Far Away Times

I recently moved out of my hometown to attend law school. It was a pretty big upheaval in my normally boring life, packing up and relocating three hundred miles away.  I don’t like change.  Eager to embrace something familiar, I started up a play through of a comforting old game on my 3DS to unwind. The choice of game was an obvious one: Chrono Trigger. It is not only one of my all-time favorite games, but it is the perfect sort of breezy fun I was looking for. Plus, I know the game inside and out, having made a point of beating it every year for over a decade.  Why, then, do I find myself wanting to burst into tears each time I flip open my 3DS and hear that sublime music?

all pics taken from vgmuseum.com

I first played Chrono Trigger back around 1997 or so. It wasn’t a new game at that point, though at that time I had little context for what was new or old.  I was still looking for Final Fantasy 2 when I saw my friend playing Final Fantasy 3. Before I bought the system, all of my knowledge of SNES games came from what I saw at that friend’s house. As I was still uncovering the mysteries of the original Final Fantasy, he showed me the path those games had taken in the next generation. We dabbled in Final Fantasy 3 and Earthbound and Breath of Fire in his tiny gaming room. Unfortunately, most of those games take too long to beat in a few sittings, but I still learned how much I wanted to experience them.

Once I finally bought an SNES, I still had to get the games.  I can remember my younger brother and me pooling our money on the family’s rare trips to the city, begging our parents to take us to the game store that just happened to be next to our usual shoe store.  They had the games on my list, those mentioned about, but at a dear price. For a used, unboxed copy of Chrono Trigger, my brother and I paid almost $70.  And we were glad to do it, based only on playing the opening.

My brother and I did a lot together.  He is barely a year younger than me and though I would never have called him such, he was probably my best friend growing up.  We were close in age and shared a lot of interests, with SNES rpgs definitely among them.  To make room for younger siblings in our always too small house, our bedroom was moved to basement.  The concrete floored, concrete walled, spider filled basement.  We each had a bed, we had a beaten down old couch and we had a TV.  Together we spent a lot of blistering summer days hiding in that basement getting as much 16-bit goodness as we could.  Together we plumbed the depths that Chrono Trigger had to offer.

We didn’t just take turns playing; we wanted to know everything about that game.  And there is a lot to explore there.  We would bike to the library to use their dial-up internet, limited to one hour a day, to find and print FAQs and Guides. Pages of those guides are still at my parents’ house, crumpled and well read.  That summer we spent a couple weeks in Indiana visiting relatives.  We brought the SNES and Chrono Trigger.  That is not to say that is the only game we devoted our time to.  We also had Mega Man X and Final Fantasy 3 and Super Mario World. But as good as all of those games are, they weren’t THE game.

Chrono Trigger is a perfect game. There aren’t many games I would make that claim about. Even games I love, like Super Mario Galaxy and Mega Man 3, have identifiable flaws.  Super Mario Galaxy has some awkward motion control stages and occasionally its weird physics force some weirdness with the camera, though that is less frequent than awe-inspiring joy.  Mega Man 3 has noticeable s l o w d o w n and the Doc Robot stages are better in theory than execution.  However, I can think of nothing about Chrono Trigger that could be improved.  I honestly believe that. The music is excellent, no SNES game looks better, it moves at a snappy pace and is perfectly balanced.  It does everything right.  I have loved it since I first played it.

All those memories of enjoying this game over the years simply bring sharply to mind how long ago those days actually are.

My brother and I are still close; though not geographically close now that I have moved.  Before the move we saw each other at least once a week.  And we were always there if wanted to do more.  The days where the two of us would bunker down on a ratty couch for three or four hours of time traveling adventures are long past.  They have been for some time and it is just dawning on me now that those times will never come again. And that is okay.  He’s married and has two kids.  Not too long ago he asked me to get some game from PSN for him to play with his older son on our old PSP.  Among the games he wanted was Chrono Trigger.  Quibbles about the quality of the PS1 port aside, I thought it was the best thing.  My brother and I may never sit side by side on a couch, playing a game together into the small hours of the night, but we might find time to do that with our children and then they will have those experiences too.

Mario Replay: Super Mario World

Super Mario World doesn’t change things a whole lot from Super Mario Bros 3. It is the closest any of these sequels has looked to the game before it, even taking into account SMW’s new SNES paint job. Yes, the series has made the jump to 16-bits, but the look of the series has started to solidify.  They aren’t going back to the drawing board every time now, or massaging an unrelated game to make it look like a Mario one.  This feeling is probably increased by my having most recently played the All-Stars versions of the NES games, were are designed to look as much like Super Mario World as possible.

In a few ways, Super Mario World reins things in from Super Mario Bros 3.  There are fewer power ups, the plethora from Mario 3 reduced to just the fire flower and the cape.  That is offset by making Mario himself more innately capable, with a new spin jump and the ability to climb on certain walls. That and the major addition of supporting character/power up Yoshi. While there  are fewer power ups, the levels are much larger. That facilitates the game’s change of focus from from speedy completion to more sedate exploration.  SMW’s levels, especially compared to its predecessor’s, are expansive.  It plays somewhat slower, but encourages a more thoughtful approach.  It helps that these larger levels are mostly very well designed.

Despite the fact that the games don’t play all that differently, there is a fundamental change to the Mario series that happens with Super Mario World.  Before that the games were all still arcade influenced action games, designed to be beaten in one sitting.  Super Mario World introduces saving and the game becomes much more exploration focused. While there are secrets in all of the games, compare what finding a secret area in Super Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros 3 gets the player with Super Mario World.  In SMB you can warp rooms, which let you skip large portions of the game.  The same is true in SMB3, where you find warp whistles that transport the player later in the game.  There secrets there are designed to help facilitate the experienced player beat the game by skipping it.  The games are designed to be beaten in one sitting, and jumping almost straight to world 4 really helps with that. Just knowing about the warp is not enough, an inexperienced player will be quickly stymied by the increased difficulty, but those who have seen it before can quickly get to the meat of the game.  In Super Mario World, though, the secrets are not there to let the player skip the game, but to open up more game to beat.  You can unlock star roads and alternate routes, but still you have to beat the vast majority of the game before you can have your showdown with Bowser.

That Super Mario World makes this change without dramatically changing how the game is played is rather remarkable. In many ways, Super Mario World is the last of the original run of Super Mario games.  After this we got Yoshi’s Island, which changes things up significantly, and then the 3D evolution with Super Mario 64. By the time the series came back to 2D with New Super Mario Bros it wasn’t really the same thing.  I’m not sure this is a bad thing.  I’m playing through the series as fast as possible, one after the other (while still taking time out for Zelda, Persona and Dragon Quest) and I would be overjoyed if there were another handful of 2D Mario games before the series went 3D.  Hell, we got 10 Mega Man games in that same time frame, and most of them are more than worthwhile.  But each of the console Mario games has a distinctive feel.  Mario World and Mario 3 might the be the closest any of the games feel to each other, with the exclusion of the glorified expansion pack The Lost Levels, and even between those two there are significant differences.  I don’t see how Nintendo could have fit in any more games without repeating themselves.  Super Mario World is the perfect end point for this vein of the series.

Super Mario World remains one of my favorite games.  In the eternal, pointless argument between Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, I am strongly in favor of the SNES game. This playthrough did nothing to change that.  I love Super Mario World, even if I usually peter out about three worlds in. Now it is on to relatively unexplored territory.

25 Years 25 Games 22: Secret of Evermore

Secret of Evermore is a Squaresoft SNES game that is largely forgotten when talking about the 16-bit RPG giant’s output. It’s not Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger or even Secret of Mana. Though Secret of Mana is part of the reason the game is remembered by those who do remember it. Secret of Evermore is the first and only game developed by Squaresoft USA. It plays much like Secret of Mana and got a bad rep largely for supposedly preventing us in the USA from getting Secret of Mana’s real sequel. That loss appears to have more to do with Squaresoft’s falling out with Nintendo and the difficulties in compressing the dialogue to fit onto an American cartridge. Still, while the game is not actually connected to the Mana series, Evermore is built along the same lines.


For better or worse, Secret of Evermore does feel “American.” It weird, but it is weird in a somewhat familiar way. The protagonist is an everyday kid that gets sucked into an alternate reality with his dog. The closest thing he has to a personality is that he loves what sound like terrible science fiction movies. His dog has more going on, if only because the dog changes form in each area of the game, going from a monstrous cave dog to a sleek greyhound to a fancy poodle to a jet power toaster. It is something at least.

The game starts with the main character getting sucked into a prehistoric world and movies through a few different realms before ending in a science fiction world. Each world is the creation of one of the people who were originally involved in an alternate reality experiment, and each one created a world to their liking. The game plays out a little like Chrono Trigger, moving from one setting to a completely different one every handful of hours. The game looks good, though not great. The music, though, is pretty great. It does play a lot like Secret of Mana. It has that same hit and wait battle system, with a meter at the bottom that must charge before you can effectively attack again. It has the ring menus for choosing spells and weapons. There are some changes to how spells work, but the game is definitely a sibling of Secret of Mana.


There are two things that stop the game from being one of the SNES’s greats. The first is one of those changes from Secret of Mana, the differences in the magic system. Magic in Secret of Mana was already a low point, since you had to level it up by repeatedly casting spells. That seems to be somewhat alleviated by having only one character in Secret of Evermore, but something new added to what in Secret of Evermore is called Alchemy makes it even more tedious. In order to alchemy, you have to have the spell ingredients. That means you have to scour levels with dog to find invisible ingredients or spend all of your money stocking up on ingredients so you can cast the magic. Plus, you still have to level up each spell individually. So you cast the spell repeatedly to level up so it is strong enough to be useful, but then you run out of ingredients so you can’t actually cast it. It really makes you want to stick with some magic you learn early in the game, assuming you stocked up on enough spell ingredients to keep casting the high level versions of it. Without checking a guide there is no way of knowing which spells are actually worth using, other than leveling them up some and comparing, but that leads to even more ingredient hunting.


The problem with alchemy is connected to the game’s other big problem: it is horribly balanced. One area will be super tough, but it will be followed by one that is super easy. One boss will be little more than a speed bump, but the next one might be a game ending obstacle. One spell you get fairly early (Crush) is super powerful, but the effectiveness of alchemy is all around a crap shoot. The whole game just feels super uneven.

That unevenness is not particularly surprising given that this was a rookie team making their first game. It feels like a rookie effort. There are quite a few good ideas here and a lot to like, but the game also feels kind haphazard. It is a good game, but there are a lot of good action-rpgs on the SNES. Games like Illusion of Gaia or A Link to the Past. Secret of Evermore doesn’t belong in the upper echelon of SNES games, but it is a worthy addition to the system’s library and still decently fun to play today.

25 Games 25 Years 20: DoReMi Fantasy

I included this game, DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (Milon’s Heart-Pounding Adventure) because I mysteriously appeared on Virtual Console in the middle of the Wii’s life. It wasn’t the earliest import title on the service, but it came fairly early in that initiative and seemed like an odd choice. There were definitely more high profile releases that never made the trip to America, like Secret of Mana’s sequel Seiken Densetsu 3, or games that already had an English translation, like Terranigma. Instead we go this little known sequel to a not particularly good or well-remembered NES game. It was a little intriguing and a little baffling, especially given that the limited coverage of it was fairly positive. Playing it for the first time a few weeks ago I was shocked. DoReMi Fantasy is not just a solid little platformer, it is one of the best platform games on the SNES.


DoReMi Fantasy is the story of a little boy, Milon, whose fairy friend Alis has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Amon. So he sets off on an adventure to rescue her and restore music to his forest home. Milon has to find the five magical instruments and find the magic stars to restore their powers. While Milon himself looks like a cutesy Link from Legend of Zelda, the game is much more in the Mario mold. The game is primarily a run and jump adventure, with Milon eventually getting a small number of other abilities as he goes along, most notably he can make a magical set of stairs out of musical notes. Otherwise, it is largely the same as Mario or Donkey Kong. Milon doesn’t kill enemies by jumping on them, which merely stuns them. Instead he must catch them in a bubble that he blows with what appears to be a straw.


It starts out fairly easy but by the end the difficulty has ramped up to something approaching hard, though it never gets particularly difficult. It begins at a Kirby level, but ends near late Mario game difficulty. Milon can take 3 hits before dying and life restoring items are plentiful. The level design ranges from devious to delightful, never unfair but sometimes a little frustrating with well-placed enemies.  None of them are particularly hard, but few are cakewalks.


Really, the game just does everything right. The graphics are bright and clear, with expressive, colorful sprites and some well-designed worlds to go along with standards like forest, ice and lava worlds. The controls are pitch perfect and the music is more environmental than most SNES games but it works really well. It is also just damn charming. The cutscenes are goofy fun. One has Milon choosing between Bombermen to help him get past an obstacle, one of which blows Milon up. One boss isn’t an ally of the enemy, merely a rapscallion blocking the way. It all makes for a game that is just a joy to play.


While the game breaks no new ground, it does everything it wants with precision. It doesn’t quite stand up to Super Mario World, but I wouldn’t put any other SNES platform game much higher than it. I’ve said it before going through this project, but this is just the sort of game I hoped to find doing this.

25 Years 25 Games 14: Shin Nekketsu Kouha

The next game in my yearlong celebration of the SNES is not one that was on the list when I posted it at the start of the year. This youtube video reminded me that this game exists, which was all the push I needed to actually play it. This game is Shin Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-tachi No Banka, which means something in Japanese; the game is a sequel of sorts to one of my favorite games of all time, River City Ransom, that never came to the USA and is virtually unknown.


It isn’t a long game, taking no more than 3 or 4 hours the first time through, but that was enough for me to be really disappointed in some parts of the game. Not the music, which is pretty dang awesome. It is clearly along the same lines as the NES Kunio games (River City Ransom, Renegade, World Cup Soccer, Super Dodge-ball, Crash and the Boys Street Challenge) but done in that distinctive and or so enjoyable SNES style. The graphics are sharp as well. The problem is in the very structure of the game.


Shin Nekketsu Kouha loses me because it really isn’t the game I want it to be. That really isn’t the game’s fault; it isn’t trying to be that game. I wanted a follow up to River City Ransom, but this game is actually a follow up to Renegade. They are both parts of the same diverse, inconsistently localized series, but they are very different games. Renegade is an earlier, much simpler game than RCR was, and Shin Nekketsu Koha mostly sticks to that simpler format. There is no exploration or rpg elements, it is just a straight forward brawler. Really, it is simple even for a brawler. There are barely levels, only small room where you fight 3 or 4 enemies, then go through a door to the next area. Repeat that about three times before you fight a boss. The only things in the game to change things up are some Outrun-esque motorcycle stages. They are fine, if lacking in checkpoints, but aren’t really a draw. And while the combat itself is fine, it does lack variety. There are four playable characters: Kunio, Riki and their respective girlfriends, but their movesets are all similar. They have different special moves, and those are almost all you want to use. It gets repetitive.


Those areas can be interesting. Kunio and Riki’s quest takes them all over Tokyo. They start in jail, framed for a hit and run they didn’t commit, only to break out and search for answers at their schools, an amusement park, and a nightclub, among other places. The amusement park at least makes an attempt to break up the super simplistic level design, with one area having Kunio fighting on top of an in use Ferris Wheel and another having a Roller Coaster to ride that is nothing more than a novelty, a neat but unnecessary inclusion.

I did like how story based it was. Not that the story was anything great, just the two heroes on a quest to clear their names. It is the sort of thing that would have worked in an 80’s action movie. The twists are largely predictable, but it is enjoyable to watch things play out.


I don’t have Shin Nekketsu Kouha, it just isn’t the game I want it to be. It is a thoroughly competent brawler, though one that came pretty late to the brawler scene. I think there is a reason that this game has languished in obscurity. It just isn’t great. It hit years too late and followed up a rough draft of a game that was never that good in the first place. I am always eager to see more of Kunio, but that group of characters starred in a wide variety of games with just a wide range of quality. Still, I’ll always have River City Ransom.

25 Years 25 Games #3: Super Punch-Out!!

For as big a fan as I am of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, it was kind of shocking to me to find out that there was a sequel on SNES.  This was in 2008, about the same time as Nintendo announced the Wii game.  Somehow, the existence of the SNES game eluded me for nearly 15 years.  I really don’t know how I didn’t know about it. I did buy it on the Virtual Console, but I never got around to playing it.

After beating it, I have to say that I don’t like it as much as the other two Punch-Out!! games I’ve played. A big part of that is how familiar I am with the NES game and how closely the Wii game sticks to it.  Super Punch-Out!! is quite a bit different. It is more complex, with a wider variety of punches and dodges available to the player, and it has a roster of opponents that is mostly unique to this game. (and the arcade games that no one has ever played) I think what really hurt my enjoyment of it, though, is that I don’t really remember how long it took me to get good at Punch-Out!!


I found playing Super Punch-Out!! very frustrating.  After the first few easy opponents, I started ran into the wall that is learning new fighters.  I got by Piston Hurricane and Bald Bull pretty easily, but Dragon Chan and Masked Muscle was where I started having a lot of trouble.  These fighters have a lot of different moves and tics, and learning those takes time.  Especially when the game doesn’t quite work like I expect it to.  The real problem is how fast I was trying to beat this game.  Now I think of NES Punch-Out!! as a pleasant romp, at least until the last three or four fights.  But it took me a long time playing that game to get that good.  Like playing it off and on for more than 20 years. Compared to that, or to a game that is deliberately as close to that game as possible.  Super Punch-Out!! is trying to push the series forward, and it mostly works, but it frustrates an old pro at the NES game.

None of those problems really have anything to do with what this game actually is.  Although I don’t much like this game, I can’t really claim that it isn’t a good, or maybe even great, game.  The complexity it adds should be counted as a good thing.  I really liked the different super punches that Little Mac has at his disposal.  I never really figured out how the different punches worked, but the options are good.  It will take time to learn when to use which one might take some time, but I like having a more options than just uppercut.


I’m of two minds about the new boxers in this game.  I really like some them; they work.  What I don’t like is how far they start to get away from being, you know, boxers.  Masked Muscle is fine; his luchador shtick doesn’t interfere with him being a boxer.  His one extra move is to spit in the player’s eyes, an illegal move but not a crazy one.  Likewise with Heike Kagero and his hair whip.  But Dragon Chan and his kicks or How Quarlow and his stick are just a step too far for me.


Super Punch-Out!! is a great looking game.  No one can argue with that. Just like the original was one of the best looking games on the NES, this one has some of the best looking sprites on the SNES. The music is also a highlight.  Really, there is no part of this game that isn’t well made; I just don’t like it as much as the previous game. Nintendo rarely misses and they were really on the top of their game in the SNES days.  While Super Punch-Out!! doesn’t quite have the reputation of some their best games, like Super Metroid or Yoshi’s Island, but it really shows how the mastered this hardware.

Stopping at Fourside

Like any right thinking person, I was elated last year when Earthbound finally hit virtual console. I don’t know what caused Nintendo to hold it back for so long; maybe it was the rumored problems with some musical sampling, maybe NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime loves to feast on fans tears. No matter what held it up, the game’s digital release was a cause for celebration. I quickly purchased it and got to playing. I didn’t finish, though.


I have finished Earthbound before. My brother and I borrowed it way back in the summer of ’98 or ’99. I was about fifteen, he was a year younger. We each had our own files and we took turns as best we could. I mean, we fought over who got to play and who got to play first, but we each got roughly the same amount of play time. The two of us play games differently. I am all about the experience. I like to explore, but I am generally about pushing the game forward. I want to get to the next area, to beat the next boss. I have no problem experimenting with strategies or different skills, but I don’t tinker just to tinker. If I have a strategy that works, I see no reason to change it. My brother, on the other hand, tends to master games. He loves to experiment with the game. If he gets a new attack, he will try to find a use for it, even if it doesn’t appear immediately useful. That also means that he has a tendency to grind. He will find out how everything works and how to game the system. What does that have to do with Earthbound? When we played I rushed ahead, speeding through the game to Magicant. There I promptly got stuck, dying repeatedly against Ness’s Nightmare. My brother was a little behind me, but he was also several levels higher. When he got to Magicant, me being the inconsiderate teenager I was, I played off of his save to the end of the game. I only saved once, but it was enough to rob him of some of the enjoyment of playing the game. I was an asshole, but an asshole that had beaten Earthbound.


Since then I have not been able to beat the game. It is not some sort of Karmic justice, just the reality of not owning the cartridge. I didn’t have the game, so I couldn’t play it. I did make several attempts at emulating it. The first time I spent a few leisurely weeks meandering through the first couple of areas of the game. I got to Fourside, and then my save disappeared. I don’t know what I did, it was just gone. I tried again a few years later, but my laptop died right around the time I reached Fourside. A few years ago, right around the time that the Mother 3 translation came out, I tried once more only to get distracted about the time I got to … Fourside. Just last year, when Earthbound finally reached Virtual Console, I played it right to the point where I got to Fourside.


I know the first half of Earthbound as well as I know any game. I could play through Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger or Suikoden II in my sleep. The same goes for Earthbound up to Fourside. After that, I am less sure. I remember parts of it, a desert, Magicant, Poo’s Cloudy home, but I am not sure of the order or the exact trials the player faces. The memories are there, but they are foggy. I feel like I’ve failed somehow for not playing this game more; like I am a poseur only pretending to be a fan. Especially now that I actually own the game. Now that I do own the game, I really should beat the game again. That is what I am trying to do before Bayonetta 2 hits later this month.


As for Karmic justice, that hit me as well. About five years ago now that friend that I borrowed Earthbound from was selling all of his old video games. He needed some cash. While he was more than happy to take the game shops offer for games like Ultraman or Eye of the Beholder for SNES, but their offer for Earthbound was insultingly low. My brother, who just happened to be with him at the time, offered him twice what the store was for the game. So he is now the owner of the copy of Earthbound we played as children. He deserves it.

Video Game Archaeology: Dino City

It is time for more Video Game Archaeology! Video Game Archaeology is my monthly exploration of an artifact video game found during my excavations of various bargain bins and yard sales; an examination of a game cast off and long forgotten. This month’s game is Dino City from Irem for the SNES.

This game was given to me as part of a Holiday gift exchange with the intention of me covering it here.  One look at what is quite possibly the best boxart ever and I knew that I had to play this game. Dino City is possibly the least known game that I’ve covered for VGA.  The internet at large seems to have little to no recollection of it.  There are a few videos on youtube, but that is about all.  The few people that do remember this game seem to like it quite a bit and wikipedia tells me that it got fairly good reviews back in the day.  However, I have no idea why.  This is a pokey, awkward and too hard platformer with little in the way of personality.  I’m being kind of harsh, it wasn’t terrible, but neither was Dino City actually any good.

Dino City is loosely based on the straight to VHS movie Adventures in Dinosaur City.  I actually saw this movie, and if my 20 year old memories are to be believed it was not too bad.  I suspect that my memories are suspect, though.  The plot is that young Timmy and his friend Jamie try to watch TV on one of Timmy’s Dad’s experiments, who I guess is some sort of scientist possibly the mad sort, and get sucked into some sort of dinosaur land.  There they team up with some Dinosaurs to fight evil Neanderthals.  And to get back home, I guess.  This is a platformer, there really isn’t a lot of story.  The game was developed by Irem, famous mostly for R-Type and other shooters.  They also developed one of my favorite games, Steambot Chronicles for the PS2.  Honestly though, much of their output, especially on consoles, is rather mediocre.  For every R-Type, there is a Deadly Towers or Spelunker.  Still, they are at least competent creators of video games with some classics to their name.

The player can choose from either Timmy riding Rex the T-Rex or Jamie riding Tops the Protoceratops.  There is actually significant differences between the two, as Rex can only punch while Tops throws some sort of darts or something.  There is no advantage to Rex, Tops is better, as he seems to do as much damage as well as have enough range that the won’t constantly be being hit.  Which brings me to my first big problem with this game. Many enemies take two or three hits to kill, which is just unfeasible with Rex’s tiny punching range.  You can jump on enemies a la Mario, but that still takes several hits to kill them.  This leads to the player character taking plenty of extra hits.  At least the developers compensated for this, in the early levels I played at least, by leaving plenty of life refilling hearts around.  This is certainly less of a problem with Tops, since most enemies can be dealt with from a distance.  It is a completely different game depending on which dino you choose, and Tops is the right choice.  I couldn’t even hurt the fist boss with Rex, but I didn’t have much of a problem with Tops.

Another place where the game falters are the controls.  They often feel sloppy.  Your character doesn’t quite move like you would expect him to move.  Everything seems to happen in slow motion.  Maybe I am just lamenting a lack of Mario-esque momentum, but Mario is the gold standard for the genre.  But while I played, it just felt right.  It wasn’t helped by the way too high (read: cheap) difficulty.  It might be a mindset thing.  I expected it play like a Mario game, which are usually designed to allow players to build momentum and sprint through levels, but Dino City has a slowed, more precise pace.  I didn’t like it.

Dino City is actually pretty solid on the presentation side.  The graphics, while not mind blowing, are pretty good.  Especially some of the changing backgrounds, like the sunset in the third stage.  The sprites are big and colorful, just as you would expect from an SNES game.  And the music is not too bad either.  There are some decent tunes, but again, nothing much better than good.

I guess I can see some nostalgic love for this game from people who played it new, but it hasn’t stood the test of time too well.  It is hard in the least fun ways, having enemies that take forever to dispatch and tiny platforms with imprecise controls.  Really, it is the cheap difficulty that really sinks it.  Still, I would say it is worthy of remembrance for the majestic box art alone.  It is likely a game that is better than the movie it is based on, but we needn’t set the bar that low for our entertainment.

images taken from the vgmuseum.

Video Game Archaeology 6: Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures

It is time for more Video Game Archaeology! Video Game Archaeology is my monthly exploration of an artifact video game found during my excavations of various bargain bins and yard sales; an examination of a game cast off and long forgotten. This month’s Video Game Archaeology entry is significantly less obscure than any of the previous ones. Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures is not exactly an unknown SNES game, though it is definitely not one of the systems most famous games. Still, it is a game based on one of the most popular film franchises ever. I, however, was wholly unaware of the game until it was released for Virtual Console a couple of years ago. I wasn’t shocked to discover that there had been an Indiana Jones SNES game, but it did stun me that I had managed to remain unfamiliar with it for all that time. At first this lead me to conclude that the game simply wasn’t very good. If was worth playing I would have heard about it. That changed when I noticed that nearly everyone who played had only good things to say about it. When I started doing my Indiana Jones movie reviews earlier this month, I finally decided to drop the 8 space dollars needed to download this and see for myself how good it was.

Boxart for Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures

Image via Wikipedia

Like Big Sky Trooper last month, Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures was from LucasArts and published, at least on the SNES, but JVC Musical Industries in 1994, though this was developed by Factor 5. Factor 5 is famous for the Star Wars Rogue Squadron games, though at the time they may have been famous for the Turrican series. Factor 5 and LucasArts had a long successful relationship, but Factor 5 disappeared a few years ago after the failure of Lair for the PS3.

Indy is a standard SNES action game, much like LucasArts’ Super Star Wars series, also for the SNES or Super Castlevania IV. The Castlevania comparison is an easy one, but they are not particularly similar. At least not more than any two SNES action games. They use the standard level progression and utilize passwords instead of saves, both those are just conventions of the genre. They do both share a primary weapon, the whip. In Castlevania it is a vital, versatile tool. In Indy the whip is much more limited. Especially when it comes to using the whip to swing around the stage. It is more fluid and more precise in Castlevania, while in Indy it feels sloppy and somewhat tacked on. Which is strange, because for the most part Indy controls much more fluidly than the arthritic Belmont.

Graphically, Indy is a nice looking game. Not mind-blowing, but a solid, competent SNES game. Apparently in a nice nod to the fact that Harrison Ford played both, Indy’s sprite is largely identical to the Hon Solo sprite from Super Return of the Jedi, though I haven’t played so I cannot confirm this. The music is a bit iffy. Sometimes it is spot on renditions of classic Indy music, sometimes it is kind of crappy renditions of classic Indy music.

As the name suggests, Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures provides playable versions of famous scenes from all three original Indy movies. Starting with the temple and boulder chase from Raiders of the Lost Arc. Each game has about 10 levels, give or take a few for a total of 28. I managed to play most of them thanks to my looking the passwords up online manly perseverance. It is about as accurate as a 2D action game version of a movie could hope to be. Sure there are some strange changes, like Walter Donovan’s skeleton after he chooses poorly being the final boss, but most of the stages are somewhat close to how you remember the scenes from the movies. There are a few Mode 7 stages, but I was not impressed.

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures is a very good game, but it is hardly essential. The fact that so few good games have been made based on these film is baffling, since they are perfect for it. This SNES one is a game worth playing. Maybe not worth tracking down 20 years later, but since it is readily available on Virtual Console I recommend Indy fans give it a whirl, as well as those who appreciate a quality 2D action game.

The 20 Best SNES Games

For the last of this week’s celebration of SNES’s 20th year of existence, I have resorted to best and laziest of ideas: a best games list. Since this is the 20th anniversary, I am picking my 20 favorite Super Nintendo games. As this is a list spun entirely from my own mind, I’m sure you disagree with some parts of it. To preemptively reply to any such complaints I say “neener neener neener.” Also “maybe you should go make your own list, with blackjack and hookers.”

Let us begin.

20) Actraiser

In what will be a theme for these early entries, I haven’t played Actraiser quite enough, so it might either deserve to be higher or not on the list at all. Based on its reputation and limited time playing it, I say it is the systems 20th best game.

19) Donkey Kong Country

Though DKC is one of the most successful games of the generation, I have barely played it. I liked it, but I have since played its reputedly better sequel and found it perfectly frustrating. I’ll give DKC the benefit of the doubt of being the better game and therefore being worthy of this list.

18) Super Street Fighter 2

I don’t know which version of Street Fighter 2 for the SNES is the best, I’ll leave that to the Street Fighter scientists. I do know that any discussion of 16-bit gaming must include talk of Street Fighter 2. Super Street Fighter 2 is the game I played as a kid, so that is the version I chose.

17) The Lost Vikings

This is a great little puzzle platformer from those who would be Blizzard. It is on par with the quality of their later games. I never beat this game, but I had a lot of fun.

16) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Another game I have not played near enough. The graphics alone make it worthy of this slot, though.

15) Super Mario RPG

I hate jumping in this game. Other than that, it is great. The mix of Mario and Square works better than Disney and Square.

14) F-Zero

The original futuristic racer is no longer the best (F-Zero 64 is better) but this is part one of the proof of mode 7 in action.

13) U.N. Squadron

There are tons of shooters on the SNES, but I say U.N. Squadron is the best. Keep your R-Types, Axelayes and Gradiuses, I’ll take U.N. Squadron. Actually, I’ll take those others, too. But U.N. Squadron first.

12) Secret of Mana

I may not be this games biggest fan, but it looks nice and sounds terrific. I get annoyed with the gameplay at times, but even I won’t say it’s anything but great.

11) Super Mario Kart

The other proof for mode 7. This is the original ingenious use of the Mario franchise, and it is still one of the best. Really, do you need me to tell you that Mario Kart is fuck awesome?

10) Super Castlevania 4

I bow before this games mastery of a gameplay style that I don’t really like that much. Super Castlevania 4 does just about everything right. Despite its intentionally stiff controls, it is loads of fun.

9) Final Fantasy 2

The immortal adventures of Cecil, Rosa and Kain. Like some other games in this series, FF2 is one of the most influential games in the genre. The story may revel in the melodramatic, but it is still riveting.

8) Kirby Super Star

The best Kirby game? I think so. This not quite mini-game collection was a near perfect platformer.

7) Mega Man X

The Mega Man series needed a shot in the arm after 6 quick NES installments, and Mega Man X was it. Too bad its energy did not quite carry on to its sequels.

6) Earthbound

Quirky, weird and under appreciated, except but its consistently rabid fans, Earthbound is a tragically unique game. I wish there were more like it.

5) Super Mario World

Mario, still the best after all these years. Every single mainline entry in this series has been wonderful. Super Mario World may be the most wonderful.

4) Super Metroid

This is a constant atop best ever lists. Many believe it to be the perfect game. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I like the games above it slightly more.

3) Final Fantasy 3

The cast is arguably too large, the style change at the halfway point may be too great, but all of this game’s parts fit together perfectly. All the best Final Fantasies are multiples of 3.

2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

This is not my favorite Zelda game. But even my least favorite Zelda game is still among my favorite games. Not that is my least favorite either. More than even the original, A Link to the Past established what a Zelda game should be.

1) Chrono Trigger

My personal favorite game ever. I love every part of Chrono Trigger. There is nothing this game does that isn’t great. The closest thing I have to a complaint about it is that for a long time I had an irrational hatred for Lucca. No reason, just screw that bitch. She ain’t so smart.