Indie Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball (Pinball FX 3 Set Reviews & Table Rankings)

This is the first Indie Pinball Chick review where I have to cover multiple DLC packs. Well, unless you consider that Star Wars Pinball for Switch is on Pinball FX 3 for PC/PS4/XB1 as multiple smaller DLC sets. But, we’re talking about Williams Pinball sets for Pinball FX 3 today. Each of them costs $9.99, unless you buy the Williams Season 1 pack for Xbox One/Steam/PS4, in which case you’re paying $31.99 for all twelve tables it includes. These rankings also include the two tables in the Universal Monsters Pack that I’ve already covered and the free-to-download Fish Tales.

All four of the original Williams sets are Indie Gamer Chick approved. If you’re curious which order I recommend them, volumes one, two, three, and the Universal Monsters Pack each contain a masterpiece-caliber table. Volume 4 stands alone as the only set that doesn’t feature a “must own” table. But, keeping it real, one of the tables I have ranked as “bad” in that set is currently ranked as the ninth best solid state table ever at the Internet Pinball Database. So, your mileage may vary. Volume 1 is the only of the Williams sets with three tables that I gave a positive ranking to every table it has. Meanwhile, Volume 3 has only a single table I ranked positively, making it the highest price-per-quality-table Williams set. But, the one table I liked is good enough on its own merit that I’d still recommend purchasing that pack (especially if you can get it discounted). Finally, the Universal Monster Pack only has two tables, but one of those I have ranked as one of the best Williams recreations, which takes the sting out of getting fewer tables. After strong consideration, I’ve ranked the Pinball FX3 sets in the following order:

#1: Williams Pinball Volume 1

1 Masterpiece
2 Good
Price per Quality Table: $3.33

The only set that runs the table (pinball puns, gotta love them). If you can only buy one Williams Pinball FX 3 collection, this is the most sure-fire, can’t miss one. Medieval Madness is the dream table many silver ball enthusiasts wish they could own the real version of. Let’s keep it real here: Medieval Madness is a $10,000+ table. Buying this set nets you a very, very accurate version of it at a 99.9% discount. And, when you inevitably grow bored with it (like the vast majority of first-time real table buyers do), you don’t have a $10,000 gigantic reminder of how poor your spending habits are hogging up space in your rec room.

Plus, you won’t have to repair the trolls when they break. Which they will. Personal experience talking here.

Medieval Madness is worth the price of Volume 1 by itself. But it doesn’t come alone. You also get Getaway: High Speed II (which my Dad wants to note was HIS favorite table in the entire Williams collection) and Junk Yard. Getaway is more of a traditional table and feels the “oldest” of any of the Williams tables, with simple targets and a short upper-orbit. Junk Yard is a novelty table based around a wrecking-ball gimmick (and one of only two tables Williams ever did that lacked bumpers). Neither table is great, but they’re nice to have and far from boring. The icing on the Medieval Madness cake.

#2: Universal Monsters Pack

1 Masterpiece
1 Good
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

I’ve wrote already about the Universal Monsters Pack. Having it ranked #2 despite being one table smaller than the other four sets really should speak to how much I cherish Monster Bash. Creature from the Black Lagoon has its merits and is certainly a good table, but I think it’s historically over-rated. It’s all about Monster Bash.

#3: Williams Pinball Volume 2

1 Masterpiece
1 Good
1 The Pits
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

Party Zone is a horrible table and Black Rose is among the most frustrating good tables out there. But, these two deeply flawed tables are counter-balanced by being packed with Attack from Mars. That’s kind of a big deal because I literally can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it. If not for Party Zone, there’s a strong chance this set could have taken the top spot. Really, the top three positions were close and Vol 1 won by virtue of having no bad tables. Any of the top three are no-brainers.

#4: Williams Pinball Volume 4

1 Great
1 Good
1 Bad
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

The only set that lacks a masterpiece-level table, Volume 4 is hardly a wash. While I’m sure my opinion on White Water’s value (or lack thereof) will be controversial, there’s no question that Red & Ted’s Road Show is a lot of fun. Also included is Hurricane, a problematic table that still manages to entertain. Part of me wishes they’d saved Hurricane for a future triple-pack that contained the complete Barry Oursler trilogy of roller-coaster/theme park machines and put the legendary FunHouse in Volume 4 instead. But, at this time, Zen Studios isn’t recreating any tables with numeric or alpha-numeric displays, and Hurricane is the only of those tables to have a dot matrix display. Whatever the case, Red & Ted is the only SuperPin (a series of ambitious, wide-body tables from Bally/Williams) on Pinball FX 3 and the spiritual successor to FunHouse. And hey, the purchase price allows you to play White Water and ask yourself how anyone in their right mind could consider it to be one of the ten best tables of the Solid State Era.

#5 Williams Pinball Volume 3

1 Masterpiece
1 Bad
1 The Pits
Price per Quality Table: $9.99

The only set that I had to think about, Williams Pinball Volume 3 led to an actual screaming match in my house regarding how I rate these sets. Because, while I have Volume 3 ranked last among the five available sets, I felt Theatre of Magic was good enough on its own to justify giving it the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. Originally, I came up with the following formula: every set should contain at least one table ranked masterpiece OR two tables ranked great or better OR three tables ranked good or better. Then, as my Dad pointed out, Volume 4 didn’t fit that. D’oh. Theatre of Magic is so fun, despite being deeply flawed in terms of scoring balance, that I gave it a masterpiece ranking. Why they have to pack it with two novelty tables is beyond me. Safe Cracker’s main appeal as a real machine is completely lost in digital form, while Champion Pub is simply a horrendous game of pinball. This is the ultimate “your mileage may vary” DLC pack. If Safe Cracker’s merits as a straight table appeal to you, this becomes a little easier to recommend. If you want to try a broken table that never really was good to begin with, Champion Pub will wet your weird appetite. For everyone else, Volume 3 is all about Theatre of Magic. I liked it a lot. If you don’t, this is the one volume I have no problem telling you to skip.

Really, we all win out with Pinball FX 3’s Williams collection. Each set can make a claim to stand on its own merits without the need to own any other set. You almost never see that with any game’s DLC. These are wonderful recreations of legendary tables from a bygone era. The physics can irritate sometimes, but I prefer them to the glidey, weightless feel that Pinball Arcade often feels like. And having a new generation of pinball enthusiasts get low-cost access to them is delightful. Further proof that we’ve entered the golden age of digital silver ball.

Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball Season 1 (Vol 1 – 4) was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$9.99 each (I spent $4.99 on Volume 3 and 4 on XB1) likes the sound of “season one” in the making of this review.
All Pinball FX 3 Williams Pinball sets are Chick-Approved

 

Special thanks to Steve Da Silva for his guides, which were very helpful. I’ve linked to them all.

Table Rating Index

Pinball FX 3: Williams Pinball Season One + Universal Monsters Pack
Total Tables: 15
Masterpieces: 4
Great: 2
Good: 5
Bad: 2
The Pits: 2

The Pits

#15: The Champion Pub
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Based on a concept by Pete Piotrowski, 1998
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

In your heart, you want this to be Punch-Out!! In reality, it’s more like Power Punch II.

Sometimes you hear the concept of a game or a pinball table and you say to yourself “gee, that sounds amazing! I can’t wait to try it!” And then you actually play it, and you realize that what sounded amazing to you (and those who made it) could never actually work when done for reals. The Champion Pub is probably the best pinball example of it.

The Champion Pub has one of the most bizarre development cycles in pinball history. It has no lead designer, and the primary concept came from an engineer by the name of Pete Piotrowski. Piotro Pete was awarded several patents still in use in pinball today, but he wasn’t a game designer by any means. So the people of Williams came together to bring this idea of his to life. The result is one of the worst tables I’ve ever played, and one of the most notorious for breaking down. You don’t have to worry about that in the digital version, though there is a prominent dead zone smack dab in the middle of the table where marooning balls is a common hazard. In real life, you’d have to call an attendant to un-stick the ball, or accept a TILT in order to shake the ball loose. In Pinball FX3, the ball magically teleports to the chute to be auto-launched back onto the field. That’s nice, I guess.

At one point I launched a ball so hard off the ramp that shattering the glass would have been in play.

Pub is such a bad table. The layout is garbage. The fighting concept is extremely poor in execution. I landed head-shots that counted as body shots so many times that the boxing gimmick fails completely. This is also extremely unstable in Pinball FX 3. More than once, the game credited me with starting a multiball despite not having done so, giving me XP for doing so and even leveling-up the multiball boost. This happened once *after* I’d already gamed over and was entering my initials. Like the real table, there’s a gap that allows you to land live balls back into the starting chute, and this seems to trigger the multiball glitch. Since you can use a boost that gives you extra points while in multiball, it’s never clear if you’re scoring based on what’s really happening or what the engine THINKS is happening. Sometimes the camera wouldn’t do a close-up of the jump-rope or speed-bag minigames, and other times it would. It was never consistent.

I feel horrible about this because Champion Pub has fans out there, and having a digital version of a rare table that’s hard to find in working condition (and would breakdown if you got it anyway) sounds like it should be awesome. In theory, this version should be better than a real table. All the fun of the original without any of the mechanical failure bullshit. But the digital table is every bit as unstable and broken as a real Champion Pub machine. It’s the worst of the Williams tables, easily.

#14: The Party Zone
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by Dennis Nordman, 1991
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Party foul.

Dennis Nordman made some truly great tables (and some truly over-rated ones too). This isn’t one of the great ones. It’s also one of the few real tables I’ve never played before, but based on what I’ve seen here, The Party Zone has to be one of the worst tables I’ve ever played. This is a miserable pinball machine. It plays too fast for such a limited layout. In fact, the ball practically teleports across the board when you hit it. The key to faster-than-light travel could be contained within Party Zone. The drain is powered by a black hole. About one-third of my launches I never could play because the ball got hung up on the bumpers just long enough for the ball save to evaporate, then dropped straight down the middle.

You’d think a game with a party theme would at least be inviting and fun. But, the primary target has a kicker that can send the ball directly to an outlane. I’m sorry, but I’m of the belief that if you lock the ball on a target designed to score points and the lock throws the ball down a drain or outlane, that’s straight-up robbery. These were designed to cost $0.50 a play, after all. If you’re going to cheat players out of their balls, Nordman might as well of dressed-up like the Hamburglar and beat up school children for their lunch money with shit like that. And what’s actually here isn’t really that good. There are targets in the upper corners that are actually fairly easy to hit, especially the right one which triggers most of the modes of the game. But the modes really aren’t complex or interesting. Really, the only thing Party Zone does is set the baseline for a bad table being recreated as well as possible.

The Bad

#13: White Water
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Dennis Nordman, 1993
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

This is the one that gets me blown-up like Robert De Niro in the beginning of Casino.

At least it’s based on rafting and not a real estate scandal.

There’s two types of pinball tables: operator’s tables and player’s tables. White Water is an operator’s table. It’s designed to look pretty, lure in players, make money, and then kick players to pay up for more or let the next idiot pony-up. I consider myself a reasonably skilled player and even after putting a few hours into White Water alone, I still frequently had games that lasted under a minute. For all three balls. There’s no ball save unless you literally score no points. The left outlane is one of the most hungry I’ve ever seen. The orbits are narrow and too steep. In the normal Pinball FX 3 mode, most shots done towards an orbit will result in a straight-down-the-middle instakill if it’s anything but a full-strength hit. This is the one Williams table where I actually preferred Classic mode more. The physics aren’t as punishing.

And the shit thing is, this SEEMS like it should be a fun idea. White Water rafting! Wavy ramps! Whirlpools! Robin Williams.. oh wait, that’s bigfoot. Bigfoot!! But, like The Party Zone, White Water is designed to look great but game over quickly. Dennis Nordman must have been a fucking all-star with arcade owners for as often as he cranked at brutal but irresistible tables. It was suggested to me that you had to use the tilt on this table more than any other, but I *was* tilting and it didn’t matter for drain-shots. The outlane? Sure. But there’s also a limit for how many times you can use that. Plus, many times I’d start a multiball only to have the VKU feed an unplayable house ball straight down the drain. White Water not having ball save is a crime against humanity. After a certain point, you just have to concede that a table isn’t fun, was never supposed to be fun, and move along. White Water should never have been ported to Pinball FX 3. It’s a table designed to cheat players out of quarters, and nothing more. Easily the most over-rated machine of the solid-state era.

#12: Safe Cracker
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Designed by Pat Lawlor, 1996
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

“Let’s have a smaller table, but let’s pack as much shit into that smaller table as we would a normal table.”

Safe Cracker has its fans because it’s just so weird, but I really was just bored silly by this table. And that’s heart-breaking for me because Pat Lawlor is my all-time favorite designer. But, not every idea is a home run. Clearly Safe Cracker wasn’t, as operators weren’t inclined to order it. At 1,148 units, it’s his lowest-selling table (at least from his Bally era). In part because the table is significantly shorter than other tables, which makes it look kind of dumb when displayed near other tables. The other reason is because it runs on a timer instead of having three balls. Safe Cracker is a anomaly among pins. As one reader of mine put it, a niche of a niche. Combining pinball with a board game.. a very slow, very basic board game.. the primary draw to players was the idea that you’d win real collectible coins by playing well. Of course, that novelty is lost in a digital translation.

The board game is extremely limited and based on chance. When I finally got to the center and got my first non-existent token, I didn’t feel accomplished. I felt like luck finally played out for me. I’d played rounds where I’d added tons of time extensions, but because the dice rolls didn’t work out for me, I didn’t make it to the center. The time I did happened during one of my less well-played rounds.

All that remains is a basic, bland, overly crowded table with nubby electro-mechanical era flippers. Safe Cracker feels like one of those higher-end toy pinball tables you spend $200 for at Christmas.. nowhere near arcade quality, but kids are dumb and won’t realize it.. then you watch in horror as your kids play a couple rounds, then never touch again. I’m not even exaggerating. It feels like a toy pinball table. The point of the table is really to move the action to the backglass, where the board game takes place. You roll dice, move spaces, and if you can make it to the center of the board, you win a real life coin. Only you don’t here. An animation of a fake digital coin falls and that’s it.

I could totally get why this table would be so memorable to arcade-goers from the 90s. Not a lot of games rewarded you with actual, corporeal keepsakes you got to take home with you. The only possible reason to want to play Safe Cracker can’t translate to a digital recreation. So, like, why bother? This table sucks without it.

The Good

#11: Hurricane
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Barry Oursler, 1991
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

The finale of Oursler’s Roller Coaster Trilogy (following 1985’s Comet and 1988’s Cyclone) and, in my opinion, the weakest of the three. Hurricane is a good table, but in Pinball FX 3, it’s not a great one. Many Pinball FX 3 tables feel like the slope is too steep or the gravity is too strong in the standard mode with the specialized PBFX3 physics. That stood out so much more in Hurricane than any other table. I own a real Hurricane table. It’s not even remotely this hard to get the balls up the ramps or clearing orbits. I’d made flush hits that should have easily had sufficient enough force to climb the front ramp, only to see the ball stop just short of the top and come back at me. But, here’s the weird thing: EVERY ramp had this “YOU ALMOST HAD IT” phenomena going for it. Accessing the Ferris Wheel? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! Accessing the Hurricane roller coaster? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! Accessing the Juggler? YOU ALMOST HAD IT! It got to the point where only trapped tee-shots could ever hope to get the correct force needed. It didn’t feel on the up-and-up. Yea, this isn’t present in Classic mode, but (1) the physics are TOO rubbery-bouncy in any table’s Classic mode for my tastes and (2) you don’t get XP, boosts, or super powers in Classic.

And, while we’re on the subject, as far as I can tell you can’t post any high scores online playing in multiplayer. And that’s a damn shame because, a while back, my father and I had an epic duel at Medieval Madness in Classic Mode where we both surpassed my own posted high score a few times over. There’s really no reason to not have that. Heck, make a Hot Seat leaderboard if you have to.

Hurricane is one of the tables where you can’t really see the back of the table at all unless you use one of the cameras that follows the ball. I wish there was a better top-down view to practice on.

Anyway, it speaks to the potential quality of Hurricane that, even with YOU ALMOST HAD IT syndrome, the table is a lot of fun. Heavy on toys and gimmicks but with a layout optimized for casual fun. Professional pinballers (yes, they exist) hate Hurricane because you can easily “chop wood” (repeat simple shots and grind up points) and draw out matches. Also, Hurricane is easily the table that you’ll want to use the Skillshot boost on the most. You can post a top 500 global score just by having it, the Score boost, and hitting the skill shot all three balls. It worked for me.

#10: The Getaway: High Speed II
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Steve Ritchie, 1992
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Getaway is yet ANOTHER table that was notorious for breaking down in real life. Getaway had one of the worst fatal-flaws in all of pinballdom. Balls would get stuck under slingshots, which would short-out the MPU. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the owner’s manual had a misprinting that instructed operators to use a 48 volt lamp light instead of a 20 volt. Smart.

This is a hard, hard table. The margin-for-error on shooting is narrow, on a table designed to be (at the time) the fastest in the history of the medium. Getaway: High Speed II is a punishing table. It’s also fun. But very deceptively so. Every single shot is super tight, so if you want a table that’s not n00b-friendly and requires precision, this is really the best table in Pinball FX 3 for that. But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a rewarding experience based around lightning-fast timing. Getaway is also primarily built around shooting orbital combos, but the timing for shooting them is more difficult on a game controller than it is for a real table. Once you get the timing down, successfully shooting those combos and seeing the huge scores build up is insanely exhilarating.

Also, this is one of those tables where some of the fun elements from the real machine are lost in translation. Throughout a session with Getaway, you’re supposed to shift gears, which is done with the auto-launching plunger. On a real Getaway table, it’s an actual gear shift! Here, that’s a simple button. It’s an ever-present, problem with digital pinball: some of the charm is lost. Ultimately, Getaway is a strong table, but might be too frustrating for many. It’s also probably the simplest or most “old-school” of all the Williams tables released so far, maybe too much so for snobbish modern audiences. Ahem. Yea, this is the point where my Dad wants to point out that this is his favorite in the series. He’s a Ritchie fanboy. Moving on.

#9 Creature from the Black Lagoon
Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Designed by John Trudeau, 1992
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average

Maybe the prettiest table in Pinball FX 3’s Williams’ collection. So there’s that!

Combine one of the most clever themes with one of the most maddening layouts ever and you get Creature from the Black Lagoon. First thing’s first: John Trudeau should be fucking horsewhipped for covering the right flipper’s lane with a “transparent” whirlpool that absolutely does block your vision. I play the game muted and thus get no cues on when balls are being VKUed to the right flipper, so I’m kinda screwed by this choice. And what am I being screwed by? A feature that’s barely used. In dozens upon dozens of rounds, I only once was able to get into the whirlpool. Granted, doing so paid off huge and single-handedly gave me table mastery status and (at the time) a top 100 global score, but still, it’s a high visual price for a relatively barren feature.

You get there via a two-ball multiball that has no ball save attached to it. Activating multiball was no problem for me. But, the mode would pretty much end in under three seconds every single time I did so, with the very first ball taking a trip down an outlane no matter how I hit it. Creature has too many brickable shots to keep up with such an unforgiving setup. You CAN restart multiball once but that requires hitting the snack bar within a limited time. Damnit, I don’t want to get mad at this table. It sure seems like it should be tons of fun. But the drain is so huge it could be legally be described as a canal, the outlanes are too hungry, and Creature just plain frustrates too much. Good table, over-rated, next.

#8: Black Rose
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by John Trudeau & Brian Eddy, 1992
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Change what I said about Creature from the Black Lagoon: THIS is the prettiest table in Pinball FX 3.

Yep, this is a John Trudeau table. Developed alongside Creature from the Black Lagoon, Black Rose (part of his “black” trilogy which began with Bugs Bunny Birthday Ball, objectively the most dark and evil table ever made) has all the hallmarks of a Trudeau design: maddening mulitballs that are designed to drain out before you get a chance to play them. A wide drain. Starving outlanes. But, Brian Eddy (Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness) co-designed it, and his design signature (a prominent central target) is along for the ride. Like the Darth Vader table in Star Wars Pinball, Black Rose is really notable for being a valley-style table, with an empty center for a playfield that runs the length of the board, with the primary target against the back wall and all other targets off to the sides.

And that primary shot is absolutely maddening. It’s crowded, but in one of those logical pinball-type of ways. Hitting the target spoon-feeds the right flipper the ball (just hold it for a trap and you’ll be delivered the ball safely every time). But, the wide drain and sharp angles makes nearly every other target super high risk. Combine it with one of the most impossible video modes I’ve seen (walking the plank, which requires you to pump the action button, which nobody in my house could successfully pull off) and a cannon that, I swear, misses manage to drain out every time. Plus, there’s absolutely no semblance of risk/reward balance. Easy shots pay off huge. Difficult shots aren’t worth anywhere near as much as they should be. Black Rose has a fun swashbuckling theme, but I can’t help but wonder if this table would have been so much better if it’d been a 1996 – 98 table instead of a 1992, when they were just starting to get the hang of more high-concept layouts.

#7: Junk Yard
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Barry Oursler, 1996
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

I can just hear the pinball community now. “YOU MURDERED WHITE WATER BUT PUT JUNK YARD #7? JUNK YARD?!” What can I say? Guilty pleasure.

Junk Yard is based mostly around a single gimmick: a second ball that’s suspended by a chain that you whack to hit other targets. At first, a person might think the wrecking ball is all Junk Yard has going for it. And yeah, this is a pretty limited table. There’s no secondary flippers. It doesn’t have orbits to shoot combos. It doesn’t even have bumpers. From what I can gather, it’s one of the least popular tables among professional players, where matches end up slogging and players resort to chopping wood (shooting low-risk targets to grind up scores). Skill shot, extra ball, and Time Machine mode are all shared by a single, easy-to-hit target. It sort of has to, since the rear of the table needs enough room to make the wrecking ball gimmick work. This table shouldn’t be good.

The wrecking ball is dumb fun. Yea, I totally get why pros hate Junk Yard, but this was easily the most popular Williams Pinball FX 3 table in my house among the less hardcore pinheads in the Vice family.

But, I like it. In a guilty pleasure sort of way. Easy to get multiball, easy to get jackpots and super jackpots. A few video modes. A few roulettes. Even the backglass comes into play with random chance prizes. Is Junk Yard a finesse table? No. But it wasn’t meant to be one. This is a rare pinball table from the era where it feels like they knew the end was near and decided to just make the most wild designs imaginable because they might not get another chance to. Certainly worth a look.

The Great

#6: Fish Tales
Free to Download with the Pinball FX3 Launcher
Designed by Mark Ritchie, 1992
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Simple elegance. They really couldn’t have chosen a better table to be the freebie.

Designed by Mark Ritchie (kid brother of the legendary Steve Ritchie, designer of Getaway: High Speed II), Fish Tales is free for everyone as the sample Williams recreation table for Pinball FX3. Probably a good choice for it, too. It’s one of the best selling pins ever, at over 13,000 units made. I joked that Fish Tales was required to be installed in every tavern as part of their certification. I can’t imagine children of the early 90s would be interested in a fishing pinball game. Then again, one of my favorite launch-window Dreamcast games was Sega Bass Fishing. And I did basically use Animal Crossing as a fishing game..

Okay, point taken.

What strikes me most about Fish Tales is how simple it is. Clean layout. There’s no supplemental flippers. There’s no skill-shot with the auto launcher. There’s no complex step-by-step objectives. The targets are simple, the ramps and orbits have clear, easy shots. Maybe too easy in the case of the ball lock. It got to the point that I could very easily shoot three consecutive shots into it without breaking a sweat. Not that the rest of the table is easy. In fact, I died as a result of the multiballs that lock triggers. Still, Fish Tales feels like a table that brings the best qualities of the early 80s through the early 90s without any of the confusing, overly elaborate excesses.

The horseshoe design leads into one of the most intense but simple combo-shooting experiences in PBFX3.

The result is a pretty dang good game. And, like all other Pinball FX3 recreations, this is a solid port job. The biggest flaw in Fish Tales is that Mark Ritchie designed the table to use standard flippers, but the machine shipped with the infamous “lightning flippers” that are very slightly smaller than normal flippers. This was done at the request of UK operators who were pissed that players lasted three minutes at a table instead of under two. Many owners of real Fish Tales tables change over to standard sized flippers, since that was Ritchie’s intent and all the angles were based around them. But, Pinball FX3 offers no such option, and uses the Lightning Flippers despite them being a last second addition to the game to cave in to the demands of bitchy arcade owners. Do the right thing, Zen: give us normal flippers.

#5: Red & Ted’s Road Show
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 4
Designed by Pat Lawlor, Dwight Sullivan, & Ted Estes, 1994
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

I’ve always wondered if this was originally supposed to be based on a licensed property and the construction stuff was added when negotiations for something broke down. Possibly something with a country-music theme since Red is voiced by Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash.

1993’s Twilight Zone is wide(bodi)ly considered the greatest pinball table ever. Red & Ted’s Road Show is Pat Lawlor’s follow-up to it, and you’ve got to feel for him in the same way you feel for Francis Ford Coppola every time someone talks about anything he did after the Godfather or Godfather II. Once you’ve made anything that’s, according to fans and many peers, “the best ever“, you can’t possibly live up to that prior work again. Road Show doesn’t remotely try to feel like Twilight Zone. The only similarities are being part of the SuperPin line of gigantic wide body tables (in fact, Road Show is the final of the series) and being a mode-heavy experience. Lawlor has a reputation for making the most complex pins imaginable. This one might be more convoluted and confusing than even Twilight Zone.

More than any other Williams Pinball Season 1 table, Red & Ted’s Road Show requires a time investment just to get a feel for what you’re supposed to be doing and how the massive volume of modes work. There’s over twenty, mostly named after cities. There’s a vast, wide open playfield with two nightmare-fuel ventriloquist heads that serve as the primary targets, but most of the modes are activated by shooting ramps and targets behind them. You know what? Fuck it. Just watch this video courtesy of Bowen Kerins and the Replay Foundation. It’s 33 minutes long. Yea, it really requires that much time to figure this fucking thing out.

Did you watch it? LIAR! You did not! And you really should, because you’ll be expected to do all that. Is it fun? Well, yeah. I mean, obviously. I have it ranked as “great.” But Red & Ted has issues. The scoring balance is wonky, with some of the easier modes worth more points than harder ones (and hell, that’s before you factor in Pinball FX 3’s boosts). My Dad’s been on my case all week for rewarding tables that FUBAR the risk/reward balance, especially since that was the main complaint of my Nintendo’s Pinball review. Yea, that’s a legitimate complaint. What can I say? Nintendo’s Pinball isn’t fun. Red & Ted is. Theatre of Magic is. And there’s something about the SuperPin line that makes hitting high degree-of-difficulty shots feel so much more satisfying. My biggest issue with Red & Ted is there’s simply too many things to keep track of, with too many important elements based on chance. Also, I’m going to go ahead and say it: worst launcher/skill-shot ever.

The Masterpieces

#4: Theatre of Magic
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 3
Designed by John Popadiuk, 1995
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Below Average (This will get me hate mail)
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Not to be confused with Capcom Pinball’s Magic. Speaking of which, Zen Studios has worked with Capcom in the past. God willing, we’ll get a Capcom PBFX3 pack that contains Pinball Magic, Breakshot, Big Bang Bar (less than 10 units made it into the open market), and Airborne. I’d pay $19.99 for that four pack. Are they any good? I don’t know. I’ve never played any of them. Even Breakshot. Here’s hoping!

While John Popadiuk’s story once he left Williams was, ahem, less than inspirational, Theatre of Magic has left its mark on pinball as one of the most popular and influential tables ever. I’m surprised operators allowed this to become such a big hit. A relatively easy (by the standards of the era) table based around shooting combos, Theatre of Magic is built for fun, with any quarters it ate being secondary to that. Originally intended to be based around David Copperfield, Theatre utilizes the magic gimmick to its fullest potential. This includes a heavy use of magnetic areas, including magnets that save balls from outlanes. It’s ambitious, and it works.

Theatre of Magic is a player’s table, and a genuine masterpiece. But, it’s hardly perfect. In fact, my ranking of it at #4, in the masterpiece category, was the source of controversy in the Vice household that led to a full-blown shouting match. I felt the the biggest flaw is the high-risk center orbit that, depending on the angle the ball enters it, can lead to a no-hope (even if you attempt to tilt it) instakill drain-out. My Dad, a pinball purist, felt that an instakill orbit was nothing compared to the utterly broken scoring balance. Simple orbits pay off too much. The multiball is too easy to trigger (even average players should be able to activate it every ball) and jackpots are too easy to come by. The biggest rewards in Theatre come from relatively easy shots. Also, there’s a video pinball mode on the dot matrix display that’s possibly the worst video pinball ever. Why would you do a video pinball mode that bad on any real pinball table? Come to think of it, once we’re doing a video pinball mode on a video pinball game, we’re sort of through the looking glass. Ugh. But ultimately, it feels like a table designed primarily to be fun, not to make money. I can’t justify ranking Theatre of Magic this high, except to say that it’s insanely entertaining. Isn’t that why we’re all here?

#3 Attack from Mars
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 2
Designed by Brian Eddy, 1995
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

The real life table was the first pinball machine (and one of the first arcade games in general) that came with an epilepsy warning. My family has an Attack from Mars in our collection that has the strobe lights removed. Besides roughly eight-dozen tables not yet included, my #1 wish-list item for Pinball FX 3 is being able to turn off certain flashing lights. Epileptic people can’t play real tables if they have strobe lights (unless we buy our own), nor can we just go up to the operator and ask if they’re unscrew the lamp lights just for us. They’d be annoyed by it. Video pinball should be their ticket to pinball heaven, but nobody is including options for us. Yet, at least.

Brian Eddy is one of my favorite pinball designers, but the man only really led the design on three tables: Medieval Madness, The Shadow (based on the Alec Baldwin movie, itself based on an old pulp magazine), and this. All three are masterpieces in the annals of silverball. That the medium faded out just as Eddy was hitting his stride is one of the great tragedies of gaming. Attack from Mars is a wonderful table. One of the fastest, high-thrills pinball machines ever made. And one of the best in terms of layout. A clean, simple design with clear targets and simple angles. The challenge comes not from impossible shots but relying on players to feel the pressure of a high score as it draws near. Eddy understood that the best challenges in pinball are ones players put upon themselves.

So, what’s the problem with Attack from Mars? No seriously, I’m asking you. Because I left this part of the review blank for days while I finished off the other tables. I’m here right now trying to figure out a negative thing to say. I can’t. Attack from Mars proves perfection isn’t unobtainable. The scoring balance? Rock solid (even if the “count by hundreds of millions” shtick feels forced). The modes? Easy to grasp, difficult to master, with a perfect tempo. The theme? So much fun. I’ve heard player after player who has been buying these sets tell me that, going in, they thought it’d be Medieval Madness or Theatre of Magic they’d keep returning to, but it turned out that Attack from Mars was that game instead.

Attack from Mars is a close cousin of Medieval Madness. Replace the alien invasion theme with sword and sorcery and really, the two tables aren’t that different.

I hear you asking “so, why isn’t it #1?” Simple: there are two tables more fun than it. While Attack from Mars is genuinely flawless (one of only three games I feel you can say that about, along with video games Tetris and Portal), and one of the best pinball machines ever made, I feel, even at its fullest potential, Medieval Madness and Monster Bash are just more fun. I can’t stress enough: Attack from Mars is the perfect table. In fact, it should be the first table that everyone learning the in’s and out’s of modern pinball practices on. I just watched my nine year old niece get her first wizard mode. Brings a tear to my eye. But Attack from Mars also proves you can be perfect and still not the best.

#2: Monster Bash
Featured in Williams Pinball Universal Monsters Pack
Designed by George Gomez, 1998
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average

It’s worth noting that the art for these tables aren’t 100% arcade authentic. Changes were made in order to assure an E rating, which in some cases Zen Studios was likely under contractual obligation to do.

Initially, I had Monster Bash #1, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt Medieval Madness is the most purely fun, perfectly-balanced real table recreated by Pinball FX3. It’s the table I’ll be going back to the most. And thus, Monster Bash wins Miss Congeniality, by a razor thin margin. It really only comes down to how darn precisely measured the scoring for Medieval Madness is. Monster Bash is slightly more chaotic, based around stacking modes. Modes are super easy to trigger, and really, this is one of those wacky fun tables Midway (under the Williams label) was cranking out at the end of the 90s.

My top two tables have a lot in common. They’re player’s tables that feel like a love letter to every eccentric pinball trope. And stacking modes. Lots and lots of modes. Monster Bash is toy-heavy and built around triggering Monster Bash mode, where every single toy becomes active. If you’re playing in the standard mode and have unlocked the scoring boost, you’ll want to save it for this (and stack it with the multiball boost). And by God, this mode alone is probably the greatest multiball of all-time. Monster Bash isn’t perfect. Monster Bash mode is so central to gameplay that everything leading up to that feels more like an arbitrary checklist. I don’t get excited for the other modes the same way I do for starting anything in Medieval Madness. And that’s what really makes the difference. The greatest mode doesn’t make the greatest table. But don’t let that scare you off. Bash is good enough to be worth the $9.99 pricetag of the Universal Monsters Pack alone.

#1: Medieval Madness
Featured in Williams Pinball Volume 1
Designed by Brian Eddy, 1997
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

The best of the best. At least until Zen ponies up to do Twilight Zone.

What can I say about Medieval Madness that hasn’t been said? It’s one of the all-time greats. It’s one of the last great Williams/Bally tables. It’s designed for chaotic, flipper-mashing mayhem. It guest stars Tina Fey (no joke). This is a wonderful table. Like a more refined, idealized version of Attack from Mars with a dungeons and dragons theme. Which makes sense, since both are Brian Eddy designs. Same basic concept, really. There’s a large, primary target in the center of the field that you chip at. There’s simple orbits on the sides with easy-to-access loops. There’s tons of quick-to-activate modes. Really, it’s Attack from Mars on steroids: bigger, stronger, and slower. But slower in a good way. Really, Medieval Madness couldn’t have handled being as fast as Attack from Mars. It would have ruined the table.

Medieval Madness’ greatest strength is that there’s no wasted room. Every single successful shot feels like the player is getting something out of it. Multiball modes stack. You can cycle through progress of different modes. The biggest issue by far is that the table’s primary target, the castle gate, is designed in a way where the ball has about a 30% – 50% chance dropping straight down the middle from a variety of angles. Which, frankly, is the exact same issue with Attack from Mars. There’s “smart angles” that you can take shooting it, but the margin for error of those angles is razor thin. Also, the super skill shot (which you do by holding the left flipper) is worth less for skilled players (irony) than a standard skill shot because it doesn’t give you multipliers for making it, and multipliers are a bit harder to come by than the points you get from the super skill. But, like I said, nit-picky, as you can tell from the ranking here. Any would-be pinball designer should study Madness in laboratory conditions just to learn how you properly balance risk-reward. Let it be said: no table of the dot-matrix-display era handles scoring better. Medieval Madness is a legend for a reason, and the best real table on Pinball FX 3.

Indie Pinball Chick: Williams Pinball: Universal Monsters Pack (Pinball FX 3 Review)

Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster Bash are legendary tables, but I’ve barely gotten to play either. And that’s really weird because Creature from the Black Lagoon was in my family’s personal collection for years, but the fucking thing never worked. It was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Apparently whoever had it before us had issues with it too and in attempting to repair it (and also follow mod guides despite having no engineering background), he actually did more damage to it. In 2016, we traded it along with a few other tables that were, ahem, problematic for some working ones. I’d like to think the guy who ended up with ours went on to have wacky adventures with his Creature from the Black Lagoon table. Maybe he had to travel into the heart of the darkest jungle to retrieve the magical power supply or replacement ROMs to get it running. Maybe it was like that frog from those Looney Tunes shorts and it drove him to the streets, just him and his broken table. Maybe we’ll be reunited someday and it’ll fail to register targets for old time’s sake. Or maybe I’ll just get another off Craigslist. One that’s been fully cleaned and shopped wink wink. You’re not actually supposed to type wink wink in a Craigslist ad but, God, it would be so helpful if sellers did.

Or, I can skip all that shit and just buy the Pinball FX 3 Universal Monsters Pack for $9.99 and enjoy my 99.9% discount on a real table.

UPDATE: My father found the gentleman we traded our Creature from the Black Lagoon to. The table was fully restored and sold to an owner who was very happy to get it. Aww, I always tear up for happy endings.

Yes, yes, the hologram is there and works like a hypothetical working table would. I’m convinced it’s the sole reason the table is “legendary” because the gameplay is just alright.

By the way, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the actual pinball machine, is one of the most notoriously difficult tables to repair. In-part because getting replacement parts for faulty components is difficult. ESPECIALLY if you’re anal about “authentic parts”. The famous green hologram on the table? Yeah, it wasn’t made to still work decades later and many have since rotted into an non-functional sludge-blue. But hell, even replica parts can run you hundreds of dollars, and those parts don’t install themselves. There’s entire guides dedicated to do-it-yourself replacement kits and work-arounds and modifications and homemade solutions just for this table. If you genuinely love this Creature from the Black Lagoon pinball but lack any semblance of engineering skills, you’d be a fool to spend the thousands of dollars (hell, up to $15,000!) on a real Black Lagoon pinball table (or ANY real table, because ALL need repairs at some point). Even if you got a mint condition, rarely (if ever) routed table, it’ll eventually break down. You’ll need to fix it, and if you can’t, you’re stuck with a gorgeous but large and expensive paperweight. Hell, my Dad DOES have engineering skills and still couldn’t fix ours. Shit, $9.99 for a very well-made digital approximation of the same table is sounding pretty fucking sweet right about now.

It’s worth noting that Creature from the Black Lagoon is hardly alone in being a white elephant. I can’t stress enough to people who’ve imagined owning a real pinball machine of their own: unless you’re truly passionate about it, don’t do it. Stick to recreations. Go to Craigslist and look at all the non-professional dealers selling their tables. They were you once.

Anyway, we have two new Pinball FX 3 tables released in time for Halloween that required the Universal license, which Zen Studios already had. They have a set based on Jurassic Park and another based on miscellaneous Universal movies ET, Back to the Future, and Jaws. I was hoping for a fourth table based on Schindler’s List. Or, maybe one based around Sid Sheinberg’s ego, but it’d probably require a 200GB file size. There really were tables based around Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, but those were done by Data East and Sega Pinball, both of which still exist today as the modern Stern, which has a deal with Pinball Arcade. So, sadly, it’s unlikely we’ll see them recreated anytime soon.

And the sadness continues, as two tables that would have fit perfectly with the theme that were hypothetically available (they were by Midway under the Bally license) couldn’t be used. 80s B-Movie hostess Elvira is actually something of a legend in pinball circles because she was the theme of two iconic pins: Elvira and the Party Monsters and Scared Stiff. I think Party Monsters (which, believe it or not, was digitally recreated for Atari Lynx) was a little overrated while Scared Stiff is every bit as deserving of its reputation (and wallet-busting $8K – $11K price-tag on the second-hand market) as it gets. However, Elvira signed on to do a third table with Stern recently, and Stern is partnered with FarSight Studios to do The Pinball Arcade/Stern Pinball Arcade. I prefer Pinball FX 3 to FarSight’s pinball engine, but I really just want these tables recreated regardless. Maybe the two companies can work out some kind of trade: the 90s Universal tables (Back to the Future/Jurassic Park) for the two Elvira tables. Call me guys. I’ll negotiate it for you.

Monster Bash is a truly fun, thrilling table and a great way to introduce players to stacking modes. It’s a table that feels like a last-hurrah for the golden age of solid-state pinball.

So, two tables for $9.99. Is it worth it? Well, frankly, Monster Bash is worth it by itself. It’s the best of the recreated Williams tables I’ve played yet. Creature from the Black Lagoon is vastly overrated historically. Which is not to say it’s bad. Overrated doesn’t mean bad. It means overrated. It’s not an all-timer. It’s just a solid, maddening table that simply has one of the best themes in pinball history: a loving tribute to Drive-Ins. I’ll be giving full reviews to the tables by themselves in an upcoming Indie Pinball Chick post that rates and ranks all fifteen Williams tables in Pinball FX 3. Until then, just know that I absolutely recommend this set because both tables are worth preserving and fun. Creature from the Black Lagoon, for its extreme difficulty, is still alright. Monster Bash, on the other hand, is absolutely deserving of its legendary status. I look at the Universal Monsters Pack as paying $10 for Monster Bash and getting Creature from the Black Lagoon as a throw-in bonus with it. And hey, at least their version works!

Pinball FX 3: Universal Monsters Pack was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam

$9.99 did the Monster Mash in the making of this review.

Universal Monsters Pack is Chick Approved.

A review code for the Switch version was supplied by Zen Studios. We bought it on Xbox One.

Table Index

Williams Pinball: Universal Monsters Pack (Pinball FX 3)
Total Tables: 2
The Pits: 0
Bad: 0
Good: 1 (Creature from the Black Lagoon)
Great: 0
Masterpiece: 1 (Monster Bash)
Total Quality Tables: 2
Price per Quality Table: $4.99

 

Creepy Brawlers (Switch Review)

Creepy Brawlers isn’t just an indie you can get on Switch. It was actually built on NES hardware and you can really purchase it on a working Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge for $40. While I find that genuinely neat, I want to keep things real here: if this exact same game had been released by any company in 1991 for the NES, it’d be remembered as one of the very worst games ever made for the platform. Because Creepy Brawlers is truly horrible and probably the worst video game I’ve ever played in my entire life. I’m sure there’s people who think that a plucky indie developer making an unauthorized NES game released in 2017 should be cut a break for their limited resources and resilience to release a game on the NES. Guess what people? That’s what Wisdom Tree was. That’s what American Video Entertainment was. That’s what the guys who made Action 52 were. History didn’t cut their games a break. And nobody should cut this game a break because it’s “indie”. A bad game is a bad game, and Creepy Brawlers is as bad as it gets.

Some people might want this. Bad games are collectable too.

The shit thing is, Punch-Out!! is my favorite Nintendo franchise. When I saw the screens for this on the Switch marketplace, I was all over it. Without hyperbole, it was probably the fastest “find out about the game, buy the game” purchase I ever made for the Switch. “Creepy Brawlers? What’s that?” I said. Then I saw two pics of it, and next thing you know I’m confirming my purchase. I’m starved for someone, ANYONE, to make the definitive indie Punch-Out!! tribute and, at this point, I’m willing to try any game that could scratch that itch.

Yea, yea, Pato Box. I’ll get to it. I did like the boxing mechanics. The story stuff? Not so much.

Creepy Brawlers on Switch runs on an NES emulator, so taking clips of the game drops animation frames. That’s not on developer. Even the official Nintendo Switch Online emulator does it.

Finding words that do justice to how bad Creepy Brawlers is has been a challenge. Here’s what I came up with: imagine someone who had never played video games was given a copy of Punch-Out!! to play for an hour. That person then had to describe what the game was like to another person who had never played a video game. That person then directs people to make a game based on what they were described. I’m not exaggerating. Creepy Brawlers clearly wants to invoke Punch-Out!! and tries so gosh darn hard to play like Punch-Out!!, but every way it tries to do it, it fails.

The telegraphing of punches that the Punch-Out!! formula absolutely needs to work? They’re in theory here. In practice though, there’s unresponsiveness. The timing and speed of your dodge moves aren’t syncing with the timing of the enemy telegraphing. Now, fair point: this is NOT Punch-Out!! and expecting the exact same timing is not reasonable. But even telling yourself that, there’s no rhyme or reason to the enemy attacks or the speed/movement of your boxer. It feels unfinished. I don’t want to say “broken” because there is a semblance of dodge/counter punch, but clocking it? It feels like you learn the timing by accident.

My attempts at using block never seemed to work. Only dodging left and right seemed to be effective, but the dodge moves faster than the attacks do and can’t be held.

And actually, you don’t have a chance to dodge attacks the first time they’re thrown at you. There’s not enough time before the “attacking coming” animation and the punch being thrown. You have to get hit to know what attacks look like and hope to get the timing down. Everything comes down to timing issues. Sometimes the fighters just waddle back and forth. You can hit them with punches, but if they block one of yours and throw a punch, you’re almost certainly not dodging it. This is like Punch Out!! with every single positive aspect removed. It’s God awful.

Apparently the game is stacked with tons of fights.  You can see them in the practice mode. But, they’re all locked in practice unless you reach them in the championship mode. And I only got to the third of fourteen fights. In six hours of gameplay! I’m pretty good at Punch-Out!! games. I’ve beaten them all. That I could only make it to fight 3 of 14 in the first of four modes really should tell you how bad Creepy Brawlers is. And my lack of progress was not for a lack of effort. I wanted to get as far as I could to see how much worse it could get. Creepy Brawlers fails in so many ways that it’s fascinating. But, after a while, I just had to give up and say it’s not worth it.

Oh, and when I came back to the game after turning it off and attempted to do the practice mode on the fighters I had reached, the game didn’t save and I could only practice against the very first fighter. Unreal.

I think maybe what happened is the developers knew the timing and could play it and assumed everyone else will. Or, maybe they assumed people would give the game high marks because “hey look, a new NES game in 2017! I’ll ignore how bad this is and give it great reviews because pluck!” About an hour into Creepy Brawlers, I broke a personal rule of mine by checking other people’s reviews and was stunned by how well this game was received by what limited “critics” actually played it. All of them positive reviews, though reading them all, it feels more like anything short of the game not existing at all would have earned it acclaim. Cringe.

This is as far as I made it. If you lose a fight, you have to start over from the beginning. I don’t know if there’s a checkpoint past this. I can’t imagine most people who bought Creepy Brawlers would ever put enough time in it to find out.

I wish I had anything nice to say about Creepy Brawlers. Being an authentic NES release probably means this project was a life-long dream come true. But I really, truly have nothing nice to say about it. It’s ugly. It sounds bad. It plays worse than it looks, which is remarkable. I’ve been playing games regularly for twenty-three years now, and considered myself a “gamer” for twenty-one. And this, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the worst video game I’ve ever played. And that would probably be its reputation if it came out in the early 90s. That is, if it were remembered at all. Now granted, I’m happy it only costs $5 on Switch instead of the $40 it costs on the NES, but really, if it’s not an NES cart, it has no value at all. As a cartridge, at least there’s novelty value in it. Sort of like fake dog poop, only more expensive and not nearly as funny.

Creepy Brawlers was developed by Mega Cat Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, NES

$4.99 went down for the count in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Kid Niki: Radical Ninja and Arcade Archives: Elevator Action (Review)

Arcade Archives: Kid Niki: Radical Ninja was developed by Hamster ($7.99 said “tubular, dude” in the making of this review)

I’ve found the most generic, uninspired, bland, yet still playable game ever made. It’s called Kid Niki: Radical Ninja. I’m not sure what the story on it is, though it feels like something made to cash in on Dragonball back in the day. It’s a typical post-Mario platformer with the “twist” being you spin a sword in front of you to slay enemies. And, well, that’s pretty much it. Run right, and hit the attack button as needed. You can jump, and it’s works and doesn’t feel crappy. The controls are responsive. It’s not a badly made game. And hell, maybe for its time, it was a little more special. Probably not, since my play session with it wasn’t met with dozens of squealing retro gamers going OMG KID NIKI, HEART! In fact, hardly anyone recognized it at all. Maybe one or two people noted they rented the NES version of it back in the day. I’m used to having my older followers unleash the gushing for these titles. Not even a sniff of that here. So Kid Niki is truly lost to the ages despite being available in 2019 on Switch and PS4, and it’s not hard to see why. Every single aspect of it, from its look to its sound effects and action make it feel like you’re playing a fake video game being shown in a bad sitcom. It’s so typically 80s gaming that it’s like a joke game.

I had to abuse the interrupt save states to beat Kid Niki. The normal run-of-the-mill enemies are not a challenge at all. The same can’t be said about the bosses. Especially the last one, which is one the most unfair, impossible encounters ever. I had to save hit-to-hit because, during one phase, bubbles rise up from the floor so fast and so randomly that it’s really sheer luck to not get hit by one. If anyone gave a shit about Kid Niki, it’d be in the discussion for the worst boss in gaming history. I’d show you a clip but it has video capture disabled. Likely because the game sucks so badly.

Probably the best thing it has going for it are its boss fights. The tone, ahem, RADICALLY changes. The game does a neat thing I’ve never seen before, where hitting the boss inflicts damage upon it but causes your sword to go flying behind you, where you must retrieve it. Mind you, this doesn’t happen while making your way to a boss. It’s a neat mechanic that actually works to add tension and nuanced challenge to an otherwise bland game. I wish it did more things that changed up the formula like that. I think if Kid Niki had been remotely creative in its level design, enemy design, or play mechanics, the bosses would have gone down as some of the most memorable in classic gaming. They’re grotesque, they’re legitimately frightening, and pretty fun to battle. And that’s the travesty of Kid Niki’s mediocrity: that these quality boss encounters are lost to history.

Maybe it’s just me, but Kid Niki checks off so many gaming 80s gaming stereotypes that it almost seems like a movie prop.

If Kid Niki is the poster child for being less than the sum of its parts, Elevator Action is the poster child for being more. Unlike Kid Niki, my fans largely recognized it, which, duh. Of course they did! The franchise had legs. As I was typing this, I discovered Kid Niki actually was a franchise, at least in Japan. It had two Famicom sequels and a Game Boy spin-off. Who knew? Well, very few outside of Japan did. On the other hand, Elevator Action was at least well known enough to get a global sequel and a slew of remakes. I had one on my PlayStation 3 and it was the shits. But you have to be at least X amount recognizable to get a modern remake, so Elevator Action was remembered as a classic.

What’s really weird is Elevator Action isn’t a particularly good game if you focus on it mechanically. It’s slow, often feels unresponsive, and movement is pretty clunky. And yet, the fundamental gameplay is fun and genuinely exciting. Plus, for a 1983 game, it sure has an air of violence. What can I say? I love violence, and Elevator Action has this macabre vibe about it. When you fire a bullet at someone and it hits, it makes this incredibly satisfying popping sound that never failed to put a smile on my face. Also, I might have something wrong with me.

I actually played this in early September and deleted all my media for it. Whoops.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Elevator Action is a borderline bad game. It just does so many things wrong. You can’t duck in elevators because.. reasons. There’s too much waiting around for one of the slow-moving elevators to come to the floor you’re on. The level layouts can be so bad and nonsensical that they kill the pace of the game dead. And, frankly, I got fucked by unavoidable deaths more than once. So, why is Elevator Action fun? It really shouldn’t be. It’s a very badly made game.

It’s not exactly Mortal Kombat, but the murders in Elevator Action feel like murders, and that’s good enough for me.

I think it’s a matter of the concept is so smart and so immersive that you really only had to get the bare minimum working to create something worthwhile. Which is not to say the concept just works, period. Elevator Action Deluxe, the aforementioned PS3 game, was terrible. But what is here does feel like you’re a real spy really shooting bad guys. I’d love to see the exact same concept redone today with sharper controls and a little bit of blood. Make it feel like a real, white-knuckle espionage via elevator arcade experience. But what we got here defied all my beliefs that a retro game needs to handle well to be fun. Elevator Action plays like shit. Elevator Action feels sloppy. And Elevator Action is kinda, sorta, just a little teeny tiny bit fun. Well, fuck me.

Arcade Archives: Elevator Action was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4

$7.99 legitimately giggled at shooting bad guys in the balls in the making of this review.

Elevator Action (and not Kid Niki) is Chick-Approved and will eventually be ranked on the IGC Arcade Retroboard.

Demolition Crew (Second Chance with the Chick Review)

It’s been just over two months since I last played Demolition Crew for the Nintendo Switch, but it doesn’t take that long to patch a game these days (well, at least if don’t have a complete shit heel of a publisher). Demolition Crew showed glimpses of potential, but once I discovered a game-destroying glitch that allowed players to phantom-jump up a wall while clipping through surfaces, I threw in the towel. While the phantom jump can still be done, the aspect of it that allowed players to just go straight through the floor is apparently gone. And, while he was at it, developer Xirbx added minor gameplay tweaks and cleanups. It’s still a strange name for a game like this. One that plays much more like Ice Climber than Wrecking Crew. I mean, you’re not really demolishing anything except the occasional wall or floor. You’re just scaling to the roof of buildings to ring a bell. Of course, as the Game of Thrones final season taught us, when the bells ring, everything gets destroyed. Maybe it was prophetic.

I don’t know if these openings were just for the enemies to hit me. It seems like it wouldn’t be so, since there’s piles of snowballs I can use to fight back against them, but I couldn’t throw them through the holes. Weird.

Does Demolition Crew, a loving tribute to the Black Box Era of the NES, play better? Yes. It’s still a more idealized realization of whatever it was Ice Climber was aiming for back in 1985. Is it fun? Not a whole lot. The primary design hurdle with the original build is still there: Demolition Crew just doesn’t have enough stuff going on. It’s not particularly challenging. It’s not hard to overcome obstacles or avoid enemies. The best levels are the ones that require you to use items to clear floors, but the solutions are always self-evident and not exactly hard to pull off. It still has that “proof of concept” feel. Super easy games have a place. I could see this being a great game for children. But there’s no teeth at all here. This is like demolishing a building full of barrels of ducks.

I was caught off guard by the game’s ending. I thought I might have crashed it or something. It just ends after 32 stages and dumps back to the title screen. I’ve never seen that in my eight years at IGC.

Is it ever fun? Sometimes. Not enough to win me over, because too often making it to top floor in Demolition Crew is such a cinch that there’s nothing to get energized over. Ironically for a game about climbing, it just scales too slowly. There are good levels, but they come late into the thirty-two stage run. The patch isn’t a failure or anything. Demolition Crew is a better game. And it’s an impressive development feat. Demolition Crew was coded from the ground-up. It’s not a bad first effort. It’s just not a fun enough one either. It shows a lot of potential, which makes developer xirBX one to watch. A class act with a bright future. He can take feedback. That’s half the battle. Well, actually I imagine getting the game made is a lot more than half a battle. And then there’s actually getting the game listed. That’s a battle for a lot of developers. Fine: being able to take feedback is a fraction of a battle. BUT it’s still part of the battle.

Demolition Crew was developed by xirBX
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$2 got its bell rung in the making of this review.

Dragon Quest (Switch Review)

The original Dragon Quest predates my existence on this Earth by over three years. As far as historic, genre-defining games go, it’s not exactly one I would have ever relished the thought of playing today, in 2019. During my recent adventures in retro gaming, the only JRPG I had to deal with was the original Final Fantasy on the NES Mini, and I could barely tolerate its antiquated gameplay. Dragon Quest 1, better known as Dragon Warrior in the United States, is even older and more decrepit, though it wasn’t commercially available on platforms I was covering in my old school gaming education. And then Square released three NES remakes as part of the launch of Dragon Quest XI on Switch. And, holy moley, are they ugly. I’ve never seen a classic gaming remake that turned off so much of its target audience just by virtue of its appearance. Not the character sprites while moving on the map or the textures, but rather the look of the enemies during combat.

Yeah.

Jesus Christ, that’s embarrassing. It looks like a fan-made remake with character models done in MS Paint. They’re apparently all in the same poses as the 8-bit Famicom/NES originals, but they look so unintimidating. The overworld doesn’t look like that. It has a sort of high-resolution sprite appearance that could pass for 16-bit. But those hand-drawn recreations of the 1986 pixel designs are so amateurish that it turned off a lot of long-time fans of Dragon Quest from making a purchase. Normally I’d tell people that gameplay is king and looks shouldn’t matter. But Dragon Quest on Switch looks like a student project or something. In reality, this is an actual Square-Enix release. Granted, an inexpensive one that’s based on their mobile Dragon Quest re-releases, but still, it feels disrespectful to the source material. When I’m saying that, someone who the retro community often accuses of being disrespectful to classic games, you know it must be bad. Why the hell do the look like that? What’s the original concept art of the game look like?

Oh.

Well, now all that bitching about the hideous artwork is awkward. But, I’m going to continue to insist the art is direction is a complete failure and those concept arts were just that: CONCEPTS. Never meant to actually be used. And it’s even worse because of the backgrounds that concept art was placed on top of. It doesn’t match! NOR does it match the overworld. It’s three totally incompatible styles that makes simply viewing Dragon Quest (along with Dragon Quest II and III, both also on Switch, though they’re priced higher) kind of painful. Plus, they have this weird shading about them that gives them that cheap MS Paint look I was talking about. I don’t know what they were thinking, but a lot of people who were interested in buying these re-releases passed because of how it looks. I’m going to call that what it is: justifiable shallowness.

But yes, gameplay is STILL king, and Dragon Quest is an old game that I had almost no chance of liking. So imagine my surprise when it turned out I didn’t hate the experience of playing all the way through it as much as I thought I would. In fact, I didn’t hate it at all. Which is not to say I overall liked Dragon Quest. It just wasn’t the torture I thought it would be. Actually, I found the mother of all JRPGs to be pretty educational. Because you can still see the design logic and what they were aiming for, and it all makes perfect sense. For real! No twist coming. No “haha just kidding, it sucks!” There’s honest-to-God merit in it.

Apparently, the NES/Famicom original had a glitch with this item where it didn’t do anything. I can’t tell you if that’s fixed here. They seemed fickle about the stuff they wanted to change or not.

For example, there’s locked doors everywhere in the game. You have to get keys to unlock them. BUT, you can’t possibly hope to get keys until you’ve leveled-up enough to venture east, to the only town that sells them, and even then you have to find the “hidden shop” that has them. Getting to this point required hours of grinding, thousands of gold spent in upgrades, and a lot of exploration. Just to be able to open locked doors. But, believe it or not, the act of buying your first key feels like a major turning point in the game. An event. A significant plot point. And a perfectly logical moment from a design point to build towards. They successfully made unlocking doors a big deal. That’s incredible! It’s like fantasy insertion for locksmiths.

Dragon Quest is impressive as a historic relic because the foundation for everything that came after is laid here. If you’re someone who cares about gaming history, when something works in Dragon Quest, you feel a strange sense of relief, and the slightest hint of accomplishment, for the original team who made it. Especially because there’s so many ideas that don’t work. Of course, this being the first game in the franchise, they had to try these things to realize what was a bad idea. Not being able to save the game anywhere but the starting castle? Bad idea. A very limited supply of weapons, upgrades, or useful items to purchase, essentially rendering all gold found from the mid-to-late game useless? Bad idea. Having the princess’s vagina squeak when you rescue her? Really bad idea. Logically, the squeaking should come later, and probably from behind closed doors.

My God, that’s cringey writing. Even Stephenie Meyer would blush with shame if she wrote like that.

The writing is horrible. That was to be expected. Their chief concern was simply getting the game working. I don’t expect a game from before I was born to blow me away with its plot anyway. But, if you’re going to remake the game, like I said about Link’s Awakening: remake the fucking thing! Otherwise, you’re just making Gus Van Sant’s Psycho: a shot-for-shot remake that has no reason to exist. Why not clean up the dialog or plot? They did for the game play! The original 1986/1989 release apparently featured a cumbersome interface that required you to do every single action through the menu. Want to talk to someone? You have to open the menu to do that. Want to take the staircase? You have to use the menu for that too. I imagine that’d get quite annoying. That’s all gone here. The menu exists for things like casting spells, using items, and checking your status. I never played the original NES cart for more than 30 seconds and I’m pretty sure I quit because of the “open menu to use the stairs” thing in the starting room with the King. I’ve come a long ways as a gamer. Who’d of thunk I’d ever have the patience to beat the original Dragon Quest? Well, the truth is, I didn’t. I did to beat its more streamlined remake, though.

The thing is, Dragon Quest I was boring, but not terminally so. In fact, once I put Dragon Quest in the background and threw on the television, it was actually quite zen-like to grind up experience and gold. 95% of the time you’ll spend playing it can be done without your full, undivided attention. The grinding is so simple and requires so little effort that it’s practically like using a fidget spinner or popping bubble wrap. Something you veg out doing. Actual dungeons and tasks could easily be knocked out in just a few minutes with a guide (and I do recommend a guide since the directions and writing provided by the NPCs are so vague that they’re useless). It’s quite relaxing and kind of fascinating from a time capsule point of view. Playing Dragon Quest is like watching a TED Talk on an interesting historical subject being delivered by a nasal, monotone person.

The Hero was called a heathen in red states for this act.

But, a lot of little niggling issues hold this back. When you unlock a door, it relocks as soon as you leave the town or dungeon, requiring you to go buy more keys (and you’re limited to carrying six at one time). It’s also never really clear what the object of the game is. You know you’re supposed to take out Dragonlord, but the writing doesn’t tell you how, or really what order you’re supposed to do things. You don’t even get a clue what sections of the map are safe to start exploring until you begin a random fight with a significantly stronger creature that you have no hope of beating. Sometimes bridges mark boundaries, but a lot of the time you simply start facing tougher monsters and die. I can’t imagine how this was ever beaten without a strategy guide. The weird thing is, it HAS been rewrote with Dragon Quest I & II on the Game Boy Color back in the day. Why not use the script from that? I don’t get it. And, to be frank, I don’t think the RNG of the game is legitimate. I tried running away from fights a total of seven times, and each of those seven times the run command failed. Meanwhile, I killed probably around ten of the high-experience-yielding Metal Slimes even though they’re supposed to run away, making slaying one a rarity. In fact, I only had six or seven run away. The running gag with me is I’ve always had absurd RNG luck (or, more usually, a lack thereof), but my time with Dragon Quest took it to lottery levels of unlikely. So much so that I suspect there’s something wrong with the RNG code.

Is it fun? Not really in the strictest sense. The plot points are overly simple and there’s only four “missions”: get the keys, then rescue the princess, then get the MacGuffins that open the path to the final level, then beat the Dragon Lord. I supposed getting the legendary armor and sword are part of that, but I sort of just stumbled upon both. When you’re powerful enough to actually set out to complete these goals, they can be finished in five minutes. No joke. The majority of the game is spent simply walking back and forth to spawn enemies to grind up enough experience to not get killed in those areas of the game, and there’s nothing to take the edge off getting from Point A to Point B. There’s a spell that’s supposed to make weaker enemies not instigate a battle that should make the slog of traveling go faster late in the game. In theory. In execution, the spell wears off in like ten seconds. Instead of fighting monsters every X amount of paces, you have to recast the spell every X amount of paces. Problem solved? Meanwhile, there’s no method of fast travel to other towns. It only works to take you to the starting castle. It’s bizarre that they chose to cut out all the menu busy work but not further streamline the Dragon Quest experience with the ability to save in more locations or warp from town to town. Like, they knew it wasn’t idealized and later games figured it out better, but they didn’t want to change too much or fans of the original would lose their shit? I guess? As if they wouldn’t with those ugly ass graphics.

Some moments managed to disappoint, too. The game heavily built up this battle from very early on. The significance of the flute and its effect on the Goelm. When I finally ran into it, guarding the final town in the game, I knew exactly what to do. I blew the flute, put it to sleep, hit attack.. and then the fucking thing woke up and killed me. Seriously? In fact, I had to blow the flute multiple times just to finally slay the damn thing. Couldn’t I just put on country music and hope it killed itself?

So, here we are. I didn’t expect to be on the fence about whether or not Dragon Quest on Switch earned my Seal of Approval. I went back and forth on it more than you’d think. On one hand, I’d find myself looking forward to grinding up enough experience to level up and head to more challenging sections of the game. On the other hand, I’d quickly realize that there wasn’t all that much to see and I’d often be let down once I got there. There’s not a particularly large variety of enemies, and many battles I figured would be epic still ended in seconds. Hell, the final encounter with Dragonlord made me literally chuckle because he looks like Sesame Street character. A silly one. And it doesn’t help that I beat its first form in about ten seconds, followed by it turning into a Spyro the Dragon lookalike.

I can’t remember ever literally LOLing upon getting my first glimpse of a final boss. Jeez, couldn’t they change THAT design too? Something a little more intimidating?

I think game designers and people interested in gaming history will find more than just lessons in Dragon Quest. It’s almost enjoyable. It aged so much better than it had any right to. Though that probably owes a lot to the stuff they removed from the NES game, adding only a tiny shimmer effect to areas of the ground where hidden stuff is and an autosave feature that doesn’t give you any information on where that save is. But really, this is a fraction of what a remake needs to be. So, who is this made for? Old school Dragon Quest fans hate the look. New fans will hate the primitive writing and antiquated gameplay. While I didn’t hate Dragon Quest, the best complement I’ve got for it is that it didn’t bore me as much as I thought it would. I almost gave it my Seal of Approval, but really, games should aim higher than to simply “not bore.” And really, I can’t get over how bad it looks, or why this direction was taken at all. Why not do something like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, where the original graphics can be switched on the fly for a newer facade that looks better? Make it look like a cel-shaded anime, like the later games do. The off-putting concept art mixed with sprites that still look wrong for their project just doesn’t work at all. This port feels phoned in, and it didn’t have to be. For its time, Dragon Quest might have been special. Now, it’s only special by virtue of rotting slower than expected. I was THIS CLOSE to giving it a thumbs up..

But, shouldn’t a re-release be about trying to get new fans for your franchise? I mean, you don’t have to convince the diehards to buy your game. I made the same point about Link’s Awakening on Switch: you’ve pretty much made a sale with the diehards the very moment you announce the existence of any remake. They’re going to buy it. They’re going to do so no matter what. That’s just how it works with the hardest of hardcore fans. If you change things around, they’re still going to buy it. They might whine and complain and say “MY version is better” in a fit of nostalgia drunkenness. They might even say those things even if deep down they don’t really believe it’s true. It doesn’t matter either way. They’re still going to buy it. That’s what makes them hardcore. And that’s why the only goal of a remake should be to secure a new generation of fans, tailoring the remake to modern gameplay and writing standards. You know I’m right.

Meh, at least it looks better than Wonder Boy Returns Remix.

Dragon Quest was developed by Square-Enix
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$4.99 said an angry game critic drew near in the making of this review.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch Review)

Here’s a thought exercise for everyone. Ask yourselves how any group of gamers would react if you told them that a 1993 Game Boy release that originally retailed for $29.99 USD would be remade in September of 2019. But, the game would only receive a novel facelift to its appearance. A successful facelift, one that makes it look like no other game before it.. sorta like the LEGO Movie, but with Fisher Price figures instead.. BUT, the actual content would mostly remain intact. What was there in 1993 would still be there, functionally unaltered, in the 2019 release.

The characters that were created during an era where depth and nuance were not normal for game writing? Unchanged.

The world map, which, although ambitious for its time, was largely a result of concessions that had to be made for the limitations of the 1988 Game Boy hardware? Unchanged.

The story, thought-provoking then and now, but left largely unexplored? Unchanged.

That’s the proposition: would they bite at a re-release of a 1993 game, with 1993 gameplay, 1993 storytelling, and all the limitations of 1993 Game Boy development intact, only with 2019 graphics technology..

But, it now costs $59.99 for that 1993 $29.99 Game Boy game. Would they buy it?

I’d think most gamers would decline that offer without thinking about it twice. Yet, here we are. Link’s Awakening for Switch is a huge hit. Nintendo has paid close attention to what Disney is pulling off with its live action remakes and said “why not us?” Those movies make incredible money with the bare minimum effort, and so too is Link’s Awakening, with the bare minimum effort.

This is not a good thing. Also, having good graphics doesn’t change the fact that this is a hugely lazy remake.

To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t blown away by the graphics most of the time. BUT, sometimes they left me gobsmacked. The Face Shrine area is one of the locations where I put my Switch down to just gawk at how nice it looked. Like a diorama.

Now, this opinion is not flying with most Nintendo fans. So many are besides themselves with the mere suggestion that efforts could have been made to improve what was already a very solid Zelda game. If you say “they could have reworked the script. Dialog has come a long ways since 1993” they scoff. If you say “some of the level design is nonsensical or overly-simplistic, even for its era. Maybe they could have sharpened it up for a new generation of gamers” they balk. And they always say the same thing with these suggestions: “it wouldn’t be Link’s Awakening then!”

I have to say the same thing I said about the ToeJam & Earl remake: why didn’t you fucking people just keep playing the originals if you don’t want anything changed? If they make a REAL remake and not just the facade of one, it doesn’t erase the existence of the original games. You can still sit down and play those if you’re nauseated by someone trying to make something good even better or more relevant in 2019. Hell, you can still buy Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX for $5.99 on your 3DS! And I guarantee you almost everyone rejecting making changes still has a 3DS. Then again, they probably still have their original Link’s Awakening carts and working Game Boys. What the FUCK is wrong you people? Are you stunted?

She’s making a face like Link copped a feel. Maybe that’s why this is Link’s Awakening. He’s going to be woke when Twitter gets a hold of him.

Okay, let me set aside my dumbfoundedness for a second and tell you the good stuff: Link’s Awakening is an incredible achievement for its time. Given the limitations for the Game Boy, some of the levels are absolutely inspired. Ironically for a game based around waking up, it’s a slow riser. After a nifty introduction to the shield and sword, momentum grinds to a halt with a plodding first couple hours and two of the most boring 2D Zelda dungeons ever. But, around the time of the third level, things start to pick up. By level 4 and onward to the end game, Link’s Awakening is not merely good for its time. It’s good on its own merit. Occasionally, it’s even great, like having to move a giant metal ball around a stage to collapse pillars of a level to cause the tower to collapse by one level. THAT is fucking genius and maybe the best 2D Zelda Dungeon ever. Sadly, things crater out a bit in the eighth and final proper level, Turtle Rock, a miserable slog of a stage. And the Wind Fish egg itself is nothing more than callback to the Lost Woods from the original NES Zelda, only with more directions to memorize, followed by the final boss fight.

BUT, this is a good Zelda. And the Switch version has advantages to it. While the maps remain the same as the DX Game Boy Color version (including the lame ass color dungeon, still every bit as pandering and phoned-in here), Nintendo added more pieces of the heart and secret seashells. They’re absurdly easy to find and add fuck-all to the game, but they’re there if you care about that type of thing. By far the biggest improvement is the elimination of tediously fumbling with the menu to change items around. This time, the sword, shield, power bracelet, and pegasus boots are always equipped once you have them. This cuts down on so much bullshit. Having said that, they should have also always had the Roc’s Feather equipped too. You’ll be using it so much that there’s really never a time it’ll go too long without having to take up one of the two item slots. If it had been, the item equipping would have been such a non-factor that it would become the single most desirable reason to own this version of the game.

The Dungeon Maker stuff is one of the absolute worst disasters in recent memory. It’s horrible. You can’t even change the room themes. It feels exactly like what it is: a series of rooms not compatible with each-other being interlocked. It’s crazy limited. You can’t alter the rooms. You can’t even ROTATE the rooms. This is dog shit. The worst idea Nintendo has actually gone through with releasing since Wii Music, easily.

And it IS totally worth owning.. the Game Boy Color version for $5.99 on 3DS Virtual Console. I really can’t recommend the Switch version at full price. Especially when the standards of remakes have come so far. Nintendo fans justify Link’s Awakening by noting that they Nintendo did the same thing with Super Mario All-Stars back in the day (ironically, it came out the same day as the original Link’s Awakening did in North America) and nobody thought it was a ripoff. This might be the dumbest argument since “because the Bible says so.” Super Mario All-Stars had FOUR games in it. And, you know, it came out in 1993. Gaming has come a long ways since 1993.

The issue is, Nintendo fans just never challenge Nintendo to aspire higher. I once joked about Dr. Luigi, literally just Dr. Mario but you throw bigger pills into the jar, and Nintendo fans responding to this absolutely half-assed idea by saying they hoped it came out on both Wii U and 3DS so they could pay for it twice. Nintendo doesn’t support cross-platform eShop downloads. If you bought a Virtual Console game on Wii U, you didn’t get the same game on 3DS. Why would they do that? They have a fanbase that still has their original game consoles but will gladly keep paying new money for old games. Do you realize there’s people out there that already owned the NES Balloon Fight cart who also paid money for..

-Balloon Fight on Wii Virtual Console
-Balloon Fight on Wii U Virtual Console
-Balloon Fight on Game Boy Advance
-Balloon Fight on eReader Cards
-Balloon Fight on 3DS Virtual Console
-An NES Classic Edition, which has Balloon Fight

(And hell, they probably worked to unlock Balloon Fight in Animal Crossing and play it on there)

It begs the question: why do you need so many copies of the same game? Why do you PAY for so many copies of the same game? Because it is the same game. While this doesn’t represent all Nintendo fans, or even most of them, there’s enough people doing this type of thing that Nintendo has never had an incentive to change their business model. “Hardcore” Nintendo fans behave like naive religious fanatics being grifted by a televangelist into sending more and more money to earn God’s favor.

And they didn’t really fix the stuff that was dumb in the first place. Allegedly there’s a rhyme and reason to how rolling these chess pieces works, but I threw them from every angle and every square and they didn’t lock into the desired spot as they should have every time.

Of course, with Switch Online’s $20 a year fee that includes NES and now SNES games, it would appear Nintendo knows they’ve milked that cow for all its worth. But, with all the partners Nintendo has, they now have enough resources accumulated that they can pivot to re-releasing old stuff with new graphics. This has been worth, as of this writing, nine *billion* dollars for Disney with their live action remakes. Functionally, the Link’s Awakening remake copies that model. It’s the same game with different graphics and minimal additions that they really could have done without and nobody would have said anything. When I say “it’s the same game” I get thrown back at me “they added more hearts and seashells!” I ask you, do you really think these fanboys wouldn’t have bought the game if they didn’t add more hearts and seashells to find? Of course they would have still bought it. It’s what they do.

The combat mechanics are now wonky and getting timing down on some enemies and bosses is different now. The Ganon nightmare was the moment in the game that I came the closest to losing a fight. I went through two fairies and Tracy’s secret. Well, that’s because they kept the fight basically the same but it’s harder to judge the angle with the new tilted camera. This isn’t even the final form. It should have been, because the final one is a total pansy.

The shit thing is, Link’s Awakening is probably the most high-concept of all the Zelda games. None of them have THAT deep of stories. But Link’s Awakening has a universe with complex moral implications and consequences that are begging to be explored. I once again have to go back to this old chestnut: gaming has come a long ways. Look at something like Undertale, which explores morality in a way that has captured the imagination of gamers of all generations. Link’s Awakening’s framework has potential to surpass Undertale’s examination of the nature of morality. Instead, it retains the minimalist, on-the-nose writing of a typical 1993 game. Marin is crushing on Link, but we don’t explore why. When Link wakes the Wind Fish, he wakes-up floating in the middle of the ocean, hears the song he first heard from her, and smiles contently. He just blinked her out of existence! Yea yea, she turns into a seagull. Because that was her dream. KIDS DREAM FOR STUPID SHIT! I wanted to be a Power Ranger as a kid. In reality, being a Power Ranger would suck. You’d cause forty 9-11s a year fighting giant monsters with your Zords. Stepping on pedestrians would be inevitable. It’s be awful to be a Power Ranger. And Marin turning into a seagull is NOT a happy ending! He killed her! He killed them all! He did it with a smile on his face! At no point in Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the hero tasked with the conundrum of consequence. His mission is to wake the Wind Fish. All his interactions with beings are treated as distractions in that quest.

And I’m sorry, but that’s insanely fucked up. Because there’s some damn emotional moments in Link’s Awakening. I got choked up when Marin and Link share a moment on the beach. Marin talks about her hopes and her aspirations. They share a moment, and it’s beautiful. It has an innocence about it that made me think of how a first crush is handled in Charlie Brown’s world, or like the interactions between Vada and Thomas in the film My Girl. But when it’s over, Link doesn’t carry a burden of what succeeding in his quest means for her. Monsters taunt you that you’ll vanish too, but we know that’s not the truth. We know it’s not Link’s dream. Part of the problem is Nintendo is still obsessed with keeping Link as blank a slate as possible, so that any little boy or girl can insert themselves into his shell. It becomes THEIR adventure, not his. But, give children a little credit. When little kids play Star Wars, sometimes they pretend they’re Luke, and something they’re Darth Vader. A child’s imagination is vivid enough that they don’t need a character to be an empty vessel to explore them. But, it’s Zelda. Link is a silent protagonist and that’s just how it has to be. What a missed opportunity.

I was so touched by the authenticity of the connection between Marin and Link that I was fighting back tears. And given how little there is with it, that really says something about how big a lost opportunity it was to not develop this further. Shame on you, Nintendo. You might as well of had ads for AT&T if you’re going to totally phone it in like this. At least that might have knocked Link’s Awakening down to a reasonable price for a twenty-six-year-old game.

There’s tons of ways you can interpret Awakening, and apologists will say that they like how open-ended it is. I find it hypocritical that these guys like the idea of having so little actual plot that you can fill in the blanks with almost any headcanon, yet they lack imagination to such a degree that they can’t fathom the game existing with spruced-up, modernized storytelling and dialog. I said it about Sonic fans, and I have to say it to Nintendo about your fans: if they demand so little of you, you need to go out and get better fans. My review system isn’t set up to account for over-pricing, so I have to award Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening my Seal of Approval. It’s a good game, old or not. But unless you can get it on sale, I don’t recommend anyone purchase it. If you’re happy with the remake, great! But don’t talk about what a “slippery slope” it is to bring everything but the graphics into the 21st century. Your old carts wouldn’t just vanish if they TRULY remade Link’s Awakening. They didn’t even bother removing it from the 3DS eShop. It’s still there, and it’s still the same Zelda. Of course, Nintendo fanboys are gatekeepers operating under the delusion that Link’s Awakening is THEIR Zelda, and doesn’t belong to anyone of any other generation on any term but their own. If you want depth or complexity, go play something else and leave their precious 1993 portable Zelda product alone. I don’t get it. If you want to play the same old game, play the same old game. That way you never have to grow up or challenge yourself. The rest of us should be challenging Nintendo to challenge us.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was developed by Grezzo
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$59.99 never was bothered by the frame rate hiccups, which seems to be everyone’s #1 complaint in the making of this review.

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is Chick-Approved. Non-indies aren’t ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

For those that already played the Link’s Awakening on Game Boy or Game Boy Color, or own a port of it, it’s worth about $30. If you’ve never played it, $40 is a good price for it. Or $5.99 for Link’s Awakening DX on Virtual Console for 3DS. It’s also Chick-Approved and I recommend it without reservation.

 

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