Archive for March, 2008


Friday, March 21st, 2008

I would love to believe that most games on the NES would make more sense if I’d had the manual for them. I’d be familiar with the backstory, the characters, and their motivation for doing whatever it is I was doing in the game. But I know that in the majority of the cases, I’d be dead wrong.

Xexyx is one of those cases.

Xexyx stars Apollo, a generic guy in armor, in his quest to run to the right (and sometimes to the left!) to achieve some goal that I was not able to determine.

What’s weird, though, is that the game tries to be a fusion of two genres. The first genre, the generic action-adventure game, has you running around trying to find the secret boss to defeat to get the secret power star you need to enter the not-very-secret ‘mechanical castle’ where the boss lives.

The bosses live in the other genre, the shoot-’em-up. In these sections you pilot your highly-destructible ship toward the significantly less destructible boss and show him the business end of your weapon of choice. Then you start trying to figure out how to get into the next ‘mechanical castle’.

I never actually decided if this game was any good or not. I played it a fair bit, but wasn’t terribly impressed by its goodness or its badness. It was just kind of there. That might be because the game is fairly long, and I always played it on a rental. I’d rent it and make some amount of progress and then get my password, which I’d inevitably lose. So then I’d rent it again and start over again, and then make about the same amount of progress, get my password, and then lose my password. So I never really made it more than about a third of the way through the game, which I’ve played a dozen times or so. And that’s fine, but I probably should try to make it further in the game some day, so I can find out if it gets better, worse, or stays the same.

Super Mario Sunshine

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I guess I was kind of spoiled by the games in the Super Mario series. All of them I’d played up until Sunshine were really good. So I was pretty jazzed to finally get a new game in the series after so many years after Super Mario 64 came out.

Once I finally got to play it, though, I was actually pretty disappointed.

Mario games, and especially Super Mario 64 establish that Mario is an acrobat. In 64 he had the ability to run, jump, backflip, punch, kick, and stomp his way through his adventure. In this game, though, he’s been framed for ugly-ing up an island by painting some goop everywhere. So he has to use the conveniently-available talking backpack/water pump to clean up the mess.

I guess the backpack is real heavy because Mario completely forgot most of his moves that he learned in his previous 3D adventure. He can’t punch or kick things any more. He has to either stomp on their heads and or spray them with a not very powerful stream of water, which only annoys them slightly.

Don’t think that Mario becoming impotent in his Koopa dispatching ways is all there is to be annoyed about in this game, we’ve only just gotten started!

You end up using the backpack to enhance jumps by shooting the streams straight down, and it becomes pretty important to your movement. Unfortunately, there are stages where the backpack is stripped from you and you have to go through a stage using only Mario’s slightly unnatural acrobatic skills. There are some enemies in these stages, and they can only be defeated by stomping on their heads. You try to punch and kick them out of the way and Mario just kind of stamps his feet like he really wants to do something, but just can’t. And the thing is, these are the most fun parts of the whole game. They feel like an actual Mario game instead of the rest of the game.

The other big problem that I had was pretty much a deal-breaker for me. The camera in this game is just about the worst camera that I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Most of the time it’s OK, but if you jump (and really, how often does Mario do that?) the camera pivots upward instead of panning upward. Which looks fine in screenshots and the like, but is so impractical that the game is nigh-unplayable. See, the game routinely has you jumping from floating platform to floating platform several hundred feet above ground level. It’s kind of important to me that when I’m jumping from one platform to the next that I can see where I’m going to land. Without that, I end up misjudging my landing and falling to my doom. Don’t believe me? Go out to your favorite sidewalk and try to jump in the center of each of five contiguous sections while looking straight up in the air. Once you fail, you’ll begin to feel my frustration. You can kind of see what I’m talking about at about 1:20 in the following clip:

And if all that weren’t bad enough, I encountered what I consider to be a pretty big bug. See, you need 70 ‘Shine Sprites’ to open the way to the last encounter. I had 70, but the way was still locked. Even though I had unmasked the evil villain and he told me where to find him. In each stage of the game you have a little ’showdown’ kind of thing with him. I had somehow managed to collect enough sprites to open to open the way to the last boss and he ran away to his not-very-secret hideout. But, there was one stage where I had yet to have the little showdown thing. So I had to figure out which stage I hadn’t played enough to get to that point, go fight him, and then go to the final showdown.


You also get to ride Yoshis in this game, like you could in Super Mario World, but unlike the Yoshis in Super Mario World, they’re just about worthless. The main problem with them, other than the unnatural way they spew a near-unending fountain of ‘juice’ on command, is that on an island, surrounded by water, with canals full of water, and boats that travel on water, your Yoshis literally dissolve when they touch water. So any usefulness they had is immediately negated by the fact that they’re completely and easily destructible by one of the most common substances on the planet.

And don’t even get me started on the boats, made out of mud (which also dissolves in water, albeit more slowly), which you have to steer by shooting jets of water out of the back. Never mind that this is what oars were invented for, but since the boat dissolves and is floating in either electrified water or freaking lava, you only have one chance, maybe two, to master a ridiculously obtuse method to control a boat before you face your doom.

Even with these problems, the game wasn’t terrible. It was passably good, but unlike Super Mario 64 where I felt compelled to explore every nook and cranny of the game world to unearth its secrets, after this game, I felt no such compulsion. In fact, after doing the bare minimum to complete it, I shelved this game and haven’t looked back to it since. I’m still pretty uncertain how it ranked so highly by all the ‘professional reviewers‘, even though in my experience the game was just barely above mediocre. In fact, I don’t remember any of those guys having the problems that I did, or if they did they didn’t mention it in their reviews.

I think it was about that point where I began to distrust professional game reviews almost entirely. And, no, user reviews are no better.

Pearls Before Swine

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Pearls Before Swine is a silly little Flash game that made the rounds a few years ago, but has kind of disappeared.

It’s really simple, it’s based on the game Nim. The gist of the game is this: you have three rows of pearls. You and the computer player take turns taking as many as you’d like from any one row, and the one who takes the last one loses.

Pearls Before Swine

It’s that simple… and it’s that hard. Unless you have a firm grasp of the rules of Nim, you’re going to lose at this game a lot. And then you have to put up with the actually kind of annoying laughter from your opponent. But if you win… oh man. I won’t spoil it for you.

You can try your hand at it here. But I wouldn’t budget more than about 10 minutes for it.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I always thought that Super Mario Bros. 2 was a little bit of an anomaly. The game is a complete departure from from the original game, and it seemed only tangentially related. I would later figure out the real story behind it. But I guess that doesn’t really matter if you’re not a scholar of obscure video game minutiae.

So what you end up with is a game where you have to guide Mario, Luigi, Toad, or the Princess on a quest to save the realm of Subcon from a giant frog named Wart. They all have varying abilities: Luigi jumps real high, Toad picks things up real fast, and so on. You pick up whatever’s growing on the ground or one of your enemies and you chuck it at the remaining enemies.


I guess I really liked this game because it was so different than its predecessor. I would play the game almost to death trying to figure out its general strangeness.

For example: hidden throughout the stages are potions that, when thrown, create a door. You go through the door and you have a few seconds of access to a shadowy version of the screen you were on. In that mystery realm any vegetables growing out of the ground are mysteriously coins that you use for the Extra Life Machine at the end of the level. But there are also two locations on each level where a mushroom is placed. Get the mushroom and you get an extra hit point. Sometimes the mushrooms were hidden near the potions, but sometimes not. It took more lots of trial and error to find them. And, the feeling of elation when I did find a particularly craftily-hidden goody was pretty intense.

And I only found one game-breaking bug that manifested very late in the game. It’s possible to get irreparably stuck about 80% of the way through the game, requiring a reset. Thankfully this was fixed in some rereleases, so I don’t even worry about that any more. I just worry about killing a frog by throwing turnips in his open mouth.

Mega Man Anniversary Collection

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I had thought about trying to stretch each of the Mega Man games in the series into complete articles, but they’re all nearly exactly the same. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, the games were quite good, with just little enhancements. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Mega Man games are about two scientists. They work together to build a series of robots to do certain tasks. Cutting trees, setting fire to things, blowing things up, that kind of thing. One of the scientists, as it happens, is all evil and steals most of the robots, reprograms them, and tries to take over the city or the world or whatever. The only robots he left behind were a housecleaning robot and a tool robot. The tool robot wants to smite the evil scientist, so the good scientists retrofits him to be able to go commit robot genocide.

Mega Man, the tool robot, has the interesting ability to copy the abilities of the robots he defeats. This is pretty handy because each of the robots has a special ability that one of the other robots is weak to. But! You don’t know which is which, and you don’t have a prescribed order to fight them in, so you have to guess.

This actually works out pretty well, it means that you can experiment and try to defeat the robot masters in whatever order you want to try to find out the optimal path to victory… or just which ones you like the best.

So, I can’t really stretch the games into eight articles. They’d go something like this:

Mega Man 2: Just like Mega Man, but you have platforms you can ride.

Mega Man 3: Just like Mega Man 2, but you have a robot dog to help you.

Mega Man 4: Just like Mega Man 3, but you have the ability to charge up your shots, and can make balloons to jump on.

and so on.

I had a lot of fun playing each of these games growing up, so it was pretty awesome to be able to finally get them all in a convenient form that didn’t require me to do some kind of arcane ritual to get my aging NES to work.

It’s also kind of nice how they put one of my favorite arcade games and its sequel in with the package. And I’d probably have paid the price of admission for that alone. Or just the series compilation, especially since each of the games in the series in the wild routinely goes for well over $30 for whatever reason.

And then there’s the bonus stuff, like interviews and remixes and the kind of thing you’d find on a DVD release of some movie. It’s just stuffed full of goodies that makes the whole package completely awesome. It’s easily one of the best purchases I’ve made.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

I guess after three games Shredder finally decides to not kidnap April as a part of his evil scheme. What he does instead is to kidnap the statue of Liberty… (?) Fortunately, this is all broadcast on live television, and elicits one of my favorite quotes from a game:

Hey Shredder, bring that statue back, you bloated bean bag!

So the Turtles wait until 3:00 AM the next morning to go and try to get the statue back. They eventually make their way to the Technodrome to confront Shredder, but what’s this? For reasons that aren’t exactly clear your turtles are sent hurtling through time to fight waves upon waves of enemy robots. But this time they’re riding dinosaurs, or in pirate hats, or riding horses! So it’s a completely different game!

This game is actually a lot closer to its arcade counterpart than the older games had been. I guess that’s because the Super NES was a bit more capable of pushing the totally rad to the max graphics. Oh, and there’s the other thing. You can grab the weaker opponents and throw them toward the screen, which looks kind of lame now, but was actually pretty awesome when it came out.

I actually first played this game in the arcade, only one arcade in my town got it in. Well, it was less of an arcade and more of an ‘indoor miniature golf-course that had an arcade game in the back’. In fact, I didn’t even play golf there. The sole reason I went there was to play this game. The friend that went with me and I would end up spending about $25 on the machine to play it all the way through, but it was totally worth it at the time. I ended up liking so much that when the game came out for my Super NES I immediately bought it.

Once I got the game home and was able to actually hear the sounds in the game, I was immediately impressed, and I decided that I needed to have some way to listen to it when I didn’t have my Super Nintendo handy. So I experimented (for the first time) with making my own video game music mix tape. I didn’t actually have a computer or any mixing equipment or anything at the time, but I did have a stereo with RCA inputs and a stack of blank tapes. That, and the game had a built in sound test. And since there wasn’t any way for me to get any soundtracks from games at the time, I thought making my own was the best things to happen since Super Saturdays at Putt-Putt.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

The third game in the Turtles game series is a whole lot like the second one. You take the turtle of your choice up against the seemingly endless waves of enemy soldiers. Why? Because, they’ve stolen Manhattan island… and kidnapped April for good measure. All of this is conveniently relayed to the turtles, who happen to be on vacation, via a television mysteriously placed on Florida’s beach. Why April was reporting something in New York that was being shown on television in Florida, I can’t say. But it was, they see it, and immediately head back to New York… on foot.

I don’t usually bother trying to make sense of events that happen in the Turtles universe. It’s kind of like professional wrestling, if you think about it too much, it becomes less fun to watch.

I never did get real far in this game, though I did make some semblance of progress. I only had it for a rental, so I only had one evening to master the thing, which wasn’t quite enough time for this one. It was a whole lot similar to the previous game in the series, so I didn’t try real hard to get it again, which might have been a mistake, in hindsight.


This was one of the few games where I actually discovered a bona fide code for. In goofing around with it, I managed to figure out how to enable ‘random select’, so that when you lost a life the next turtle out would be chosen at random. I thought that was kind of neat, so I sent it in to Nintendo Power… who did nothing with it. I wasn’t too surprised, though. They only had a limited amount of space for that kind of stuff, and it was filled with tips on how to rig the ‘Money Making Game’ in The Legend of Zelda, which I guess took precedence.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game

Friday, March 14th, 2008

I kind of wonder how many people played the original Turtles game because they thought it was going to be based on the arcade game. They were probably more than a little surprised when they got it home, because the games are nothing alike.

The original game was an action-adventure kind of thing, and was super tough. The arcade game was a generic brawler. You know the kind: you take your turtle of choice up against wave after wave of semi-easily defeatable foes and every so often have to face a much tougher foe. It goes on like that until you beat all the guys there are to beat, and you win the game. Like fighting games that are all extremely similar with the exception of the roster, these games are very similar with the exception of setting.

One of the best features of the arcade version of this game is that four people could play the game at the same time, each taking on the role of one of the hero turtles. This made it a lot of fun to play with friends, and only a little less fun to play by yourself. The game, though, is designed to feast on quarters. You get a sparse amount of life points, and enemies will deplete them at a slow and steady rate for all but the best players. That’s not really a problem for an arcade game, but when it’s brought home and you don’t have the luxury of throwing days’ worth of lunch money at it, you start to run up against the challenge pretty quickly.

You’re also limited to one or two players instead of the four offered in the arcade game. This is probably due to hardware limitations of the NES, but I don’t know for sure, I’m not an NES programmer. But, we live with what we can get. And what we get is a series of ports of arcade games that have a numbering scheme that’s offset by one when they make it to the home systems.

And that’s not confusing at all.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I, like most children of the 80s, was kind of a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series. Though I never really got more into it than that, they would frequently intersect my entertainment medium of choice, and I was obligated to check it out.

The first game for the NES to bear their name was a bit of an oddball. It was an adventure-type game with some action-type… um… action thrown in.

See, it happens that April has been kidnapped and you, as the titular teenage turtles, have to go find and rescue her. You have this giant overhead map to explore in your quest. Dotted around the map are areas that you can enter that will change the perspective to the action portion. From there, you make your way from one end to the other slaughtering robots, bugs, guys with boomerangs, and the occasional boss fight. The hook is that you can switch between the four turtles at any time. The differ in attack strength and range, and have separate life bars, and if any of them run out, they’re ‘captured’. Lose all four and it’s game over.

You eventually rescue April and move on to disarming bombs strategically placed around a dam. Then you move on to trying to rescue Splinter, who was captured while you were busy saving the dam. And those last few stages are pretty difficult.

This game is pretty fun in spite of its difficulty. I guess that’s because I know that it’s at least possible to win, and the game’s not just being unfair. Each time I would play I would get just a little bit further. I even managed to make it to what I felt was the last level, but never managed to quite get to the end. I would later consult a map and found out that I had managed to make it to the final corridor before the last boss when I temporarily shelved the game. Had I realized that I was that close, I might have pressed on and tried again a few more times, but since it took me about two hours or so to get to that point, I just didn’t have the energy to do it. That was about two years ago, and I haven’t quite regained it in the interim.


Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I like to think that I’m no longer lured into playing a game simply because it has good graphics, or comparatively good graphics, rather. In just about every magazine I could get my hands on, Equinox looked pretty, and just about every other word in the previews and reviews were about how great the game was, how similar it was to Solstice for the NES (which I’ve still never played), and how awesome of a game that was. So when I found it in my local game rental store, I had to give it a try.

It turns out that the hero of the first game has been kidnapped by an evil wizard of some sort, and you, as his son, have to solve a series of puzzles in various wells to save him. I tend to begin wondering if all wizards are this obtuse, but we can have discuss that another time.

Inside each well is a series of rooms, filled with monsters, blocks, and sharp things. Your goal is to, I think, go through the rooms and find some tokens. Find all the tokens and you fight the boss character for that particular dungeon-well. Clear all the dungeon-wells and you win! I guess.

I can only guess at that because I didn’t make much progress in this game. It’s presented in this isometric pseudo-3d perspective, which looks pretty good, given the hardware. The problem I ran into was that I have a really hard time figuring out where things are in relation to each other in the fake 3d space. I frequently couldn’t tell if the Spiky Ball of Doom was floating above my head and one space away or if it was just two spaces away. This led to a lot of missed jumps, and a lot of ouchies for my little shirtless guy.

I played this game for a couple of hours the weekend I rented it, but just kept failing at jumps that I thought I should be making thanks to the wonky perspective. Frustration usually doesn’t make a particularly fun game, so I took it back to the rental store. And while I’d love to say that from that moment on I decided to never again be swayed by good graphics, my personal history would argue otherwise.