Archive for the ‘Super NES’ Category

Super Mario Bros. 3

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

A few years after the completely out-of-place Super Mario Bros. 2, we were treated to a new, proper, Mario game. One that felt more like the original game, which was already pretty good.

The story goes that somehow Bowser, the antagonist from the first game, has managed to somehow asexually produce seven kids. Each of which he sends out to a different kingdom in the Mushroom World to steal each king’s magic wand, turn him into some kind of animal, and then rule the kingdom, I guess. So the Princess Toadstool sends the Mario Bros. out to fix everything up (i.e. depose the Koopa Kids and return the wands to their owners).

They do this by utilizing their world-famous superhuman jumping abilities combined with their new powers of scrolling the screen right and left as well as up and down. Which actually becomes kind of important relatively quickly. Mostly because you get new powerups to play around with that let you do things that you could only dream about in other games.

Yeah, you have your mushrooms, your fire flowers, and your starmen, but you also have the Super Leaf that makes your Mario Brother grow an extra set of ears and a raccoon tail that lets him fly somehow. You also have at your disposal three super suits: a frog suit that lets you swim better, a Tanooki suit that lets you briefly turn into a statue, and a Hammer suit that lets you toss hammers like those crazy Hammer Bros. In short, four more kinds of awesome. There are a few more, but they range from the really lame (the anchor), to the normal lame (Jugem’s Cloud), to the kinda lame (the music box), to the almost kinda useful (the P-Wing), so I won’t bother going into them.

As you’d probably expect, the Mushroom World is a lot more expansive than the puny Mushroom Kingdom, so your view of the action is zoomed out a bit to a giant map that represents the Marios’ journey. Along the way there are, for lack of a better term, ‘points of interest’ that you have to clear. These could be your run-of-the-mill stages, power-up huts, minigames for powerups or extra lives, wandering enemies, or the like. Once you decide to take one of them on, you zoom in to a closer-up view with lots more details, and you get a finer-grained control over your Bro. It actually reminds me a lot of Zelda II’s overworld/action stage mechanic. Your goal is to clear a path to the castle to see what hilarious creature the king has been transformed into, then hop aboard the Koopa Kid’s ship, and then give the Kooplet what-for. Once you do that, it’s on to the next stage… Er, I mean Kingdom.

Once you finally clear the world of the menace that is Bowser’s Spawn, you get a stunning revelation that while you were out dealing with Bowser’s kids that he’s gone and kidnapped the unguarded princess.

The nerve!

So you have to trek through one final world to defeat Bowser, rescue the Princess, and win the day… again. It’s pretty hackneyed, I know, but that doesn’t really make it any less entertaining.

Super Mario Bros. 3 would actually be first game that I’d ever play that was an import. I remember that it wasn’t supposed to come out over here in the States for months, yet a friend of mine got the sole rental copy at the local game import shop. The cartridge, since the Japanese Famicom has a different design than the original NES, was about half as long as a US cartridge, and that meant that, even with the adapter, it was still shoved quite far into the NES, and would have been impossible to remove, had someone not had the foresight to attach a ribbon on the thing.

We played that game obsessively, and after a few days he was able to finish it, though I wasn’t around to witness it. For that, I’d have to wait until I got my hands on a copy. The problem was, though, that the game was wildly popular, and was out on rental just about everywhere I went. The odd (or sometimes very odd) friend would find it on a rental and let me play it for a few minutes, but I never really could make what you’d call ‘progress’.

That all changed when another of my friends found a copy of the game in the alley behind my house. Then the game got passed around a little bit and I finally was able to put enough time, effort, and determination into it that, several months after its domestic release, I was able to wrest victory from the gaping maw of defeat.

I think it was the waiting around and getting little tastes of the game here and there that made the final victory all the more palpable for me. And, in fact, it’s a feeling that I haven’t quite managed to attain since, which is kind of disappointing.

Contra III: The Alien Wars

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I think I played the original Contra game so much because the developers were kind enough to include a magic code that gave me enough lives to be able to finish the game without too much trouble. But that also had the side effect that I got reasonably good at the thing. A sequel did come out a bit later that I didn’t actually spend much time with at all, for some reason, but then a sequel to that came out for the then newfangled Super NES, and I decided to give it a shot.

I don’t really know how Contra III fits in with the whole Contra timeline, I thought I remembered blowing up the queen alien’s heart at the end of the original game, several dozen times, in fact. But, maybe the events in Super C, the one I didn’t actually bother with, actually explain things… but I wouldn’t count on that.

But, in this game the aliens are alive, well, and are decimating the planet. So you have to take control of your shirtless musclebound hero-type guys and walk headlong into the gaping maw of the alien army invasion. Of course your Enmuscled Toughguy(tm) perishes if he’s so much as grazed by pretty much anything, so you have to use your fantastically honed reflexes to guide him unerringly toward the end of the stage. The only tools at your disposal, other than acrobatics, are the various forms of heavy artillery that just kind of float into view every once in a while. Which is actually pretty much the same as the first game, but this time you can hold two of the SuperGuns at the same time, and can switch back and forth between them as the situation dictates, which is actually pretty awesome.

I didn’t actually find this game too much harder than the old NES game that I cut my Contra teeth on, but I had a whole lot more trouble with it, and I’m pretty sure that it’s because there was no way to get a ludicrous amount of lives to kind of nullify the challenge a bit. The most you can start with is seven. Combine that with a limited amount of continues and the game suddenly gets a little bit tougher.

On my rental, though, I did manage to plow through the game on Easy mode, only to be greeted with an invitation to try a tougher difficulty level. Kind of a letdown, but OK. So I tried my hand at the next tougher difficulty and immediately got my head handed to me. And then, before I really got started on ‘Normal’, my time with the game was up. Though I understand now that I would have had to have bested the game on ‘Hard’ to fight the real end boss and see the actual real ending, so I’m not too broken up about it.

Super Mario Bros.

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Super Mario Bros. is the game that put millions of NES systems into homes and really made the Mario brothers household names. I understand that the game has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of forty million copies. Forty million! If I got one copy of the game per second, it’d take me just over 463 days to get that many. Not to mention the pile of cartridges in my back yard might be visible from space.

But do I really need to talk about a game with the kind of ubiquity that Super Mario Bros. enjoys? Absolutely!

Super Mario Bros. set the story for most of the Mario games to come after it. The princess is kidnapped by Bowser and the Mario brothers have to go rescue her. They do this by running (and sometimes swimming) to the right and utilizing their now world-famous jumping ability, and any powerups they can find along the way.

I’m going to assume that you’re familiar enough with this game, so I’m not going to feel any great need to go into too much detail about it.

But a lot of people regard this game as somewhat of a classic. You can hum a few bars of the main theme song and lots of people will immediately know what you’re singing, and probably sing along. Or they’ll tell you about how much fun that they had with the game. But if this game was released today, would it have the same status that it holds now? Would people have fawned over it and held it in such high regard.

I don’t think so.

But it was a very important game, and I think it’s aged pretty well. The gameplay still holds up. If you’ve never played the game before, it’s tough, but beatable. And, in fact, most times that your progress is impeded you can see where you screwed up, and are that much wiser for the next go ’round. Which means that when you start from the beginning of the game each time you get just a little further and a little further until you finish the game! Only to find out that there’s a bonus mode waiting for you where the game’s tougher and the enemies move faster, which is still fiendishly clever. And you don’t really get anything for clearing the harder mode other than the sense of accomplishment that you did it, but what do you want from an over-20-year-old game?

I think it’s probably out of cookies by now.

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

I really liked the two Pitfall! games for the Atari 2600. I liked taking Pitfall Harry on whatever wacky adventures the game designers dreamed up for him to go on. So a few years later a new game game out in the Pitfall! universe, this time starring Harry’s son. Apparently Harry’s gone missing in some jungle or other and it’s up to Junior to find and rescue him.

Since I liked the the original games so much, I decided that I had to play this game. So on one Friday night I grabbed it for a rental. Thinking that the game would be some kind of unique spin on the Pitfall! formula, I instead got a generic ‘run around a huge level looking for the end boss’ game that was actually pretty unremarkable.

‘Unremarkable’ might be overstating it a bit. The game was just kind of generic with Pitfall!-esque stuff tossed in to give it some kind of ‘cred’. But it was just kind of ‘blah’, so I got bored with it real fast. But, the best thing about this game was the ending sequence.

Spoilers, yeah.

In the end of the game you rescue your pop from some kind of Mayan… thing. But instead of updating his look to make him blend in with the game, they used his old Atari artwork.

<sarcasm>Hah! Juxtaposition of new, good looking graphics and old, busted graphics. How hilarious, exciting, and it totally makes a generic game less tedious to play!</sarcasm>

In fact, to save you from actually having to track down and play this letdown of a game, just watch this video.

There you go, you’ve now seen the best moment of this game without wasting hours of your life or any of your dollars.

You’re welcome.

Final Fantasy IV

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

I know that I’m going to get some of the details of this story wrong because it’s mostly told in character exposition, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

See, a long time before the game starts there was this planet between Earth and Mars where a super-advanced civilization lives. Somehow their planet blows up and they look for a new place to live. They decide that Earth looks pretty awesome, but it’s got primitive non-advanced humans on it. So, they decide to go into some kind of stasis on the moon until the civilization advances enough so that they can coexist… all but three. One of them decides to watch over the others so that nothing bad happens to them. Another one goes down to check the humans out, and the third doesn’t want to wait for the earthbound civilization to advance and decides that it’s best to just eradicate the natives and then move in.

As for the guy that moves in with the earthlings, he has two sons, but then dies somehow. The sons become wards of the king and are eventually put in the army. A few years later the king begins to act a little oddly and makes the army do Bad Things(tm) to Innocent People(tm) to get some mysterious crystals for an unclear end.

One of the sons decides that he’s not comfortable with all the killings, but gets a new mission during which he inadvertently kills some girl’s mother and then burns their village to the ground. What follows is a fairly complex story involving redemption, mind control, a mysterious underworld area, a mechanical giant, and something called a Lunar Whale.

Even back when I first played this game, I was impressed by the breadth and scope of this game. The cast of characters is pretty big, and, as far as the story goes, it becomes apparent that your character’s actions affect everyone in the world. And you really feel an emotional attachment to most of the characters that you come across. Then there are the twists and turns that the story takes, and other than the mind-control bits that pop up a little more often than I’m totally comfortable with, but I let it go because the rest of it is really good.

I rented this game several times, and actually managed to finish it because the other folks that rented it on the days I didn’t have it would save their games in the other save slots instead of overwriting mine. They respected my space and I respected theirs.

And it was a good thing, too, I was completely engrossed in the thing for the entire time I’d rent it (about 24 hours each time), and even though I though the game was completely awesome, I’d have been a little upset if I couldn’t have seen how it ended and finally have revealed who was actually friend, who was foe, and what the crystals were actually used for. In fact, this is the first Final Fantasy game that I’d ever played and it kind of hooked me on the series. And even though they’ve gotten kind of bizarrely obtuse in recent iterations, this one definitely makes the short list of great games in the series, and absolutely should make the short lost on Best Games Ever lists.

The Lost Vikings

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

So say you have some vikings, one that can run real fast, one that is good with a sword and a bow, and one that’s tough and has a shield. Let’s then suppose that said vikings get kidnapped by aliens for some kind of experiment or other. Then we can further suppose that the experimentees get rowdy, like vikings occasionally do, and begin to plot their escape. Once we have all of that down we have a game called The Lost Vikings.

So you have to take all three of your viking buddies through the various rooms in the spaceship, all filled with lots of forms of insta-death, and use their unique abilities to proceed. You can and must switch between the three guys at will to try and maneuver your way around the dangers. Olaf, the one with the shield, can block things or use his shield as a stepping stone for the other guys. Erik, the skinny one, can run real fast, jump real far, and crash headlong into things and break them. And Baleog, the other one, can pretty much just run around and kill things. Of course, the real fun is trying to use their abilities in unorthodox ways, which is actually required to make progress in this brain-bending game.

I thought that this game looked pretty good when I saw it in the game magazines at the time. But what I guess I didn’t know was that you have to control all three of the boogers at roughly the same time and all three of them must survive every level. Which wouldn’t be too bad, except that if you make a misstep (i.e. get one of the vikings killed off in some hilariously tragic fashion) then the level becomes unsolvable. You do get unlimited continues to mitigate this somewhat, and I needed every one of them.

Unfortunately, I only had this game for one evening on a rental, which is not nearly enough time to get intimately familiar with the sort of arcane dance routine you have to do precisely in each level to win. I only managed to get through the first few stages before I gave in. And by ‘gave in’ I mean ‘took the game back to the rental store’.

Some time not too long ago, Blizzard rereleased this game for the Game Boy Advance, and put up a demo of the game here, which you can check out if you want to get a taste of sweet viking action.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The first couple of Zelda games were pretty good and everything, and even though I liked the second game well enough, I’m relatively certain that I’m in a significant minority. So it’s no big surprise that the game would return to the kind of game that started the series, some kind of overhead-viewed adventure through some dungeons.

The game also tried to give the backstory to the series a little more meat. It established where Ganon came from, told where the ’seven wise men’ came from, and lots of other little tidbits that tried to kind of kick the Zelda mythos into high gear. You can get everything you need to know just from playing through this game. There’s plenty of exposition in just the right places to keep you going.

The game starts on a dark and stormy night (fancy!) with Link getting a telepathic message from the Princess in Distress, Zelda. Link’s uncle also got the message, and he sets out to rescue her first. Incredibly, though, uncle-guy fails at his mission pretty much right away and it falls on Link to take up the family sword and shield and figure out what’s going on.

Eventually, you find out that there is this evil wizard who’s kidnapping girls for some reason, and to get to him, you have to get the Master Sword, and to get that you have to get three pendants hidden away in three separate dungeons all over the known world. Once you get all of that you have to find and rescue each of the kidnapped maidens who are being held in seven separate dungeons in a parallel, corrupt version of the real world.

But, that’s all fine because each time you go into a dungeon you get a special item that you are almost guaranteed to have to use to defeat the master of that dungeon, and just generally gives you more stuff you can do, which, in turn, will let you get to areas in the overworld that you couldn’t get to before. It’s an elegant design, really, the world expands slightly every time you get one. One of the early dungeons, for example, has you finding these gloves that let you lift rocks that were once too heavy to move. Then you think back to a rock that you saw with some tantalizing goodie behind it, and you go back to get it.

I rented this game one time, and was impressed by it. There was no part of this game I didn’t like… with the exception of one puzzle in the Ice Dungeon, it’s got a pretty circuitous solution, but it is solvable. But the rest of the game? Pure gold. Heck, possibly even platinum. The guy that went in with me to rent the thing and I stayed up most of the night playing it, but we weren’t able to fully polish it off. I was not to be deterred, though! I would rent the game again (though from a different place) and play (mostly) though it again. After that I decided that I needed to actually purchase the game to finish it off, and since I didn’t have any kind of money or cash flow source, I decided to get the next best thing, the strategy guide.

I pored over the strategy guide for months, studying all of the nooks and crannies of the game, learning where the hearts were and how to defeat Trinexx and what the names of the enemies are (knowing the difference between a peahat and a leever might come in handy some day). Finally, I was able to finish the game and cross it off the list. But it didn’t really end there. A few years later I found the game in a bin of games on Teh Clearance for a paltry sum, and since my wallet contained exactly that amount, I brought it home with me, and played through it again.

And I never once questioned why Link had pink hair.

Killer Instinct

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

2D fighting games are very similar to each other. The basic formula is two characters beating on each other until one runs out of stamina. But the variations that the developers use to differentiate them make it worthwhile to play more than one of them.

Killer Instinct tells the story of super corporation Ultratech and their mysterious fighting tournament that they put on. See, Ultratech has fantastically advanced technology and dabbles in genetic engineering, cybernetics, capturing aliens, opening interdimensional portals, you know, regular stuff. They put on this tournament apparently to test out their projects against whoever wants to participate.

So, pretty standard stuff. But where the game really sets itself apart is the combo system. In other fighting games, if you’re good, you might be able to pull off a combo of 5 or so hits. In this one, lengthy combos are the name of the game.

Nearly every move in this game can be chained with other moves to produce combos. For instance, you do your opening move for two hits, then hit the ‘autodouble’ button for three more hits, then hit the finisher for two more. MASTER COMBO! Longer combos have more impressive names, and are harder to pull off. They culminate in the over-20-hit Ultra Combo that usually finishes your opponent off. This is all mitigated by the combo breaker. The guy getting pummeled has a move that interrupt the combo, and the longer it goes, the easier it is to pull off (you have more chances).

There’s more to this game than that, though, no mercy moves, humiliations, general silliness that I won’t go into here. I ended up playing this game a whole lot in the arcades, mostly because it was similar enough to Street Fighter that I could pick it up really easily, and different enough that I really enjoyed it. It also didn’t hurt that at my local arcades the game was ridiculously popular for a long time, and there were often crowds gathered around. And crowds meant that you got to play against real actual people, which is absolutely the best way to play any fighting game, and, in the days before the Internet, the best way to pass around notes and learn everyone’s moves and finishers.

Later on, I would actually be able to purchase this game for my Super NES. Normally arcade to Super NES ports suffer greatly, but this game came through remarkably similar to the arcade version, which was no small feat. But the real icing on the cake was that this game was compatible with the XBand modem. And what that meant is that even though the players in my neighborhood quit playing this game pretty much as soon as they started I still had an entire nation of willing opponents, each ready, willing, and able to flog me repeatedly. Which kind of sounds like it’d be a frustrating thing, but it really taught me a lot about the ins and outs of the game by collaborating with real actual people. Strange, I know, but that’s how we did it way back in the ’90s.

Tetris & Dr. Mario

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

It should be pretty obvious by now that I have an unhealthy affinity for puzzle games, specifically puzzle games that have you arranging things that are falling into some kind of container. So when I saw that I could get two of my favorites for $20, I was pretty well obligated to seize the opportunity.

Tetris & Dr. Mario is, fairly obviously, a combination of the two titular games, with only minor graphical and audio upgrades. Single-player, multi-player, it’s all the same, really. But the real draw is what’s called ‘mixed mode’. In mixed mode you and another player compete in a little Tetris, a little Dr. Mario, and then a little more Tetris. This alone justified the purchase for me.

If nothing else, the game’s just a way to have two puzzlers in one convenient package. And, since everyone knows how to play Tetris, and nearly everyone knows how to play Dr. Mario, it’s pretty easy to pick up and play, too. Bonus.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

I guess to a neophyte the Final Fantasy series might be a little intimidating. Ridiculously convoluted storylines, lots of characters with obvious flaws, and sometimes obtuse battle mechanics might be difficult to grasp. So, what do you get if you take all of that out? You get something like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is kind of a ‘beginner’s RPG’. And what that means is that it’s got all of the features of a regular RPG pared down to its barest elements. They story? Something about saving the world, but without all the normal twists and turns. Party management? Only two characters in your party, max. Battles? Streamlined to the point where you can win most of the time by holding down the ‘A’ button to accept the default commands. Oh, and your partner is so powerful that you’re going to have to try real hard to lose.

Since I had the experience of a few Final Fantasy games under my belt, I fully expected that this game would be easy, and I was mostly right. You’re pretty much always told exactly where to go and what to do to proceed. The battling amounts to just holding down ‘A’ until you win, so you just kind of meander around the game taking in what passes for the story… Until you get to the end.

The last boss of the game, for some bizarre reason, is a lot tougher than anything else in the game. Duh, I know, it’s supposed to be. But this one was far and away tougher than anything else in the game, and a genuine challenge. I actually had some trouble beating him… but I did beat him. After that I found out that there’s a glitch(?) that allows you to cast Cure on him to do ludicrous damage and win without much effort. Which kind of seems anticlimactic… unless you just played through the game a second or third time and want to get right to the ending real quick.