NES Remix

No, it’s not an indie.  But, I’m not exactly known as someone with a particularly fondness for NES “classics” that grew stale before I was even born.  When Nintendo surprised everyone Wednesday by debuting NES Remix and announcing it was out right now, it was bizarre.  Almost as if they had no confidence in it.  But, it looked vaguely like the 9-Volt stages in Wario Ware, which is pretty much my favorite game ever.  And my Wii U was starting to get dusty again after I finished Super Mario 3D World.  So, $15 later, I was going to see what this game Nintendo was so nervous about hyping for more than a few minutes was all about.

NES Remix is made up of micro-sections of sixteen early first-party NES games, most of which are no fucking good today and probably wouldn’t have been all that fun even back in the day.  Look, I appreciate the historical significance of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda.  But the same franchises have been done better so many times since the 80s.  To pretend otherwise seems kind of crazy.  Meanwhile, the majority of the games in NES Remix really just aren’t any good at all.  Baseball, Pinball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Golf should be locked in a box and thrown in the middle of the ocean.  And Ice Climber?  I swear to God, I think it might legitimately be the worst game Nintendo ever made.  Not only does it control like it was designed by someone who hates video games, but it also has a tendency to have players fall through the platforms because you’re “too close to the edge.”  Even though you’re more than a full character-length on the platform.  If there’s a worst first-party game Nintendo has ever put out, I haven’t played it.

Funny enough, it's actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

Funny enough, it’s actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

So, a collection of sixteen games that I either hate or am totally indifferent too?  Games which have not been blessed with the gift of graceful aging?  Games which I would never pay the price for off Nintendo’s Virtual Console if they were sold alone?  Obviously, we’re talking a real game of the year contender, right?

Well, actually.. yeah.

NES Remix utterly owned me.  I got it Wednesday morning, and I played it so much that I ran out the battery on my Wii U pad three times in a single day.  Never mind how pitiful it is that a console could have the battery run out that much in a single day.  I also will try not to focus too much on how there is absolutely no reason why NES Remix has to be exclusive to the Wii U, or that Nintendo unquestionably lost out in millions in revenue this week alone by not having a 3DS version launch alongside it.  Okay, so that’s a lie.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room and it requires scrutiny.  Nintendo fanboys are saying it’s because Wii U needs exclusive software to justify owning it.  That’s a fucking cop-out excuse if I’ve ever heard one.  NES Remix is the perfect portable game.  Pick-up-and-play mechanics, small goals, a large variety of gameplay styles, and no consequences if you think you have time to kill, turn on your device, then suddenly become busy and have to turn it off.  Tethering this diamond to the Wii U would be like hiring Michael Jordan to be on your golf team.  I’m sure he’s a damn fine golfer, probably better than your average schmo, but wouldn’t he better suited on your basketball team?  And NES Remix would be better suited on the 3DS.  It just would be.

But, the decision was made, and NES Remix is slumming it on the wrong console.  Fine.  It doesn’t change the quality of the game at all.  NES Remix is, as of this moment, the best digital-exclusive Nintendo has ever produced.  Like Wario Ware, Nintendo has taken gameplay, stripped out most of the bullshit, then weaponized what was left into the most potently addictive micro-gaming chunks seen since, well, the original Wario Ware.  This is gaming in its purest form.  Scoring and/or speed based, no frills, white-knuckle gaming.  And I love it.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called "Clu-Clu Land".  With a "C".  Just go back to playing Uncharted.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called “Clu-Clu Land”. With a “C”. Just go back to playing Uncharted.

The NES games are divided into sections by game, which have anywhere between seven to over twenty levels per game, though I don’t believe every game has its own unique stage selection.  Baseball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Donkey Kong 3 seem to have drawn the short straw and don’t have their own sections, and that’s just fine with me.  There’s also fifty “remix” stages that do something wacky with the gameplay or graphics, plus twenty-five “bonus stages” that seem more like deleted scenes, cut from the game for a reason.  Each stage is scored on a scale from one-star to three-stars, plus if you do really good, a meaningless rainbow star thing appears that doesn’t seem to unlock anything.

The remix stages are treated like the meat of the game, but really, I enjoyed all the non-psychedelic challenges presented here.  Stuff like trying to catch 1-up mushrooms in Super Mario, or fighting bosses in Legend of Zelda, one ten-second stage at a time, was hugely satisfying.  It even managed to make games like Golf and Balloon Fight more than enjoyable, something I never imagined was possible.  I knocked out most of those before I ever started on the Remix stages, which were often pretty cool too.  You might have to play a full stage in Super Mario where the game auto-runs for you.  As it turns out, Super Mario makes a great auto-runner.  Who would have thunk it?  Other challenges might be related to the presentation, like having the camera pull back, showing multiple, progressively smaller screens.  When I played these stages, I would then look away from the Wii U pad, where my room now seemed to be pulling back and shrinking.  It was trippy.  And awesome.

Not all the remix stages were well conceived.  A couple of them involve you playing Donkey Kong using Link.  No, you can’t use your sword for some fucking stupid reason.  Also, you can’t jump.  Ever tried to beat the first stage in Donkey Kong without jumping?  It’s way tougher than it sounds.  You’re basically left up to the whims of fate, hoping against hope that the barrels don’t go down the ladders you’re about to cross, since you have no way of defending yourself or otherwise avoiding them.  My gut instinct tells me they originally planned to let you use the sword for these sections (since it makes no fucking sense to have Link in Donkey Kong and not be able to swing your sword) but they couldn’t do it right (it’s really just a ROM hack, with Link painted over Mario), so they just left it the way it was.  Of course, the whole ROM hack theory doesn’t explain why you can’t jump.  Other ill-thought-out stages include Pinball (a crap game on its own, like most of the games in this collection) where the flippers are invisible, an Ice Climber stage where the only hook is the graphics become Game Boy-like (and this one screws up sometimes by having the mono-Gameboy sound be present during the NES part, and vice versa), or fighting “imposters” in Balloon fight that are the exact same enemies you already take on, re-skinned to look like you.  Really, some of them are just plain lazy.  But this is the same company that has put out roughly fifty-billion ports of the 75% complete NES version of Donkey Kong.  I’m almost convinced that Nintendo is the Japanese word for half-assed.

The biggest problem with NES Remix is these are the exact same games that they’ve always been, only broken down into microscopic chunks.  Although this makes some of the games more palatable, all their original control flaws are still present.  I mentioned Ice Climber above, which is probably Nintendo’s most broken controlling game.  But actually, the original Mario Bros. is nearly as crippled.  The jumping physics are horrible, requiring you to build up momentum to make a jump.  Only sometimes this doesn’t seem to work.  Plus, landing on a platform above you requires you to land perfectly flush on it.  If a micro-pixel isn’t on, you fall through the platform.  In games scored entirely around timing, shit like this is fucking maddening.  Additionally, Baseball, Tennis, and especially Clu Clu Land (my buddy Cyril’s choice for Nintendo’s worst first-party game) control the same as they always have: like shit.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase.  As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared.  I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase.  I'm not sure if it was a glitch or not.  I never bothered to replay it after that.  I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

Another issue, which is kind of minor, is that the difficulty of each challenge, in terms of what will give you a three-star rating and what won’t, varies wildly.  In one of the Super Mario levels that is divided into three sub-stages, the object is to enter a warp pipe.  The target time for three stars was 30 seconds.  Getting this required near-perfect runs.  I twice finished at 30.1 seconds because I had trouble lining up in the under-water pipe or something.  Eventually, I did get the three-star rating I had coveted, clocking in at 29.6.  No rainbow stars though, and I’ll be damned if I can guess where I could possibly make up the time for it.  Edit: Oh my God, I am such a fucking idiot.  I thought I had attempted to enter all the pipes in the second stage. It turns out there was a much, much closer pipe I could have entered than the one I was going into.  I just finished in 24 seconds and rainbowed.  I suck But then I would play multiple other stages where I could die three or four times and still score three-stars with rainbows even though my performance could best be summed up as “pitiful.”  There was no consistency from one stage to the next, and it takes the oomph out of the sense of accomplishment I sometimes felt.

Despite those issues, NES Remix is honest-to-God my new favorite Wii U game.  Certainly Nintendo’s best digital-exclusive in their history.  I was utterly hooked for three solid days on it.  It even did the impossible and made Urban Champion fun for like five seconds, which by my count, is three seconds longer than Wario Ware accomplished.  Although I have no fucking clu-clu why this is exclusive to Wii U, this is a must own.  At least, I think it is.  Opinions are hugely divided here.  One trend I’ve noticed: older gamers that played the originals to death in the 80s seem to like this a lot less than myself and younger gamers have.  I’m guessing if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros. once a week for the last thirty years, you probably would be bored by some of the “challenges” here, like playing level 3-3 with all the platforms invisible.  See though, I don’t have every nuisance of these games committed to memory, and probably for that reason, this could very well end up being my Game of the Year.  So a word of advice to the younger Nintendo fanboys out there: don’t schedule a monthly play-through of New Super Mario Bros. or Pikmin 3, or else when Wii U Remix comes out in 2043 for the Nintendo Wii UeuPrince logo.svgmI3, you’ll be sorry.

NES Remix LogoNES Remix was developed by Nintendo

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 said “the game just fucking came out, so stop talking about sequels already you annoying fucking fanboys” in the making of this review.

NES Remix is Chick-Approved, but not remotely Leaderboard eligible (non-Indie)

Centipede (PlayStation Home Arcade), Centipede & Millipede (XBLA), Centipede Origins (iOS), and Bad Caterpillar (XBLIG)

Probably the biggest misconception about me as a gamer is that I’m anti-retro or anti-old games.  I’m not.  I’m simply of the opinion that some games age better than others.  I wouldn’t want to play Space Invaders or Pac-Man as they existed back in the day.  I’m perfectly fine with modern remakes of them, like Space Invaders Extreme or Pac-Man Championship Edition.  On the other hand, some of those older games have aged pretty gracefully.  Centipede is one such game.  In fact, it’s one of the few golden age coin-ops that I feel blends in perfectly with the current generation.  Its twitchy, fast-paced gameplay lends itself perfectly to ten minute portable sessions.  It released recently on the Vita’s Home Arcade platform, and I snagged it for $1.49 in preparation for today’s review.  That’s about what I would have spent to last 15 minutes on the coin-op if I had been alive in 1983.  Did I mention I really suck at it?

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

So what do I think of Home Arcade?  Um, hmmmm.. you know, in the four years its been around, I never have really used PlayStation Home too much.  I would rather just be able to launch games straight off my Vita’s dashboard without having to open Home Arcade.  The interface is clunky and half the time I’ll be stabbing the ever-loving shit out of the “your games” button and nothing happens.  Having said that, the prices are pretty good ($1.49 each) and it has the advantage of being portable and on the coolest gaming gizmo in years.  I don’t even have Home installed on my PS3, and I don’t plan on it, but you don’t need it to use Home Arcade.  I can’t speak for the rest of the games (get back to me the next time an Asteroids clone hits XBLIG) but Centipede controls well.  I guess you can’t ask for more.  Which is a good thing, because what you get is a bare-bones port of the arcade original.  They could have thrown in ports of the Atari home versions, but hey, it’s called making a lazy dollar.

I picked up Centipede on Vita because I wanted to compare it to Bad Caterpillar, a new Xbox Live Indie Game from Kris Steele.  I like Kris, but the dude fucking aggravates me to no end.   His games always have something glaringly off about them.  Volchaos would have been fun if the movement physics weren’t so damn loose.  The same goes for Hypership: Out of Control on XBLIG.  If a gnat so much as farts in the direction of the analog stick, it sends your ship flying.  In a game that involves lining up your character to shoot smaller targets, precision control is kind of needed.  Hypership is actually sublime on iPhone, and very addictive.  Of course, that has the advantage of having drag-the-ship touch controls for extra-accurate firing.  His track record of acceptable controls on XBLIG is about as good as THQ’s record with bankruptcy avoidance.  Considering that Bad Caterpillar looked really close to Centipede, a game which requires precision movement so much that the arcade original used a trackball, I braced for the worst.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

As it turns out, my worries were misplaced.  Bad Caterpillar handles pretty well.  Not perfect.  No joystick-based Centipede can possibly be perfect.  But, I can honestly say that it plays better than any other version of Centipede I played today.  That’s a lot of versions.  For the sake of comparison, I also bought Centipede & Millipede, a 2-for-1 Xbox Live Arcade port of the arcade games.  Movement for these is too loose to be acceptable.  I’ve always had a difficult time in Centipede lining up shots correctly, especially when the last segments of the Centipede are near the bottom of the screen.  That’s not a huge problem in Bad Caterpillar.  It’s a fucking chore in the XBLA arcade ports.  If it was any looser, it would hang out on dimly-lit street corners and be considered a bio-hazard.

The "evolved" version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The “evolved” version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The biggest disappointment with the XBLA ports (besides the awful controls) is how the “modern” versions are really just the same old Centipede with some new (re: 15 year-old) special effects added.  On the flip side, Bad Caterpillar looks old, but it features some nifty new ideas such as power-ups and bombs.  Should probably clear this up: by new, I meant “new for Centipede.”  My problem here is that they don’t get spit out often enough.  I played full games where the item drops were nothing but points.  The game should go nuts with them.  I mean, I can already play a Centipede-like game that doesn’t offer power-ups.  It’s called Centipede.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

I guess I should bring up that I also played the iOS update, called Centipede Origins.  It’s a micro-transaction oriented shooter that tries to controls like Kris Steele’s Hypership does on iPhone.  But I found the drag-the-shooter controls to be too glitchy, with the cursor being unable to keep up with my finger, even as I dragged it slowly across the screen.  Only played it for like five minutes, would never want to play it again.  I also dug around and found my copy of Centipede for the Sega Dreamcast, but decided against spending any time digging around for the actual machine to play it on.  Honestly, I’m all Cenipeded out.  So what are my thoughts?  Well, the Vita version is a worthy use of money for a solid portable version of a masterpiece.  The iOS version is just about the worst thing to happen to iPhone since Siri.  The XBLA ports of Centipede & Millipede come across like quick, effortless cash-ins and should be avoided like the clap.  Finally, the XBLIG update Bad Caterpillar is actually a decent game with a few problems.  The moths are unfair, there’s no online leaderboards, and the heavy metal soundtrack is so out-of-place.  It would be like going to Ozzfest to listen to country music.  But I do recommend it, because it’s the best (and cheapest) version of Centipede you’ll get on your Xbox.  Kind of sad that an XBLIG port made by a guy I consider to be a bit of a twat completely slays the official versions of Centipede.  Just kidding, Kris.

xboxboxartIGC_ApprovedBad Caterpillar was developed by Fun Infused Games (80 Microsoft Points don’t think Kris is a bit of a twat)

Centipede & Millipede were developed by Stainless Games Ltd. (340 Microsoft Points think throttle monkey sounds like something found in the Kama Sutra)

Centipede Origins was developed by Atari (Free, except all the stuff that cost money in it)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade was developed by Atari ($1.49)

Bad Caterpillar and Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade are Chick Approved, and Bad Caterpillar is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Manic Miner 360

Let’s travel back to 1983.  It was a dark time in the world.  A time when people lived in fear of communism, nuclear annihilation, and Walter Mondale.  A time when kids had to play their Ataris in three feet of snow, and do their math homework using solar-powered calculators like savages instead of their cell phones.  A time when the most high-tech consoles had “vision” in them instead of “box” or “station.”  A time when “playing with your Wii” sounded like a shameful act, as opposed to today where.. nevermind.  Most importantly to me, it was a time where I wasn’t born yet.  Thus, I’m not particularly nostalgic for what the early 80s had to offer.

Party like it’s 1983! Let’s all freebase cocaine and watch Knight Rider!

So Manic Miner 360, an XBLIG port of a 1983 ZX Spectrum game, isn’t something that would make me get all warm and gushy.  My reader base might feel otherwise.  Oddly enough, the average reader of Indie Gamer Chick tends to be about ten years older than I am.  In a way, I’m tickled pink over that.  I mean, it’s pretty cool that so many older people are interested in what I, some snooty little shit who wasn’t weened on Space Invaders and text-based RPGs, thinks about gaming.  On the other hand, it can be a bit of a curse at times, especially when it comes to nostalgic releases like this.  When I started to complain about the flaky controls and unforgiving design, I was immediately hit with several “it was good back in the day” tweets.  Somehow, I’m guessing a response of “this isn’t back in the day!  It’s today!” won’t be a sufficient explanation for why I’m not having fun.

I guess there’s no point in debating whether people who liked this game thirty years ago will still enjoy it today.  They obviously do.  I do question whether they really enjoy it on the same level they did as kids.  You mean to tell me that all the evolution gaming has gone through in 30 years doesn’t change your perception of Manic Miner?  Look, I can’t see things your way on this.  Without the perspective of nostalgia, I kind of have to take games like this on face value.  It controls like shit.  Movement and jumping are very stiff.  The levels are frustrating.  The game centers around “gotcha” game design, where you can’t possibly know about a hidden trap until it activates.  Manic Miner isn’t really a platformer or a punisher.  It’s a trial-and-error memory test.  Each level typically has one specific path that you have to follow, and enemies have predictable patterns that you have to memorize.  Once you have that shit down, it’s just a matter of keeping it all together and fighting with the abysmal controls.  Some people liked it.  A few people told me they knew of people who could beat it without the infinite lives cheat (which is thankfully built-in and optional).  Yea, that is impressive.  So is being able to fart the Star-Spangled Banner on command, but I don’t want to take the time to learn how to do it.

Mind you, I’m told this is a truly faithful port, so if you loved the broken controls and restrictive design thirty years ago, nothing has changed here.  Same graphics, same sound effects, same clunky jumping, same dick-moves.  For some people, that’s all they want.  This is a game made for them.  Can a new audience from my generation get behind this game?  Some weirdos might, in the same way there are people my age that have Pac-Man tattoos and dress like Don Johnson.  I’m not saying everything from the 80s was terrible.  I can’t think of anything that wasn’t off the top of my head, but I’m sure there’s something from that decade didn’t suck.

After beating a level that featured things that were certainly not Pac-Man, I entered a stage that featured something that was definitely not Donkey Kong.

I know it’s aggravating for older people to have to listen to people my age say intolerant, obviously erroneous statements like “everything from the 80s sucked.”  The 80s probably didn’t suck any more or less than the 90s or whatever the fuck the last decade was called.  Did anyone ever come to a consensus on the name for the last decade?  If not, may I suggest the Goobers.  No reason why, I just think that would be funny.  My point is, nostalgia is whatever you make of it.  Like any form of entertainment, one Indie Gamer Chick’s trash is another geriatric’s treasure.  Maybe people my age need re-releases like Manic Miner to show us whippersnappers just how lucky we are.  Lucky that we didn’t grow up in an era where games had bad control inputs, shoddy design level design, load times of six minutes, install times upwards of hours and, uh, nevermind.

Manic Miner 360 was developed by Elite Systems

240 Microsoft Points should have probably been 80 Microsoft Points instead in the making of this review.

Adventures of Lolo, Aesop’s Garden, and Crystal Hunters

Update: Crystal Hunters is now 80 Microsoft Points.

For the first time, I’m doing a multi-review with games from different developers.  This is because both of today’s titles, Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters, are new takes on a classic NES game called The Adventures of Lolo, a game 82 days older than me.  It actually was released on the Wii’s Virtual Console back in 2007, but I was in the middle of a World of Warcraft bender that year and missed it.  I’ve dealt with a lot of clones over the last month, and my attempt at playing a game that I had no reference point on (Boulder Dash clone Gems N Rocks) left me feeling a bit weird.  Yes, I do believe a game should be able to stand on its own, but if a game sets out to pay tribute to a classic, you should also measure it against the original.  Was True Grit a fantastic movie because it was a remake, or in spite of it?  Would anyone have known how truly awful Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes was without the Charlton Heston original?  Would New Coke have caught on if people didn’t have the classic formula to compare it to?

In that spirit, let’s compare these three games.

Concept

All three games are action-logic puzzlers where you must collect a set number of things in a room that open an exit.  In Lolo, it’s hearts.  In Aesop, it’s weeds.  In Crystal Hunters, it’s crystals.  In Lolo and Crystal, the items are in plain sight, and it’s up to you to figure out how to safely reach them.  In Aesop, the weeds have not yet sprouted.  You have to first turn on a sprinkler.  This is because the rival of the main character wanted to ruin his chances of winning some kind of gardening contest, so he went around planting weeds.  Good lord, that’s spiteful.  I mean, it could have been more so.  The guy could have salted the ground so that nothing would ever grow back.  Besides that, there’s 50 levels in this game, so how big exactly is this plot of property that Aesop has?  It’s hard to feel bad for the guy when he owns so much land that you can almost call it a kingdom.  At least it beats “guy just wants to get a lot of crystals” or “monster kidnaps girlfriend, presumably so he can fuck her.”  What do all these evil monsters want with princesses?  With all the inbreeding that takes place among royalty, they can’t be THAT good in the sack.

Aesop’s Garden

Game Play

Lolo and its offspring play like more actiony-versions of Sokoban, the crate-shoving puzzle genre that has been reviewed a few times here at Indie Gamer Chick with titles such as Puzzled Rabbit or HACOTAMA.  The difference in these games are the addition of enemies, firepower, and environment-based puzzles.  In Lolo, there’s a handful of enemies that are all carefully integrated into each level.  Some of them chase you, some of them shoot fireballs at you, and others remain stationary but kill you if you cross their path.  These are called “Medusas” and they are also found in both Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters, albeit as scarecrows and evil treasure-chest-things that zap you like you’re a Nazi watching the opening of the Ark of the Convenient.

In Lolo, you often have to use enemies to your advantage.  In some rooms, the hearts you collect give you two shots.  If you shoot an enemy, it turns into an egg for a few moments.  You can then shove it into place and use it as a block, or push it in the water and use it as a temporary bridge.  If you shoot an enemy a second time, it dies, but it will respawn.  In other rooms, you might collect the ability to create a bridge or smash a rock.  Aesop’s Garden has a feature similar to the hammer.   At the halfway point in the game, carrots are introduced to summon hungry rabbits that destroy all walls in whatever line you’re standing in.

Both Lolo and Aesop’s Garden rely much more on trial and error than Crystal Hunters.  In that game, crystals that give you shots are red instead of blue.  In Lolo, only some hearts give you shots, and there is nothing that distinguishes them from normal hearts.  In Aesop, you’re never sure where exactly weeds will sprout up.  It’s never too annoying, and both games allow you to commit suicide with the select button if you fuck up.  If you die in Crystal, it doesn’t take you back to the beginning of the stage, but rather to the last point you were safe, which is a cool feature.  It would have come in handy in Lolo and Aesop for sure.  Fuck ups there usually resulted in me dropping cyanide.  Lame.  If I was the hero in a puzzle game and I had to kill myself, I would totally go with seppuku.

Adventures of Lolo

Playability

This is where all three games stumble, as the control is not so smooth in any title.  It’s never bad enough to be a deal breaker, but it will lead to some very aggravating moments.  Lolo probably plays the best, which is appropriate given that it’s the only game that was made by professionals.  Still, the controls in it felt a little loose.  Whether I was using a standard Wii remote or the classic controller, I would often push blocks one half-space too far, necessitating a suicide.  This led to me heel-toeing it one tap of the D-Pad at a time whenever I moved a block around.  This wasn’t always an option.  If you’re moving an egg, you only have a few seconds before it hatches and whatever enemy you’re pushing is frozen in place.  Or maybe you’re being chased that by an enemy.  Or both.  In the later stages, the game demands precision movement from a controller that is anything but precise.

Aesop’s Garden is even worse.  The controls feel very loose, which is partially to blame on the crappy D-Pad of the Xbox.  Using the stick is no use, because it doesn’t have proper analog control.  I have the silver, transforming D-Pad and even it wasn’t satisfactory.  This led to multiple instances of steering off from a straight line and into the path of a scarecrow, shoving blocks to far, or in boss fights, steering myself right into the path of a projectile.  It never felt quite right, and that did hurt the game.

Crystal Hunters is hurt by the game’s lack of movement parameters.  In Lolo and Aesop, you move one half-space at a time, using the background to guide you.  In Crystal Hunters, it’s not always clear how far you’re moving, because the game doesn’t have a “grid” feel to it like the other two do.  The background doesn’t draw out spaces for you, so you’re kind of left to your own judgement, which can often be unreliable.  I ended up going back to the heel-toe method of block shoving, but like Lolo, that’s not always an option here either.  Sometimes enemies will be chasing you, or sometimes you’ll be moving a tree-stump and have to rush it to the spot it belongs in before it puts its roots down.  In the later stages, this can be maddening.  The lack of parameters also gets annoying as more Wind Waker-like light beam reflecting puzzles are incorporated, all of which require nothing short of perfect movement from an imperfect control scheme.

Puzzle Design

If there was one word I could use to describe all three games, it would be “smart.”  In the case of Lolo, it’s a game made by Hal studios, the guys who later went on to make the Kirby series, Earthbound, and Smash Bros.  They obviously have their shit together.  Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters were developed by amateur game designers, so you wouldn’t expect such a degree of sophistication from them.  Then again, I wouldn’t have expected that from games like Alien Jelly or Escape Goat either.  It never fails to surprise me how clever some Xbox Live Indie Game developers can be.  Both games have absolutely stellar puzzle design, so much so that it actually rivals the game that inspired them.  At times, they can feel a bit sprawling, especially Crystal Hunters, but it never feels like busy work.  The only game I can toss a complaint at is Aesop’s Garden, which throws boss fights into the mix that are annoying, given the crappy control scheme.

What I love best about any puzzle game is that “ta da!” moment where, after staring at the screen for ten minutes, you finally figure out the solution.  The difficulty of all three games here ramps up as you go along (something that Indie Gamer Chick favorite Escape Goat doesn’t do), which leads to many of those moments.  I crave those like a junkie craves smack.  They top an awesome headshot in a shooter, a come-from-behind victory in a sports game, or a leveling-up victory in an RPG.  For my money, nothing else in gaming tops that feeling of achievement.

Crystal Hunters

Conclusion

I know a lot of readers come here for the spectacle of a bad game getting trashed by me.  I realize this wasn’t my funniest of reviews, but don’t worry, I’m sure a crappy zombie game can’t be too far off in the distance.  If you come here looking to read about good games, I’ve got three right here for you.  At 22 years of age, I missed the NES era and never had a chance to play Lolo.  If you’re around my age, you probably missed it too.  Or maybe you were one of those weird families that owned a Sega Master System instead of an NES.  Either way, it’s worth your $5.  For fans of the game already out there, don’t go back and replay it.  Nothing about it has changed in the 23 years since its release.  But, there are two brand new Xbox Live Indie Games that will satisfy your Lolo-cravings.  Both Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters are what you’re looking for, and they’re a bargain and $3 a pop.  Yea, I probably could nit-pick them a little more.  Like how Crystal Hunters has a completely needless time-system tacked on, presumably to add replay value.  Why did they even bother?  The fun in these games comes from solving a puzzle and moving on to the next.  Once it’s solved, it’s done.  You don’t expect replay from crossword puzzle books, so why should you expect replay from a logic puzzle in a video game?  Just finish it and be happy.  Yea, the controls are crippled, but you feel like a genius, so who cares?  It’s just like being Stephen Hawking!

Aesop’s Garden was developed by Excalibur Studios

Crystal Hunters was developed by DreamRoot Studios

The Adventures of Lolo was developed by HAL Laboratory

500 Wii Points (Adventures of Lolo) and 240 Microsoft Points apiece (Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters) had to remind Kairi that getting frustrated and banging her head the coffee table was probably not the best way to keep the amount of brain cells needed to play these games in the making of this review.

The Simpsons Arcade Game

Bart’s shirt is the wrong color.  Sideshow Bob helps him instead of tries to kill him.  99.9% of all the characters established in the canon don’t show up.  All the enemies are completely generic characters.  None of the bosses outside of Mr. Burns and Smithers are from the TV series.  The whole game is just a reskinned version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that some guys at Konami probably threw together in a weekend.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the best Simpsons game ever.  Only it’s not.  It fucking sucks, but you should already know that.

And yes, I’m aware that the wrestler guy that’s the first boss was actually from the episode where Bart tries to jump Springfield Gorge on his skateboard.  The bear doesn’t count, because it’s actually just one of the generic guys in a bear suit.  I’m also aware that the game originally came out in 1991 and that I shouldn’t be so nit-picky about those things.  To that I say this: fuck you.  The Simpsons Arcade Game is a fossil that should have been left in the tar pits of non-release obscurity.

Remember that episode where the family started brawling with quintuplet accountants riding teacups?

Don’t look at me that way.  I’m not attacking your childhood or raping your memories.  That’s a George Lucas move.  I’m not even saying the Simpsons was a bad game for back in the day.  Hey, it was either play the Simpsons Arcade or, like, go outside and exercise or something.  Psssh, what kind of loser would do that?

What I am saying is maybe those memories are better left where they are.  The Simpsons Arcade Game, much like Ninja Turtles or X-Men, has not exactly aged well.  Let’s face it, it’s a relic.  And not one of those good, Sean Connery type ones.  As much as the concept of it baffles me, I can almost understand going back and playing stuff like Final Fantasy VII for the twentieth time.  I think there should be mandatory castration for anyone who does so (not that they’ll ever actually use those parts, but you can never be too cautious), but I can almost understand it.  But an arcade brawler that was, quite frankly, a lazily produced reskin of an existing game designed to sucker lunch money out of children?   Why would you want to go back and play that?

And yet, since the announcement of it a few weeks ago, teenagers of the early 90s are going gaga.  I had never actually played the Simpsons Arcade Game, outside of one attempt at a Pizza Hut when I was like six years old.  The joystick was broken and I couldn’t move to the right, which is one of only two requirements the game actually has.  I got my quarter back and thought nothing of it until I heard the announcement.  I planned to ignore it, but it came free with a Playstation Plus account and I’ve never turned down a chance to troll you retro nerds before, so why start now?

I think the appeal in the Simpsons Arcade Game is the same as Sonic CD: it was the “lost game” in the series.  It never got a home console port due to some licensing issues and thus it became a legend.  As teenagers grew older and their minds became more polluted with various drugs, alcohol, children of their own, and all the Simpsons gaming crapola that has come out since then, those memories of the Simpsons Arcade Game became pretty fuckin’ sweet.

Remember that episode where the Simpsons dropped acid and fought a giant bowling ball?

I promise you, the Simpsons Arcade Game is not as good as you remember it.  I know this because I’ve yet to hear a single person tell me that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reshelled was as good as they remember it.  And at least that one had updated its graphics.  They couldn’t even bother with that here.  This is a lazy port of a lazy game, and you can tell it was produced early in the show’s run.  The character models are way off, the voices are off, and the game is forced to use so many generic characters because the cast of millions the show currently uses wasn’t established yet.

So here’s a wild idea: if they had the rights to make this game, why couldn’t they have produced an updated port to go with it?  Leave the original game intact so that people could see how horrible it is, and then throw them something newer, using all the crazy space-age technology that leprechauns have given us over the last twenty years?

Actually, EA did a port of the Simpsons Arcade Game for iOS.  I have it, and I tried to play through it, but it’s fucking impossible.  This is mostly due to the fact that it uses one of those God-awful fake joysticks-and-button layouts that is about as accurate as a dart player whose injected his hands with Novocaine.  But imagine if they had ported that over to consoles.  I mean, that game actually has characters from the series.  You fight Chief Wiggum, Mayor Quimby, and various other fan favorites.  It might not be the exact same game as your childhood fantasy, but it actually might be better.  You know, if you could control it.

Or, even better, build an entirely new game modeled after the original arcade title, but replace all the generic baddies with random characters from the series that you fight only once, locations based on the series that actually look like they might have appeared on the series (Moe’s Tavern is a quarter-mile long casino.  Who knew?), and add some modern twists.  Use Castle Crashers as the basis for it.  Leveling up, a variety of weapons, branched paths, hidden items, and so on, and so on.  Why settle for something that was designed to steal your money as a child?  Don’t you deserve better?  Well, no.  I suppose you don’t.  If you actually gave away $10 for this piece of shit, ay caramba, there is no helping you.

The Simpsons Arcade Game was developed by Konami

Going off the math of how many free games and discounts I’ve gotten with my Playstation Plus account, approximately $0.38 was spent playing Teenage Reskinned Ninja Simpsons in the making of this review.  TOO MUCH!

The Simpsons Arcade for iOS was developed by EA and costs $0.99.  For God’s sake, do not buy it. 

Sonic CD

It’s been about a month since I blatantly trolled Sega fanboys and classic gaming enthusiasts by announcing my dislike for most things Sega.  While I admit that this was as about as transparent as attention whoring gets, I want it to be clear that I stand by and truly believe all that bullshit I said.  Every last line of it.  Classic games are not as good as you remember and Sega games suck balls in general.

But what really pissed people off was going after Sonic The Hedgehog.  By the way people reacted to me asserting that it was never a good series to begin with, you would have thought I had Mother Teresa’s corpse exhumed just so I could defecate on it.  I just can’t comprehend why this series is so treasured.  It kind of sucks.  I can’t even believe this would qualify as being good “back in the day.”  Put this up against stuff like Super Mario Bros. 3 or even the Alex Kidd games from Sega and it seems like such a step backwards.

Which is actually what they had in mind when they designed it.  It was supposed to be Mario For Dummies, where the directional pad and only one button were needed and you wouldn’t be able to die if you had at least one ring.  It kind of shows that Sega held its own customers in contempt.  So basically, Sonic only exists because Sega wanted a Mario like character but thought its own users were too stupid to play a Mario game, and that just makes the crusader-like attitude of its fanboys all the more hilarious.

So the fanboys didn’t like my hate piece too much.  Most of the comments were completely asinine statements like “name one game from that era that was better than Sonic The Hedgehog.”  I could have been a total wise ass and said “anything!” but once you’ve got the monkeys throwing out “best game ever” statements, you’ve pretty much already won the battle.  Like I said in my VolChaos review, I find the entire situation to be sad.  Here are guys who are now in their thirties and they’re declaring the best game they have ever played and will ever play is one that Santa Claus gave them when they were ten years old.  I’m only 22, and I sure as hell hope I haven’t already played the best game I will ever play.  That would be tragic.

Pictured: something not worth the hype.

Granted, my only experience with the Genesis era Sonic games comes from when I got Sonic Mega Collection as a Christmas gift.  I might have even been the same age as those fanboys when I first played those titles.  Of course, by this point it’s 2002 and I’ve already played much better games, including some really spectacular 2D Mario games that Nintendo had ported to the Game Boy Advance.  Hell, I played Sonic Advance, an original 2D Sonic game on the Game Boy Advance that I had a better time with than anything on Mega Collection.

“Oh, but there’s another Sonic 16-bit era game.  One that destroys all those that came before it” cried the fanboys.  Indeed.  It’s called Sonic CD, and it’s the best of all the Sonics.  It’s so good that Sega seemed to go out of its way to not include it anywhere.  I mean, listen to how a guy I respect, Xbox Live Indie Game guru and Armless Octopus founder Dave Voyles described it.

Sonic CD is another fine example. It took a lot of the elements which made Sonic 1 so good, and vastly grew them. The future / past scenario for example, still hasn’t been done in other games to my knowledge. Sure, the 3D parts sucked and controlled like garbage, but the rest of the game provided a lot of innovation for the industry.

Well, what do you know, Sonic CD came out on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network this last week.  Since it was only $5, I figured what the hoo haw and gave it a whirl.  It makes me wonder what exactly Dave was even talking about.  What exactly was innovative about it?  It had an anime cut scene at the start?  Nah, that can’t be it.  What about the time travel gimmick?  Nah, games were already doing that too.

I got it!  It’s insanely easy.  Yes, I get it now.  Sonic CD was innovative because it introduced us to the era of the half-assed sequel.  Before Sonic CD came around, developers actually gave a shit when developing follow-ups to games.  And then this arrived, with its totally phoned in level design, boss fights that would embarrass the viewing audience of Yo Gabba Gabba, and levels where over half the game play is done automatically.  Developers took notice and said “wow, look at how amazingly shallow and empty this sequel is.  We didn’t know you could do that!”

If Sonic games were created for people too stupid to play Mario, Sonic CD must have been created for the recently lobotomized.  Everything in it feels stripped down.  There’s fewer enemies, shorter levels, easier bosses, and almost no way to game over.  It took me all of one hour to finish it.  At which point, it gave me TWO achievements instead of one.  How sweet of it.  I guess the innovation is supposed to be how there are multiple versions of each level, because you can hit a sign post that says “past” or “future” and if you build up enough speed, you time travel to an altered version of the same stage.  I don’t know if this has any other effect on gameplay, and the game doesn’t tell you.  It was beneficial to me because I nearly had to quit in the middle of one stage due to the strobey effects.  I swear, as I was putting down the control, I bumped into one of those time travel sign posts, hit a bumper, and suddenly I was in the past, sans flashy lights.

Here’s the thing about that though: the fucking game did all that by itself.  I had already put the controller down.  That’s one of my biggest gripes with the Sonic games, that they do all the hard work for you.  The first Sonic game I ever played was in fact Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast.  Everyone who played it remembers the iconic scene in the first level of that game where you’re on a dock running from a killer whale.  When I was ten years old, that was, up to that point, the single coolest moment I had seen in a video game.  And it was cool, until you realized that the game had all kinds of moments where it takes the controller away from you and does all the fancy stuff automatically.

But isn’t that how Sonic games always have been?  In Sonic CD, you spend most of the levels doing nothing while the game has all the fun for you.  Half the time in the game is spent watching Sonic automatically coast off bumpers and through tubes at warp speed.  Granted, that’s enough to give the Sonic fanboys their jollies, but I thought this was supposed to be the Crème de la Crème of series.  Instead, it’s probably the worst.  Unless you count the Game Gear titles, which were pretty bad.

Here’s my theory: most people who had this fascination with Sonic CD never actually played it.  Probably because you needed a Sega CD to play it and their parents weren’t willing to spring the extra $300 for the attachment.  So Sonic CD became the unobtainable entry in the series.  The one that was so good it had to be put on the most expensive system on the market at the time.  It got some good press coverage, but the Sega CD was pretty much dead on arrival and by time you could afford it, the next wave of consoles were coming and all the copies of Sonic CD had already been long snatched up as soon as they hit the clearance rack.  It’s status as the lost Sonic game made it the stuff of legends.

Well, legends do tend to disappoint.  Sonic CD is bad even by the low standards of the series.  It’s everything that every other 2D Sonic has been: horrible play control, no actual platforming skills required, cheap deaths, and lots of watching the game do all the work for you.  Only this time, it’s insanely easy, to the point that it’s a little insulting.  Thankfully, it would seem even the Sonic fanboys are somewhat on my side with this one.  Within 24 hours of Sonic CD hitting the PS3 and Xbox 360 marketplaces, I saw plenty of Sonic aficionados sulkily tweet “not as good as I remember it” or “that was disappointing.”  Others are pissing and moaning because some stupid song got cut out of the game.  Which is funny to me because I always thought gaming was supposed to be about the gameplay, not the title song during the opening cut scene that most people were likely anxious to skip anyway.

It goes to show you that the older you get, the less kind reality is to your childhood memories.  Guys, Sonic CD didn’t get bad.  It was always bad.  They all were.  You’ve just played better games since it came out.  Every time I go back and play something I liked as a kid, the memories just don’t hold up.  It happened to me with Sonic Adventure, Tony Hawk, and Crash Bandicoot.  That’s why it’s best to live in the now.  Don’t go back looking for moldy oldies.  The best game you will ever play hopefully hasn’t come out yet, but you won’t know that unless you look to the future for it, and not the past.

Oh, and as a spoiler, it’s not Knuckles Chaotix either.  I realize now that Sonic CD finally has a wide release, everyone is going to say “okay, it sucked, but I totally remember Knuckles Chaotix on the 32X being the most awesome Sonic game ever!”  Wrong!  If Sega had any faith in that game they would have re-released it by now.  They haven’t for the same reason they dragged their feet with Sonic CD: it sucks, and they know it.  Deep down, you know it too.  I haven’t even played it and I know it.  Helen Keller knows it.  She might be blind and deaf, but when shit gets piled this thick for so long you can smell it coming a mile away.

Sonic CD was developed by Sega

400 Microsoft Points said “honestly, if Sega had released Bubsy the Bobcat and Sonic had been the generic lifeless mascot of some nameless game company, would you even have known the difference?” in the making of this review.

My friends at GameMarx are giving away over FIFTY Xbox Live Indie Games as part of a huge contest.  Click here for the Youtube announcement video, and then click here to enter.

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