Brief Game Reviews: Sonic & Knuckles

This is a good Sonic, but not as good as Sonic 3.  If I had to order the Genesis era games (now that I’ve played them all), it would go Sonic CD, Sonic 3, Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, and last, Sonic 1.  I’m going to keep the review short because again, if you’ve played Sonic, you know what to expect.  Something neat about this one is there’s a boss at the end of each act.  Playing through Lava Reef Zone is fun if you have the fire power-up, cause the lava can’t hurt you.  Also, Sky Sanctuary Zone brings back some classic Sonic boss fights.  The Knuckles adventure is very similar to the Sonic one, so don’t feel obligated to play it.

4/5

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Brief Game Reviews: Sonic the Hedgehog 3

This is probably the best Sonic the Hedgehog game from the Genesis era that isn’t Sonic CD (apologies to Sonic 2 fans).  This will be a short review, as if you’ve played Sonic before, you know what to expect.  Graphically, the game looks great with really bright colors.  Music is top notch too.  Now Sonic can pick up items that put a circular barrier around him, and have the power of water, fire, or electricity.  Water lets you breathe underwater, fire gives you a homing attack, and electricity attracts rings to you.  Get hit, and you lose the barrier, instead of all of your rings.  The second to last level is great and the final boss isn’t too hard.  Again, as good as you’re going to get on Genesis outside of Sonic CD.

5/5

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy)

I’m on a role beating games from my childhood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers included.  Though truth be told, there needs to be an asterisk next to the previous sentence.  I used a Game Genie code for Infinite Health to get to the end of the game.  Back from the Sewers is a thoroughly challenging game that I’m not sure it’s possible to beat without cheating.  It’s fun until the end of the second level, after which, it becomes too difficult to even fathom.

The first level is great.  You’re being attacked by foot soldiers in the sewers from the front and the back, and the level has sort of a rhythm game quality to it.  The level takes place on a strictly 2D plane, and you need to hit the enemies with split second timing or else you take damage.  Making it to the end without taking any damage is rewarding.  The second level follows suit above ground, with a second platform you can jump on and manhole covers you can fall in.  It ceases to be fun by the second level’s boss, who’s supremely unfair, shooting bullets and jumping at you, while a foot soldier in the window above drops pots on your head.  The game falls apart from here on.

There are any number of things that can damage you from this point on, including robots, robot dogs, rolling barrels, rolling boulders, and fire rising from the ground.  To get it exactly right where you hit / avoid all of these things and more through the remaining four levels is nearly impossible, not to mention the bosses remain unfair.  To the game’s credit, if you die as one turtle — or get captured, as the game says — you can start back as another turtle who hasn’t been captured, but it’s still not enough.  The game is still too hard.

The game actually has really great music though, of all things.  It’s sticks with you after you’re done playing.  On top of that, there are voice samples, which must have been quite a feat to get out of the Game Boy’s limited hardware.  You might want to check out a GBS file of the game’s soundtrack.  It’s quality chiptune.

Back from the Sewers can probably only be completed with Game Genie / Game Shark, but I’m glad I saw the ending, and can consider another game from my youth beaten.  It’s not very long, and the soundtrack keeps you going more than anything else, but don’t expect much from this title.  Surprisingly enough, it came out the same year as Turtles in Time, and was also released by Konami.  Try that instead.

2/5

Joint Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade), and The Simpsons (Arcade)

I can say with 60% certainty that my local roller skating rink (now demolished) had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time arcade cabinet.  I can say with 100% certainty that my local bowling alley (still open) had a Simpsons arcade cabinet (and possibly still does).  And I can say with 100% certainty that my friend had TMNT: Turtles in Time for Super Nintendo.  Either way, these are two classic arcade brawlers that are sort of boring to play without quarters.

These games deserve to be reviewed together, as they are both arcade games released in 1991 from Konami.  While they have their differences, namely that The Simpsons is four player and TMNT is two player, they both are two button brawlers (jump and attack) where you’re generally fighting the same enemy type over and over.  The real fun of both games is looking at the graphics (in which TMNT has a bit of an edge), and listening to the music and sound, both of which have voice samples, and both of which use the same sound chip.  Both games are designed to eat quarters, although neither is nearly as unforgiving as, say, Metal Slug.

Onto some differences.  TMNT’s story revolves around Krang stealing the Statue of Liberty, and Shredder opening a portal in time to keep you from getting it back.  You travel through some American history like Wounded Knee, and move on to the (distant) future of 2020 A.D., where there’s a neo-metropolis, and also the year 2100 A.D. fought on a space base.  You finally make it back to New York to fight Shredder, who’s pretty darn tough.  Once the battle ends, the turtles return Lady Liberty to Liberty Island.  Roll credits.

Meanwhile, in the Simpsons, Smithers and Mr. Burns steal Maggie after she replaces her pacifier with a diamond jewel.  You travel to Springfield locations such as Moe’s Tavern, Channel 6, “Dreamland”, and last, the nuclear power plant, chasing Smithers carrying Maggie.  In the end you fight Smithers, and then Mr. Burns in a robot suit.  Once both are defeated, Maggie is released, and the Simpsons have a happy family moment.  Roll credits.

Again, you’re generally fighting the same enemies throughout both games.  In TMNT, it’s Foot Soldiers, in the Simpsons, it’s business people in suits (likely henchmen of Mr. Burns).  The Simpsons has two button-mashing mini games, but is shorter by about ten minutes.  Both games have health items.  In TMNT, it’s always pizza, where in the Simpsons, it could be any number of things, from apples to hoagies (grinders, subs, whatever you call them).  TMNT has a pizza box with a bomb on in, that, when consumed, has you spinning around destroying every enemy in sight.  In the Simpsons, there are multi-use weapons like a slingshot, and single use weapons like a bowling ball.

It’s hard to believe arcade brawlers were so popular that the same company would make two in the same year, especially considering how expensive arcade hardware was to produce.  The games aren’t as fun with unlimited continues.  Instead, it’s better to play where every hit you take gets you closer to losing another quarter.  But alas, these are two very similar games that were fun at the bowling alley but haven’t aged especially well.

Score for both games: 3/5

Review: Skies of Arcadia: Legends

Skies of Arcadia: Legends is, for the most part, a delight. Although my favorite Dreamcast RPG is Grandia II, this is a very close second. Skies is a classic turn-based JRPG about exploring the skies on an airship and the locations and people you meet along the way. The game does drag a bit at the end, but if you’re into really great early 3D role-playing games like those on Playstation, here’s one for Dreamcast and GameCube.

The story mostly revolves around Vyse, Aika, and Fina, who are air pirates fighting against the evil Valuan Empire.  Vyse and his crew are after the six Moon Crystals to restore peace to the world, while the Valuans wish to obtain them to rule over the world with an iron fist.  You meet a lot of interesting characters on your journey, including a old man looking to kill a giant whale (Moby Dick?), a womanizer, and a Valuan Prince who wishes to fight against the empire that raised him.  The story doesn’t really have a lot of plot twists, but I enjoyed following along.

A lot of the fun of the game is exploring the world.  The game takes place entirely in the air, and you fly an airship to various flying islands.  You start out being restricted to a small part of the map, but as you progress, your ship gets enhancements that lets it explore more of the world, until eventually the entire map is open to you.  Without spoiling later game locations, much of the world is inspired by locations from planet Earth.  An example is Nasrad, which could easily be compared to a Middle Eastern city, existing in the desert and home to a giant palace.

Being a traditional role-playing game, cities have weapon and item shops where you can stock up on gear, but you can also upgrade weapons and buy items for your airship, as the game features airship battles in addition to regular battles.  Most interesting, is that almost every town has a Sailor’s Guild, where you can buy discoveries to look for, or sell discoveries you’ve found.  Discoveries are rumored locations on the map that you have to find with your airship.  There’s a reward for each discovery.  Also, every Sailor’s Guild has a Wanted List of pirates that have a bounty to their name.  These pirates scale to your level, so fighting them is always a challenge.  The Sailor’s Guild was a fun hook, and good way to stock up on gold.

As mentioned, you can get in airship battles, though these are sort of low points in the game.  You and your opponent need to spend a lot of time “focusing” to prepare for attacks, which, along with the slow pace of the battles, makes it feel like a Dragonball Z episode, where more time is spent watching two parties (or people, in DBZ) charge than watching much attacking.  Airship battles are more strategic however, where you often get an option midway through like deciding to move in closer or hold your distance.  One of these options is the *right* option, giving you more chances to attack or allowing you to use your ship’s most powerful cannon, so use your best judgement for every battle.

Normal battling is really fun.  It’s very much a traditional RPG: You’re in a party of one to four people, and can attack, defend, use magic, or an item.  Unique to Skies, are “Spirit Points”, which are shared by the entire party.  Every magic attack costs one magic point, but any number of SP.  There are also “S-Moves”, which cost only SP, and are unique to each character.  If you want to use an S-Move that costs four SP, and magic that costs six SP, but only have nine SP for that round, you’re out of luck.  You can have your characters “focus”, which raises SP for the next round (on top of the SP you automatically get for a round) although focusing costs that character’s turn.  Balancing your parties SP meter is a big part of the challenge in battles, as well as the fun.  Otherwise, turn-based RPG fans will feel right at home as it’s pretty standard combat.

Something to the game’s credit, is there is very little grinding.  So little, in fact, that I only recall doing it one time.  Maybe the game is just too easy, but the character leveling is right in line with where you’re supposed to be fighting, and not a lot of great RPGs are great at that (Earthbound, e.g., or even Final Fantasy).  The game is around forty hours long because it’s a seriously long game, not because you’re running around the world grinding all the time.  Pretty amazing.

I have to give Skies of Arcadia: Legends five stars.  For one thing, it makes me nostalgic for the Dreamcast.  But for another, it’s a seriously great early-3D RPG from an era when a lot of 3D RPG makers were still finding their footing.  Sega and Overworks really nailed it.  I shudder to think what this game would have been were it released today, with streamlined combat and uncanny valley graphics.  Skies has excellent writing, a long fun adventure, and charm.  What more does a JRPG need?

5/5

Review: Speedy Gonzales (Game Boy)

[Editor’s Note: I’m working on a very long JRPG right now, and apologize for the eight day gap between posts.  Hopefully after this game, reviews will be more frequent.]

Speedy Gonzales for Game Boy is another game from my childhood.  It is also, undoubtedly, a Sonic the Hedgehog rip-off.  It makes sense… Sonic is a fast hedgehog, Speedy Gonzales is a fast mouse.  The development team had to draw their inspiration from somewhere.  Unfortunately, the game falls flat in some of the same ways Sonic does, not the least of which is cheap deaths.  I don’t want to be too dismissive; the controls are good and the platforming can be enjoyable, but Speedy Gonzales is sadly an exercise in frustration more than anything else.

The game is divided into six zones, and each zone has three sections and a boss.  Some examples of zone names are Mexico Zone, and Desert Zone, in which you will find some of the most racist depictions of Mexicans and Middle Easterners you’ll see in a video game.  That said, each level has unique art with the exception of the occasional reused sprite, and the art is about average for a Game Boy game.

The game is like Sonic in that you run fast, there are springs you can bounce off of, and you collect spinning discs of cheese which is similar to Sonic’s rings.  There are even loop-de-loops, waterfalls you can run behind, and trees to pass through all like in Sonic games.  It’s a little shameless how much Sega’s flagship franchise is ripped off.  Then again, if you thought Sonic was cool and only owned a Game Boy, maybe this would have been worth picking up.

The levels, when they’re not about running to the right and avoiding obstacles, are about finding switches with question marks on them which change something in the level.  A switch could start an elevator, open a passageway, or produce a series of blocks.  Some switches are optional.  I found the switches to be fun, though the puzzle-solving never got too intricate.  You are on a 99 second time limit, after all.

Once again, the game has a fair number of cheap deaths.  The obvious example is running so fast that you can’t see the enemy / obstacle / pit ahead of you.  But there are also creative cheap deaths.  There’s a time where if you go left instead of right, a black wrecking ball drops from the sky and you can’t escape it.  There are enemies that fly up and down, and you have to jump with split second timing to not hit them and die.  You have three lives, and as far as I noticed, there are no 1ups.  If you’re in Section 3 of a zone or facing a boss and you lose your last life, you start at Section 1 again.  It’s super frustrating if you don’t have save states.  Once you do clear a zone, you’re given a password, so you can always return to the furthest zone you’ve reached.  I guess the challenge of making it through three sections and a boss on three lives added to the game’s overall longevity, but it ends up resulting in level memorization.  

Speedy Gonzales for Game Boy would have benefitted if everything was slower, but I’m not sure how you’d pull that off with the title character.  Maybe this needed to be a Tweety Bird game.  It’s really not such a bad platformer, but emulate the game so you can save state your way out of dying all the time.  As it stands, frustration is more frequent than reward.  A slightly below average game.

2/5