out of time, and because of that the game needs to offer up an item to extend it every once and awhile. I actually don’t think the time component is bad. You see it implemented in many classic games but it rarely becomes a focus. Kudos to Malibu Interactive on making a time limit actually a limit on your time.

There are three “bosses” in this game, but all of them can be cheesed. The first two can be handled in exactly the same way. Both the big nurse and the sumo wrestler are a threat up close. Nurse Joy attempts to stab you with a needle and E. Honda tries his 1000 hand slap. Ninjas_6The nurse can also spray the needle, but the range is pretty much melee as well. You can stand on one side of the room, run towards them and kick them in the face before their melee attack finishes. As you land, they will be attacking in the original direction, but you’re already running to the other side. By the time you stop and turn, they will have as well and you repeat. Eventually they’ll close the gap, but I end up taking minimal damage over the length of the fight. Even the final boss can be hit before his attack finishes with time to spare to scamper off. The final boss is not enormous this time, but I honestly stopped caring who he was or what he wanted. I couldn’t piece together a coherent story from the game play and I most certainly was not going to read the interludes. The final levels leading up to him have you once again in a cave, this time with satanic gargoyle faces. So I’m just going to assume this guy is bad news. He has a melee attack much like the previous bosses and so we’ll stay back again. When you do this you realize that when you are far enough away, he will throw his bo. You can easily jump over this attack, hit him, and run through him to the other side just as before. He seems to have more health, but the cheese method still works as long as you force the weapon throw. Ninjas_7 Once he is defeated you do one last romp through the cave to escape and the game is over.

The game is overall surprisingly good given the material it had to go off of. The cut scenes show their age, but actual game aesthetics are nice. The handling is tight, and the game is very approachable. Though there are some glaring issues, the game has a password system to relieve the stress of dying due to uncontrollable factors. If you play on easy as I did, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to get through the game which removes the necessity for any real commitment.

One down, seven hundred and eighty three to go.

The Verdict

6.0Fair

The Good: Solid Handling | Easy Learning Curve | Simple Mechanics | Decent Aesthetics | Quick Gameplay | Easy Bosses

The Bad: Difficult Trap Placement | Poor Grab Detection | Unavoidable Damage | Enemies Attack as they Appear

This site has been created for tracking the unenviable task of playing, and beating every Super Nintendo game to be officially released. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_SNES_games) this includes 784 games. There are others who have previously, or are currently attempting this including a recent website SNESticular Cancer which inspired me to record my progress. Another gamer with more progression can be found at SNESChallenge, and a whole team attempted it at Every Game Ever. Since “beating” a game means different things to different people, some guidelines needed to be established. If there is still uncertainty, I will consult with fellow gamers on their opinions.

  • ROMs: Probably the most important distinction is that these games will be played on an emulator. Emulators allow for things such as save/load states and fast forwarding. This can alter the game in a way that wouldn’t be possible on the cartridge, providing an advantage, so they will not be used in the runs. I will however use save states where a pause would be viable to avoid keeping my computer running overnight or to ensure progress is saved.
  • Cheating: Using any cheat codes is obviously not OK, and I’ll avoid using glitch skips to hop sections of the game. However, this is not the same as exploiting certain mechanics (within reason). Resetting the game so it reverts back to an in-game save is reasonable, but something like duping items probably isn’t. So again we appeal to “If it can be done on the cartridge, it’s fair game”, but with additional common sense.
  • Difficulty: In any game with multiple level settings for the AI (particularly platformers, fighting games and brawlers) the easiest setting is valid. However, this may need discussion for a game like Mario Kart (Is beating 50cc really beating the game?) and others with no clear end. A sports game will involve the shortest season possible.
  • Guides: Guides and walkthroughs will be used. This is mostly for RPG’s, but also for learning boss mechanics. Imagine playing Earthbound without figuring out to stand still behind a waterfall, or knowing to pray at the end. There’s no need to spend more time than is necessary with 784 games to conquer!

This is meant just as a guideline, a way to keep me honest! But that is enough time wasted explaining, time to get down to business.