Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum (Review)

I didn’t grow-up with Garbage Pail Kids. I was born in 1989, and the final set of stickers during the original 80s fad was set to release that year, but it got cancelled. After looking at the archives at the excellent resource site GeePeeKay, yea, good call that was. I mean, Christ! That’s some sick shit in those cards. It feels like, by the end, Garbage Pail Kids became more about being mean-spirited, like they were trying to deliberately bait controversy because that grew the franchise in the first place. Having said that, I wasn’t unfamiliar with the brand. When my Godfather’s son gave me his comic book collection when I was six, the boxes they came in were covered in GPK stickers. Plus Topps occasionally revived them for brief comebacks starting in the 2000s. Hell, for a while, my LaserDisc collecting father had the god awful Garbage Pail Kids movie listed on his “treasure hunt” list of discs he hadn’t added to his collection (in turns out it never even released on LD, maybe. There’s still debate on if it came out in Japan, I think). It’s one of those brands that an outsider looking-in can’t believe was as big as it was at its height. It was easily bigger in the 80s than the 90s fads of MY childhood like Tamagotchi or Furbies. I’m telling you, I would have made a much better child of the 80s than I was as a 90s kid. I mean, have you seen how shitty our Transformers looked? And don’t even get me started on our Voltron!

MIND BLOWN!!

Of course, the one thing missing from Garbage Pail Kids was a video game. 1984 was too late to end up on the Atari 2600, and it never would have been on Colecovision for.. uh.. obvious reasons. Nintendo would never have allowed the brand on the NES because they used to think bodily fluids were the devil’s brew, and Sega didn’t get cool until 1991. Garbage Pail Kids just had shitty timing all around to transition to gaming, really. And that’s why the real story behind Retrotrainment’s Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum literally, no joke, brought tears to my eyes. Because kids of the 80s used to spread rumors that they heard a Garbage Pail Kids game was FOR SURE coming to the NES, even claiming they’d seen it listed in game magazines. It never actually happened, because no such game was ever in development. Since kids knew it had to be coming because their friend said their uncle worked at Nintendo and told them it was happening, they assumed Nintendo had put the screws to it. Well, it took 35 years, but someone did something about it! Retrotainment teamed with The Goldbergs writer Adam F. Goldberg and Topps Trading Cards to make that mid-80s elementary school recess fantasy come true. They even created an elaborate meta story behind the game that it WAS developed in the mid-80s, then cancelled and buried until the ROM was unearthed in 2022. The trailer for this was so convincing that my friend Ryan was open to the possibility it was actually true. It’s absolutely criminal this video only has 11K views as of this writing. This just did not find its audience, and that’s heartbreaking.

That’s why I hadn’t even heard of this new Garbage Pail Kids game leading up to this week. Somehow, it just didn’t spread through social media. So, for those who don’t know, this is a 2022 NES game that you can actually pre-order now on cartridge. OR you can buy it right now for all modern platforms, where it plays on the same excellent NES emulator by Digital Eclipse used in collections like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection or SNK 40th Anniversary. If you buy this on Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, or Steam, it comes with a boatload of extras. On the emulation side of things, you get a fully-loaded “Infinity Gauntlet of Emulation” which is my term for the six key “Gems” of emulation: save states, rewind, flicker removal, screen filters, button mapping, and a full tool-assisted play-through video that lets you take control of the action any time you want. Media extras include the soundtrack, two short films (including the above trailer), concept art, and more. My favorite feature was the side-by-side comparisons of the real GPK cards and their in-game 8-bit counterparts (48 total characters from the cards are used somewhere in the game). I got a kick out of seeing how close some of the game sprites came to the real cards, while others weren’t even in the ballpark.

And now I want a sequel more than I want to live to be 60.

Of course, if the game itself was no good, all these extras would be downright obnoxious. Which would be fitting for Garbage Pail Kids, and then I could crack jokes like “it belongs in the trash.” But alas, it’s one of the best original NES games of the homebrew era. Seriously, no joke, this is a phenomenal platformer. The meta concept of “lost 1986 – 88 licensed NES game” had me worried. Let’s face it: most licensed games on the NES from that era sucked, with rare exceptions like Goonies II or Capcom’s work on Disney properties. A developer aspiring to pay a mostly-accurate homage to both Garbage Pail Kids and 80s licensed games could have turned in a barely playable LJN-like effort and said “GET IT?” But, instead, Retrotainment gave us a game that feels genuinely true to the GPK license while also serving as a proper tribute to the best licensed 8-bit efforts from companies like Konami and Capcom. Nice graphics. Really good play control. Feels like they weren’t just stuck with the brand as part of a cash grab and they’d rather be doing anything else. No, this is a labor of love, and you feel it every single second of gameplay.

The humongous bosses feature some really impressive graphics. YES, you can sometimes “see the seams” of how they’re really not that big (this one here is a good example, the arms never move) but it feels so gosh-darn true to the time period that you can’t help but be charmed. Most importantly, all six bosses are fun.

You have four player characters, six decently-sized levels, six very fun boss fights, and extras to collect. I’ll start with the one and only major complaint: Garbage Pail Kids is let down by very mediocre sound design. I’ve never been a sound or music person, as I have legitimate physical issues that muck up music for me. But just the sound effects alone really take the punch out of GPK. It’s a really light, overly-conservative set of sound effects that just didn’t work for me, and in fact, it took away greatly from the OOMPH of the combat. In eleven years of doing game reviews, I can count on one hand the amount of times sound effects were so poorly done that they stood out to me, and I’m not happy they happened here, because most everything else is really nice.

Enemies comically fly off-screen when you kill them. That part works, but I just hate how little pizzazz there is to the sound effects. This is one of those games that I hope other developers study, where the whole game is incredibly fun and polished to the point that it makes you wonder how they got the sound so wrong?

There’s also some inconsistencies with collision boxes, especially when using the main Mad Mike character. It’s never a deal breaker, and the collision issues almost universally favor the player, but it also combines with the poor catalog of sound effects (and I don’t think the music is very good either, but again, that I can’t claim expertise in) to take away from the action feeling like it has real-world weight, velocity, and inertia to it. Imagine if you played Super Mario 1 and you went to stop a Goomba, and the stomp happened with visible distance between you and it, AND that famous Mario “WOO BOOP” sound when you do the stomp was instead a subdued “pff.” I’ve always said gameplay is king, but GPK is a prime example of how skimping on sound becomes distracting. In a game as good as this, that one area being really bad sticks out like a sore thumb. Which is probably a GPK card, come to think of it.

Garbage Pail Kids were “Trading Card Stickers” and the “trading” part is worked into the game with a fairly good system. Each stage has a guide character that you’ll encounter throughout the level who offers you tips and then offers to trade cards with you. There’s 39 cards total to collect. 4 of them actually can be used for special abilities in the game, the most valuable of which brings a character you’ve run out of health with back to life. 35 of the cards are for decoration only and can either be acquired via trading or by finding them randomly in garbage cans placed around the stage. When you trade, each card is assigned a 1 – 10 value, and you must trade cards equal to the value (or within one point) to get a trade to happen. Do you know what part of GPK lore they didn’t use? STICKERS! Gotta save something for the sequel, I suppose. (Shakes Fist) AND THERE BETTER BE A SEQUEL!! So help me God, I can’t be responsible for actions if there isn’t one!

Now, let’s get to the great stuff: if Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum had really come out in 1988, it would be remembered as a legend of the NES era. The six levels are all incredibly fun to explore, especially so with how they designed the player characters. You swap between the four on the fly with the SELECT button. Each of the four characters has unique abilities, and three of the four are so different that they fundamentally change the sub-genre of the game. Use Mad Mike and GPK feels like a 2D sword game, something like Rastan or Wizards & Warriors where you have to attack enemies directly (the bonus to this is he does the most damage). Use Leaky Lindsay to essentially turn GPK into a gun-based platformer like Mega Man or Contra as she fires snot projectiles at enemies. I used her the most. Use Patty Putty and the gameplay feels really different, as GPK becomes a Mario-like hop ‘n bop style game. The only of the four who feels like he’s not world-altering is Luke Puke, who can vomit out puddles which are effective on enemies below you. I used him the least, BUT, I did find plenty of uses for him. The level design feels like it’s well-suited for all four characters and has sections designed with specific characters in mind. It’s like a very gross, lower-budget Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, only with just as much vampires.

Hiroshi Yamauchi is doing backflips in his grave.

Each of the six levels (sorry, no finale level or ultimate boss), which can be taken in any order, feel completely unique from each-other and there’s not a stinker in the bunch. None really stand-out, either, but I mean that in a good way. Garbage Pail Kids is that rare game where the level design is consistently fun from start to finish. There’s no weak-links and plenty of surprises. A stage themed around dinosaurs suddenly has a summer camp area. A stage themed around hell suddenly has a cafeteria. The team behind this really stretched their imaginations on this one and created a dazzling variety of settings that you want to see more of. My only real complaint is the rare blind jump, and even then, you actually can sort of circumvent them (or peek at the jump by holding down). There’s a nice assortment of enemies, only one of which I was annoyed by (a girl being struck by lightning, which caused a screen flashing. I don’t have seizures as badly as I used to but that stuff can still make me pretty sick). If I had to complain, I wish they did more with locating buttons to open doors, as I liked the exploration elements most of all. Plus, the difficulty felt just right for me. There’s four adjustable difficulty levels, and you can make your own challenge.

Some “fans” are actually demanding that Retrotainment and Digital Eclipse remove the multiple difficulty settings and emulation options and make GPK “Nintendo Hard.” I’m really not kidding. Can you imagine how full of yourself you have to be to demand a developer not try to make a game for as many people as possible? First off, how fucking insecure must you be in your own ability to just not use those options if you don’t want them? It’d be like an alcoholic going into a bar and demanding they stop selling drinks. So, Mr. MAKE IT NINTENDO HARD, is it that you have no self-control, or is that your way of trying to brag to the world you’re some kind of master player on the down low, because either way is laughable. Also, if you ever used a guide or a cheat code back in the day, or a Game Genie, bitch, you ain’t no more Nintendo Hard than anyone who uses rewind on an emulator. I wonder how many of these people who cry about rewind or save states can recite the Konami Code by heart. Seems like people who demand Nintendo Hard shouldn’t be able to do that, right?

Garbage Pail Kids also never strays from platforming, but given that it can often be disastrous when platformers veer too far off course, that might have been the right call. Instead, there are two mini-games, one of each hidden in every stage. Outhouses take you to a button mashing mini-game that I hated. I can’t mash buttons these days. I even had to have my Dad beat one for me, which is pretty sad. I’m 33, he’s 73, and he got it on his first try. The better mini-game is Buggy Betty’s. She’s hidden in every stage and offers a usable card if you can complete an electric maze without hitting the walls in three tries or less. There’s no bonus for collecting all 39 cards, but I wanted to anyway. It wasn’t that hard to get them all. I figured out that if you enter and exit a stage over and over, you’ll get a chance to trade for different cards every time. I finished the game with 35 cards and only needed maybe two post-credits minutes to get the remaining four.

The controls for the fly girl mazes were perfect, as was the collision detection. There were some tight squeezes too, like the one seen here. Yet, it was never unfair. Side Note: Buggy Betty is also one of the four super-power cards in the game. Pause the game and activate her card and you turn into her for ten seconds. There was only one section in the entire game I needed to use her, and another where I used Adam Bomb’s clear-all-the-enemies power.

Garbage Pail Kids for the NES (and by virtue of emulation, all modern consoles) is maybe the biggest surprise I’ve come across in years at Indie Gamer Chick. I’m stunned by how much I loved my time with it (which was only about two hours of total playtime, maybe). I was NOT this game’s target audience. I’m NOT nostalgic for Garbage Pail Kids. I think Garbage Pail Kids are stupid and gross and I don’t get the appeal in them at all. Transformers I get. G.I. Joe I get. Garbage Pail Kids? What the hell, 80s kids? Garbage Pail Kids are fucking disgusting! Yuck! So, being immune to GPK memberberries, this had to stand entirely on its gameplay merits. Boy, does it. It’s one of 2022’s best games, indie or otherwise. It’s a genuinely great game. Ignoring the sound design issues, everything about this works. As I neared the end of the final level, I didn’t want my time with GPK to be over! The entire time, my enthusiasm to see what came next never dipped even a little bit. The bosses, especially, were both fun to battle and felt like amazing rewards, like proper boss fights should feel. With no a smidge of love for the source material, I walked away from Garbage Pail Kids thinking “you heartless bastards better support this because I WANT MORE! I need a sequel and I need it like five minutes ago!”

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Garbage Pail Kids as an IP means nothing to me. BUT, it meant something to the people who came together to make Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum. I’m always mindful when I review games at IGC that whether I love them or hate them, they could very well be something that the developers had in mind from the time they were little kids. My job here is to play and review those dreams. But, it’s rare that the dream in question actually gets to use the actual dream license from the designer’s childhood. Usually, they have to “file the serial number off” it and do their own creation. This is one of those very rare instances where the dream came completely true: working with the license, and making the game they always dreamed of. Imagine how hard it would be to say THAT game sucked. Thankfully, I’m off the hook. Garbage Pail Kids is a wonderful game by an elite indie developer, one of 2022’s best video games, and one of the best indies I’ve ever played. It feels true to the license, true to the time frame it was supposed to have been “lost” from, and most importantly, true to the dream. And it’s a dream come true. How can you not admire that? And now, by virtue of making this game, some kids that talked about how they heard a Garbage Pail Kids game was coming to the NES on a playground at school in the 80s have now become part of that very franchise’s lore.. forever. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you have no heart. Hell, I bet they even made a GPK card of that, too.

Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #16 of 305 Indie Gamer Chick-Approved Indie Games*
Top 97.5 Percentile of All 639 IGC-Reviewed Indie Games
Top 94.8 Percentile of All 305 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum was developed by Retrotainment
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, NES Cart (Limited Edition)

$9.99 said “there’s only one Cathy with a C card in the history of GPK? OH COME ON TOPPS YOU BUTTHOLES” in the making of this review. I will not stand for this discrimination of Cathys with Cs. Everyone knows the Kathy with a Ks are objectively awful people!

Maddening Euphoria (Review)

Man, I miss the good old days when I’d spend $1 on a small-scale indie and two hours later I’d have a review posted for it. Back when I was the Queen of Xbox Live Indie Games, most of the games I’d select to feature on this blog, for better and for worse, didn’t require a massive time investment to deliver a verdict on. This week, I was feeling particularly nostalgic for that, so I threw on Maddening Euphoria by Allison James and her Chequered Ink studio. I didn’t even realize I’d already done a game by her, 2019’s Gyro Boss DX. It was, you know, fine. Nothing special, but also nothing specifically wrong with it. It’s a Top 100 game on the IGC Leaderboard (#79 as of this writing) that also holds the rare distinction of being one of those games I’ve kept playing after the review was over. To this day, if I have my Switch and I only have five to ten minutes to kill, I’ll either boot-up Gyro Boss DX or Not Not. I’ll have a lot more fun messing around with them than I will having my iPhone scream at me to buy micro-transactions even on games that in theory shouldn’t have any. The medium NEEDS those quick burst, nothing gained, nothing lost type of games that make otherwise boring wait times pass faster. I can’t imagine someone in a line or a waiting room saying “I only have ten minutes. Let’s see if I can get a little further in Breath of the Wild!”

Maddening Euphoria has simple, stark graphics that remind me of Lumines. Along with the soundtrack, it gives the whole game a music video-like vibe. Oh, and since there’s really no place in the actual review for me to bitch about this, this is one of those games that blocks you from recording clips with your Switch. Screenshots only. Very maddening, but not euphorically so.

Maddening Euphoria is cut from the same cloth as Gyro Boss DX in that it’s optimized for short play sessions and based around challenging your own high scores. And, when I say short, I mean most of my rounds lasted a matter of seconds. It’s sort of like a randomly-generated version of the Impossible Game. A punisher where you must outrun a pace bar while leaping over pits and spikes. I’ve got a lot of grievances to air with it, so please keep in mind that I ultimately enjoyed this game. I thought I’d put an hour or two into it and be done. Two days later and I’m finally typing this review WHILE still playing it, and that counts for something. Of course, I’m still playing it while typing because I’m trying to figure out how to explain what exactly is happening. Besides the random layouts, the hook is that you’re running on an ever-rotating cylinder. You’re always somewhere near the top, and the further you distance yourself from the pace bar, the sooner the layout in front of you seems to spawn. I think.

Is that a llama or an alpaca? I can never tell the difference. One or the other spit in my Mom’s face once. She had it coming. She called it ugly. It was kind of ugly. The best part was it smiled right before it did it. One of the most unforgettable moments in my family’s history.

There’s no tutorial, explanations, or instructions besides telling you to move and jump. This led to some weird issues. Like, I thought the high score listed in the corner was broken. Nope. You see, there’s 36 different “themes” which is basically color schemes, and the displayed high score is only for the specific theme you’re playing. The game defaults to shuffling randomly through themes, and I didn’t realize that. This made me think “oh, wait, it’s NOT randomly generated and the themes are like levels and do specific objects in specific orders.” Nope, they’re definitely randomly generated. If certain themes are more likely to spawn certain types of levels, I didn’t catch onto it. There’s only so many types of ways Maddening Euphoria’s formula can generate a stage, and if the themes influence it, it’s subtly so. Of course, 36 themes means that, instead of having one high score to challenge yourself over and over again, you have 36 to go through. That gets annoying. Why not have both the theme high AND the overall high on display?

In addition to play modes where you’re always jumping or where you run automatically and can’t move backwards, there’s 155 special challenges that you can play separately. Do you know what the problem with these are? YOU GUESSED IT: the levels are still randomly generated. It begs the question: why even have challenges separate from the main modes? Why not just have them check off like achievements through normal gameplay? Once I realized that the maps for the challenges were randomly generated, I quit playing them, because I’d rather go for a high score. In the unlikely event I have a game that lasts an hour (the 155th and final challenge here) I’d legitimately kick myself for wasting it on the challenge and not the main game.

The cylindrical platforming is a nice novelty, but it also creates visibility issues. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is blind jumping where you could possibly either fall to your death or stick the landing, with no way of being able to logic out how to fall. Unless I’m just terrible at this (don’t rule that out), there’s a lot of blind jumps in Maddening Euphoria, especially when you have to bounce off a trampoline and/or clear a large gap before seeing what comes after the gap. The nature of the game demands split-second judgment, but I’ve been killed by moments where, at the time the jump happens, there was no way of knowing where to land until I was too committed to change direction. Actually, there were many instances where I honestly question whether the layout was even survivable. I’m sure it was, but it probably required absolute perfection in terms of what pixel to jump off of and how far you had to press on the stick mid-air. Maddening Euphoria is a game where your high scores will be heavily influenced by how lucky (or unlucky) you were with the game’s level lottery. I wish they had just done 36 levels hand designed stages. Mind you, I’m not anti-procedural. The #1 ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard as of this writing, Dead Cells, is also randomly generated. But, as I’ve noted in reviews for games like Chasm (which I loved) or Cloudberry Kingdom (which I didn’t), while I’m sure creating an algorithm that works every time is difficult, randomly generated levels will always be inelegant and make luck factor in as much as skill.

When the pace bar is close to you, a meter charges up. Fill up the meter and you gain a “second wind” which gives you a massive speed boost. You can use this strategically by deliberately teasing the bar, but there’s many risks involved. If you’re mid-jump and the layout is spitting out narrow platforms when the meter fills all the way, the second wind will probably kill you, since aiming your jumps with the enhanced speed is very difficult. Oh, and Second Winds spawn flashing triangles that give you a letter in E-U-P-H-O-R-I-A. When you fill that up all the way, you get a longer speed burst and all the spikes disappear. I don’t know if it lasts forever. I always died shortly after getting it. The controls are solid, until the speed boosts kicks-in, at which point you lose precision. In a game that demands precision, this is a problem.

Personally, I don’t really get the appeal in randomly generated stages. I never will. They’ll never have the elegance that hand-crafted stages have, and that’s all there is to it. Procedural generation’s promise of “never being the same game twice” is completely bullshit. It’s always the same game, every single time, and to say otherwise is like saying any game with random elements such as dice rolls or cards is never the same game twice. To Chequered Ink’s credit, Maddening Euphoria doesn’t use the bullshit “never the same game twice” spiel in its advertising. Plus, it only costs $1, which is a steal. For all the bitching I just did, seriously, this is worth more than $1. I turned this on and expected to play it for an hour and write this review. That was Wednesday. Now it’s Friday and I’ve put seven hours into it. And I really, really hate blind jumping and leap-of-faith platforming, so that speaks volumes for good this is. For all the unfairness and problematic design, every time I turned on Maddening Euphoria, I couldn’t put it down for over an hour. It has a potently addictive “just one more round” quality that the best modern arcade-style games have. Yea, I wish that they’d gone another direction with it, or at least hand-crafted the challenge levels, but I keep going back to how I’d find myself looking at the clock as I played this and say “shit, where did the last hour go?” Only time will tell if this will find its way permanently into my “I only have five minutes to kill” lineup. I’ll say this: if that time is spent with Maddening Euphoria, it should pass quite quickly.

Maddening Euphoria is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #134 of 304 Ranked Games*
Top 79 Percentile of All IGC Indie Reviews
Top 56 Percentile of All IGC Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Maddening Euphoria was developed by Chequered Ink
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$1 was spat on by an alpaca in the making of this review.

The Mod Complex: Episode III- Gyromite: Special Edition, Castlevania III: Gold Edition, and Goonies II: Revised Edition

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE III: GRAB BAG

Yea, no theme this time. Look, I was sick as fuck and praying I didn’t end up on a respirator. But, today’s games are based on the stuff I played while hospitalized a couple weeks ago with viral pneumonia. Hope that helps.

Gyromite: Special Edition

It’s incredibly unlikely we’ll ever see a new Gyromite game. It’s one of two games designed for the Nintendo R.O.B. and I’m in the lucky position to have played the real deal once. The amount of set-up it took, which included hooking up an old picture-tube TV, was not worth the actual experience. Once you get over the novelty of this clanky, loud toy robot slowly moving its arms and picking up these tops (or gyros) that spun so fast you could cut meat with them, it wasn’t fun to play. But, it seemed like there was a decent maze-chase/puzzler buried behind the maddening slog of R.O.B. Unlike its evil twin Stack Up (a game so haphazardly conceived that it required players to use the honor system to keep score) Gyromite is a real game with real potential. Most of my older readers who played it back in the day know it not as a single-player game played with a toy robot, but as co-op game where R.O.B.’s duties raising and lowering the pillars for Hector are handled by a second player. But now, thanks to ROM hacking, you don’t need to hold two controllers to play this solo.

Professor Hector and the Smicks have legs as characters. If StarTropics being dead as a franchise is Nintendo’s greatest tragedy, Gyromite is the second greatest.

The Jabu’s Gyromite: Special Edition has all functionality mapped to a single controller. It’s slightly awkward because, while the pillars are logically mapped to A and B, picking up the radishes that bait the Smicks is now mapped to start and pausing is mapped to select. There’s no “R.O.B. Pause” where the screen would turn blue for you to signal instructions to R.O.B. Otherwise, this is the exact same game, with the exact same levels. The only remaining difference is the 999 second timer of the original game is now shrank to a more logical 300 seconds. So, now you can appreciate the artistry of a pretty underrated game. Weirdly, Nintendo had a thing for maze chase/puzzle hybrids. The only “true” maze chase, Devil World, never came out in the America. Wrecking Crew leans more specifically on puzzling, and Clu Clu Land.. well.. Clu Clu Land is absolutely trash. Gyromite isn’t exactly spectacular, but once you remove R.O.B. from the equation, it might the best of the four.

While Gyromite’s A Mode is saved by this ROM Hack, the B mode is just no good. In it, Hector is sleepwalking to the right and you have to move the pillars to make sure he avoids the Smicks and reaches the goal. It’s a mode that makes sense when you have the tension of a slow-moving toy that makes grinding sounds so terrifying that it sounds like it could catch fire at any moment. But it’s just TOO easy without that. At least the A mode still has the puzzle element of getting the dynamite in the correct order.

Gyromite is hardly perfect. It has NO difficulty scaling. And I mean none whatsoever. It’s almost remarkable how, even dozens of levels in, you’ll be given a level that has one specific path that must plotted, and the next could be a cakewalk where no strategy or finesse is required. I’m guessing that’s somehow related to making the level design easier on R.O.B. Maybe. I mean, there’s levels where I literally can’t imagine using that thing given how delicate the movement required is. Don’t get me wrong: Gyromite’s challenge is almost entirely based around the assumption that you’re using that accessory, and once removed, it’s a fairly easy game. And yet, there’s something here that’s charming and really engaging to play. Baiting a Smick to eat a radish right under a pillar and than crushing it allows you to unleash your inner disturbed child. We’ll almost certainly never see Gyromite again, and that’s a shame because when you actually sit and play it, you can see that Nintendo’s Trojan Horse strategy yielded one better-than-decent game. Get it here!

Castlevania III: Gold Edition

More like Castlevania III: Bronze Edition.

Most ROM hacks seem like their creativity begins and ends with “how sadistically difficult can I make the levels?” I don’t think Castlevania III: Gold Edition by LevelEngine goes quite that far, but it does render an incredible game (seriously, Dracula’s Curse might be the best overall NES game) into a frustrating exercise of agony. This isn’t simply a hard mode. It’s a scream mode. I think the designer was aiming for a Legend of Zelda second quest (the one where you enter the name ZELDA to access), but you know.. I didn’t think that was all that fun, either. I don’t have a lot to say about Gold Edition. Same levels, different layouts, but no true creativity shown. I did finish it, and I found it too often either forced players into taking damage, or had last-pixel jumps, or just took stellar level design and made it feel generic and bland. If Castlevania released a commercial Mario Maker type of game, this is what 99% of the top rated content would end up looking like. But, hard as it is, there’s nothing offensive, and if you’re starved for Castlevania III content, you can get it here. It might hit the spot, but it’s also a reminder the pros got it nearly perfect the first time.

Goonies II: Revised Edition

The only major flaw in Goonies II is that, assuming you take the intended order of rescuing the kidnapped Goonies, some of the final enemies are just too damn spongy. I think this was done to signify to players that they’ve entered an area of the game they’re not meant to be in until near the end. (1) that makes absolutely no sense in a non-linear game, where all enemies should be balanced and (2) THEY’RE JUST TOO DAMN SPONGY and it kills the pace terribly. If NES Rocks does one last update, the only thing on my wishlist would be to rebalance the dragons and the stone angels.

The Vice Household has nearly gone to civil war over The Goonies. Dad and Angela love it, while Mom and me are bored silly by it. Really, I can only tolerate the cornucopia of lazy 80s film child stereotypes (you know, the normal one who is the main kid alongside the tough one, the fat one, the nerd, the girl, etc) if they’re fighting Dracula. So, the Goonies isn’t my cup of tea, but let it be said, Goonies II might be the first truly great licensed video game AND the most underrated game on the NES. A Metroidvania before that term existed that has two distinct maps you must switch between, non-linear gameplay, and some of the most outstanding level design of any game from the 1980s. Plus, you use a Yo-Yo as a weapon, and that’s always fun.

I checked, and there is, in fact, no frozen wasteland where evil Eskimos swing axes at you underneath the Oregon coastline. Anyway, the camera for Goonies II is also revised so that you don’t need to be so close to the screen to scroll it.

This Quality of Life ROM hack by master 8-bit chef NESRocks leaves the design alone and simply smooths out some of the “we made this in 1986/1987 and had no fucking clue what we were doing” clunkiness. The built-in map is altered to alert you of the presence of hidden items instead of just your location, which helps greatly with navigation. Once you acquire the two different pairs of shoes in the game (one lets you jump higher, the other lets you run faster), you no longer have to pause to swap between them. You can press select to switch them, which makes the backtracking go faster and takes away any potential for sloginess. Most importantly, the confusing and somewhat tedious navigation through the point-and-click first-person rooms has had the point-and-click removed. You can navigate them entirely through menus now, which keeps the pace consistent and just plain makes the overall experience more fun. These seemingly small changes make the already ahead-of-its-time Goonies II feel like a modern adventure game. Like, seriously, this isn’t too far removed from 2018 indie sleeper Chasm.

For Revised Edition, if there’s a hidden wall that you need to take the hammer to, you just select hammer from the menu. You don’t need to actually move around the hammer to get to it. Select it from the menu, then press the button to confirm it a second time and if there’s something hidden, it’ll be revealed. Oh, and in the original game, you have to beat a candle out of an old bald lady by slugging her five times. In the Revised Edition, one knuckle sandwich is enough. You’re not a monster!

Goonies II does so many smart things on its own. It reuses settings like caves, houses, sewers, etc. This could make navigation hard, EXCEPT it changes the color schemes for each different set. Not just subtly, either. It becomes clear you’re in a different location. Besides the sponginess of a few enemies, the act of exploring is always fun because the levels are incredibly well designed. The combat, unlike the original Goonies (which never came out on the NES in the US, though it did see limited distribution in arcades for both Nintendo’s Vs. System and PlayChoice 10 coin-ops), is satisfying and the variety of extra items are nice. I just adore this game and it sucks so much that it’s unlikely to ever see release again. OR IS IT?

Best licensed game on the NES is another category Goonies II contends for. Seriously, why does nobody talk about this game? It’s really something special.

Nostalgia is hot right now, and if Microsoft and Nintendo can set aside their differences to secure the James Bond license, surely the current chucklefucks running Warner Bros. can reach out to Konami and get these games re-released for the fans. I might not love the movie, but the Goonies games deserve to be played by modern audiences. The first one is solid if obtuse and unspectacular (here’s my review thread on Twitter), but the sequel is one of those games where I’m driven crazy by the fact that nobody talks about it. It never makes NES Top 10 lists. It never even makes best licensed NES game lists, or best Konami lists. God, that breaks my heart. Goonies II is SO fun. When you hear about a movie-based game on the NES, your gut tells you that there’s no way it could be historically amazing. But, Goonies II really is. Yet, it has completely slipped past the history books and now exists as little more than a curio that’s unlikely to officially see the light of day ever again, thus driving people to emulators. What a shame. Anyway, get Goonies II Revised here.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Escape Goat (Nintendo Switch Review)

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m listed in the Special Thanks area of the Escape Goat’s credits. I had nothing to do with its production and was listed by developer Ian Stocker out of gratitude for my efforts as an evangelist for Xbox Live Indie Games in general and Escape Goat specifically. He also stuck Sweetie, my mascot, in Escape Goat 2 as an Easter Egg. If that sounds too lovey-dovey, I should note that I  *REALLY* wanted Escape Goat for the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle for Indie Royale in 2013, which was a bundle I curated with them that was based around the best PC conversions of Xbox Live Indie Games. I didn’t make any money for that, either. I don’t want to. This is my hobby, not my career. Anyway, Ian declined, and since that day I’ve had to call him daily to tell him where I’ve hidden the antidote to the lethal posion I put in his tea. Oh Ian, BTW, it’s behind the couch cushion today. NO, not that one. The love seat. On the left. There you go. Hey, don’t give me that look. YOU’RE the one who left me explaining with a straight face that Little Racers: Street was among the best games on XBLIG, you heartless bastard. Okay, on with the review…….OH HEY, heartless bastard! I have an award for that!

Like OMG Zombies before it, Escape Goat isn’t a You Heartless Bastards “winner” that nobody played. It did okay on various platforms eleven years ago. So, what’s wrong with that? Wouldn’t most indie developers kill for “okay” sales and awareness? Of course they would. But, most developers don’t have games that are this good. That feel decidedly old-school, like a more platforming-centric Solomon’s Key, but also quintessentially modern, like Celeste if it made mozzarella cheese. They don’t have razor-sharp play control, or the perfect balance of testing your brains and raw reaction time, never putting one above the other. There’s thousands of good indie games out there. This very blog has cataloged hundreds over the last eleven years. Escape Goat was one of the first I reviewed, and having just played its re-release on Nintendo Switch eleven years later, it’s still one of the very best. So, forgive me for this predictable outburst, but..

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS!

How could you let an excellent game like Escape Goat slip through the cracks of history?

Yea, a big part of it going so far under the radar is it got its start on Xbox Live Indie Games. So did I, and like me, it’s been stuck with a following that can be generously described as modest at best. But, at least I have a valid excuse: I ain’t everybody’s cup of tea. On the surface, Escape Goat doesn’t seem like it will be either. It’s a puzzler, and eleven years of staring at my traffic figures has given me an inkling that puzzlers are a tough sell for most gamers. So, what if I told you that Escape Goat is really an action game and that puzzles are the setting but not necessarily the genre?

Solomon’s Key is the closest comparison, and I’m not exactly thrilled to make it on the grounds that it’s not exactly the most famous game of its era, either. Shame, because Solomon’s Key is a damn fine game. You might see me mention in at some point this week on my Twitter timeline, hint hint.

Challenging people’s perceptions of genres is my go-to argument when I try to convince any game’s apprehensive hold-outs to give it a shot. While I’m always sincere, sometimes it can seem like I’m grasping at straws. Like, for example, trying to convince people that Shadow of the Colossus is actually secretly a horror-suspense masterpiece. Thankfully, in the case of Escape Goat, the argument isn’t ambiguous. It is an action game. What struck me most about my replay over the last couple weeks is how my platforming skills carried me to victory a lot more than my puzzle solving ability. Of the over the fifty levels, only a couple made me really stop to think-through the solution. Escape Goat’s puzzle design is simple to reverse-engineer, since it’s built around switches and buttons, some one-time use only, that alter the layout of the level. Sometimes the switches move around the walls, or unveil hidden platforms, or they set-off a chain reaction. It’s usually not hard to figure out what button order will take you to victory. If you mess up, restarting only takes about a second (can’t stress enough that quick-resets are the secret sauce for games like this) so experimenting isn’t a slow, painful process, like trying to follow the Kama Sutra.

This looks like some kind of complicated multi-faceted puzzle that will take a while to work out. In reality, this is a precision-jumping level with a self-evident solution that presents itself to even novice players quickly. Escape Goat leans heavily on thinking on your feet. All four of them. Many puzzles leave you dead within seconds if you don’t start moving, and others, like this one, require you to sprint from point-A to point B when the coast is clear.

So, don’t think Adventures of Lolo or Baba is You. Think Super Meat Boy if the levels were based around brain teasers. You even get a double jump, along with some of the most intuitive movement/jumping physics the genre has. There’s really only one enemy: a grim reaper that shoots fireballs at you when you cross in front of them. Oh, and their fireballs just as often factor into a room’s solution as they do its challenge. Mostly, you die at the hands of environmental hazards, like saw blades or moving platforms. You have to press the right button/switches to grab the keys and open the door. BUT, you have to get to them first, and more than Solomon’s Key, Escape Goat bases that on platforming than puzzling. You get a mouse that can walk up walls, hit buttons for you, and go through small gaps you can’t squeeze through. But, sometimes it also acts as your metronome, and you have to time your own movement through the stages as it hits buttons or draws fire for you. Escape Goat has puzzles, and damn good ones. But it’s about precision movement first and foremost. You know, like an action game.

Super Meat Boy is a better comparison than you’d think. There are multiple absolutely nail-biting jumps and near-miss moments throughout the game. Not one-offs. Escape Goat and its later sequel, which hasn’t come to Switch.. yet.. have to be in the conversation for the most white-knuckle puzzlers ever, which is why they withstand the test of time.

Sigh. I want to shoot straight with you, my readers. I’ve been sitting on this review all week. I’ve rewrote it a dozen times, at least. I feel like I already said everything I could about Escape Goat back in 2011 and have nothing to left to add. Besides any new readers, I don’t think I’m going to convince many hold-outs to give Escape Goat a chance. Or, maybe you already bought it and it’s somewhere on the bottom of your ever-increasing to-do pile. I’m guilty of that with hundreds of games. I get it. But, I do wish people, even those not normally inclined, would give Escape Goat a shot. I know this doesn’t sound like the cocky, wicked Indie Gamer Chick of old who gave developers panic attacks just by saying I was starting their game. I don’t take it personally when I unearth a hidden gem and people don’t line up to bite. You can’t. But, when a game that’s great doesn’t achieve success on the level I feel it deserves, it does hurt my heart. 

There’s a game on Steam called Plug Me that is such a clever action game. Simple concept: the timer is also a platform. So simple, yet, it’s so smart. I adore it. I’m charmed by it. I love it! And I’ve cried over it, because nobody knows about it. I reviewed it, but nobody read it. I name drop it constantly, but nobody can find the time to play it. I’ve bought several copies out of pocket for old friends, and for AAA managers and executives, and for content creators. And all that did nothing for it. Not every game finds its audience, and that shouldn’t be okay, should it? It’s not even that highly ranked on the IGC Leaderboard (#72 out of 637 indies I’ve reviewed), but it’s the principle of the matter, you know? Clever games that are well executed should rise to the top, but they often don’t. How can that not break your heart?

That goat was me.

So, this is being posted 3,994 days after I first reviewed Escape Goat. Nearly eleven years later, and I’ve still not played twenty-five indie games better than it. And yet, eleven years later, and it still feels like this precious hidden gem that I know about and a few people who listen to me know about, but it didn’t gain any real traction among general gaming. Look, it did okay. If Steam user reviews are the barometer, it has nearly 400, so it’s not nothing. It’s not like it ate shit and lost money. So, here’s what I say: give it a shot. And then dig through your ever-growing backlog of games you picked up on sale and give some of them a shot. And tell people about them, and do it from different angles. Look for ways to convince people that they really need to give a quality game that only you seem to know about a shot. And if you find the silver bullet that actually works, make sure to let me know.

Escape Goat is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #25 of 303*
Top 96.1 Percentile of All 637 Games Reviewed
Top 91.7 Percentile of All 303 IGC-Approved Indies
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Escape Goat was developed by Magical Time Bean (Published on Switch by Adam Spragg)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 pondered that GOAT now means “greatest of all-time” when it USED to mean “the person who cost their team the championship” and hey, both of those could apply to LeBron James so it works in the making of this review. Now go play games you’ve been sitting on you heartless bastards.

 

Short Subject Saturdays: Böbl (NES Indie Review)

As I said in my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection, I’d rather have thirty minutes of playtime with a perfect game over hours spent with a great game. Perfection is so much rarer. With that in mind, here’s thirty minutes of a perfect Metroidvania. And it even has replay value beyond speed-running! If the length of games isn’t factored in, Böbl by Morphcat Games is the single most perfect Metroidvania ever made. For the time it lasts, which is roughly the length of an episode of Cobra Kai (can you tell what I had on TV while I played this?), it’s one of the most joyous, creative, downright amazing adventure games I’ve ever played. You take the role of a sentient bubble that’s trying to ascend to the heavens. Literally just a bubble. No face or fantasy personality or anything, yet this bubble has more charm than 99% of all gaming characters.

It’s 2022 and nobody should give a shit about graphics anymore, but let it be said, Böbl looks great!

You don’t expect an aquatic physics adventure on the NES, but that’s exactly what Böbl is. At the start of the game, the bubble can briefly submerge, though it can’t sink very far underwater. This is the key mechanic, and when you let go of the button, you’ll launch upwards and out of the water. You have to work your way through a beautiful ruined palace and discover upgrades that increase your submersion time, or give you other abilities to navigate. There’s no map to help you out, but that’s fine. It’s a very small game, and if you get lost once, it’s unlikely to happen a second time. It also helps that the actual level design and overall map area are simply delightful to explore. There’s no pressure, either. There’s no enemies to kill you, or to be killed. Instead, you die if your bubble touches any surface. The controls feel spot-on for the bubble, and while you will die a lot, the game was extremely generous with checkpoints. Böbl’s not a particularly difficult game, but the latest build of the ROM (ver 1.2) allows you to turn off checkpoints, which would mean every time you die, you have to return to the starting room. What would normally be a maddening mode not for the faint of heart actually works wonderfully here. Yea, you lose progress, but not that much progress.

There’s eight hidden rubber duckies in the game. This is where the replay value comes into play. In my first two play-throughs, I only found three. When I actually played again to seek them out, I got a couple hours out of Böbl. Oh, and the latest build actually can randomize their locations, further extending the play value. Hell, I don’t think any NES homebrew lends itself to speed-running quite like Böbl does. Morphcat seems to agree, because they added a time trial ghost to Ver 1.2.

The only question is, could this be further extended into a larger game? I don’t know. I’m not a particularly creative person and I really can’t imagine what possible gimmicks could be added to lengthen this. Honestly, with the level design seemingly utilizing every form that works within the logic of the physics, I sort of feel like this might not be able to be added onto without completely betraying the concept by doing something like adding enemies. Böbl was made for an NES development competition in 2019, which explains the length. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect Morphcat Games squeezed the fullest potential out of this concept. That, or they recognized that they’d actually made the rarest of the rare: a perfect game that there’s literally nothing to criticize, where it’s just euphoric to play, and decided to walk away with their masterpiece. Because that’s what Böbl is. It’s the NES equivalent of Portal. A sequel that builds on this idea and lengthens it might not be as good, but of course it won’t be, because the first game was perfect. Expanding this concept will almost certainly be fun, but it’ll be hard to top the original. Böbl is perfect. One of few games I have zero complaints about. Besides, guys who complain about length might want to look in their pants first and make absolute certain that going off length of all things is the hill they want to die on.

Böbl is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #26 of 303 Ranked Games
Top 96 Percentile of All IGC Reviews
Top 91.5 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Böbl was developed by Morphcat Games
Point of Sale: Evercade (included in the Morphcat Games Collection 1) or
Choose your Own Price at Itch.io

$19.99 (Evercade) böbbed when I should have wēāved in the making of this review.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection – The Definitive Review (Complete 13 Game Review + Ranking)

Well, everyone liked the Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium review, and the “definitive review” format has been getting praised. At long last, I finally got the retro collection review style correct. I’ve tried a few styles, but this one seems to be catching on. And what do you know? The perfect collection to test the format out just released.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a set of thirteen games released between 1989 and 1993. Well, actually, it’s nine different games. You get both the 1989 Konami coin-op Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the NES conversion Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Turtles in Time includes both the SNES and Coin-Op versions, and then there’s THREE versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES, SNES, and Genesis). So, nine “base” games with four variations are part of this set, right? Actually, it’s even more complicated than that. Hyperstone Heist for the Sega Genesis is really more of a shortened remix of the two arcade games that eliminates the most satisfying attack (throwing the enemies at the screen) from Turtles in Time. And the three Tournament Fighters games are all made by different development teams and aren’t merely variations of one game. While the base concept, a Street Fighter type of game with Ninja Turtles characters remains the same, each of the three games were made by different teams at Konami. They use different engines. They have different rosters. It’s three completely different games that merit their own separate review. Thus, there’s really only two games that are truly variations of the same exact game, and that’s Turtles II for the NES and Turtles IV for the SNES. Like I said, this is a great game to test the Definitive Review format.

Look, Ma! No hands!

The set retails for $39.99. I feel that $4.99 is a fair price for a good retro game from this set, so the target is to score eight YES! verdicts, right? Well, not so fast. Unlike Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, The Cowabunga Collection features a wealth of bonus material. I don’t mean like instructions on how to play the games or a couple common emulation features. In my opinion, retro sets have no excuse to not have detailed instructions on how to play the games along with the ability to use save states or rewind. But, Cowabunga Collection goes above and beyond what you’d expect in this type of retro game collection, and thus, I have to put a value on the extras.

EMULATION EXTRAS

Cowabunga Collection features save states and rewind, which are such must-haves that I’m just as likely to penalize a retro collection these days for not including them. That alone would have been enough to satisfy me, even if you can only rewind 30 seconds of gameplay. In my opinion, a minute or longer is optimal. But, they did what they needed to do, and that should have been enough. But the masters of retro gaming, Digital Eclipse, took it a step further with the greatest feature in the history of emulation. Those who remember me drooling over SNK 40th Anniversary Collection’s “watch a full gameplay video that you can stop at any time and join the game at that exact moment” will be happy to hear that feature returns for Cowabunga Collection. I know that it’s actually not that big a deal because of how emulation works, but it’s not as common a feature as I wish it was. To me, it’s practically witchcraft.

Watch the video, which is a perfect no-hit run no matter which game you play. Hit the PLAY GAME button at any time and you take control from there. It’s awesome. I love it.

It came in handy when I played the 1989 NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and went to upload media right before I started the infamous underwater sequence. After I finished uploading, I was horrified to see that the game didn’t pause from me using the system guide button. Seriously, I was actually close to penalizing the set for that. Dear game makers: whenever the guide button on any console is hit, pausing the game should be a gimmie. Anyway, I put myself in a position where there wasn’t enough time left for me to beat the stage. But, I was able to use the video to return to that exact spot, like nothing happened. Actually, I was in better shape because the video is a perfect run of the game, with no damage taken. All thirteen games include the video play-through with jump-in ability, and that alone is worthy of a bonus, but we’re just getting started.

While the removal of flicker and slowdown doesn’t save the NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the NO! pile, I’ll note that I played the Technodrome battle with the slowdown/flicker turned on and it was unplayable. I’m VERY happy Digital Eclipse did the right thing and gave people the ability to turn them off. Hell, in my opinion, THAT should have been the default setting and turning them back on should have been the thing that was optional.

In addition to having both the Japanese and US ROMs, all thirteen games have optional “enhancements” of various quality. They’re usually based around cheat codes that required button inputs, and how useful they are isn’t consistent. The NES TMNT offers flicker reduction and slowdown reduction. Neither are 100% perfect, but playing with them turned off, you can easily notice the difference. Turtles 1 is a game that spams the screen with enemies, and bosses like the Technodrome basically have slowdown going non-stop, which also makes the controls less responsive. You can eliminate those issues now in the first TMNT plus the other two NES games. Turtles 2 and 3 on the NES offer other options too, like extra or infinite lives and easier menu navigation. The arcade games offer both “God Mode” (invincibility and one-hit kills) and “Nightmare Mode” (lots more enemies). Turning both God Mode and Nightmare mode on DO make for quite the satisfying brawling experience. The Game Boy games are the least consistent. The first one offers only the ability to practice the bonus game. The second gives you the option for infinite lives and to change which level you start on. The third one offers you only the ability to turn-on a better map. Sure, I wish they had really amazing options for every game, but there’s something helpful that improves the overall quality of every game at least a little bit. Oh, and there’s online play for the two arcade games, Hyperstone Heist on the Genesis, and the SNES version of Tournament Fighters. For all the added emulation extras, I’m crediting $10 to Cowabunga Collection.

EXTRA MEDIA FEATURES

Any licensed game that’s not TMNT-related that appeared alongside a Ninja Turtles game in advertisements is treated like it’s in the witness protection program. Oh and since the LCD games are shown here, WHY DIDN’T WE GET THOSE AS A SUPER DUPER SPECIAL THROWN-IN BONUS? Would have been nice. I did a seven part LCD review series, 100+ games, but apparently nobody emulated the TMNT ones.

There’s a lot of extras in Cowabunga Collection. Hell, there’s so many that Digital Eclipse included the ability to search them in the menu. Dang. There’s boxes and manuals for all the home games from North America and Japan. Regardless of what console you’re on, you’ll see the Nintendo branding and seal of quality in all its glory, along with Sega’s branding on the Genesis game. They even have the arcade schematics too. There’s tons of ads from magazines and catalogs. Those can be weird, because if a Ninja Turtles game shared the space with another game from another IP, the other IP’s game is removed by blacking it out. Also included is every single cover for six different eras of Ninja Turtles comic books and still shots from four different Ninja Turtles TV shows (no Power Rangers crossover, sadly). There’s complete soundtracks and strategy guides for the games, and I actually did use it to help me finish the first NES game. There’s behind-the-scenes documents, and this is where the really good stuff is. Included in this section is stuff the IP’s “style guide” which is what IP holders send to licensees to show them how the characters MUST be drawn. Finally, there’s design documents for seven of the home games that show you concept art, portraits, sprites, storyboards, etc. If you can’t read Japanese, you’ll need to turn on the captions, and I’m not sure why translations weren’t set as a default but I’m happy they’re there. I spent over an hour sorting through the extras and never got bored. For all the media extra features, I’m crediting $10 to Cowabunga Collection.

THE ULTIMATE VERDICT ON THE COLLECTION

Really, only three of the games NEED the built-in strategy guide: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), Radical Rescue (Game Boy, map shown in pic) and the SNES Tournament Fighters (to learn the special moves). But, I’m happy the maps were there. They really went all-out on this set.

Even though I’ve played most of the games in this set before, and in some cases, had already given my complete thoughts on them, I gave all thirteen games a fully clean slate. Only the Cowabunga Collection version of the included games counts for this feature. For those not familiar with my way of thinking of how retro games should be reviewed, I take NO historical context into account. I don’t care how important a game was to the industry, because that doesn’t make a game worth playing today. The test of time is the cruelest test of all, but every video game must face it. I might not be here if not for Space Invaders’ success, but I wouldn’t want to play it today. Not when there’s better options. Therefore, when I review retro games, every game gets either a YES! or a NO!

YES! means the game is still fun and has actual gameplay value when played today and is worth seeking out.

NO! means the game didn’t age gracefully and is not worth seeking out, and certainly not worth spending money on.

With $20 in credit earned and the value of a good retro Ninja Turtles game fixed at $4.99, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection needs to score four YES! votes to win my seal of approval.

YES!: 5
NO!: 8

indie-gamer-chick-approvedTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is Chick-Approved. Having an official re-release of Turtles in Time for the SNES is a pretty amazing thing, but this collection has a few surprises as well. I didn’t expect to like the original arcade game, and in fact, I enjoyed my time with it a lot. I didn’t expect to like any of the Game Boy games, but two of them were acceptable time wasters. I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy the two hours I spent with Manhattan Project for the NES, yet here we are. Five totally solid Turtles games, emulated to perfection, plus a whole lot of bonus material, makes this a set worthy of purchase.

FINAL RANKINGS

How I determined the rankings is simple: I took the full list of games, then I said “I’m forced to play one game. Pick the one I could play the most and not get bored with.” That goes on top of the list. Then I repeat the question again with the remaining games over and over until the list is complete. Based on that simple criteria, here are the final rankings. Games above the Terminator Line received a YES! Games below it received a NO!

  1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
  2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES)
  3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
  4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy)
  5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy)
    **TERMINATOR LINE**
  6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
  7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
  8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade)
  9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis)
  10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
  11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES)
  12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy)
  13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (Genesis)

GAME REVIEWS

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
for Nintendo Entertainment System
Released June 25, 1989

One of my major annoyances with TMNT-NES is how enemies spawn. In this screen, you can see the playfield is spammed with enemies to such a degree that there’s basically no way you won’t take damage. Enemies respawn if you walk off the screen too, which is common on the NES, but TMNT-NES is really weird about how scrolling works, so backing up to have room to fight might scroll the screen more and cause the enemy to respawn before you’ve even killed the original.

By far the most interesting game in Cowabunga Collection is the very first Ninja Turtles game. Don’t mistake that for being “good.” It’s not. TMNT-NES is a complete disaster. But, it’s a compelling disaster. I’ll give it that. Basically, everything that can go wrong does go wrong here. The most important thing is that it feels nothing at all like a Ninja Turtles game. Even with the Turtles and their signature weapons. Even with Bebop, Rocksteady, the Technodrome, and Shredder. I first played Ninja Turtles a couple years ago when I ran through almost the entire NES library, and I walked away with a niggling suspicion that this started development as a completely different game that was converted into TMNT as soon as Konami got the license so they could strike while the IP was red-hot. Apparently, it’s not true. There was no asset flipping or sprites from unused games. They just rushed this through and came up with enemies as fast as possible on the assumption that the Ninja Turtles fad could burn out at any moment. The hurried development shows. The complete lack of polish and unrelenting swarms of enemies that would normally make the NES chug like a freshman at homecoming are things that should never have made it to the final product. The Cowabunga Collection version of TMNT can muffle the slowdown and non-stop flicker (there IS still a bit of both, but nowhere near as noticeable now) but that only makes the terrible design choices of TMNT stand out more.

The Giant Mouser and the Technodrome are the only two boss fights that feel “epic.” The rest feel like fights against normal enemies. If anything, the Mouser fight feels like it’s straight out of Contra.

What annoys me most about TMNT-NES is that there’s a great game buried within this dumpster fire. Not MISSING from the game, but already in the game. Well, actually, this could have used a lot better level design in general, but the basic concept of how the levels work is very solid. I like the idea of traversing an overworld and searching sewers and buildings for the correct pathway to the end of each stage. New York City is maze-like, after all, so why not take advantage of that? I like that part. It’s the only good idea the game had, and even then they bungled it by having too many dead-ends and “red herring” buildings. Sure, there’s pizzas or items in them, but the way enemies respawn often isn’t designed with moving forward and backwards through the levels in mind. Often, you’re better off just running for it and not engaging the enemies at all. If not for the abysmal collision detection.. which is seriously among the worst in the history of video games.. the combat would be pretty satisfying. At least when you use Donatello. His staff is slow but has the most reach and causes the most damage. That’s right: getting poked with a large wooden stick is more lethal in the world of Ninja Turtles than being stabbed or sliced with sharp, pointy metal. If you think of this as Donatello: The Video Game, it works a lot better. With practice, you can even use his unique striking style to damage enemies behind you. Donatello is the man, and I only used the other Turtles if I had acquired a subweapon using them or if I didn’t want to take damage with Donatello. Hell, unless you have the other three Turtles loaded down with sub-weapons, the second-to-last boss, the Technodrome, is pretty much impossible to beat without him. You can’t disable the electric fork in the front with anyone else’s weapon. They don’t have enough range. What was Konami thinking when they green-lit this?

Oh you bastard. You bastard. There’s nothing I can say that others haven’t already said about the infamous underwater sequence. It’s every bit as bad as its reputation suggests. For my money, it’s the worst level in the history of video games. Not even the Speed Bike stage on Battletoads is this bad, because at least there the controls and collision aren’t awful. When you finish this review, go watch this video that explains how the awful collision ruins this stage. It’s truly jaw-dropping how badly coded this game is. You didn’t expect that from Konami games of this era. They were only months away from releasing Castlevania III in Japan when this came out, a contender for the best game on the NES.

For a set that’s loaded with extras, I’m a little more than ticked off that it was never explained anywhere in the game (the original instruction manual or Cowabunga Collection’s built-in strategy guide) that each turtle actually has unique special attributes. Leonardo does the least damage, unless his health falls below four bars, at which point it doubles. Because that’s how swords would work, or something. Raphael has the fastest weapons in the game but can’t do a down-thrust. Michelangelo can’t attack downward either and he has poor range, but like Leonardo, his attack power doubles when he’s under four bars of health. I feel like this is one of the great missed opportunities of the NES era. This isn’t a side-scrolling beat-em-up. It’s a full-fledged platforming adventure with labyrinthine levels. Assigning more unique abilities to each Turtle could have made for a more strategic, enticing game. But that’s not what Konami did. There’s really never a point when you’ll want to use a Turtle besides Donny, and that’s especially damning. Honestly, it feels like everything was put into making level one good, so that kids would rent it and pester their parents to buy it. Pretty much the whole game from level two onward becomes so unfair that I actively wonder why Ghosts ‘n Goblins became the poster child for mean-spirited game design when TMNT outsold it 3 to 1 and is nearly as unfair. For all the crap the dam level gets, that final stretch before you get to Shredder is straight-up bullshit. Then again, most TMNT owners never made it past level three from what I can gather, and 99.9% certainly never made it past the Technodrome.

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After level one, there’s just nothing really enjoyable left to do because TMNT-NES loses all semblance of balance. The enemies can be spongy, cheap, and too quick to respawn. Most of them have literally nothing to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and feel like they’re unused character sprites from horror games or sci-fi games. Not badly designed or ugly character models, but I can’t imagine a child in 1989 understood at all why their TMNT game felt almost nothing like the show or movie or comic they fell in love with. I’m not even a Turtles fan myself, as it had already kind of dried out by time I was the right age for it, and even I’m like “what the hell are all these monsters from?” The answer is not from THE Ninja Turtles franchise. Hell, the Giant Mouser feels like a Contra boss. Speaking of bosses: after a couple hours worth of cheap enemy placement, swarming bosses, and unavoidable damage, I entered the final room with Shredder and beat him without cheating in ten seconds without taking a single hit of damage. If there had been someone in the room with me who had a trumpet, they would have played WOMP WOMP at that moment. Despite all the problems I have with Ninja Turtles, I feel like there really is a potentially great game here. While it never feels like a TMNT game, it always feels distinctly NES Konami-like. If you altered some jumps, tightened the collision detection, eliminated the time limit and changed how swimming works in the underwater area, adjusted the respawning, and gave the empty buildings an actual purpose besides being a wild goose chase for players, TMNT could have been one of THE greats on NES. Of course, what I just said is basically “if you change the whole game, it could have been a masterpiece!” By the way, this was the best-selling 3rd Party NES game of all-time. Go figure, right?
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #10 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
for Arcades
Released October 11, 1989

This came out exactly two months after I was born. There’s actually no value to that useless fact, but I figured I would share it.

Being a weirdo, I played the NES port before playing the arcade game. I’m famously not a fan of the Simpsons arcade game, and I thought I wasn’t of the TMNT arcade game. It makes sense, right? Same development team. Same engine. Same sense that the game was rushed to the market to strike while the iron was hot. Now, I’m racking my brain trying to figure out if I ever played the arcade game before. I’m not entirely sure I have, because I had a pretty good time with it. In stark contrast to the slow, plodding, extremely stripped-down NES game that somehow earned a reputation as a really good port, I actually really enjoyed my time playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game. A big part of that is that it breezes right on by at an astonishingly fast pace. Compared with the NES port, where after about twenty minutes, I felt like I was going to burst into tears every time I realized I wasn’t on the last level.

Yea yea, you’re supposed to play this multiplayer. Well, my family enjoyed doing the recent indie Shredder’s Revenge with me (yes, it’s an indie) getting them to play retro games is like pulling teeth.

The arcade game has only two major flaws. The first is that the handful of flying enemies feel like they have inaccurate collision boxes compared to the plane of existence you stand on. Lining yourself up to damage them is extremely frustrating. The fight with Baxter Stockman is particularly annoying, and after throwing drop kicks from every angle and hitting around one out of six times, the game gave me a mercy ruling and he just flew away. Wow. Thankfully, the issue with flyers isn’t a deal breaker. The bigger problem with TMNT Arcade is there’s very limited OOMPH! to the fight. Your attacks feel kind of weightless, and that drops this out of the realm of “best brawlers” because you need that sense of violence for immersion. So, it’s remarkable that I still had a good time.

The only truly putrid element of TMNT Arcade is the Baxter Stockman fight. It’s not just lining up to score a hit that’s a pain in the ass. He drops too many mousers, which require you to button mash to escape. It’s a terrible arena for the battle too. I hated everything about this fight. The only thing the NES port did better was this part.

But, I never got bored with the gameplay. Konami stretched a lot satisfying combat out of two button gameplay. Satisfying enough, in fact, that I opted not to simply spam the special attack that kills foot soldiers in one hit. This is before those type of attacks came at the price of a sliver of health, but I enjoyed using my basic attacks, and often did. That’s something that’s completely gone from the NES game. The moments where the bad guys attack from every angle don’t even frustrate, because it feels true to the spirit of the property. As far as licensed games from this era go, the original arcade TMNT has to be among the best at making the game feel like the IP. The bosses, especially early ones, aren’t the total sponges. TMNT Arcade’s bosses are basically the prototype for the “Konami Style Brawler Boss” that I adore. The last couple do get borderline spongy, but it feels climatic. Shredder’s one-hit instakill felt a bit “quick! Wring every last quarter out of the little bastards” cynical, but otherwise, I had a lot of fun with the 1989 TMNT arcade game, and I didn’t expect to at all.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #3 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Released December 14, 1990

The Shredder fight is especially tedious. He clones himself, and you can only tell which is the real one by knocking his helmet off. At this point, the fake one usually hangs out close by the real one so that you accidently kill it, at which point another spawns. Oh and the instakill death ray is bullshit. At least here, it’s doesn’t feel like it’s trying to squeeze as many last-second quarters out of players as possible, I guess. Oh, and play the JP version if you insist on playing this, where the dropkick causes as much damage as the special attack, and the SP attack is easier to do.

Calling the NES port of the arcade Ninja Turtles “boring” is sacrilege to an entire generation that came before me, but I’ll proudly wear the blasphemer tag before I say anything nice about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. It’s boring. Like, really boring. This is NOT a good port of the arcade game. I was stunned when I played the arcade game after playing this and saw how many more moves just hitting the attack button could do. In addition to the normal attack, Donatello could lift enemies up over his head and throw them, a fairly satisfying move. That’s gone here. In fact, I didn’t want to use basic attacks at all because the enemies tended to counter attack them too quickly. That left only two other options: the lone type of drop kick you get (the arcade version gives multiple) and the power attack that kills all the foot soldiers in one hit. Levels take a lot longer to slog through, and to really add insult to injury, they added two more levels that have some fairly cheap GOTCHA! type of hits. They also changed the fight against both Bebop & Rocksteady to a fight against the fly version of Baxter. Okay, fine, there IS one positive thing I can say: it’s easier to kill flying enemies in this version, but that’s on account of some very generous collision with them. TMNT 2-NES has overall bad collision detection, spongier bosses, and levels so long they could be called eras. You kids from generations before were far too easy to impress, because they turned a fun, fast-paced romp into a slow, plodding, padded slog.
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #7 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
for the Game Boy
Released August, 1990

I genuinely go into all these games with as open a mind as humanly possible. Having said that, I’m floored I gave a YES! to Fall of the Foot Clan. I figured the second and third Game Boy TMNT games had a shot, but that there was no way in hell a first-gen GB game that was likely rushed through development as fast as possible to cash-in on the Ninja Turtle craze before it stopped being profitable had any chance of being fun.

Fall of the Foot Clan is a pleasant surprise on the same level as when you put your pants on and find a dollar bill in one of the pockets that you didn’t know was there. It’s not exactly cause for celebration but it’ll put a smile on your face. This early Game Boy release is one of the stronger third party GB titles from that early period, easily out-classing Konami’s first attempt at a Castlevania for Game Boy. It’s not exactly the most ambitious title. In fact, it’s so generic that they could have made this any IP and it would have felt the same. The Turtles have no variation between them besides how their weapons look, at least from what I can tell, and it’s not like the Game Boy can show the different colored masks. The gameplay is as basic as it gets. You walk right and enemies jump onto the screen and you whack them with your weapon. Occasionally you have to jump, but mostly, you just walk right. There’s no power-ups besides life-restoring pizzas. There’s an awful lack of variety in both enemies and the way they attack. Fall of the Foot Clan’s gameplay is as shallow as a mud puddle. Honestly, the levels often feel like LCD type action games with better animation.

What gave me the LCD vibe is how the enemies tend to attack in the exact same way. Foot soldiers jump in from the left and the right, slightly out of sync, so that you can smack one, then turn around and smack the other. This attack pattern is repeated almost non-stop throughout the game. Little robot enemies will buzz across the top before lowering down so you can smack them. You’re moving right. You’re jumping over gaps. You’re changing levels. But, the same attack pattern with the same enemies repeats over and over. I’ve never seen a non-LCD action game that mimics the LCD spinning-plate-style like this before.

But, I never got bored with it! It helps that the action is pretty much non-stop, plus this became the first TMNT home game with accurate collision detection. Enemies drop pizza slices in regular intervals, and if you want a little variety, you have an unlimited supply of ninja stars to throw at enemies when you duck, though they do less damage than your sword and I never really needed them. Fall of the Foot Clan is super easy and goes by quick, barely taking thirty minutes to complete the five-level quest on your first play-through. I was stunned that I even lost one life, which happened when I fought Shredder at the end of level four, which was the literally the only part of the game that felt like there was any type of nuanced challenge besides just full-speed-ahead attack. Has Fall of the Foot Clan aged well? Oh god, no. Is it still somewhat fun? Yea. This might be the worst retro game I’ve ever given a YES! to, but I never got bored and wanted to finish it. That counts for something.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #5 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
for Arcades
Released March, 1991

A major, game-defining aspect of Turtles in Time on the SNES is how easy it is to pull off the two special moves (throw at the camera and the repeating slam). The arcade game feels like it picks random times to work. Even the “hit both buttons to do a special attack that takes a tick of life off” move is SIGNIFICANTLY harder to do in the arcade version. It’s just not a fun game.

Before playing Cowabunga Collection, I’d already had plenty of experience with Turtles in Time. I had it when it was given a terrible facelift and called Re-Shelled back in the day. Years later, I ran through the SNES game during #IGCvSNES. There was this interesting phenomena while I did the SNES game: a lot of people noted that it far out-classed the arcade counterpart. Now, there’s people who insist the NES port of the original arcade game is better because it has (checks notes) two extra levels. Allow me to wave my hands around my head while saying OOOOOOH sarcastically. They couldn’t have been more wrong, of course. TMNT II: The Arcade Game on NES is terrible. But, when I started Cowabunga Collection, I once again started catching word that Turtles in Time was inferior in arcades. This time around, the buzz was spot-on. If anything, people understated just how bad Turtles in Time arcade is. It has better animation than the SNES game, and it’s also absolutely horrible.

When it comes to arcade games, there’s a difference between “fair hard” and “borderline scam hard.” Turtles in Time has so many cheap shots or enemies that interrupt your attacks that it feels like a scam. Yea, that’s the accurate term. If one of those redemption games that spits out ticket is rigged specifically to make players think they have a better chance to win than they really have, we call that a scam, right? Why not do the same for arcade video games, since the ultimate goal (trick players into paying real money to play) is the same? Turtles in Time has one goal and one only: suck quarters. The faster players die, the better. When you don’t have to put quarters into the game anymore, all it has left is to suck.

This might be Konami’s worst arcade game of the 90s. Talk about a major downgrade from the previous game. The play control often feels unresponsive. As a result, there’s NO oomph. Seriously, this might be the least OOMPHful 90s brawler. The violence feels like feathers doing karate moves on cotton balls. Pulling off the cool special moves is nearly impossible to clock. The swarming enemies interrupt your combos like it ain’t no thing. There is a slightly better variety in enemies in the arcade (and the annoying shield-wielding foot soldiers aren’t that bad here) but with combat that isn’t satisfying at all, what’s the point? The same issues with airborne enemies from the first arcade game return here, along with other issues with what plane you’re on. The out-of-sync enemy attacks that often don’t let you get-up was the final straw for me. Actually, it was the final straw twice, which shouldn’t even be possible! Cowabunga Collection’s “Nightmare Mode” stacked with “God Mode” made Turtles in Time fun. For a while. Then I got to the Neo Night Riders stage and the flying foot soldiers used their guns out of sync, so not only could I not fight back, but I couldn’t even get up. It’s amazing that they turned this piece of crap into what might be the best brawler on the SNES, but this feels like a prototype that wasn’t finished. It does have value as a case study for OOMPH, because the SNES version actually has it.
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #8 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers
for Game Boy
Released December 1, 1991

Apologists for the game note that the perfect no-hits run in the video shows you don’t have to heel-toe it. I am so sick of the speed run argument when I complain about a game with pacing issues. The argument is essentially “if you spend enough time to become an expert at a game that already bores you, you can beat it faster.” Well, yeah. That’s usually how it works. But why would anyone want to become an expert at a game they find boring in the first place? There’s like a million games out there. I have better options than a 1991 Game Boy product tie-in that zero effort was put into to actually be fun.

They had more than a year of extra time to work on Back from the Sewers. So, how is it so similar to Fall of the Foot Clan? Actually, change that. How come it’s worse than Fall of the Foot Clan? I’m not going to call Back from the Sewers unplayable. It’s even worse than that. You CAN beat it, but in order to do so, you’re forced to play the game in the most cautionary, plodding, opposite of fun manner I’ve ever seen in any “action” game. Take the same basic enemy attack patterns from the first Game Boy game.. and I mean the EXACT SAME ATTACK PATTERNS, only with different character sprites. Now, have that sequence of attacks happen every time you scroll the screen a half step forward. On “normal” difficulty, the game spawns an absolutely comical amount of enemies that you have to whack with your comically short weapon, then take a step forward and repeat the process. The first game felt like an LCD game that with the limited amount of attack patterns that repeated throughout the game. Well, if that was a Game & Watch, this would be the B mode. The same game, only with the patterns happening at a faster rate. More ambitious level design based on zig-zagging through buildings or aircraft is undermined by enemies or turrets that fire so fast you’re basically forced to take damage. Who on earth wants to play a game where the only way to play well is to essentially crawl your way through it? Back from the Sewers? I think not. This belongs back IN the sewers, because it’s crap.
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #12 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Released February 1, 1992

I’ll get my only knock with Manhattan Project’s controls out of the way: it’s too easy to do the life-draining special move. I know that in previous games I complained that it’s too hard, but here I often went to jump to do a drop kick and ended up doing my special move instead. If I hadn’t had infinite lives on, I’d of game-overed just from accidental special move usage alone.

Dinosaurs do not show up at any point at all in this game. Absolutely shameful cover art. Reprehensible, really. If this was a new release, I’d give this a NO! on principle.

To say that I was completely taken by surprise by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III on the NES is an understatement. Here’s what I knew going into it. (1) It used a modified version of the Turtles II: The Arcade Game’s engine, and I hated that game. (2) It’s still the NES, so gameplay is limited to two buttons and stuff that can be done with 8 bits of horsepower. (3) The full-length gameplay video included was nearly two hours long. I could barely keep my eyes from glazing-over playing TMNT II: The Arcade Game and this was over twenty minutes longer. (4) It had a reputation for being insanely difficult. The most frequent thing I heard from players was that it starts fun but finishes with a thud because of prohibitive difficulty. Granted, they likely didn’t have access to the infinite lives that Cowabunga Collection allows you to apply. (5) Konami opted to save a few bucks by not going with the same special chip they used to make Dracula’s Curse possible. Of course, this set allows you to turn off flicker/slowdown inherit to the NES, but the point is TMNT 3 didn’t aspire to max-out the NES’s 1991/92 potential. That’s five completely valid red flags. For those reasons, I’d been dreading the time I’d have to spend with the Manhattan Project more than any other game in the set.

Given the limitations of the fighting engine and the 8-bit console, they kind of got the bosses perfect. This was especially surprising given how boring the bosses in TMNT II were. A big part of that is none of the bosses in Manhattan Project are too spongy. Just when you think they’re about to get boring, the blinking starts, meaning they’re almost dead. Each has a unique style and twist. Most importantly, they’re all fun to battle. Every single one, which is a feat no Turtles game, NOT EVEN SHREDDER’S REVENGE, has pulled off. Only this late-stage NES game. Well done! Outstanding! And one of the most unexpected, delightful surprises of my now five-year-long retro gaming adventures.

My fears were unfounded. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was pretty awesome. It cleans up most of the things that killed TMNT II on the NES. Collision detection, first and foremost, is completely fixed. There was a couple weird instances involving Michelangelo where his weapon actually had more range than the graphics let on (specifically the “lift over head” move) but those were limited to him. Beyond that, this has some of the best combat collision of any game of this type on the NES. The controls are much more responsive too, and it makes the combat a lot more satisfactory. Plus, this time around, each turtle has their own unique special move. Raphael, who I usually avoid because of his teeny tiny weapons, actually has the best special move by far, a torpedo-like headbutt, and thus he became my primary character. Michelangelo, another turtle I usually avoid using, has a neat handspring kick that, with proper timing, can cause two hits for the price of one. Of course, they fixed the issue with the power moves coming at no cost. This time, whether you hit the move or not, using the special moves takes a tick of health off, and the game is ultra-stingy with the life-refilling pizza so you’ll want to space the special moves out. But, once you get down to your final sliver health, you get unlimited special moves, and with Raph especially, I was spamming them like crazy.

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Manhattan Project feels like it squeezes as much content out of the formula as two button gameplay on an eight bit console allows. Right up to the eighth and final level, it’s still introducing new enemies. The variety of foot soldiers rivals Shredder’s Revenge, a game released 30 years later. This is a seriously impressive effort. There’s even some unique stage ideas, like an area taking place on a conveyor belt where you have to brawl while jumping over lasers (or not jumping sometimes). I think it went a bit too long. Six levels that had mid-bosses would have worked a lot better, and in fact, the best levels were the ones that had mid-bosses. Two hours is a lot of time to spend with a beat ’em up this limited, though it never becomes fully boring. That’s probably because, unlike Turtles II, TMNT III feels like a labor of love. As for the notorious difficulty, well, some people say that you’re not really beating a game if you cheat and use infinite lives or save states or rewinding. I say, if that’s the only way a game can be enjoyable, so be it. Besides, it’s a brawler and even with one added basic move and unique super moves, it’s still gameplay as shallow as your mother in law’s contempt for you. It’s supposed to be cathartic. Yea, I’m happy I can beat Double Dragon NES if I really put my heart in it, but that also kind of nullifies the fun. You have to buckle down and play efficiently, even if it’s not as fun that way. Without the pressure of playing the game well, I could enjoy TMNT 3 just fine. I could use the basic moves, which are actually FUN to use this time, something the first arcade adaption on the NES completely failed at. Seriously, it’s a chore using the basic moves in TMNT 2, and they don’t feel rewarding when they land. That’s fixed. It’s all fixed. This is as good as an arcade brawler on the NES can be, and kudos to them for pulling it off. Surprise: TMNT 3 is quite fun.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #2 of 13
Winner: Biggest Surprise of the Set

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Released August 15, 1992

I think this is my favorite boss in any side-scrolling brawler ever made. Someone at Konami must have realized it was just so satisfying to throw foot soldiers at the screen, so they made it a lot easier to pull off on the SNES, then built a boss fight around it. It’ll take something spectacular to top this battle.

Now this is more like it. Despite the arcade game having more fluid animation and sharper graphics, the Super NES version is better in every imaginable way. It controls better. It sounds better (well, okay fine, it doesn’t have most of the arcade’s voice samples or the Pizza Power rap during the attract screen). It plays better. It’s a kinder, gentler lover, like I imagine Shredder really is deep down♥. Turtles in Time on the SNES is a nearly non-stop joy to experience. The feathery, weightless combat of the arcade is replaced with weighty crunches, bone-breaking slams, and weapons that feel like they would actually hurt to get struck by. Whereas the added levels were not to the benefit of the NES game, which was already thin on gameplay and terminally slow, the added content here is welcome. There’s four new bosses and all of them fun to battle. Levels have either been added or heavily altered, including turning the two “surfing” levels into bonus stages, but ones that still have bosses. The Super NES has a lot of great arcade ports, but few actually improve on the coin-op. Turtles in Time MURDERS its arcade counterpart and was likely the best home-to-arcade port until SoulCalibur in 1999.

A bizarre extra feature exclusive to this port is the time trial mode. There’s three “courses” that take bite-sized segments from the main game, called “laps” here and times how long you take to beat all the enemies. It’s weirdly slow, as you spend as much time waiting for the next lap to finally load as you do actually “racing” the timer. It’s not the worst idea but the execution is frustrating because of the agonizing wait between laps.

Do you know what my only semi-real problem with Turtles in Time is? I object to the name. Really, the “time travel” aspect barely works. Going back to fight foot soldiers in the dinosaur era? Nice. But the train you’re on could be a train from any time period. Same with the pirate ship. Same with the Technodrome, for that matter. Hell, you have to finish about a third of the game before you even start “traveling through time.” So, yea, the time travel stuff outside of the dinosaur stage and the hoverboard stage is weak sauce. Everything else is superb. A big part of that is the OOMPH (my pet term for violence in a video game feeling like it has real, impactful weight to it) is wonderful. When you hit a strike in Turtles in Time, it feels like it inflicts pain. Which it probably doesn’t because you’re mostly fighting robots but my point still stands. In the arcades, it’s like paper dolls fighting. On the SNES, when you grab an enemy by the limb and start slamming them back and forth on the concrete like Hulk does to Loki in Avengers, it might be my favorite brawling game move EVER. It’s just so damn cathartic, especially when you clear out a screen full of enemies while doing it.

Turning Neo Night Riders into a Mode 7 showcase was another smart move. You’ve already done one “Sewer Surfing” stage. In arcades, it’s just more of the same, and futuristic facade feels paper-thin. On the Super NES, the Mode 7 graphics make it feel fresh and kind of novel. The weird thing about Mode 7 is it shouldn’t impress at all in 2022, but it always makes me sit up and take notice whenever I’m playing any SNES game.

The sound design factors into it, but the controls being a lot more responsive than they are in arcades is the real difference maker. That fluid animation that does look so good in arcades seems to also be why doing combos, getting attacks interrupted, and general unresponsiveness is present. On the SNES, it feels like when you give the command to crush an enemy, it’s done. I could almost do the “slam on the concrete” move at will (which really helps in the time trial mode) and when I needed throw enemies at the screen, I could always do so with minimal effort. Of course, unlike the NES arcade game, just using basic attacks is actually satisfying as well. So is the running shoulder block that makes for the perfect set-up for the concrete slamming. Turtles in Time’s move-set is relatively limited, but what moves you have are very satisfying. My wish list would only include more satisfying/effective aerial attacks.

The OOMPH isn’t quite as good against bosses, but hell, even the best Capcom brawlers where you could practically feel the bones shatter also struggled with that too. Boss OOMPH is a tricky balancing act because if you get it wrong, you make the enemy look weak and it takes the stakes out of the fight. One thing Turtles does get right is having all the bosses feel like they’re different. They require different patterns to defeat. You can’t just spam attacks. I like that.

Well, if I’m going to get nit-picky, I guess I wish there was a bigger variety of enemies. It’s mostly just foot soldiers of various colors/weapons. The second most common enemies are these stone guys that aren’t as fun to fight, as when you try to slam them, you just sort of toss them like a sack of potatoes. Rarely, mousers or these giant alien-looking things show up. My hunch is the dev team focused all their energy on the bosses, which was probably wise. The variety of bosses is spectacular and they all feel different, but I’m bummed becuase Turtles in Time was maybe five or six basic enemies away from being the undisputed best brawler of its era. Of course, everything I feel is missing was actually done with the recent Shredder’s Revenge, and probably the best thing I can say about Turtles in Time on the SNES is it set the bar that game had to clear very high indeed. Turtles in Time might not be the best Ninja Turtles game anymore, but that it held that title for twenty years and barely showed any wear from the test of time is a testament to what Konami accomplished here. The SNES port is a truly amazing piece of software and I’m so happy I got to play through it a second time. Let’s leave it here and not re-re-remake it, please. I’d rather have Shredder’s Revenge 2.
Verdict: YES!
Ranking: #1 of 13 **BEST IN SET**

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist
for Sega Genesis
Released December 11, 1992

They took the Krang Fight from Neo Night Riders in Turtles in Time, same attack patterns, and made him a boss without the cool futuristic facade or the hoverboards. Like so many things with Hyperstone Heist, it feels stripped-down.

I legitimately can’t believe there’s any debate on which is the superior 16-bit home TMNT arcade game. A lot of people seem to really like Hyperstone Heist. I’ve never seen a game this terrible that has so many people falling over to apologize or make excuses for it, or even call it good. I mean legitimate PASSION from fans who stand by Hyperstone Heist as one of the best, if not THE best, TMNT games ever made. YIKES! I’m not just talking fanboys either, but professional game critics! Hyperstone Heist has made lists like “The 20 Best Genesis Games.” I checked, there’s at least twenty-one Genesis games, which means they’re not awarding this by default. They’ll say “the graphics and sound are better!” Who cares? Turtles in Time in the arcade looks a LOT better than the SNES game, especially the fluid, cartoony animation. But, the gameplay is worse, so the SNES game is better. That’s just how it is. If you value a game having better animation or sound at the cost of gameplay, my reviews are not for you. And while we’re at it, what people consider “better” with Hyperstone Heist is very debatable.

I was already miserable playing Hyperstone Heist for reasons I’m going to get into right about now, but at least I wasn’t completely demoralized. Then a boss showed up I already beat, and I was only on the fourth stage. “Uh oh” I thought, a chill coming over me. Then, after beating Leatherhead for the second time, Rocksteady showed up, and I just felt completely dejected. A goddamned boss rush. And since there had only been three bosses up to that point, it was one of the most pathetic boss rushes I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable. Then it ended with the Baxter Stockman fight from the original TMNT arcade game. Hey, wait.. Rocksteady is in the game but Bebop isn’t? That’s like Simon without Garfunkel! ♫GENESIS DOES! YOU CAN’T DO THIS ON NINTENDO (unless it involves a mutant warthog)!♫

A lot of people lead off with “the music is better!” I’ve never understood why anyone would go to music before gameplay, but fine, let’s start with the music. The Wikipedia page describes Hyperstone Heist as having the same music as other TMNT games, only faster. The faster part I’m not entirely sure was deliberate. It has the same music tracks from previous Turtles arcade games, only they’re sped-up. The thing is, the voices of the Turtles when they die (“ohh, shell-shocked!”) sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks, because they’re ALSO sped up. Then you realize the various bonks and baps from the combat also sound kinda similar, but weirdly so, and it’s because they’re the same sound effects sped-up too. Why would you speed up the sound effects too? That makes no sense at all, unless they just screwed up the soundtrack and sound effects and decided to call it a feature instead of a bug. It must work because people cite the soundtrack as a reason this is better than the SNES counterpart that has more levels, more bosses, more moves, more set-pieces, better play control that makes pulling off advanced moves easier, and has heroes that don’t sound like they’re on an all-helium diet.

The Sega Genesis version of TMNT has only five levels and six bosses, three of which you have to fight twice, BUT HEY, it has one boss.. ONE SINGLE, SOLITARY BOSS.. that’s not in any other Turtles game. You can practically see the Genesis fanboys showering themselves with confetti while singing “GENESIS DOES WHAT NINTENDON’T!”

But, it’s the claim that Hyperstone Heist has “more aggressive AI” that I object to the most. Apparently it was Konami’s “selling point” for the game. “More aggressive AI” in this case is the most meaningless buzzword on the Genesis since “Blast Processing™©™®™.” But, people fell for it. Reviewers at the time noted the AI was “more aggressive.” The Wikipedia page notes it. People telling me I’m wrong about Hyperstone Heist have said it to me. I don’t know where this “more aggressive” shit comes from, because when *I* played Hyperstone Heist on Normal Difficulty, the enemies kept backing away from me when I walked towards them. They would back all the way to the far-far-far edge of the screen, so much they often weren’t on the screen at all, before they finally stood still long enough for me to kill them. Of course, that means when I hit my strikes, I could only hear that I was doing it and didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing the enemies die. This was consistent from the start of the game until the end. One of my biggest issues with the beat ’em up genre in general is the action too often migrates to the edges of the playfield, but Hyperstone takes it to a new extreme. “Well Cathy, enemies in a real fight WOULD back away from you!” OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IT’S A VIDEO GAME! In real life, a fire breathing, princess-kidnapping turtle dragon wouldn’t choose to make its final stand on a bridge with an axe that the hero could use to drop it into a lake of fire, either, but in the make-believe world of video games, it’d be weird if it didn’t! And it’s weird that so much action in Hyperstone Heist is against enemies you can’t see!

Might as well have put a giant Pizza Hut advertisement in the the center of the screen. It wouldn’t have blocked the action at all.

I think by “aggressive” fans of the game mean the enemies are complete back-fighting, sucker-punching cowards. The overwhelming majority of enemies don’t swarm you. They sort of fall back, and they only move in to attack when your back is turned to them and you start swinging your weapon to the other side. They also have pitch-perfect timing on counter-attacks. But, combat mostly consists of chasing enemies to the edge of the screen for the kill. Many of the enemies are straight-up programmed to just sit on those edges and throw their projectiles in preset intervals. For a game that’s allegedly “faster-paced”, you sure do take FOREVER to get up when you get knocked down. The dramatic knockdown-rolling-sit-up animation is agonizing every time it happens, and most of the time, the enemies begin their attack animation with perfect timing so that you’re going to get hit again at the very nanosecond you make it to your feet. I don’t care how much fans of this game regurgitate Konami’s 1992 marketing of Hyperstone Heist as “more aggressive” and “faster-paced” because the actual gameplay unfolds a lot slower. It’s stop-and-go gameplay on steroids, and thanks to Cowabunga Collection, you can play this side-by-side with Turtles in Time on the SNES and see that it’s actually the SNES game that’s “fast paced” and has more aggressive enemies, because they don’t run away from you like complete lilly-livered yellow-bellied scaredy-cats. Isn’t the point of a brawler being fed an army of cannon fodder to punch?

The only nice thing I can say about Hyperstone Heist is it had the most playable version of this Baxter Stockman battle. So hey, +1 for having the best version of my least favorite boss from the original arcade game.

While I’m at it, where is all this other “better gameplay” at? You can’t throw the enemies at the screen, which is one of the most satisfying moves from Turtles in Time. It’s much harder to pull off the “slam enemies into concrete” move, and the other foot soldiers you hit doing it take less damage. Your own life bar can be drained too quickly, as the amount of damage caused by environmental traps or even by random hits from bosses or foot soldiers often is several of your health points. The OOMPH isn’t as good as the SNES game. It has less than half the bosses the SNES game does at 13 to 6. If you object to me counting the fights against Bebop & Rocksteady as two different bosses, and the same for Tokka & Rahzar, the tally is still 11 to 6, a not unsubstantial gap, and the SNES game didn’t make you replay bosses you already beat. “The stages are longer!” Yea, but they don’t do anything. They’re not fun set-pieces at all. I was excited for a “haunted ship” because those can be cool, but it had nothing haunted about it. It was just decrepit. Going off this game’s definition of haunted, my Mom is becoming haunted. So, where’s this better game play? Oh, because the dash button is separate? Well dip me in shit and roll me in bread crumbs, Genesis wins! ♫GENESIS DOES! YOU CAN’T DO THIS ON NINTENDO! GENESIS DOES!♫

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When presented side-by-side against the SNES Turtles in Time, I can’t understand why anyone would say Hyperstone Heist is the better game, unless they NEED Hyperstone Heist to be better because they still base their self-esteem on the fact that, thirty years ago, Sega successfully marketed their console to them better than Nintendo did (or their parents saved some money buying a Genesis instead of an SNES and then gaslit the kid into believing they really wanted a Genesis all along). Well, sorry Genny fans. The Genesis library beat the SNES library in many ways, but Hyperstone Heist isn’t just bad compared to Turtles in Time. In fact, on its own, compared to no other game, Hyperstone Heist is just boring. An already short game that feels very heavily padded, with bad enemy AI, a limited moveset, and dull set-pieces. But hey, you were told thirty years ago it was faster-paced than other Turtles games and had “more aggressive” AI, even though the AI clearly spends much of the time backing away from the fighting, and who are you going to believe? The best marketing teams money can buy or your lying eyes?
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #9 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue
for Game Boy
Released November 25, 1993

Each of the Turtles has a super power that lets you access a previously unacceptable area. For some reason, Leonardo’s is turning into a drill.

Metroidvanias are my favorite genre, and I’m one of those people that has very little problem with short games. The next IGC review will be an indie NES Metroidvania that takes only a few minutes to complete, and I consider it a perfect game in the sense that the only complaint about it is its ultra-short length, which isn’t really a complaint. I’d rather play twenty to thirty minutes of absolute perfection than two hours of great or six hours of good. Perfection is so much rarer. So, I have no problem with the smallish map and brief runtime of Radical Rescue. Even if you get lost, it probably should only take you under two hours to finish, but that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with this game longer. It’s a pretty decent, if basic, Metroidvania that has a major issue with enemy placement and boss fights. This is one of those games where the developers fine-tuned the enemy placement specifically for cheap-shots and unavoidable damage. It happens non-stop throughout the runtime, and it’s such a shame because otherwise Radical Rescue might have become my go-to game for baby’s first Metroidvania.

I have a big problem with the bosses. They don’t quite telegraph their moves enough to give you time to dodge, and man, do they blink a LONG time when you hit them.

The game only has a couple environments that are as bland and flavorless as it gets, and it doesn’t really do a great job of teasing “you’re in a place that you can’t access.. yet, hint hint” that Metroidvanias are ideally built around. But, they actually did a good job of building around starting with Michelangelo and needing to rescue the other turtles. The concept of beating bosses for keys to jail cells works wonderfully. Each of the Turtles has a unique ability required for exploration, which is exactly what I wanted TMNT-NES to do, and I’m gratified that I was right to say it needed it. The boss fights are super annoying. I’ve never seen a game of this type that had the bosses blink with invincibility after taking damage as painfully long as Radical Rescue does. Thankfully, with the glory of save states, you can replay them with no penalty (use the save states over rewinding. Each boss takes a minute or two to beat). Ultimately, the #1 thing I want from a Metroidvania is a good map, and Radical Rescue has a very good map with a nice path to victory that requires the exact right amount of backtracking (or lack thereof) that never becomes annoying. I just wish this had been on a platform like the NES, Genesis, or SNES instead.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #4 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
for Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and Game Boy
Released September 4, 1993 (SNES/Genesis) February 1994 (NES)

They all have such boring rosters. Oh, and the Genesis version (pictured here) is the only game in all of TMNT Cowabunga Collection that features Casey Jones. That’s an absolute travesty.

I don’t really have a ton to say about the three TMNT Tournament Fighter games. I’ll start by noting the Genesis game is basically unplayable. Of the three buttons they had available, one is used for taunting, which is just stupid. The fighting mechanics are extremely bland and even on the lowest setting, I couldn’t beat the enemy AI. It’s easily the worst game in Cowabunga Collection. If I gave a hypothetical “so bad that it occupies multiple spots in the rankings” for the Genesis version, Back from the Sewers on the Game Boy would be #12, then there would be five to six gaps and the Genesis Tournament Fighters would be #17 or #18. Absolutely abysmal. And you know that Digital Eclipse must have agreed. This is literally the only game in the entire collection that doesn’t have a section in the set’s built-in strategy guide.

It looks like Raph is kneeing Leo in his nardos here.

The NES game is actually better, but still not fun at all. It feels exactly like one of those modern “demakes” that you’ll see indie developers come up with as a cutesy novelty. You can only choose to use the Turtles in the one player mode, and once again, the AI is just too dang good. The big difference in this one is a dodgeball will occasionally be dropped onto the playfield for the players to use. The only nice thing I can say about the NES game is that I’d rather play it than Back from the Sewers on Game Boy.

I don’t understand the whole “Cyber Shredder” thing. That’s what he’s called in Radical Rescue too. Does he have online sex or something. Because I’d totally cyber with him. Damnit, I can change him!

Really, the SNES game is the only one of interest. Four button gameplay for heavy and light punches and kicks, so at least the action has substance and nuance to it besides button mashing. The OOMPH! is decent, there’s a nice variety of special moves, and the super move meter that penalizes usage of the block was ahead of its time and inspired. So, why didn’t I like it? Honestly, this felt to me like one of the more bland entries in SNK’s fighting game franchise. Besides Shredder and the Turtles, I didn’t recognize any of the characters, and the only fun character to play as is Shredder. The weird game show-like theme between stages threw me off, and frankly, I didn’t think the fighting was all that. It felt like they aimed for competent more than spectacular. I think a modern Turtles fighting game with cel-shaded graphics could be interesting, but for its time, this was just a wannabe Street Fighter that might have worked for kids in 1993 who recognized the characters. For a non-TMNT fan in 2022, this wasn’t for me.
Verdict: NO!, NO!, and NO!
Cowabunga Collection Rankings
SNES: #6 of 13 **BEST OF THE WORST**
NES: #11 of 13
Genesis: #13 of 13

A review copy for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection was provided by Konami for this feature.

Return of the Obra Dinn (Review)

Plot spoilers (but no solutions to the game) ahoy, as this is a four-year-old game and I really want to talk about the plot.

I think a lot of people wanted me to finally get around to reviewing Return of the Obra Dinn because they thought it could contend for the #1 position on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Heh. Yea, no. It’s good, but it ain’t that good. Hell, it missed leaderboard’s top 50, which I expect to be controversial even if it just barely missed it. For many journalists and gamers, this was 2018’s game of the year. It’s a major tent pole indie and basically unlike any game that has ever come before it. It came with the pedigree of being from the guy who made Papers, Please. And I missed reviewing it in 2018 and getting those sweet, sweet clicks. Oh, I didn’t deliberately skip it. In fact, I even started playing it on Steam when it came out. It didn’t hold my attention and it just fell off my radar. I’m not entirely sure why, either. I like a good mystery game, and there’s NEVER been a mystery game like Obra Dinn.

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination..”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this last week. My Dad, an old-school Macintosh fanboy, saw this on the Switch eShop. He wasn’t ever much for gaming, at least until recently, but the graphics style caught his attention. That same style wasn’t for me at all. I kind of think Obra Dinn is ugly looking. Like so many graphics types, old computer games looked the way they did because the of limitations of hardware at that time. There’s nothing inherently sacred about them. Creators of the legendary PC games of the era would have crawled across hot coals on their bellies to have more colors or higher-resolutions.

The chicken did it. NEVER TRUST THE CHICKEN!

I’m also not so much into high seas adventures. In fact, the only nautical game I’ve ever really enjoyed is Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and I don’t even know if that counts. Weirdly, it’s my favorite 3D Zelda by a mile. Finally, I’m not huge into nonlinear storytelling. It can be interesting when done right, but when done badly, it can be ruinous. Look at the recent remake of Stephen King’s The Stand on Paramount+. The original made-for-TV mini-series with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald was badly acted, had terrible special effects, and was nine-ways of awesome. The 2020 remake (an all-time contender for “Worst Timing Ever” given that it’s a show about a plague that was produced before a real life plague hit) begins with 99.9% of the world’s population already already dead. I mean, come on, that’s the fun part! Each episode cuts between different time periods. The Stand doesn’t work at all as a nonlinear experience and it renders the entire nine-episode limited series unwatchable.

Actually, nonlinear storytelling was only one of many problems. That entire series was one of the most embarrassing dumpster fires I’ve ever seen in my entire life. TERRIBLE performances by actors capable of so much better. Even J.K. Simmons is bad in it. Bryan Cranston is uncredited as the President of the United States, doing a voice over that reminds you the man got his start playing the voices of the monster of the day on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Then, there’s the “fresh” takes on characters. Odessa Young’s Frannie is such so unlikable that it makes you cheer for the embodiment of all things dark and evil. I have never hated a show I was all set to love more than I hated The Stand 2020.

Obra Dinn leans heavily on nonlinear storytelling. The game opens with the ultimate final fate of the final handful of surviving crew. To its credit, it’s immediately jarring, as you see the captain blow some poor SOB away, which is no doubt the cap to a mutiny. The problem is, Obra Dinn uses the jump-around too much, and not always in service to keeping the player engaged. There’s a moment where most players are like “okay, wait, this isn’t just a ship where a series of random calamities happened” where you see the crew fighting a giant mutant crab monster that looks like something out of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s genuinely jaw-dropping, even if my Dad and I both started giggling at how silly the plot was starting to become. By this point in the game, you’d already seen the crew fight a giant squid, but that’s a fairly common nautical trope. Creepy ass giant crab-spider things being rode by spooky, shapeless riders? Not so much.

The design of these is some of the creepiest, most eerie shit I’ve ever seen in a game.

And that element doesn’t have the same impact if Obra Dinn introduced the monsters at any other point. The scene where they’re climbing onto the ship (pictured above) would have still been a “oh shit” moment, but not as startling or meaningful as seeing the crab do its thing. Nonlinear works there. But for the later mermaid attacks, you’re now expecting that type of thing. Seeing that chapter take place at the tail end of the attack (no pun intended) has lost all impact. Once you’ve already seen that the story involves a giant squid and shapeless warriors riding giant spider crabs, it would have been a lot more chilling to see the mermaid attack sequentially. Of course, the game couldn’t do that because of how you see all these events in the first place. The mermaid sequence requires you to go in reverse order, using the “scene within a scene” aspect of the gameplay where you click on freshest carcass in someone else’s moment of death as the go-between of the segments. It’s safe to say that, by the end of Obra Dinn, that sense of awe and foreboding had long since abandoned ship.

You don’t matter, and you don’t matter, and you don’t matter, and you don’t matter..

If Obra Dinn’s plot itself was part of the checklist that you had to solve, the solution would be “RETURN OF THE OBRA DINN was SMOTHERED by TOO LARGE A CAST THAT NEEDED TO BE THINNED OUT BY A PAPER-THIN FANTASY PLOT.” I’m going to go ahead and say it: Obra Dinn’s story absolutely fucking sucks. Once the sci-fi elements and the magical treasure chest that lures the monsters comes into play, the story dies a miserable death. All the intrigue is gone. All the interpersonal dynamics no longer feel like they matter at all. The answer to “cause of death” for around half of the crew was “killed by horrible beast.” And they had to use “horrible beast” as a catch-all for the mermaids, spider crabs, and kraken, because otherwise it would have spoiled that those elements were in the game. I hate that I didn’t like it, or that the game lost a lot of its enjoyment once the treasure/mermaid plot revealed itself, but from that point on, I just didn’t care about the characters anymore. Their lives, their intrigue, and their fates felt arbitrary. I don’t know why it annoys me so much. I guess I thought it was going to play out like I would be Tim Curry in the Clue movie (Cluedo for you non-Yankee types) meticulously explaining that so-and-so set up a booby trap with a barrel of gunpowder and lured someone to their doom with each character, and instead 50% of them were chalked up to death by monster.

And you don’t even need to be EXACT with the cause of death for most of the characters. Hell, for some of them, you don’t even need to get the exact entity that caused the death. This is one of those multiple-outs type of games. So, for example, if a person’s head is shot off with a cannon during the Kraken fight, you can blame the Kraken, or the guy who shot the cannon, and for cause of death, the game accepts “exploded” or “decapitated” or “shot” or many other things. Now, I’m totally cool with having multiple definitions for the same effect, but I thought I was signing up for a tight mystery full of plots and murder most foul. There’s only teeny tiny hints of those things, but most of the solutions come down to “who died during each monster attack?” God, I can’t properly convey how much of a let down that is.

Do you know what I like most about Obra Dinn? I’ve always said “gameplay is king.” It’s been my unofficial motto at Indie Gamer Chick. I can be wowed by incredible stories. I can be dumbfounded by incomprehensible stories. I can be bored by mundane stories. But ultimately, I play video games to be absorbed by compelling gameplay. Return of the Obra Dinn will now forever be the game I point to that shows the power of gameplay to overcome all. For all its flaws, the actual sleuthing in Obra Dinn never gets boring. It works because of the wise decision to only reveal correct answers in groups of three. We got five or six of the characters correct just by guesswork, but always after a process of elimination that left only three or four options. Granted, we did score one group of three where we didn’t have a definitive answer for any of the three, but when the game cut to the WELL DONE screen, we completely lost our minds in celebration, hooting and high-fiving until we were hoarse. It’s never NOT satisfying to see that you’ve correctly guessed the solution, and that’s the hallmark of a great mystery game, shitty story or not.

The zooming in feature was helpful because, a lot of the time, I couldn’t tell the faces apart from each-other. A lot of characters look similar. And the accents really didn’t help me at all. I could NEVER tell those apart, and I’m a stickler for accents in real life. I can’t tell voices apart either, but at least that ruins nothing here, unlike Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Obra Dinn isn’t exactly Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. It feels more like Columbo, where you’re looking for the teeny tiny details that would never actually hold up in court. Ultimately, you’re just picking faces out of a crowd. The cause of death is the easy part. You’ll see the weapon embedded in their corpse, or dialog will say “yep, that guy sure was sick before he died” or something equally on the nose. In fact, there’s a strong chance you’ll have in the neighborhood of 80% of the checklist filled with the causes of death for each face before you have a name to go with any of them, but the game lets you do that. You have to base the rest on how they dress (there’s a glossary included in the journal that explains different ranks and jobs and where those people would be on a ship) or accents or location. Not every character has a 100% “this is the clue to their identity” moment, and instead you score them by virtue of eliminating all (or most) other options. There’s four members of Asian royalty (who helpfully have their very own picture separate from all other characters), four people from China, and X amount of officers that you can suss out once you have the cause of death listed just by rearranging them. Once the game starts thinning out characters, that becomes even easier. You’ll almost certainly get a few just by plugging a placeholder name into a character. EVEN THEN, you feel like you’ve done a good job when you get it right. Obra Dinn might be one of the most immersive games ever because of that sense of accomplishment.

The “scenes” are like walking around a big diorama, and when you think you’ve gotten every possible clue out of one, chances are you’re going to be forced to return because actually there were characters present you didn’t even realize were there.

Sure, the gameplay isn’t perfect. I hate the whole “see a scene for a minute, then it fades out, then you’re back in it” part. You want that shit to end as fast as you can so you can start inspecting in a productive way. I also wish that you could just click something in the book to let you relieve the scenes instead of having to go back to the original spot in the ship. That especially becomes annoying in the end game, when there’s corpses all over the ship, many of which look kind of samey, and keeping track of which one opens what chapter in the narrative becomes overwhelming. Then, sometimes you have to click on one corpse to enter a scene THEN click on even more corpses over and over until you get to the scene you want. The end game is going to require you to go back and look for the clues you missed. There’s just no way you’re going to be perfect the first time around, but it’s not at all convenient to do so. And don’t say it was for immersion in a game where you use a magical pocket watch to see a freeze-frame of the exact moment of someone’s death. Just let us click something in the book to see the scene again. The way it’s set up now is really just creates busy work. I haven’t seen such obvious padding since that time I wore my Mom’s bra when I was 10 years old.

Competitive marathon running claims another victim.

Finally, I hate that there’s two endings. My Dad left the ship too early because we couldn’t figure out what we were missing and because the journal has a chapter that says you can’t see it until you leave the ship. So, he left the ship, and the game ended and we ended up with the bad ending because we hadn’t solved everything. At this point, I absolutely blew a fucking gasket. Not at him, but that it was even possible to do this. We didn’t know the game would say “okay NOW you’ve solved everything you can do on the ship, so now you can leave the ship and see the final parts you missed.” I mean, it doesn’t say it like that, but that’s the jist of it. If we had to start over at this point, this would be the angriest review I’d ever done in my life, but after seeing the bad ending and credit roll, we got to restart where we were without any loss progress. Thank god. But the game should NEVER have allowed this. It’s unnecessary.

When a new scene reveals itself, you have to watch this trail of smoke or light or whatever fuck around on the ship, sometimes circling back around before settling and turning into a dead body that you can then click on. It’s not bad, I guess, but sometimes I wish it used a compass instead. I can’t tell anything apart of a ship. I don’t even know what side of a ship is the starboard side. Just because I cuss like a sailor doesn’t mean I know shit about fuck in regards to boats.

Presumably this was done so when people say “there’s no replay value” smug asshats can say “well, actually..” NO! There’s no replay value, AND THAT’S FINE! $19.99 is a perfect price.. hell maybe undervalued.. for a one-and-done experience. You can even say that the captain killed everyone and net an achievement for it if you’re especially lazy. No, Obra Dinn’s story didn’t “do it” for me. I don’t think this tapped all the possible sea-going calamities, or high intrigue for that matter. The mutiny that climaxes the story but in reality starts the game off is rendered kind of moot in the grand scheme of things. There was no pirate attacks. No drunken fool hitting the whiskey too hard and falling overboard. Nobody croaking from scurvy. Nobody catching a fatal case of the clap from a gnarly wench. No jealous husband killing the wench because that was HIS clap, dangnabit! I know the message is about the perils of desire and greed, but Jesus, really? Mermaids? Spider crab monsters? Eh, fuck it. Obra Dinn is still an absolute must play experience, because gameplay is king. Long live the king.

Return of the Obra Dinn is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #51 of 302
Top 92.9 Percentile of All 636 IGC Reviews
Top 83.12 Percentile of All 302 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Return of the Obra Dinn was developed by Lucas Pope
Point of Sale: Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation

$19.99 was torn apart by a terrible beast in the making of this review.

Lucas Pope is now officially an Indie Gamer Chick Certified Developer Who Does Not Suck!

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium: The Definitive Review (Complete 34 Game Review + Ranking)

This is the complete Indie Gamer Chick review of Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium! For those not familiar with my way of thinking of how retro games should be reviewed, I take NO historical context into account. I don’t care how important a game was to the industry, because that doesn’t make a game worth playing today. The test of time is the cruelest test of all, but every video game must face it. I might not be here if not for Space Invaders’ success, but I wouldn’t want to play it today. Not when there’s better options. Therefore, when I review retro games, every game gets either a YES! or a NO!

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium is identical to the first stadium in terms of engine and layout. I had to remap the controls quite a lot, and I didn’t appreciate how much I needed that until I played the Nintendo 64 collection on Switch Online, which has no such options. For that matter, the simple yet effective manuals that include visual aides that identify power-ups or provide complete move sets for fighters is much appreciated. Capcom has a history of lazy packages, like Capcom Arcade Cabinet for example. This wasn’t some half-assed effort.

YES! means the game is still fun and has actual gameplay value when played today and is worth seeking out.

NO! means the game didn’t age gracefully and is not worth seeking out, and certainly not worth spending money on.

There’s 32 games in Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, but really, there’s 34. Three Wonders contains three completely different games, and they were so different from each-other that I chose to review them as their own entities. Capcom Sports Club also has three different games, but they all had the same aim (being fast-paced arcade sports games) and play value, so I chose to count it as one game. Also, I didn’t factor in SonSon towards my ultimate verdict, since it’s free-to-download whether you buy the complete set or not. Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium costs $39.99 for the whole set, while the individual games cost $3.99. Therefore, the set needed to score ten YES! verdicts to win the Indie Gamer Chick seal of approval.

YES!: 20 + SonSon
NO!: 13

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium doubled what it needed. Thus, it’s Chick-Approved! This is one of the best arcade compilations available on modern consoles. It’s also an excellent package with tons of options for button mapping, presentation, screen orientation, and picture filters. The only feature missing is the one I fell in love with from SNK 40th Anniversary where a full video play-through is included that allows you to pause the video and take over the gameplay. I LOVE that feature and wish more classic sets included it.

There’s tons of options for presentation, including being able to play vertical screened if games originally used it.

Final Rankings

How I determined the rankings is simple: I took the full list of games, then I said “I’m forced to play one game. Pick the one I could play the most and not get bored with.” That goes on top of the list. Then I repeat the question again with the remaining games over and over until the list is complete. Based on that simple criteria, here are the final rankings. Games above the Terminator Line received a YES! Games below it received a NO!

  1. Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire
  2. Street Fighter Alpha 2
  3. Super Puzzle Fighter II: Turbo
  4. Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix
  5. Magic Sword
  6. Midnight Wanderers (Three Wonders)
  7. Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge
  8. Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors
  9. Eco Fighters
  10. Chariot (Three Wonders)
  11. Street Fighter Alpha 3
  12. Saturday Night Slam Masters
  13. Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition
  14. Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams
  15. Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters
  16. Rally 2011: LED STORM
  17. Don’t Pull (Three Wonders)
  18. Hyper Dyne Side Arms
  19. 1943 Kai
  20. SonSon*
  21. Capcom Sports Club
    **TERMINATOR LINE**
  22. Black Tiger
  23. Knights of the Round
  24. Gun.Smoke
  25. Mega Man: The Power Battle
  26. The King of Dragons
  27. Pnickies
  28. Tiger Road
  29. Last Duel
  30. Savage Bees (aka Exed Exes)
  31. The Speed Rumbler
  32. Avenger
  33. Block Block
  34. Street Fighter

GAME REVIEWS

1943 Kai: Midway Kaisen (1987)
Designed by Yoshiki Okamoto
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Way back in January of 2019, I named 1943 Kai “Best in Set” for Capcom Arcade Cabinet on Xbox 360/PlayStation 3. Now that I’ve played through it a second time, wow, it really speaks to how weak Arcade Cabinet was done that this could walk away with any trophy. Being the best game in Capcom Arcade Cabinet is like being the most edible item on the menu at an Arby’s. Which is not to say 1943 Kai is bad or anything. It’s a perfectly fine bland shmup, just like 1943 was. The differences are this has six fewer stages and one of the weapons is slightly better. Fewer stages is actually a good thing, as it feels like this cuts a lot of 1943’s gristle out. There’s smarter enemy formations too, so even though this is technically harder, it kind of feels like a more fair type of harder. I prefer the later 194X games, but they were really starting to get everything down pat with Kai.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #19 of 34

Avengers (1987)
aka Avenger, aka Hissatsu Buaiken (Deadly Hooligan Fist)
Designed by Takashi Nishiyama
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Takashi Nishiyama had two pretty sizable hits at Irem before he joined Capcom. One was Kung Fu Master, aka just plain Kung Fu, a pretty influential game. Even I like Kung Fu, and I hate basically everything according to many retro fans. I bring up Kung Fu Master (aka Spartan X) because Avengers is clearly trying to be exactly that, only from a different camera angle. In this case, Avengers is a top-down game. Otherwise, the same concept: punch and kick your way through a hoard of identical baddies, most of whom just want to hug it out with you, but meanly so. Actually the huggers do headbutt you in the hug, but still, it’s a hugging game, with levels culminating in a boss baddie with a gimmick, usually based around a weapon. And it’s absolutely abysmal. I’m genuinely not trying to be hyperbolic when I say Avengers is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. The actual combat features incredibly piss-poor collision detection. I lost count of how many times I punched right through enemies to no effect. It even happens to the stationary garbage cans you collect items from. Besides that, what punches and kicks you hit don’t feel OOMPHful at all. It does try to one-up Kung Fu by having a teeny bit more variety in enemies, but even this blows up in Avenger’s face. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, enemies who throw projectiles have too much of an advantage over you. The power-ups are weak and wear off too fast. Punching is basically worthless, and you can also spam a spinning kick for no cost that I found more effective than normal attacks. You’ve got to feel bad for Nishiyama, who tried to recreate the magic of Kung Fu Master twice in a row (Trojan was the other) and fail, but when I say “even Trojan didn’t suck this badly” that speaks volumes.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #32 of 34

Black Tiger (1987)
Directed by Yoshiki Okamoto
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

After suffering a mysterious series of delays, Black Tiger released in 1987 and feels like it’s playing catch-up with Konami’s Castlevania and Taito’s Rastan. An action platformer with a bit of RPG grinding and money collecting thrown in, you have to hop around levels and fight baddies with some of the strangest attacks in history. You have both a whip and a series of daggers, and when I say “both” I mean you throw a barrage of daggers every time you use your whip. It’s so weird. It’s like they wanted to give you the option for one or the other, but they inputted it wrong and wired the game to do both at the same time. The daggers aren’t a finite resource, either. You have unlimited amounts, so much so that they’re often a lot more effective than the whip, since three come out at once and they’re ranged. BUT, even with this, the combat lacks satisfactory OOMPH, and the level design is based around dickish enemy placements and GOTCHA! type booby traps. Capcom seems to have been obsessed with treasure chests that would actually screw the player over, just like in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. There’s too many whammies in the chests, and even rewinding doesn’t take away the frustration of dealing with them. Grinding up enough money to buy the good items is a slow process. Finally, the jumping is stiff and rigid and leads to many instakill situations. There’s a good game buried in this mess somewhere, but Black Tiger just acts like a total prick too often to be fun.
Verdict: NO!
Second Stadium Ranking: #22 of 34. **TOP OF THE BOTTOM**

Block Block (1991)
Designed by Shinji Sakashita, H.K., and M. Miyao

Simply put, Block Block is one of the worst brick breakers ever made. It’s especially unfit for consoles that lack dial controllers, but that’s just the start of its problems. In my two play sessions with it during Capcom Arcade Stadium 2, I had at least two instances of the ball clipping right through the paddle. In a game where everything depends on the paddle.. you know.. working, that alone is enough to earn it a spot near the bottom of the NO! pile. And I say “at least two times” because I had other instances where the ball was moving so fast that I couldn’t be sure if I barely missed a volley or if the game just stopped working again. It seems to be tied to having bricks underneath the paddle. Blocks underneath the paddle would be a nice twist, but the level design is miserable. I had tons of instances where a ball would travel around unbreakable corridors and then just jam up in the geometry. A funny quirk about Block Block is, if you go too long without breaking any bricks, the game opens an automatic exit to the next level. Of course, the ball has to actually hit the exit. It goes away if the ball bounces too much. There’s neat ideas here, like the paddle breaking into a smaller paddle after so many volleys, but the physics are amateurish and, frankly, brick breakers had existed for fifteen years by time Block Block came out. This SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN THIS BAD, and it’s awful. The final 8-bit Capcom arcade game is also one of their very worst coin-ops. Just a complete disaster in every way possible, and the only thing keeping it from finishing dead-last is the historic ineptness of Street Fighter 1.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #33 of 34

Capcom Sports Club (1997)
Designed by Yoshifumi Fukuda

Unlike Three Wonders, Capcom Sports Club’s three games don’t deserve their own reviews. They can be summed up by saying “fast-paced arcade sports games of middling entertainment value.” Two of the three are fine. The lone stinker is the basketball game. It’s like a 3-on-3 version of NBA Jam without the “on fire” stuff. Or real players, for that matter. Curiously, the game has no shot clock. Shot clocks exist for a reason, and a basketball video game based around a lightning-fast pace not having one is such an unforgivable omission that I can’t overlook it. Stick to the soccer and tennis games. Soccer features a short field and over-the-top animations, and it can be fun in small doses. I’ll note that the game tends to smarten-up the AI every time you win. If a game ends in a draw, it counts as a game over and you have to re-up on your virtual quarters, at which point the AI becomes more reasonable. I’m on to you, Capcom. Meanwhile, tennis game is just a cartoony game of tennis taken up-tempo. Literally nothing about it stands out. Well, actually sometimes it feels like you can’t cover the court fast enough, but that’s kind of the point of Tennis, right? Either way, there’s hundreds of soccer and tennis options out there, and neither of these will rise to the level of a fan favorite among them, but they’re fine.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #21 of 34 **BOTTOM OF THE TOP**

Chariot (1991)
Game #2 of 3 from Three Wonders
Designed by Shoei Okano

The second of Three Wonders’ offerings, this cute-em-up feels like it was probably meant to be the full-blown game that got a solo release, with Midnight Wanderers and especially Don’t Pull being games that barely rose above proof-of-concept and were shoehorned onto this board as an attempt to test a new business model that they straight-up stole from SNK. At least that’s our new working theory. Chariot feels like the most complete of the trio, though it’s still an all-to-brief experience. This time around, it’s a surreal shmup with a zodiac theme. Despite sharing multiple assets and story elements with Midnight Wanderers, Chariot isn’t remotely generic. Cuphead fans will recognize more than one boss encounter Chariot directly inspired, and shmup fans will appreciate the twists in the formula. You have a tail that causes damage if you can dangle it over enemies and bosses, and it also doubles as the indicator of when your charge shot is ready. It a later level, Chariot even does a camera trick that fools players into thinking they’re going to go one way before quickly moving up or down to another area of a map. I wish there was more variety in weapons and I wish the game was longer, but Chariot is among Capcom’s strongest shmups.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #10 of 34.

Darkstalkers Series (1994 – 1997)

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (1994)
Designed by Junichi Ohno
Also included in Capcom Fighting Collection

Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (1995)
Designed by Junichi Ohno
Also included in Capcom Fighting Collection

Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire (1997)
Designed by Shinichiro Obata, Hidetoshi Ishizawa, Malachie, Nohah, and Katsuyuki Kanetaka
Also included in Capcom Fighting Collection
Vampire Savior 2 and Night Warriors 2 are paired with this review but not included in Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium. Those games are only in Capcom Fighting Collection.

Darkstalkers (1994) Verdict: YES!

Darkstalkers is basically Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo crossed with a Halloween costume store. The story goes that Capcom asked Universal Studios for the license to their famous monsters. Universal, savvy businessmen as always, said no. I mean, why would they want to partner with the company who made the hottest fighting game in the world to make a fighting game with their stagnant lineup of old horror movie IPs? To really hammer home what a colossal failure their rejection of the proposal was, according to the legend, Capcom’s artists then turned out the basic concepts for the ten fighters in Darkstalkers in about an hour. It’s almost unbelievable, especially given how overflowing with personality and charm the roster is. There’s no stinkers in the bunch. I played with the full roster of characters, and they each had their own flare and uniqueness and at least one move or animation quirk that put a smile on my face. That’s rare for a fighter, and it continued for the entire run of sequels. Come on, how can you not love a Little Red Riding Hood lookalike who grabs an opponent from behind and slits their throat with a kitchen knife? It’s so dark! Oh wait.. I get the name now.

Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (1995) Verdict: YES!

If you squint, you might not even realize you’re playing a separate franchise from Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. It’s really close, with the major additions being things like being the first Capcom fighting game with airblocks and the ability to move while ducking. There’s also a chain combo system for those who want a more advance fighter and not a button masher, though you can honestly have fun both ways. I played rounds of Vampire Savior with both fighting game vets and a person playing their very first one-on-one fighter and everyone had fun. This is a series that got better as it went along, and by time I reached Vampire Savior, I actually liked Darkstalker as a series more than I liked Street Fighter 2. A more colorful roster, better themes, surreal backdrops, and some of the most pitch-perfect controls I’ve ever experienced in a 2D fighter. Really, this whole franchise deserves to be regarded higher than it is.

Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire (1997) Verdict: YES!

Where it gets weird is Vampire Savior is broken into three different games that switch only a couple fighters out for a couple returning combatants. This was done as an appeasement to series fans due to the limited space in the ROM, though the shady-as-all-hell numbering of these revamps as sequels felt skeezy. People who don’t know the score will see these listed as totally separate games in compilations like Capcom Fighting Collection and be hoodwinked into thinking they’re getting three separate games and not three versions of one game, only one of which is really necessary. Given that it’s 2022 now, you’d think Capcom could use the space age technology of the modern era to just ROM-hack in the missing fighters. Presumably this wasn’t done to appease “purists” but those same purists apparently detested both Night Warriors 2 and Vampire Savior 2 anyway. It’s such a no-brainer and it comes with the bonus of not being intellectually dishonest about how many separate games are included in a compilation. I hate the whole situation because it left a bad taste in my mouth about an otherwise outstanding fighting franchise.
2nd Stadium Rankings
Darkstalkers: #8 of 34
Night Warriors: #7 of 34
Vampire Savior: #1 of 34 **BEST GAME IN CAPCOM ARCADE 2ND STADIUM**

Don’t Pull (1991)
Game #3 of 3 from Three Wonders
Designed by Toshihiko Uda

The shortest and weakest of the Three Wonders trio, Don’t Pull is a 90s remake of Pirate Ship Higemaru, only with the difficulty upped to an extreme. Oh, and will everyone PLEASE stop comparing every single cutesy game that involves shoving boxes to Lolo? Even the Wikipedia page for Three Wonders mentions Lolo as the most similar game. It’s listed first, before Pengo or Pirate Ship Higemaru. This is NOTHING like a Lolo game. Not even a little bit, because Don’t Pull isn’t even a puzzle game. It’s 100% an action game where you run around and shove boxes into enemies. When you shove a box, it slides until it hits another box or leaves the playfield, killing any enemies it makes contact with along the way. If there’s two boxes next to each other and you shove one into the other, the one you shove breaks immediately. The only way this resembles a puzzler is having to strategically break some of the boxes to create a safe space for you that can double as a clear shot at the baddies. If anything, you’ll spend most of your time running away and trying to scratch out enough distance between you and enemies to get a clean shot off. This isn’t made easier by the controls being pretty stiff, and enemies who are tougher to shake than you’d think. Still, this not-puzzler that represents the puzzle genre for Three Wonders can be quite exciting, especially if you manage to shake three or four tails and set up the perfect trap to take them all out with a single box. At only sixteen levels that you can knock-out in barely twenty minutes, Don’t Pull feels like it’s a game that got cancelled halfway through, but it’s fun while it lasts.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #17 of 34

Eco Fighters (1994)
Designed by Keisuke Mori

Eco Fighters caused physical pain in me, and in more than one way. It’s not epilepsy compatible, and even with my seizures under control, I got legitimately nauseated playing it due to unexpected strobe effects after beating the second boss. That type of stuff I could push past or take precautions against, but the cramping of my hands? That part was probably unavoidable. Eco Fighters is a very unconventional shmup where you have a turret that rotates 360° around the ship but NOT like a twin stick shooter (or Capcom’s own Forgotten Worlds). I struggled to find a comfortable button mapping for it, and early on, I kind of hated Eco Fighters. I spent the first twenty minutes wishing it had just been a normal shooter. But, it ultimately grew on me. If you’re using a normal game controller, I recommend slowing the turret rotation speed down in the game’s options for maximum accuracy. Once you get used to the controls, Eco Fighters is a shmup overflowing with personality, excellent set-pieces, wonderful boss battles, and some of the most satisfying guns in the entire genre. I especially liked the arc-welder gun, which allows you to cut through enemies. It’s so cathartic to camp on top of a boss and just lobotomize it with a short laser. I’m not entirely convinced Eco Fighters had a consistent vision, as the later stages dip their toes in lazy bullet hell design. But, even with all these problems, this is probably Capcom’s most underrated 90s coin-op. I only wish it translated better to a standard controller, since dial controllers aren’t an option.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #9 of 34

Gun.Smoke (1985)
Designed by Yoshiki Okamoto
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Maybe it’s because I grew-up with a father who loved John Ford and John Wayne movies, but I love cowboy games. I wish there were more of them. Sadly, Gun.Smoke is too hard for its own good. This is a standard auto-scrolling shmup, only with a western theme instead of spaceships. I do like the novel control scheme: there’s three shooting buttons: left, straight, and right. You can slap any of these at the same time to shoot in both those directions. It makes for one of the most unique and intriguing shooters I’ve played. But, even on the lowest setting, the enemy placement is cheap as all hell. This includes enemies that quickly get behind you and thus out of your range, which becomes maddening. Worse yet is how the lives system works: if you die, you go backwards with your items downgraded by one tick, which is especially frustrating if you’re fighting a boss, since you have to cause all the damage in one life. I’d rather have a health meter or just instantly respawn. Weirdly, after I beat the main game with cheating, I became one of only eleven people (as of this writing) to clear Stadium 2’s special challenge for it: scoring 50,000 points on the highest difficulty setting. What’s truly insane is I did it on my very first try. Awesome moment for me, but Gun.Smoke’s difficulty makes the Fun.Broke.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #24 of 34

Hyper Dyne Side Arms (1986)
Designed by Yoshiki Okamoto & Noritaka Funamizu
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Remember Capcom Arcade Cabinet? Of the 14 games in that set, I only gave two a YES! One was 1943 Kai. This was the other. Hyper Dyne Side Arms was probably the first good Capcom arcade game, and maybe their first really good game, period, depending on how you feel about their early NES output. Tellingly, it’s also one of their first coin-ops that isn’t stingy with the power-ups. In fact, Side Arms goes the opposite direction: the game is utterly spammed with upgrades, so much so that it’s entirely possible for you to become an unstoppable space tank. I’ve never cared for shmups that do the “shoot both in front of you and behind you” thing all that much, and I was worried that this would be little more than an upgraded version of Section Z. But, the way Side Arms does it works, especially with the wide variety of guns and the fact that you even have reasons to switch between them instead of sticking to just one the entire run. Even the Macross-like robot transformations are fun. There’s a little too much repetition, and the bosses can be obliterated if you choose the right weapons, but otherwise, this is a totally fun and solid shmup, even if it feels like it only exists to be Capcom’s slightly-soulless answer to Gradius.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #18 of 34

Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition (2003)
Directed by Ryota Suzuki
Also included in Capcom Fighting Collection

Hyper Street Fighter II was made to be the ultimate “settle the score” game for the absolute biggest fans and best players of Street Fighter II. It mixes the original five versions of Street Fighter II/Super Street Fighter II together, with players having to choose which version of the game they want from a menu, then selecting their character. So, you can have the Street Fighter II Championship Edition version of Ryu take on the Super Street Fighter II Turbo version of him, and each will play exactly as they did in those games. Like, right down to the amount of frames of animation. That’s apparently a very big deal for professional players, who measure that stuff like scientists. It’s a neat idea for a game. Whether you view this as the ultimate gift to fans or a soulless cash grab is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not so into Street Fighter II that I remotely care about the nuances of what moves can counter what moves based on what frames of animation you’re in, but I guess I’m happy this exists for fans that basically kept arcade afloat in the 90s.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #13 of 34

The King of Dragons (1991)
Directed by Tomoshi Sadamoto
Also included in Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle

The first in a series of four sword-and-sorcery brawlers from Capcom that would eventually carry the Dungeons & Dragons™ label, King of Dragons feels like a proof of concept for better things to come. There’s five fighters to choose from, but the ability to select them between rounds is nulified by the fact that they don’t level-up on par with the fighter you’re using. The characters you don’t select do gain XP, but not at the same rate. So, when my Cleric was a level 11, the other four fighters were levels 5 or 6. Why would I want to swap to them? By this point, the enemies, and especially the bosses, were spongy enough without selecting a character half-as-strong. The King of Dragons is only a three player game too, so some characters will just be stuck trailing the others even if you max-out the co-op potential. That dumb decision was probably the difference between a YES and a NO, because the ultra-repetitive combat could have used the ability to seamlessly swap between characters to take the edge off the monotony. You only get one standard move per character, plus a jump button and a crash attack that eats through your health. Top this off with mostly dull set pieces and underwhelming boss fights and you have the recipe for pure, unadulterated mediocrity. The King of Dragons isn’t a complete wash. There’s a couple decent levels that seem to have been inspired by the works of Ray Harryhausen, but the feathery combat that lacks OOMPH seals the deal. King of Dragons is a gigantic bore.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #26 of 34

Knights of the Round (1991)
Designed by Akira Nishitani
Also Included in Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle

I generally like Arthurian legend retellings, as long as they don’t star Richard Gere as Lancelot. But, Knights of the Round is a bit of a bore. I’ve previously given it a YES for #IGCvSNES, though it’s very close to the bottom of the YES pile and I could honestly go either way at any given time. The issue with Knights of the Round is the same as many Capcom brawlers: being married to two-button combat limits your options greatly. They did try to change it up by having a tilt-the-joystick mechanic where you can do an overhead slash if you attack and then immediately press forward. It makes for fighting normal baddies mostly fun. Then you get to the bosses, who are spongy, don’t play fair, and often just linger at the edge of the screen. Many require you to ping single hits off them with a bob-and-weave attack style, especially since they can cut your health all the way down with just a couple blows landed. They reskin the bosses quite a bit too, with some reappearing as normal baddies over the course of the forty-five minutes it takes to finish this with one player (it feels longer). There’s a horse, but I found actually trying to keep yourself mounted on it is more trouble than it’s worth, especially since I couldn’t line-up with the enemies most of the time while riding it. Like I said, I could see myself going YES or NO at any given time, and this time around, I was just bored the entire time. That tells me that Knights of the Round doesn’t hold up to replays very well. I can only review based on my experience this play through, so I have to go NO! Them’s the rules.
Verdict: NO!
**FLIP!** Previously received a YES! in Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle
2nd Stadium Ranking: #23 of #34

Last Duel (1988)
Designed by Takashi Nishiyama

I wasn’t expecting to run into controversy with Last Duel, a game I’d never heard of before I started this run. There’s apparently multiple different ROM sets, and the one included in Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium isn’t 100% the definitive version. Either way, I can only count the version of Last Duel that was officially re-released. It’s an interesting premise: a shmup where levels alternate between a futuristic car that you have to manually bring up to speed, and a slow-ass generic space shooter. I wish it had just stuck to the car sections, which manage to feel novel and fresh. Once you charge-up your weapons, you should be able to take out most of the baddies while moving at full speed and leaping over pits. In the space sections, Last Duel becomes a poor man’s Life Force (that’s Salamander anywhere but America). Neither style are particularly bad, but the car sections are too cramped and focused on near-misses (like a driving game) while the space sections are just soulless. The Last Duel got lost to obscurity for a reason.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #29 of 34

Magic Sword (1990)
Designed by Yoshimi Ohnishi, Tomoshi Sadamoto, and Yoshiki Okamoto

Magic Sword is like the black-out drunk version of an ambitious arcade RPG, and I swear to god I mean that in the nicest way. It’s so stupid that it’s endearing for it. Absolutely no finesse is required as you jump around and button mash your way through fifty floors of non-stop side-scrolling sword-and-sorcery action. There’s only one combat button (two if you count the seldom-used-outside-bosses magic attack) and almost all enemies can be killed by waving your sword at them without having to use any strategy. Maybe a couple have weak points that require all the complexity of jumping up to hit them instead of just spamming attacks on the ground. Unlike their early efforts, Capcom was very generous giving out power-ups and the various allies that you can free from jail cells who stand behind you and add boosts to your attack. They’re everywhere with no rhyme or reason in how they were spaced out. You often can free several different ones in a row and have your pick of the litter. But, it’s still a Capcom game, which means booby-trapped treasure chests and cell doors galore. Capcom is like that one asshole friend who keeps giving people the peanut can with spring-loaded snakes every Christmas and laughs until he’s purple in the face every time. That becomes problematic in the final third of the game, when the whammies seem to outnumber the actual items. Even worse is that for a game that’s all-combat, all the time, I kind of wish it felt more impactful. The OOMPH isn’t completely non-existent, but this hardly feels as satisfactorily violent as Capcom games were starting to get during this time period, resulting in attacks being a bit weightless. Still, dumb as Magic Sword is, I’ll be damned if it isn’t fun from start to finish and one of their most underrated arcaders ever. It just never gets slow or boring, which puts it in the upper-echelon of its breed.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #5 of 34

Mega Man: The Power Battle (1995)
Designed by Koji Ohkohara

What a weird idea for an arcade game. Granted, the idea of a Mega Man boss rush is an absolute no-brainer, but it’s the way they did it. Structured somewhere between traditional Mega Man mechanics and a fighting game, Mega Man: The Power Battle features some all-star Robot Masters from the first seven games of the franchise (and some bizarro choices. Who the hell thought fans would be like “OH MY GOD IT’S DUST MAN! TEE HEE!”) and frankly the best versions of the Yellow Devil ever. The issue is the “steal enemy weakness to use on next robot” mechanic feels flimsy and inconsistent, and some enemies (such as Turbo Man) take forever to show vulnerability. This was also one of the rare 90s Capcom arcade games that felt unresponsive, especially pressing the button that switches you to the acquired weapons. I had to press more than once quite often to get it to switch. I actually passed the controller off to my sister to verify I wasn’t imagining it. I wasn’t. Even despite all the problems, I was right on the edge of still enjoying it. But, the Mega Man 4 – 6 and Mega Man 7 levels were so brutally spongy that they crossed the line into boring. Power Battle feels like a prototype that should never have released, especially compared to the sequel that followed this. Hey, getting it wrong the first time seems like a tradition with Mega Man.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #25 of 34

Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters (1996)
Designed by Koji Ohkohara

Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters is a massive improvement over the previous game, a status that bumps it up only to “just alright.” The Robot Master roster is vastly improved and the conventional Mega Man “use weapon acquired from boss X on boss Y” is implemented much better here. Well, sort of. This time, when you find the correct weapon to use, the enemy comically recoils with a little too much pomp, especially the first time you do it each battle. At least you know you got it, I suppose. Plus, it led to one of the most pathetic sequences I’ve ever had in my gaming life where it looked like I was just slapping Cutman down over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. Anyway, this is exactly the Mega Man boss rush game I’ve always talked about wanting. It turns out, it already existed. So, what’s the problem? Well, it turns out it’s just not a very exciting format. For Power Fighters, my enjoyment level was a steady “okay” with no highs or lows (besides the still somewhat sketchy weapon switching). It’s a big, splashy Mega Man boss rush, and the best thing I can say about it is that it made me appreciate the actual levels in the original Mega Man games more. The fights with Robot Masters in Mega Man games can be really fun and exciting, but they only really work as the topping of an already delicious sundae. As their own thing, it’s like how every kid eats tries eating just sprinkles at least once. After a few bites you realize they only work along with the ice cream and hot fudge. So, thanks Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters for answering a question I always had the franchise. Oh and for not being crappy, of course.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #15 of 34

Midnight Wanderers (1991)
Game #1 of 3 from Three Wonders
Directed by Yoshiki Okamoto

Three Wonders has three different games that, by complete coincidence, appear in the order of their quality. Midnight Wanderers is by far the strongest of the three. It’s sort of like SNK’s Metal Slug games, only swap the military theme for a fantasy one that leans a little harder on platforming tropes. You run and shoot your way through five levels of various themes, taking out Jabba the Hut lookalikes, jack in the boxes, and endless malicious elves. At first, it feels pretty generic, like one of those endless SNES/Genesis mascot platformers by a third-string publisher who so desperately wants to launch a tent-pole franchise. Think Bubsy or Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel. I braced myself for the soullessness to sweep over me. But, Midnight Wanderer’s exaggerated enemy animations, rock-solid controls, and outstanding boss fights won me over. I wish the game had done more with the hanging-mechanic, where close-call jumps that you short are saved by grabbing onto a ledge by your fingers. Hell, I wish the game had relied more heavily on timed-jump sections, since every instance of those featured here was pitch-perfect and make this a surprisingly intense experience. I get why this ended up in a three-for-one arcade board. Midnight Wanderers never feels like an arcade game, and it’s too short to be an early-era 16-bit home game. Thank god for the home release of Three Wonders, where it can finally find its niche. The forgettable player character lacks soul, but Midnight Wanderers is legit.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #6 of 34
Winner: Biggest Surprise of the Set

Pnickies (1994)
Designed by Masanobu Tsukamoto

In the long annals of well-based drop puzzlers, Pnickies is among the dullest. A slower, plodding answer to the Puyo Puyo franchise, here you link pairs of colored blobs, some of which contain a star in them. Once they settle, the blobs merge with all matching colors they’re touching. If the settled blob has two stars in it, no matter how far apart the stars are, the blob is broken and you score points. It’s a boring formula that might have worked with fewer colors. Maybe. Of course, after a little while it begins adding more colors and becomes next to impossible, especially when the speed quickly escelates to ludicrous speed. Plus, there’s no reason to really get too fancy with chains and combos. It doesn’t even really reward you for cascading chains, instead focusing on shattering larger blobs with more than two stars in them. I figured this might be more exciting as a multiplayer game, but this is one of those puzzlers where the first person to land enough garbage blocks is going to have a massive advantage. Capcom would eventually do better with Puzzle Fighter, but their first attempt at this type of puzzler is among their most boring coin-ops.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #27 of 34

Rally 2011 LED Storm (1988)
Designed by Tomoshi Sadamoto

Buzz has it this unreleased prototype was sent back to the shop for retooling because it went unloved during route testing (the practice of placing near-finished prototypes at a prominent location to gauge earnings potential). Assuming it’s true, the practice failed Rally 2011: LED Storm. Having played both the actual game that came out (known as Mad Gear in Japan) and this original build, they got it right the first time. A sort of F-Zero before that was a thing, racing barely factors in. This is more of a bumper cars experience that hugely emphasizes jumping up and crushing opposing cars. The combat is very satisfying, as there’s something viscerally pleasurable about jumping on a car. You can also transform into a motorcycle, which goes slightly faster but corners worse. It’s not a perfect game by any means. Via rewinding, I was able to determine that sometimes the game deliberately places items out-of-bounds, perhaps to tempt you into driving off the track. That’s a crappy way to add difficulty. Also, there was only one moment in the entire game, a huge jump, that I felt the motorcycle was actually necessary. The transformation gimmick is underwhelming. Stick to the car and enjoy a basic but genuinely exciting car combat game. Fun fact: this and the released LED Storm served as the inspiration for the Autopia for Capcom’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom NES game.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #16 of 34

Savage Bees (1985)
aka Exed Exes
Designed by Yoshiki Okamoto
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Sigh. You know, the Capcom Arcade Stadium format can make some of the most basic games exciting, but it’s not a miracle worker. I did enjoy taking-on the challenge scoring 80,000 points, but, I think it was the challenge I enjoyed more than the game itself. Exed Exes was left out of the original Stadium’s lineup for a reason. It’s an ultra-bland shmup where the nicest thing I can say about it is it’s competent, but it’s so generic that there’s nothing to get excited about. Like many early Capcom shmups, Exed Exes is frugal with power-ups, and even the bomb is weak sauce. Instead of clearing the screen of enemies, this time, it only removes only their projectiles. It’s so underwhelming. There’s one idea I like: a scoring zone right before you reach the bosses with items that turn the stationary skulls on the playfield into fruits you can eat. Then again, you can just shoot the skulls a few times as well for the same amount of points they give you as a tomato. Still, that’s a nifty idea that complements Stadium’s score challenge mode perfectly, and that’s the only positive thing about this otherwise mundane shooter.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #30 of 34

Saturday Night Slam Masters (1993)
Designed by Tetsuo Hara
Directed by Takashi Sado

Over the course of my retro gaming adventures, I didn’t find a single 80s or 90s wrestling game that I found to “good” without requiring several “for its time” asterisks. Then I played Saturday Night Slam Masters, and it was fun. There’s no real wrestlers, but Mike Haggar from Final Fight finally got to be in a good game, so there’s that. It’s kind of hard to do a grapple since it’s mapped to the attack button, and pulling off special moves can be a pain in the butt. Oh and there’s no emphasis on finishing moves, which is sort of a hallmark of pro wrestling. Of course, I couldn’t even tell what wrestling moves were being done half the time because they zip by so fast, so having finishers wouldn’t have made all that big a difference. But, the action is fun and violent and feels exactly like what Street Fighter 2 would be if it had fewer buttons and you had to win by pinfall, submission, or even count-out. I didn’t think I’d enjoy any wrestling game that came out before WCW/nWo World Tour for the Nintendo 64, but Saturday Night Slam Masters proved me wrong.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #12 of 34

SonSon (1984)
Directed by Yoshiki Okamoto
Free to Play without purchase of Capcom Arcade Stadium 2
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

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For Capcom Arcade Cabinet, I didn’t enjoy SonSon at all. I’ve never been a fan of the auto-moving hop-between-platforms style of shooters. But, I’ve had a change of heart with Stadium 2. While I still wouldn’t want to play all the way through this, the format and extra features of this collection actually make SonSon a genuine thrill to play when you go for the challenge modes. Specifically, score challenge, which requires you to put up a minimum score of 100,000 points to get your score listed online. It made me appreciate the simple but elegant scoring system that incentivizes you to kill every enemy in every wave to score bonus points. It’s so fundamental, but it works wonderfully. I genuinely only meant to put about thirty minutes into every release, but right from the first game, I lost almost two hours to trying to hit that damn score. When scoring actually matters, SonSon suddenly becomes an intense, twitchy shooter that heavily weighs risk and reward, especially when chasing down the items, and it’s a lot of fun. I wish movement and controls were a little tighter. I really wish there were power-ups that improved the gun, and I really hate how you don’t blink when you come back to life after dying (SO cheap) but I’ll be damned: I really enjoyed my time with SonSon. Go figure.
Verdict: YES!
**FLIP!** Previously received a NO! in Capcom Arcade Cabinet
2nd Stadium Ranking: #20 of 34

The Speed Rumbler (1986)
Designed by Tokuro Fujiwara & Yoshiki Okamoto
Also included in Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Speed Rumbler is sort of like granddaddy of the original top-down Grand Theft Auto games, but not in a good way. This was my least favorite title when I ran through Capcom Arcade Cabinet, and I wouldn’t have been shocked if it finished dead last again. Even cheating, save states, and Capcom Arcade Stadium 2’s challenge formats can’t save this dumpster fire. Spongy enemies. Small enemies that are hard to line your bullets up with. Enemies a lot more mobile than you. All in a game that claims to be based around speed. The irony is, my best runs in Speed Rumbler involved me heel-toeing my way through levels, where I could start to ping enemies as they entered the screen. When I actually took the title to heart and tried to speed around the courses, I was basically just a bullet magnet. Even worse: I didn’t score any points, because enemies take too many shots to kill. The mechanic of being able to jump out of a car as it’s about to be destroyed sounds great, but I got killed soon after every time but once because you’re usually stuck in the middle of a screenful of enemies. They had a great idea with Speed Rumbler, but how they implemented that idea seemed like it was done specifically to remove everything fun from it. Advertise speed, then penalize you for going fast. Absolutely terrible. The scary thing is, there were three games worse than this in this set alone.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #31 of 34

Street Fighter (1987)
Designed by Hiroshi Matsumoto
Directed by Takashi Nishiyama
Also included in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Wow. I had actually never played the original Street Fighter, at least for more than a second. I think I fired it up on MAME on a lark once, and then turned it off when I attempted to throw the first punch. Actually forcing myself to play this for a little over an hour made me realize that the tales of how putrid it is really don’t do it justice. You have to experience Street Fighter 1 to appreciate just how awful it is. Press any button on the controller and the game is like “thanks for the suggestion! It will be taken under advisement!” You only get one fighter in single player mode, Ryu, which is fine, since actually pulling off his special moves is like pulling teeth. In fact, I couldn’t deliberately throw a single fireball or dragon punch. I didn’t pull that off until I just started rotating the control stick and start mashing buttons, at which point I was throwing a dragon punch every other move. The enemy AI becomes next to impossible, even on the easiest setting. Worst of all, in my opinion, is the total lack of OOMPH to the violence. The fights have no weight or inertia to them, as if you’re fighting with paper dolls. It’s nothing sort of astonishing that the people who went on to make this trash fire went to make SNK’s beloved Fatal Fury games, while this particular title itself directly led to the single most important video game of the first half of the 1990s. Street Fighter could very well be the worst fighting game ever made, and no review can fully convey just how ghastly it is. Finally experiencing it reminded me of the difference between hearing about a tonsillectomy and actually receiving one. It’s something you can’t really fathom until you live through it. Fans of this (yes, it has fans, but then again there’s fans of everything. There’s fans serrated dildos) will argue that it’s better in arcades, where it had pressure-sensitive buttons. Okay, fine, but ports of Street Fighter 1 can’t do that, so why even bother?
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #34 of 34 **WORST GAME IN CAPCOM ARCADE 2ND STADIUM**

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams (1995)
Designed by Noritaka Funamizu, Haruo Murata, and Hideaki Itsuno
Also included in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

I had never played the original Street Fighter Alpha until this project. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew going into it the series is held in high esteem, but right before I began playing this game, I got warnings that the Alpha games get good after the first one. They weren’t just whistling dixie. It’s not that Street Fighter Alpha is bad or anything. It’s fine. It just feels like Capcom was spinning their wheels, completely directionless. The super combo system from Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is here, along with a super counter-attack that uses your special meter. It’s all fine, but Alpha is nothing special. While I really like the art direction, it also feels a lot less impactful than previous games, and the new fighters are kind of boring. I’ll say this about the new roster: it makes me appreciate the lightning in a bottle they achieved with Street Fighter 2’s lineup. Probably the best thing I can say about Street Fighter Alpha 1 is that it makes an excellent teaser for Street Fighter Alpha 2, a vastly superior game.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #14 of 34

Street Fighter Alpha 2 (1996)
Designed by Noritaka Funamizu, Hidetoshi Ishizawa, Hidetoshi Ishizawa, and Katsuyuki Kanetaka
Also included in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Street Fighter Alpha 2 feels like the complete game that Alpha 1 laid the foundation for. Smoother controls and significantly better OOMPH help make this one of the best games in the series. While it has that unshakable sensation of a retread, the strong roster of fighters, excellent character balance, and the new-to-the-franchise custom combos really make this a standout. The only weak links are some of the character designs are outright boring, but Alpha 2 had my favorite versions of fighters like M. Bison and Ryu, which matters more to me. Plus, Street Fighter Alpha 2 is one of the best entry points for the franchise. Let me put it this way: Alpha 2 is one of the last “pick-up-and-play” Street Fighter games. I got a tension headache trying to figure out what to make of Street Fighter Alpha 3’s multiple play-styles. Comparatively, Alpha 2 feels like the last game that isn’t made specifically for the hardcore fighting fan. All the Alpha games withstand the test of time, but Street Fighter Alpha 2 is the only of the trio that feels like it belongs to everyone.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #2 of 34

Street Fighter Alpha 3 (1998)
Directed by Naoto Ohta, Mamoru Ōhashi, Buruma, and Koji Okohara
Also included in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

After playing Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3, I felt weird because I really liked Street Fighter Alpha 2 more. It turns out, fighting fanatics are split on the duo as well. Alpha 3 gives players three different play styles, which sounds good on paper. In reality, you have to choose which type of special move you want to be able to pull off. Custom combos? You can only do them if you choose V-ISM. But, if you choose V-ISM, you can’t do super combos. Pick X-ISM for stronger attacks, but you can’t do mid-air blocking, custom combos, or alpha counters. A-ISM is the “average” one but the custom combos aren’t there either. While I’m sure professional gamers love all the variety, what if you just want to pick up and play a fighter? Maybe learn a move or two for a couple characters?  Street Fighter Alpha 3 is still pretty fun because the base Street Fighter formula is kind of perfect. But, Street Fighter Alpha 3 feels like a game that’s not made for me. It’s for the hardcore fans only. Games like that have a place, and if any fanbase is rabid enough to earn a game this nuanced, it’s Street Fighter fans. It just feels like something designed for tournament play by players of much higher skillsets than I could ever hope to have. The massive roster of twenty-five characters is actually a turn-off because the game is asking me to play three different ways (and that’s not even factoring in whether you’re using Turbo or Standard) to decide which characters to use. Did I enjoy it? Sure, because Street Fighter is awesome. But if I had to describe Alpha 3 in one word, that word would be “overwhelming.”
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #11 of 34

Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix (1997)
Designed by Katsuhiro Eguchi, Naoto Ohta, and Mamoru Ōhashi
Also Included in Capcom Fighting Collection

With its simplified three-button layout and ultra-cute makeover of classic Capcom fighting game characters, you might mistake Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix as being a kiddie release. It’s not. Instead, it kind of feels like Capcom clapping back at hardcore fighting fans and saying “oh for God’s sake, just have fun!” If I’m right about that, they certainly nailed it. Gem Fighter is a wacky, button-mashing, over-the-top fighter based on building strength by collecting gems and hitting big moves. There’s only twelve fighters (plus two hidden ones) and some of the moves are absolutely bonkers. Like Zangief putting on a lucha libre mask and swinging a folding chair, or Chun Li winning by kissing someone with such passion that they faint. It was a different time. Anyway, landing big moves is so satisfying (though getting the timing down is maddening) and honestly I liked this a lot more than I’ve liked Street Fighter in recent times. By the way, while this feels like a fighter made for everyone (as opposed to where Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter 3 were taking the genre, which felt like it was only for hardcore fighting fans), there’s still a sophisticated combo and counter system for those who want to put the time into it. Weirdly, this game that I think is a “fighter made for everyone” also has some of the funniest visual gags I’ve seen in any game, including many pitch-perfect subversions of the characters. If you’re not smiling while you play Gem Fighter, you have no soul.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #4 of 34

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (1996)
Designed by Naoto Ohta and Katsuhiro Eguchi
Also included in Capcom Fighting Collection because.. um.. it says “fighter” I guess?

One of the few games in this feature that I actually grew up with, I had Super Puzzle Fighter for the PS1 as a kid. This, and not Tetris, was my introduction to the well puzzler. My parents picked it out for me, and it turns out, they did a pretty good job. Puzzle Fighter is one of the greats of the genre. It’s a wonderful formula that heavily incentivizes combos and planning ahead. The way garbage blocks are implemented, with a countdown before they convert to standard blocks, allows you to set traps that will pay off. Well, assuming you can keep your head above water while waiting for them to detonate.The frequent nail biting finishes leads to this being one of the most overall exciting puzzle games ever made. Oh, and as a versus game? No puzzler ever has the potential for a match to turn on a dime like Puzzle Fighter. Success requires a game plan, cool nerves, and fourth-dimensional thinking. That I have to think really hard about whether I prefer this to Pokemon Puzzle League is saying a lot. Capcom isn’t a company known for this kind of game, which is weird because they made what might be the best of its breed. My only wish is that you could do a vertical screen mode that makes the well taller. That would make for a truly breathtaking experience.
Verdict: YES!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #3 of 34

Tiger Road (1987)
Designed by Tokuro Fujiwara

Tiger Road is a better version of whatever the hell they were aiming for with Trojan. The two games are close cousins, especially the emphasis on high-speed, stiff jumping. Notice I didn’t say it’s a good game, though. Tiger Road’s positive aspects are minimal. There’s some fun enemy and boss design and the combat can be satisfactory, at least when it feels like they’re trying to rip-off Kid Niki. It does that Capcom thing where some of the items screw you. In this case, both enemies and dispensers drop these bell things that cut your life in half. Then, you get to the moments where the game quits trying to be fun and just straight-up tries to kill you so that you have to insert more quarters. Enemies that literally spawn on the pixel you’re on, with no possible visual cue they’re going to. Forcing you to jump into the pathways where projectiles are coming from both sides. Instakill death traps with those “forced damage” jumps. The entire time I was playing the game, I had it drop exactly one free life and two health refills, though one did come after a section that left you no choice on the damage. Tiger Road was the final straw for any lingering respect I had left for Capcom’s 80s efforts. They had zero interest in making their games fun. They wanted you to game over quickly. The proof that they didn’t give a single shit if you had fun is how toothless the final boss is. I first-tried it without cheating in about 10 seconds. Why bother with effort at that point? They already shook you down for your quarters. Be gone with you, loser. That was their attitude with coin-ops. Of course, this is a company that barely carved out an existence during that era, before the NES saved it. That’s around the time they finally pulled their heads out of their ass and realized that fun games, not unfair ones, make money. That’s when they became.. well.. Capcom. Almost every game before that revelation was basically as ethical as a carnival scam.
Verdict: NO!
2nd Stadium Ranking: #28 of 34

My Cute Unicorns – Coloring Book (Nintendo Switch Review)

Yes, really.

The irony is, I bought this expecting to do a tongue-in-cheek review about the lack of clear objectives, character sprites who were too large, etc. A fun, playful gag review to lighten the mood and put a smile on the faces of my readers. This would be exactly the type of “only IGC” review I used to do back in the day. Then I actually played My Cute Unicorns, and now I have no choice but to do an actual review. This might actually be one of the worst games on Switch. It’s certainly the worst artistic game I’ve ever played. It’s every bit as fun as coloring with the world’s most controlling child. “NO, YOU CAN’T COLOR IT LIKE THAT! PLAY BY MY RULES!” What do I mean? Well..

Here’s six of the thirty pictures you can color. Let’s choose one.

Aww, look at that. Adorable. Okay, I want to make her hair rainbow colored. There’s about eight strands of hair, so I want it to be eight different colors. I want her hair to look like she survived an explosion at the Lucky Charms factory. Sadly, My Cute Unicorns isn’t down with the rainbows. Here, I selected the one strand the cursor shows in the picture and used the autofill tool and..

It painted three strands. That’s not a one-off thing either. It auto-fills colors all over, and there’s no option not to. Why would it do that? I honestly couldn’t tell you since I can’t imagine ANYONE would want a coloring game like this. But, that’s how the game works. In theory, you could do it manually. If you start to paint one area manually, you can rub all over the screen, but only the matching sections that would be filled in automatically will be painted until you lift your finger to do another section. Okay, that’s the solution to the auto fill issue, right? Not so fast. If the “paired sections” or whatever you want to call them are actually next to each-other, like in the next picture, it’s nearly impossible to stay in the lines no matter what tool you use. In this next picture, I wanted to paint one strand of hair with the sparkly space blue. After multiple attempts of just barely poking the very bottom of the strand, this is how close I could come to staying in lines and only doing the one strand:

It’s at this point I realized that my gag review was turning into a review of one of the most pointless, awful, terrible games I’ve played in eleven years of game reviews. And it gets worse!!

What if I want to do the horn multiple different colors? Too bad, so sad. In fact, not only does it color the whole horn one way, but it also fills in the inner-ear’s color with the same color you choose for the horn.

Now look, I’m a 33-year-old train wreck of a person who chose this because it was on sale for a $1.99 and I thought my followers would get a jolly good laugh out of me playing around with a coloring book on Switch that was clearly made for young children. But, what young child wants to have anyone dictate how they MUST fill in colors in a coloring book, digital or otherwise? Isn’t the whole fun with this type of thing supposed to be going bonkers? Making colors that are gaudy for the sake of it? Having rainbow colored horns and hair, or crazy eye colors? It’s a coloring game that restricts you in so many ways that it becomes a rip-off. Take a look at the 30 second clip in this tweet:

I would think even pre-schoolers would be frustrated with My Cute Unicorn’s restrictiveness. It doesn’t encourage creativity. It stymies it. I’m flabbergasted that I bought this game to make my readers laugh and pretend like I’ve lost my mind, thinking there is no possible way a developer could fuck up a coloring book. But, come on! You can’t even make the twinkle in their eyes red? The only work around I could find was just spamming spray paint on the screen over and over, then starting the project from there. But that’s crap, because why wouldn’t you just want to have a fill-in-the-blanks canvas in a video coloring book? It’s a safe bet someone who buys one is signing up to do every strand of hair as its own color, without the game insisting you do multiple strands the same color. I want a rainbow colored horn with blood in their eyes, and the game said no. Like I said, it’s like being stuck coloring with a bratty kid who takes crayons away from you if you don’t do it their way.

This was the best I could do when I made a good faith effort to make a pretty unicorn. The sparkly space background I had to finger paint in. There’s no fill option for those colors for absolutely no reason. You’ll note that I couldn’t make the right wing match the left wing, and also the color I filled in the right wing also automatically filled in the mouth the same color. Wings and mouths are basically the same thing. It’s all magical flying murder horse, right?

So, what’s even the point? This apparently started as an Android game, and maybe it’s more flexible with the options on there. Don’t know. Don’t care. I didn’t buy it on Android. I bought it on Switch. I don’t think even a young child would enjoy this. I think the first time they try to fill in one color in one location and it automatically does the same color in a completely different location, and nothing can be done about it, the kid is going to be frustrated. Your only option is to manually paint it, but it COULD bleed over the line, especially if it’s set up so the two strands will in automatically the same color. So, this game I bought as a joke review? The joke’s on me, because I spent six hours with it trying to find something nice to say about it, and all I can say is not even Voldemort did unicorns this dirty.

My Cute Unicorns – Coloring Book is not IGC Approved

My Cute Unicorns – Coloring Book was developed by Soroka Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$1.99 (normally $4.99) colored over the lines in the making of this review.

That was the best Sweetie I could do in this program. Finer points would have been nice.

Avenging Spirit (2022 Release Review)

I had never heard of Avenging Spirit until two months ago, when I completely lost my mind and started running through Game Boy games alphabetically. When I got to Avenging Spirit after roughly 100 other games that started with “A” (Christ, there’s a LOT of Game Boy games), I looked at the cover art and I barfed in my mouth a little bit, thinking of how bored I was about to be. Good lord, look at this and remember someone got paid in real money and not McDonalds coupons to come up with this:

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Wow, that looks like a video sleeping pill, right? Just a run-of-the-mill shooting game with a gangster theme. Yea, no, Avenging Spirit is a high concept (well, as far as 1991 goes) cartoonish platformer where you actually play as a ghost who has the capability of possessing every non-boss enemy. Hot damn, congratulations, Jaleco box art designer! It takes a true dedication to being terrible at your job to take an eye-raising concept like this and make it look like off-brand Dick Tracy packaging. Bravo. Golf clap. I’m guessing they saw exactly one screenshot of the ghost possessing one of the old-timey gangsters with a tommy gun and based the cover art on that. I know it has nothing to do with anything, but this is a seriously fun, original concept (at least for its time) and it might have had longevity or even franchise potential if it had found its audience. That box art is a sin against gaming.

This guy right here. He’s one of the first batches of enemies you encounter. The entire Game Boy port cover art.. THE ONLY port this game ever got.. is presumably based on this one character, in a game about a ghost possessing over a dozen different enemy types, most of whom are NOT themed around prohibition era gangsters. Unreal. I mean seriously, for all infamy that Mega Man or Phalanx get, I have to call THIS the worst, because this commits the worst possible sin: it makes a great game look boring.

I loved Avenging Spirit. I was so caught-off-guard by how good it was that I ended up teary-eyed. I love being caught off-guard by an under the radar classic game that’s crazy insane fun, and Avenging Spirit is seriously one of the best games on the Game Boy, and I’d never even heard of it. Now, during that play session, several people replied with things along the lines of “oh yea, well there’s an arcade version, and it’s even better!” This is why you never listen to fans. The arcade game is fine. It’s fun. It’s playful and quick and awesome. Oh, and it certainly looks better than the Game Boy game, but big deal. An X-Ray of a ruptured skull looks better than a Game Boy game. But, the Game Boy game is just the stronger game.

The boss fights are typical of a game like this, with predictable patterns, but hey, the classics are classics for a reason. They work.

The hook of being able to possess any enemy has been done a million times since, but it works in Avenging Spirit because each enemy is totally unique. Some have better weapons. Some have better jumping. Some are not desirable, others highly desirable. It can turn the feeling of the game from Metal Slug-like to a kung-fu type of experience. Contra? Strider? They’re all here, and it’s such a joy to play through. The mechanic works so well that even the crappiest enemies to possess are still fun to mess around with and discover their different abilities.

Look the ghost! He’s so happy, and he’s going to.. uh.. possess bad guys and end their lives. Actually, in this picture he looks wasted.

Here’s the catch. On the Game Boy, you can swap out of the enemies. That mechanic is missing in the arcade version. Once you possess someone, you’re in them until you die. If you get stuck in an especially worthless enemy (and some are), you have to deliberately kill yourself to get to swap. I didn’t realize this at first and kept checking and rechecking the control scheme, certain I missed what button you press to exit the ghost. Ugh. I get why the arcade version is done this way. You can only spend so much time outside of a body. The ghost’s health drains, so you’re incentivized to jump from body-to-body as quickly as possible, but really, it’s a mechanism to cause you to run out of life faster and force players to cough-up more quarters. You have unlimited continues, at least on the difficulties played-through (easy and normal) to take the edge off, but still, the arcade version lacks that one last angle that put the Game Boy version over-the-top as one of the true greats of that platform. The arcade game is merely a fun time and short of being tear-inducing awesomeballs.

PROTIP: before entering ANY door, make sure you’re on a character who you’d want to fight a boss with, because when a boss fight starts, you’re stuck with whatever body you’re in. Even if you die.

Mind you, that’s literally the only thing that makes the Game Boy port superior. The arcade game is perfectly fun as well. Everything about it is unspectacular but decent enough, which I think is actually the point. It allows the possession gimmick to take center-stage without any distractions. The level design is decent. The controls are decent. It runs through every cliché of the genre. It SHOULD be tired and grow old quickly, but it never gets boring or “been there, done that” because you keep switching the play-style. It’s also a super quick game. You should easily be able to finish it under 30 minutes, and the three hidden keys you need to get for the true ending are easy enough to find since there’s no time limit and you can explore freely.

There’s NO balance between the different enemies. Some are worthless. Some are overpowered. There’s really not a lot of middle ground. My favorite was the ninja, who has ranged weapons, good speed, and ultra high jumping.

Plus, Ratalaika Games (yes, the company that was going to do the Indie Gamer Chick Collection of XBLIG classics, which fell through because it just wasn’t going to be economically possible to scrunch that many games from that many developers together) has done a pretty good job packaging it. It costs $2 less than Hamster’s Arcade Archives releases and features save states and rewind, plus the US and Japanese ROMs. They even created an easier-to-use “home experience” if that’s the route you want to take, or you can play the unmodified arcade ROM, with dip switches and everything. Yea, I wish the Game Boy ROM had been included, but I’m still stoked Avenging Spirit has a place in modern gaming. Hell, maybe this will be a best seller and it can finally become a franchise with new releases. Wouldn’t that be sweet? Maybe they’ll even get the box art right this time. Sorry, I’m not letting that go. Putting that cover on this game is so stupid that it’d be like putting Alfred Molina on the cover of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Avenging Spirit is Chick-Approved.

Avenging Spirit was published by Ratalaika Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox

A review copy was supplied for this review. Retro re-releases are the one and only exception to the “pay for everything I review” rule.

“I should have been on the Raiders of the Lost Ark poster! Do you know who I am? I am Doctor fucking Octopus!”

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