#IGCvSNES Direct Relief Charity Drive (Nov 2, 2020) Schedule.

#IGCvSNES Lineup Order

Beginning November 2, 2020
Donate to Direct Relief. One game = $10. Three games = $20.
Check the hashtag #IGCvSNES on Twitter

THREE HOUR SESSION
Brain Lord
Super Adventure Island
Goof Troop

THREE HOUR SESSION
Super Godzilla
Super Bonk
WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game

THREE HOUR SESSION
The Lost Vikings
Spanky’s Quest
Scooby Doo Mystery

THREE HOUR SESSION
Hagane
Super Adventure Island II
Super 3D Noah’s Ark

THREE HOUR SESSION
Zombies Ate my Neighbors
Sunset Riders
Sparkster

THREE HOUR SESSION
Illusion of Gaia
Spindizzy Worlds
Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Seahag no Maki

THREE HOUR SESSION
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
U.N. Squadron
Demon’s Crest

THREE HOUR SESSION
SimCity
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
Vegas Stakes

THREE HOUR SESSION
Mario & Wario
Uniracers
Mickey Mania

THREE HOUR SESSION
Final Fight 2
NHL ’94
Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium

THREE HOUR SESSION
Final Fight 3
Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius
Terranigma

ONE HOUR SESSION
Actraiser 2

THREE HOUR SESSION
Mario Paint
Pac in Time
Aladdin

THREE HOUR SESSION
Bubsy II
Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D
Disney’s Bonkers

ONE HOUR SESSION
Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

THREE HOUR SESSION
SmartBall
Indiana Jones: Greatest Adventures
Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel

BONUS TIME
Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill

THREE HOUR SESSION
Super Scope 6
Yoshi’s Safari
T2: The Arcade Game

THREE HOUR SESSION
Equinox
E.V.O. Search for Eden
Plok

THREE HOUR SESSION
The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang
Biker Mice from Mars
Dino City

THREE HOUR SESSION
Clock Tower
The Violinist of Hameln
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

THREE HOUR SESSION
The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse
Pitfall! The Mayan Adventure
Mighty Max

ONE HOUR SESSION
Cacoma Knight

THREE HOUR SESSION
Pop’n TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventures
Magical Pop’n
Sailor Moon: Another Story

THREE HOUR SESSION
Super Back to the Future II
The Fireman
DoReMi Fantasy: Milon’s DokiDoki Adventure

THREE HOUR SESSION
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Fighting Edition
Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
Fatal Fury Special

THREE HOUR SESSION
Ys V: Kefin, Lost Kingdom of Sand
Super Robot Wars Gaiden
Gunman’s Proof

ONE HOUR SESSION
Paladin’s Quest

THREE HOUR SESSION
Mega Man Soccer
X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse
Saturday Night Slam Masters

ONE HOUR SESSION
Super Ninja Boy

THREE HOUR SESSION
Wonder Project J
SOS
Shadowrun

THREE HOUR SESSION
Gekisou Sentai Carranger
Shin Nekketsu Kouha – Kunio-tachi no Banka
Sutte Hakkun

THREE HOUR SESSION
The Great Battle IV
King of Demons
Zig Zag Cat

ONE HOUR SESSION
New Horizons

EVERCADE SPECIAL EVENT DAY

EVERCADE THREE HOUR SESSION
Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics (Data East 1)
Boogerman (Interplay Collection 1)
Weaponlord (Namco Collection 2)

EVERCADE THREE HOUR SESSION
The Humans (Piko Interactive Collection 1)
Super Double Dragon (Technos Collection)
Soccer Kid (Piko Interaction Collection 2)

EVERCADE THREE HOUR SESSION
Earthworm Jim 2 (Interplay Collection 2)
Clay Fighter (Interplay Collection 1)
Clay Fighter 2 (Interplay Collection 2)

EVERCADE THREE HOUR SESSION
Prehistoric Man (Interplay Collection 2)
Earth Defense Force (Jaleco Collection 1)
Magical Drop 2 (Data East Collection 1)

EVERCADE THREE HOUR SESSION
Claymates (Interplay Collection 2)
Top Racer 2 (Piko 2)
Dragon View (Piko 1)

TurboGrafx-16 Mini Live Scorecard (Updated May 23, 44 of 52 Games Reviewed)


This is the live scorecard for all 52 unique games in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini from Konami. The TurboGrafx-16 Mini will ship May 22, 2020. Pre-Order now from Amazon. Supplies could be limited for those who fail to pre-order. A review copy was supplied for this feature.

Each game will receive a YES! or a NO! from me. For the TurboGrafx-16 Mini to receive the IGC Seal of Approval, it must go 20 for 52 ($5 per quality game). UDPATE: It got it!

I’m going in alphabetical order based on the each game’s US name.

NOT ALL GAMES ARE IN ENGLISH

Over half the games are from the Japanese PC Engine library regardless of which region TG-16 Mini you purchase. The games for PC Engine, Super CD-ROM², and SuperGrafx are NOT translated into English. Included after every review for games from those Japanese platforms will be a rating of how much Japanese you need to know in order to enjoy the game. Ratings will be: None, Low, Medium, High, and Fluency or some combination of them.

UPDATED MAY 21, 2020, 46 OF 52 GAMES IN

Current Score
Yes: 26
No: 20
Remaining: 6 to play, 8 to review.
Needs to win IGC Seal of Approval: 20 of 54

The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is Chick-Approved!

Air Zonk
Genre: Shmup
1992 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Red Company

Apparently NEC/Hudson decided the real reason their console wasn’t catching on in the United States (in Japan it out-paced the Genesis, there known as the Mega Drive, by a healthy margin) was because having a caveman mascot wasn’t going to appeal to hip 90s kids like Sega’s Sonic did. Yes, that must be the reason. I mean, it’s not like another company was a global phenomena riding the coattails of a fat Italian plumber. Anyway, so they ‘tuded up Bonk, now named ZONK because “Z” is the most “hip” and “with-it” letter in the English language. While E and S and R and all the other letters you get automatically if you’re playing the bonus round in Wheel of Fortune are good little letters, Z is cutting class to smoke cigarettes and shoplift girly magazines from gas stations. The cool kids love Z. Too bad ZZZZZZZZonk is just a very bland quirk shmup instead of, you know, a platformer. This seems like a misguided choice. Also, in Japan the game was littered with poo jokes, all of which are censored in this version. There’s a VERY nice variety of weapons and options (options here are partners that you can merge with), but the bright, cartoony visuals make the bullets hard to see sometimes.
Verdict: NO!

Aldynes
Genre: Shmup

1991 SuperGrafx
Developed by Produce!

Produce! is responsible for contributing to some big gaming IPs. They did Bomberman games for the SNES (all one but in the US & Japan) and Neo Geo, along with a fighting game I very vaguely remember renting for the N64 as a kid: Dual Heroes. Which I had to struggle to remember if I was thinking of it or Dark Rift. I think I got both the same weekend. Either way, Produce! apparently only shut down in 2015 but I can’t find anything they did after 1998. Maybe they should have stuck to Bomberman, because Aldynes is a poor-man’s Gradius knock-off. Among the problems is you can get weapons that shoot two lasers diagonally. That’d be fine if you still also shot straight ahead of you, but you don’t. Eventually you do get a Contra-style spread gun that’s pretty bad-ass, but other problems crop-up, like enemies coming behind you in a way where you can’t possibly get in front of them to shoot. Aldynes is another just very bland shooter. Not bad, but too bland to recommend. Also, this is supposed to use a more advanced graphics chip than normal TG-16 games, but it sure doesn’t look it.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Very Low

Alien Crush
Genre: Video Pinball
1989 PC Engine*
Developed by Compile

This one got a lot of hype thrown at me, but being a launch title for the US TG-16 release, my expectations were much lower than everyone else’s. Which is probably why I liked it more. Video pinball has come a long ways since this hit in 1988, and the physics are very, very imprecise. I’m spoiled by Pinball FX3 and Pinball Arcade at this point, and going back to “living ball” physics and segmented flippers where the ball doesn’t behave anything like a real ball would is irksome. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun. As far as I can tell, there’s only one table, which wasn’t unusual for the time. That table consists of two screens, like Nintendo Pinball before it. But, at least the physics are little better here, the scoring is MUCH more balanced (in fact, the fine-tuned scoring is what put this over-the-top for me), and the bonus rooms are much more fun. A pinball game finally put the TG-16 Mini on the scoreboard. Go figure.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: None
*Despite being listed among the TG-16 releases, the Japanese PC Engine port is included.

Appare! Gateball
Genre: Sports
1988 PC Engine
Developed by Azuma

I have no clue who Asuma is and I’d never heard of Gateball until I started this project. As far as I can tell, this is the only game by Azuma, ever. As far as Gateball, it’s like a Japanese version of croquet, better known as “that lawn game that uses the hammers and colored balls that you always see being sold at garage sales.” The Japanese variation is basically the same idea, only it’s a team game with a 30 minute time limit. Also, there’s an out-of-bounds area, and if you conk someone’s ball, you can send that ball flying out of bounds and get another turn. Scoring by passing through a gate also counts as a point, and the winning team is the one with the most points at the end. Mechanically, it’s sorta like video golf, where you swing by stopping a meter. Now, maybe in Japan, where lawns are more rare than in the United States, this makes sense to make into a video game. But COME ON, why is this in the TG-16 mini when there were so many other options? It’s not that Appare! is horrible. It’s simply dumb and boring, and if you were remotely interested in this, you probably own a real croquet set anyway.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Low-Medium

Blazing Lazers
Genre: Shmup
1989 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Compile

Compile had a successful run before going bankrupt in 2003. They gave the world Puyo Puyo, a series which is still popular to this day. And really, given the fact the first two games to score a YES! verdict during this project were theirs suggests to me that they probably pretty talented. Blazing Lazers was a high-enough prospect game that it was almost chosen over Keith Courage in Alpha Zone (not chosen for the TG-16 Mini, oddly enough.. I guess they felt we’d rather play Japanese video croquet) to be the pack-in title for the TurboGrafx-16 in the United States, but was rejected because side-scrolling games were the most popular genre in America at the time. In Japan, the game is known as Gunhed and is based on a 1989 movie that came out on Brian’s 6th birthday (and four days before I was born). It’s just a shmup, but a solid, tarted-up one with tons of weapons, all of which can be upgraded themselves. It’s not really original but it’s good to easily score a point. I had fun.
Verdict: YES!

Bomberman ’93
Genre: Action-Arcade
1993 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t provided with a secondary controller. The good folks at RetroBit did suggest the six-button Genesis controller and even tried to work with me on it, but it turns out only the wireless one will be compatible (after some adjustments) with the Mini. I have the wired one. So, Bomberman ’93 and Bomberman ’94, games that most people would only want for multiplayer. Yes, you can buy a relatively expensive mulit-tap accessory JUST for these games (I think it’s just for these two), but you’d be insane to do so. Bomberman is known for being somewhat dull as a solo experience, and Bomberman ’93 comes close to reinforcing that perception. It’s not bad. It’s fine, but it short doses. Here, stages are single-screened and limited to one item, and levels continue until you beat all the enemies and uncover the exit. It’s slow, but not the worst thing ever.
Verdict: YES!

Bomberman ’94
Genre: Action-Arcade
1993 PC Engine
Developed by Hudson Soft

Now THIS is more like it. In fact, this is one of the best games on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. Here, levels are limited to more than just a screen, and end when you shatter all the crystals that open up the exit. You don’t have to slog through breaking ever brick, and in fact, you’re rewarded by clearing as few bricks as possible. Upon clearing stages, they turn into coins and you have fifteen seconds to collect them all. You get more power-ups each stage, including the ability to ride a kangaroo that can hop over the bricks. Everything about this version’s single-player is better. Faster. Better controls. Better graphics. By the way, this is known as Mega Bomberman on the Genesis/Mega Drive, but wasn’t included on the Genesis Mini. This is the first time I feel a game truly worthy of being included in a “best-of” has arrived on this mini so far.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: Very Low

Bomberman: Panic Bomber
Genre: Falling-Block Puzzler
1994 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by Hudson Soft

I’m a huge fan of games like Tetris (in fact, Tetris 99 was my 2019 Game of the Year), Puyo Puyo, Panel De Pon (coming to Switch next week!), Super Puzzle Fighter Turbo, etc. My friends, family, and Twitter followers were almost forced to stage an intervention on my Tetris 99 play. Even as a kid, I was a big fan of generic gas station $10 PS1 games like Puzzle Star Sweep. So, even though I wasn’t experienced with Panic Bomber, which is far more popular in Japan than it ever was stateside, I was stoked for this. And I was let-down. Panic Bomber might be the most boring falling block-puzzler I’ve ever played outside of mobile or crappy flash-based web ones. Here, you’re supposed to line up three of the same colored Bombermen blocks. Along the way, you’ll also be given black bombs, which do nothing, and red bombs, which detonate bombs that explode in an eight-way direction. Black bombs are also the garbage blocks your opponent sends over. Detonating them really doesn’t do anything except remove them from the playfield. As far as I can tell, you only get credit for combos you pull off using the mutli-colored Bombermen heads. Panic Bomber is like a really slow, boring version of Puyo Puyo that handles its garbage blocks differently. Not “interesting differently” but rather “this is the best we could come up with so we could get some of that sweet, sweet Tetris money differently.”
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Low

Bonk’s Adventure
Listed as PC Genjin
Genre: Platformer
1989 PC Engine
Developed by Red Entertainment/Atlus

Here it is: the killer app of the United States version of the TurboGrafx-16. And, all we get is the Japanese version, because reasons. (Actually, there IS a reason but I can’t talk about it. Rest assured, it’s absolutely silly!) Make no mistake, this was THE reason to own a TurboGrafx-16. Sadly, it wasn’t avaiable at launch. In fact, issues with manufacturing, distribution, and an industry-wide chip shortage led to the TG-16 not launching in the United States until August of 1989.. two weeks after the Sega Genesis launched in the United States. The Genesis was a true 16-bit console, whereas the TurboGrafx-16, like the name suggests, was 8-bit. The “16” came from its graphics processor, which was designed by Hudson Soft with the intent of selling it to Nintendo, who passed on it. While the TurboGrafx-16 could display more moving objects, colors, and slightly larger sprites than the NES (far and away the most popular console in the United States), it was still a major step down from the Genesis, which costs $10 less than NEC’s TG-16. Thus, the TurboGrafx was rendered obsolete and more expensive than the other new kid on the block. The final nail in the coffin was there was no must-have system seller at the TG-16’s launch. What was popular in Japan at the time was not as popular in the United States. Blazing Lazers was a fine piece of a software, but shmups were niche stateside. Of the four launch titles, Keith Courage in Alpha Zone (which was actually based on the anime Mashin Hero Wataru and heavily modified for US release) was chosen over Blazing Lazers, Legendary Axe, Power Golf, and Victory Run to be the pack-in game. The truth is, none of them could have competed with the NES or Genesis.

Bonk was deliberately designed to have a similar opening level to Super Mario 1 but show off more colors in the first static screen than the entire NES library has in it. Screenshot via Obscure Games & Consoles

Bonk absolutely could have, but it didn’t release in Japan until four months after the US launch of the TG-16, and in fact, it didn’t make it to America until sometime in 1990. When it did, NEC based all the marketing of the TurboGrafx-16 around Bonk. It probably saved the console from becoming a footnote in US gaming history and eventually sold around a million units in the US. When the TurboDuo launched, it came with a 4 in 1 CD that included a copy of Bonk’s Adventure and Bonk’s Revenge (up next). And yea, this is certainly one of the better games on the console. By the standards of today, it has very bland level design. You mostly just walk right and jump a little, while the occasional swimming section is Mario 1-esq “tight squeeze” sections. The head-butting mechanics are genuinely satisfying, even if I wish they had a little more “oomph” to them and felt more impactful. Bonk 1 feels like a really good proof-of-concept more than a fleshed-out game, but it’s still pretty okay.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Required: Very Low

Bonk’s Revenge
Genre: Platformer
1991 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Red Entertainment/Mutech

Bonk’s Revenge takes the mascot that was to be the killer app for the TG-16 and fully realizes its potential. In fact, Bonk’s Revenge is so fun that I’m kind of surprised the character faded into obscurity. Maybe he’ll make a comeback in Smash Bros. Here, the levels are much-more varied and layered. The first level sees you vertically climb up a series of waterfalls, followed by traversing volcanos and riding rocks around. If the TG-16 had caught on to the degree that the SNES/Genesis did, the Mario v Sonic v Bonk debate would have been very interesting when Revenge was thrown in the mix (it released roughly the same time Super Mario World did in the United States). From what I can gather, by time the Super NES hit shelves, the TG-16 had priced itself completely out of the market and Bonk never stood a chance. Such a shame. One of the best games in the collection, easily.
Verdict: YES!

Cadash
Genre: Arcade Platformer-Adventure
1991 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Taito

My longtime readers know that I push a very high premium on action games that involve swinging weapons (or fists) feeling impactful. Cadash is one of those games where it feels like you hold a stick in front of you until enemies blink out of existence. That’s assuming you select the Warrior. I also tried using the Ninja, who throws ninja stars at enemies, and they’re even worse, slower, and less responsive. Cadash is pretty abysmal by any standard, past or present. The jumping physics feel like you’re being crushed by the weight of gravity. The level layout can lead to situations where you’re trapped underwater (which causes damage) and the time you “blink” is so low and the recoil from damage so violent that the only way you can escape is to turn your back to the platforms to climb out of the water and let the recoil from damage bounce you out of the water. I tried the arcade port on MAME and it’s not better. This is just a horrible all-around game.
Verdict: NO!

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Listed as Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rond
Genre: Action-Platformer
1993 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by Konami
HIDDEN FEATURE: Highlight Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rond on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini game select menu, hold down”Select” and press start or button 1 to load “Stage X”, a 20-second long Castlevania satire.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood isn’t debuting stateside with the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, but still, its inclusion in this collection is a very welcome one. Probably THE all-time icon of Japanese-only imports, Rondo was the reason many Castlevania mega-fans of the 90s imported PC CD ROMs (or modded their American consoles) just to play it. Is it worth it? Oh yeah. I keep myself capped at one-hour per-game during these blitzes, and I’m honoring that here, but as soon as I finish this entry I’ll be going back to finish the game tonight. It’s probably best to think of Rondo as the last “great” old-school Castlevania before the series became the “Vania” part of “Metroidvania.” There was a Super NES remake (Dracula X) but it’s considered a hatchet job by most fans. Rondo isn’t exactly complex or nuanced. It’s just a very tarted-up NES-style linear Castlevania. But, it’s damn fun. My one complaint is it might have the most underwhelming, borderline embarrassing sound effects ever. Rockin’ soundtrack to make-up for it though. Also, while the action is intuitive and playable, you need Japanese to follow the story. Gameplay’s king, so if you NEED to know the always crappy Castlevania story, go to the Wikipedia page.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: Low

Chew Man Fu
Genre: Action-Arcade
1990 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Now Production

Yet another pleasant surprise sleeper for the TG-16 Mini. The name sounds like it belongs to a horrible karate game, but actually Chew Man Fu is a clever top-down action game where you have to place four colored balls on their corresponding pedestals. You can push the balls forwards, backwards, and around corners both ways. You can also kick them to defeat enemies or to break walls down. The wall-breaking mechanic is sometimes needed to reveal the location of the pedestals. It’s sort of like a more puzzlely, actiony version of Pac-Man in the sense that all the tension comes from a variety of enemies that give chase to you. There’s a learning curve to angling the balls around corners, and the kicked balls can actually send you flying backwards into the path of enemies. But, Chew Man Fu is original, fun, and unlike any game I’ve played before. A sleeper for sure.
Verdict: YES!

China Warrior
Listed as The Kung-Fu
Genre: Auto-Scroll Action
1987 PC Engine
Developed by Hudson Soft

Take the black box NES game Kung Fu, turn it into an auto-scroller, and then make the character sprites take up nearly the size of the screen and you’ll have China Warrior. Easily one of the worst games in the TurboGrafx-16 mini, it’s a slow and very clunky sort of reflex-brawler. Waves of enemies walk towards you and you either punch, kick, duck and punch (no duck-kicking here) or jump. I’d never played Kung-Fu until this morning, but knowing I’d be playing China Warrior, I fired up an emulator to give it a try and it was.. okayish. Super repetitive and lacking in variety besides the bosses, but at least it felt fast-paced and it was satifying to kick enemies in the face. China Warrior’s large-sprites do nothing for me as the violence all feels very feathery and unimpactful. There’s also issues with projectiles that can come at you in angles that you can’t reasonably be expected to dodge (there’s a slight lag in movement) or defend against. It feels like the game only exists to show off how large character sprites could be on the PC Engine versus the NES. And, hey, look at the huge characters! Great! Is it fun? No. So who gives a shit that it has screen-sized characters?
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Very Low

Cho Aniki
Genre: Shmup
1992 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by Masaya Games

It took me less than ten seconds of gameplay.. maybe as little as five seconds.. for me to lose all my lives and game over the first time playing Cho Aniki (literally translated to “older brother” or “big brother”). This fever-dream-like shooter puts you in the middle of action right at the start where enemies are coming at you in an angle that you have to immediately move or die WHILE THE SCREEN IS FADING IN! That type of cheap “gotcha” gameplay is inexcusable. Once you do start to dodge, you’ll find yourself in a surreal shmup that has very loose movement and one-hit kills that require restarts instead of respawns. It also has some absurdly spongy bosses. While fighting the first boss, I found a “safe spot” where I could camp without risk of its bullets hitting me, while also having a clean shot at its weak spot. I had to hold the fire button down for over 30 seconds pumping bullets into it before it died. One of the worst shmups I’ve ever played. I’m sure people will fawn over it because it’s “weird” and “surreal” but it’s not fun at all and that’s all that should matter.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Very Low

Dragon Spirit
Genre: Shmup
1988 PC Engine
Developed by Namco

A no-frills port of the 1987 dragon-themed arcade shmup. I’ve never been a fan of Dragon Spirit no matter what platform it’s on, and this is no exception. Dragon Spirit does that “shoot things on the same plane as you with one type of bullet while attacking things on the ground with another type” thing. Sometimes that works, but the blending of those enemies, the placement of them, and the lag of switching between weapons is too clunky in Dragon Spirit. It always has been. I wish the “attack the ground” weapon had range. It doesn’t, and so you practically have to hug the enemies you’re bombing. But ultimately, I’ve just always found Dragon Spirit to be too slow, cheap, and boring to have fun with. Never understood how this has fans.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: NoneVery Low

Dungeon Explorer*
Genre: Action-RPG
1989 TurboGrafx-16 & PC Engine
Developed by Atlus
*Both the US and Japanese versions are included in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. Only the US version was played for this feature.

Take Gauntlet style action, with huge waves of enemies and destructible monster generators that spawn them and mix in some too-serious-for-its-own-good RPG elements and you get Dungeon Explorer. Ideally, you’re supposed to play this with five players. At this point I’ll note that 99% of USB controllers won’t work with the TG-16 Mini. My friends at RetroBit actually tested many of their controllers and only the six-button WIRELESS Genesis controller worked. So, you’ll need to invest in at least $100 worth of extra controllers PLUS a $30 “multi-tap” adapter to fit all five controllers. Normally, I say that wouldn’t help the game in question, but in the case of Dungeon Explorer, I’m guessing even a second player would have come in quite handy. As a solo experience, the game is plodding, the enemies too spongy and too numerous to deal with. They shoot projectiles without enough (or sometimes ANY) warning, which drain health too quickly. There’s a staggering amount of characters (especially for the era) to choose from with a wide range of unique attributes, but again, you need to pay to play. I was only provided one controller, and as a single-player experience, Dungeon Explorer was an unfair chore.
Verdict: NO!

Fantasy Zone
Genre: Arcade Shooter
1988 PC Engine
Developed by Sega
HIDDEN FEATURE: Highlight Fantasy Zone on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini’s menu, hold down “Select” and press run or button 1 to load the “near arcade perfect” version of Fantasy Zone instead of the normal PC Engine version.

Fantasy Zone is Sega’s take on Defender. It’s probably the result of someone playing Defender about five minutes after having taken LSD. It’s a surreal, colorful version but with a similar principle. Here, instead of “defending” humanoids, you’re tasked with taking out specific enemies that look sort of like mutant Pac-Mans. There’s a crude map on the bottom of the screen that tells you where you’re at on the stage and which screens have the things you have to kill. Every enemy drops coins that you can spend in shops to upgrade your weapon, maneuverability, etc. Fantasy Zone does get carried away with having an overwhelming amount of enemies at times, but it’s still a fun, fast-paced take on Defender. Perfectly decent time-waster.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: None

Galaga ’88
Genre: Arcade Gallery Shooter
1988 PC Engine
Developed by Namco

I rolled my eyes when I saw yet another fucking Galaga game was included in the TG-16 Mini lineup. My Dad recently bought the $199.99 Arcade 1Up countertop Galaxian/Galaga arcade thingy (he only paid $69.99 on clearance at Target literally right before the Covid19 thing happened) and it could very well be the biggest waste of money that didn’t involve gambling or rum he’s ever done. Not that those are bad games, but they’re EVERYWHERE! Did we really need yet another Galaga re-release? Sigh, well, yeah, I guess we did. I won’t call Galaga ’88 amazing or anything, but it’s a fun variation of this very tired arcade/classic game collection staple. It has a lot more variety, scales better, and tires less quickly. It’s genuinely good for more than just short bursts of gameplay, which is pretty much the only thing the original Galaga is still good for (that and rendering the original build of Space Invaders completely irrelevant from a gameplay value perspective). So hey, good job including this, Konami. And hey, Namco, how come you aren’t doing more with this? How come that $200 ($70, still too much) paperweight my Dad brought home like a dope doesn’t have THIS (or especially its arcade counterpart) on it?
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: None

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Listed as Daimakaimura
Genre: Punisher-Platformer
1990 SuperGrafx
Developed by Capcom/NEC Avenue

Once I finish playing through the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, I’ll be retro-blitzing through the SNES Classic and the Genesis Mini as well, and then pit these classic gaming solutions against each-other in IGC Retro Bowl IV: 1991 School-Yard Battle Royale. The interesting thing about that is there’s exactly one game, and one game only, that will be common among all three mini consoles: Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Maybe deservingly so, in terms of name recognition. It’s one of the biggest franchises that’s specifically associated with that era. It doesn’t really get representation outside retro game collections today. But, the franchise is famous for the wrong reasons. The games are so prohibitively difficult.. actually, full-on unfair to be honest.. that they’re practically a rite-of-passage. I don’t get the love for them, and I’ll never get it. Unpredictable attack patterns, unavoidable enemies, even heel-toeing through stages abusing save states, and I still couldn’t make progress. I cheated and did check the Genesis and SNES Mini versions and can report that the TG-16 version’s gameplay feels on-par with them. No better or worse. Visually, it’s a step down from both the others, but all three are maddening, unfair slogs that don’t deserve to be remembered at all. EVEN AFTER USING A CHEAT CODE (hold Button I and press RUN on the title screen to get the option’s menu) to change the difficulty, it felt like it didn’t make any difference at all. For masochists only. UPDATE: Actually, the Genesis version and the TG-16 version’s graphics IS a debate. Watch this video for side-by-side comparisons. Meanwhile, the SNES version is lounging back saying “that’s adorable.”
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Very Low

Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire
Genre: Shmup
1995 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by CAProduction

Yep, another fucking shooter. This one came very late in the PC Engine’s life cycle, and attempts to add Star Fox or Donkey Kong Country “ahead of its time” type of graphics. Sadly, this results in some overly-bland enemy design. Sapphire is actually one of the rarest and most desirable games among collectors (one of whom told me that fake replicas are an occupational hazard), though I have to believe that mostly owes to the late release more than anything else. Really, Sapphire is just alright. It didn’t start that way. I was very frustrated in the opening level, where enemies blink into existence at the bottom of the screen and you don’t have a reasonable amount of time to avoid them, if they can be avoided at all. I had to switch characters (the green one was basically worthless) and change the difficulty to easy, then heel-toe through the first minute or two of the game using save states. Having said that, once you get past that section, Sapphire becomes a much more fair and pretty okay shmup experience. The PC Engine/TG-16 was apparently THE shmup system. It’s a bit overwhelming just how many are in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, but you can’t say most of them aren’t pretty good.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: Very Low

Gradius
Genre: Shmup
1991 PC Engine
Developed by Konami
HIDDEN FEATURE: Highlight Gradius on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini’s menu, hold down “Select” and press run or button 1 to load the “near arcade perfect” version of Gradius instead of the normal PC Engine version.

I’m pretty much Gradius’ed out by this point. I’ve played the NES version as part of the NES Classic and Switch Online NES library. I played the arcade version as part of Konami’s putrid Anniversary Arcade set. But, credit where it’s due: I found this version to bring the best qualities of both versions: the cleaner graphics and more distinctive visuals of the arcade original with the balanced difficulty of the NES port. Gradius’ formula has come a long ways (and, in fact, there’s two better versions in this collection alone) but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me happy to see the definitive home console edition of it show up in the TG-16 mini. The biggest issue is that the TurboGrafx-16 Mini doesn’t artificially beef-up the hardware, or for those purists out there that hate it when emulators do that, give everyone the option to do so or not. Consequently, there’s so much slow-down in PC Engine Gradius that you might go whole sections without the game ever running at full speed. If you have all four options, a shield, and fully-upgraded firepower.. you know, like you’re supposed to want.. the engine will start to crawl with every shot you fire. Sadly, the definitive Gradius still isn’t the perfect Gradius. Still fun, though.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: None-Very Low

Gradius II
Genre: Shmup
1992 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by Konami

Wowzers! While Gradius II suffers the same slowdown issues the original does on the TG-16 Mini, this is a truly inspired sequel. Intense but balanced. Challenging but fair. The scale feels larger. The enemies more epic. I mean, about a minute into the first level you start flying past mini-suns that spawn fire dragons! There’s a variety of EPIC bosses (as opposed to Gradius repeating the same ship over and over), different load-outs you can use at the start of the game to use your upgrade points on, and a wider range of level design. Gradius II has to be one of the most underrated sequels ever made. Even knowing it was included in this set, it was completely off my radar. In fact, it’s one of the best games on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. My only complain is the slowdown might be even worse here. At one point in the second stage the game went nearly two minutes at half speed. This is why we need to demand full Infinity Gauntlet of Emulation (Rewind, Save States, multiple graphics filters, removal of slowdown, etc) features be included in every classic game collection. Give players the option to remove the slowdown and see these games finally realize their fullest potential. Demanding the games play exactly as they do is silly when developers didn’t want this slowdown in the first place.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: NoneVery Low

J.J. & Jeff
Genre: Platform-Parody
1990 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft

In Japan, J.J. & Jeff is based on a variety show starring two Japanese comedians (one of whom sadly passed away earlier this year). I’m not sure why this was chosen to be adapted to the United States except for the fact that platformers were the most popular genre in the Americas and the TurboGrafx-16 was woefully short on them. There’s tons of visual gags that make absolutely no sense from a storytelling or comedy perspective unless you followed the Kato-chan Ken-chan Gokigen TV show. The gags are actually their reoccurring sketches from that program. Without that context, it’s really just a bad Adventure Island style platformer. The nail in the coffin is J.J. & Jeff features the worst attack option I’ve ever seen in a platformer. It’s a kick that has a range of maybe one or two pixels. You need to use this kick to uncover hidden items and especially buttons that reveal hidden platforms NEEDED to advance. Finding these buttons is frustrating because the collision box for the things you’re supposed to kick is too small. There’s also too many unavoidable enemies, though the game is generous with life refills. The best thing I can say about J.J. & Jeff is most of my TG-16-loving fans thought for sure I’d name it the worst game in the collection. While it is bad, it’s not even close to the worst. At least it fails in an interesting way.
Verdict: NO!

Jaseiken Necromancer
Genre: JRPG
1988 PC Engine
Developed by Hudson Soft

The first game in the TG-16 Mini where ability to read Japanese will 100% be required, Jaseiken Necromancer feels like it aspires to be the PC Engine’s version of Phantasy Star even though it was created specifically to lure in Dragon Quest fans. At the time it came out, RPGs were absolutely scorching hot in Japan. Dragon Quest I and II had shattered sales records for the Famicom. Hudson Soft was releasing this, the first “blockbuster” RPG for the PC Engine, about three weeks before the highly-anticipated Dragon Quest III hit Japan. A game that was so anticipated that people within the Japanese government begged for the February 10th DQIII release date to be moved to the closest weekend so kids wouldn’t cut school for it. Meanwhile, Hudson Soft absolutely blitzed gaming magazines and the airwaves with “hey, we have an epic RPG too” campaigns. The biggest selling point was that it was a horror-based game (check out the ad) and battles had some animation where enemies would spurt blood when they died. Yea? Anyway, the game is a boring slog with battles that have players AND enemies missing too many attacks. If you can read Japanese, you’d be disappointed to know it’s still the sword & sorcery “the king is dead, who will save us?” type of fantasy fare. Jaseiken Necromancer is slow, plodding, and only included because it did well in Japan. This should have been cut from the US version to make room for something more accessable to everyone.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Fluency

Legend of Valkyrie
Genre: Arcade-Action-RPG
1990 PC Engine
Developed by Namco

If Legend of Zelda were a level-based, linear arcade game, it’d be close to Legend of Valkyrie. While those who can’t read Japanese will need to use an FAQ to know what the dialog, items, and quiz questions/answers are (you can use this one here), the gameplay is action-oriented and a lot of fun. There’s also jumping sections, which makes this feel more along the lines of StarTropics than Zelda. I did have an issue with at one point mistaking a pit for grass that could be walked on. There was no visual indication that I was high up, so when I walked off a dirt path onto what looked like a green patch of grass, I plummeted and lost half-a-heart. I’ve never seen a game that does a worse job of indicating depth as Valkyrie does. It’s remarkably bad at it. The other main issue is that the concept is misguided from the get-go. Valkyrie no Densetsu is an arcade game, and this genre doesn’t belong in arcades. So there’s weirdness like how the game handles scrolling. From screenshots, you’d think it’s an open-world game like Zelda. It’s not. Once you’ve scrolled, you can’t go backwards. If an enemy drops a coin and it goes off-screen, it’s gone. Valkyrie is a very linear, no backtracking experience. It’s unique for sure and the combat and platforming are fun, but a lot of people will wish it was more like a home console action-RPG.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: MediumHigh

Life Force
Listed as Salamander
Genre: Shmup
1991 PC Engine
Developed by Konami
HIDDEN FEATURE: Highlight Salamander on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini’s menu, hold down “Select” and press run or button 1 to load the “near arcade perfect” version of Salamander instead of the normal PC Engine version.

Life Force I think is a bit historically over-rated. It’s got a lot of inelegant design elements about it. No matter which version you’re playing, the first level has a section where you have to shoot a path through a wall to advance. If so much as a single pixel of that wall survives and touches your ship, you die. But the wall actually regenerates at an alarmingly fast rate. It’s frustrating and very, very annoying. Life Force is the definitive “step forward, step backwards” arcade shmup. Switching between vertical and horizontal levels? Step forward. Bland level design, unimaginative basic enemies. Step backwards. Memorable bosses. Step forward. Sections designed to straight-up steal quarters in arcades not being improved in the home port. Step backward. Life Force is fun, but it frustrates me because it should be better than it is.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: None-Very Low

Lords of Thunder
Genre: Dating Sim/Geopolitical Thriller/Arkanoid with Live Doves as the paddles Roguelike.
Really? No, it’s another shmup
1993 Turbo CD
Developed by Red Entertainment

The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is over-saturated by space-style shooters, so you’d think I’d be getting sick of them by now. In fact, I had to pause another #IGCRetroBlitz for Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha and Bravo collections for Nintendo Switch specifically so I wouldn’t burn out on them for this review. It hasn’t happened yet, and Lords of Thunder is yet another quality one for this console. Unlike some others where they start blandly but I’m happy by time I move on to the next game, this one started exciting and finished with me disappointed. Don’t get me wrong: Lords of Thunder is fun and inspired. But I think it does a lot wrong. There’s four characters to choose from, each with their own unique attacks. Every level starts with you getting to spend money on upgrades, extra continues, bombs, or health refills, and you can play the levels in any order, Mega Man-style. But, the levels are very long to the point that they wear out their welcome. Enemy bullets sometimes don’t stand out enough, and sometimes enemy attacks (especially from bosses) sure seem like they’re made to be unavoidable no matter what. I also feel that the actual pew-pew-pewing feels kind of weak, like the sound of bullets making impact isn’t satisfying at all, so the whole thing has this weird softness vibe about it. Which is ironic because the difficulty is quite up there. Is it still fun? Oh yes. It’s really good. But I think it probably needed to trim a couple minute worth of play out of every level.
Verdict: YES!

Military Madness
Genre: Simulation
1990 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft

In 1988, Famicom Wars was a surprise hit for Nintendo, and like many games on the TG-16, Military Madness feels like it comes less from a place of inspiration and more like something Hudson Soft needed to develop so their system could have “their version” of a hit Famicom/NES game. It’s pretty much the same concept, only you replace squares with hexagons for movement. It does come off as much more advanced than Famicom Wars.. an Advance War if you will.. and is genuinely fun. Winning is simpler: capturing bases is as easy as landing on them. The moment a solider touches the enemy base, the match is over. But, Military Madness factors A LOT into how battles play out. Experience points, terrain, whether you have more units touching the unit engaging the enemy. You can even circle around an enemy unit to drop its attack and defense by half (assuming you have enough units to do so.. I *still* haven’t done it). Military Madness seems like it’ll be the biggest time-investment in the TG-16 thus far, but of all the games I’ve played, it’s the one I’m mostly likely to go back to. Keeping in mind I’ve actually now beaten Rondo and Bonk’s Revenge.
Verdict: YES!

Moto Roader
Genre: Racing
1989 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Masaya Games

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to make the cars go in this one. We’ve been trying, going back and forth between this and other games, making double, triple, and quadruple sure the turbo switch isn’t turned on for the gas button (it’s not). We’ve changed which upgrades we use, we read the instruction manual (the official TG-16 mini site provides all the original manuals in PDF form) over and over again. NOTHING. The playfield is so small and it always follows the car in the lead instead of sticking with just your car, so if another car pulls ahead, you’re “warped” to rejoin the pack. But then you have to slowly start accelerating again, at which point the lead car reaches the edge of the screen and you’re teleported back to start the process over again. Just, wow. Fucking wow. We had to put a cheat code in (hold SELECT and press button II on the course-select screen) to get enough money to buy most of the best upgrades, and EVEN THEN even the slightest mistake will have the lead car warping you so that you can’t even start moving. Moto Roader could very well be the worst racing game I’ve ever played in my entire life and easily become the bottom of the barrel for the TG-16 Mini. If I took away points for appallingly bad games, Moto would be the only game so far that would get such a penalty. Horrible.
Verdict: NO!
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this feature, I said Moto Roader was favored by NEC execs to be the US pack-in title for the TurboGrafx-16. In fact, they favored Victory Run, while Hudson Soft wanted Blazing Lazers before their marketing partners convinced them to include Keith Courage in Alpha Zone. I apologize for this error.

Neutopia*
Genre: Action-Adventure
1990 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft
*Both the US and Japanese versions are included in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. Only the US version was played for this feature.

Neutopia II*
Genre: Action Adventure
1992 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft
*Both the US and Japanese versions are included in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. Only the US version was played for this feature.

I’m going to kill two generic off-brand Zelda knock-off’s with one stone here. Neutopia II runs off the same engine as the first with only minor graphical changes, a different world map and different dungeons, but otherwise these games are functionally the same. Neutopia feels like yet another one of those mandated “we need our own version of (popular NES/Famicom game) for the PC Engine/Turbo Grafx-16” titles. In this case, “we need our own Zelda!” The wild thing is, both games feel a lot more like Link to the Past, despite that Neutopia actually beat Link to the Past to the market. I have have to say that Hudson Soft has done a lot better with their “we need ours” development than Sega accomplished with the Genesis. There’s a few games that want to be Zelda on Genesis and I can’t stand them. Neutopia is very close to feeling the way you’d want a game that apes Zelda to feel. I hate to use the term “clone” because it’s abused horribly and always has negative associations, but most gamers would call these “clones.” My jaw actually dropped at how completely devoid of shame this was when it came to “borrowing” elements from the original Zelda. The sword mechanic feels almost identical (except without the laser firing from it when at full health). There’s bombs you use to break open walls. As far as I can tell, Neutopia introduced the “oh lookie here! This wall has a crack! What ever shall you do with this crack in the wall hint hint” puzzle solving, which is a puzzle in the same way you have a fly and a fly swatter and you have to solve the puzzle of how to kill the fly. There’s dungeons that each have a special item and a map and a boss to get one of eight magical items to save a princess.

Then again, I’d never even heard of this shit until the TG-16 Mini lineup was announced, so maybe Nintendo was like “these guys are a total non-entity.” Perhaps the single most amazing thing about Neutopia is it didn’t land Hudson Soft in court.

I mean, Jesus Christ. This is almost plagiarism. You just don’t expect that. The truly insane thing is that Nintendo and Hudson Soft ever did business again after these came out. But, even more remarkable: these are pretty fun. Not perfect anything. The combat feels pretty close to the NES Zelda’s, only a bit more clunky. Or, actually, more clunky than the original Zelda’s. Just a little bit, but enough that fighting baddies will frustrate. Your own collision box seems a lot more generous for the enemies than theirs is for you. The same exact “push rocks to reveal staircases” mechanics are littered all over the world map and dungeons, but this time you have a magic compass that points you towards the next level you’re supposed to go to. I played the first Dungeon for both games and found them a little bland, with the bosses slightly too spongy. But, if you’re absolutely starving for a 2D Zelda and have never played these, I could honestly see the TG-16 mini’s investment paying off just for these. Also, I ranked Neutopia II slightly ahead of the first solely on the basis of combat being a teeny-tiny bit less clunky and adding diagonal attacks. I did some research, and eight directions to attack is almost twice as much as four.
Verdict: YES! (Neutopia)
Verdict: YES! (Neutopia II)

New Adventure Island
Genre: Platformer
1992 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Now Production

I’ve never been a fan of the original Wonder Boy, whether you call it Wonder Boy, Adventure Island, or Wonder Boy Returns Remix, the latter of which I’ve reviewed. I’m sure this was a much better game once upon a time. But gaming has come far and it’s hard to justify recommending such a bland, repetitive platformer. I’ll admit, this is the best version I’ve played of the original Wonder Boy/Adventure Island. You can owe that mostly to save states being easily accessible and exploitable. But, for the most part, all the problems are here in full-force. Controls are slightly unresponsive, but just unresponsive enough to cause you to fall into pits when you meant to jump. The level design is boring. There’s not enough variety once you’ve beaten the first two stages to keep things even a tiny bit interesting. If you enjoy these games, hey great, I bet you’ll like this version a lot. But I’ve never enjoyed it, and this is no exception.
Verdict: NO!

Ninja Gaiden
Listed as Ninja Ryukenden
Genre: Action-Platformer
1992 PC Engine
Developed by.. Hudson Soft? Tecmo? It’s published by Hudson Soft for sure.

I’ve never understood the love for Ninja Gaiden, but here’s a case where being on a superior platform doesn’t make a port superior. Ninja Gaiden on PC Engine is absolutely insanely unfair. You don’t “blink” enough when taking damage, and with infinitely respawning enemies, you can get caught in some insane juggles without having enough time to recover and pull off an attack animation. In one spot, there was a dog running back and forth between a wall and a one-block high platform, and a boxer on top of the platform. Upon taking damage, I ended up being juggled between the two of them to the tune of around 80% of my health. Ridiculous. It doesn’t help that you have a little rinky-dinky sword that has absolutely no range on it. This really is just the NES version, and I don’t want to say it’s a “graphical upgrade.” I don’t think it is. It’s more like a glorified palette swap. I actually think the NES version looks better. It certainly plays better. I think they shoved this in the TG-16 mini for name value, but really, they should have been able to find something better and unique to the TG-16 for this spot.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: None. On the title screen, hold BUTTON I and BUTTON II and press select to scroll from Japanese text to English (or Chinese also if you wish).

Ninja Spirit
Genre: Action-Platformer
1990 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Irem

We’ve reached the required 20 YES! votes, and we’ve done it with style because Ninja Spirit is a ton of fun. The first ever game to get a 10 out of 10 from any of the Review Crew in the legendary magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly, Ninja Spirit is sort of like a cross between Legend of Kage and the NES black box Kung Fu. The sheer volume of enemies that come at you from all directions is exhausting, but you have a variety of weapons to fight back. A very satisfying sword attack, a truly awe-inspiring ninja star attack, and a couple piss-ant weapons that really aren’t that fun to use. But, then something awesome happened and I ended up with two doppelgangers that trailed me, were impervious to damage, and could slice and dice the waves of enemies along with me. Combine that with some truly breathtaking platforming sections (hopping from tree to tree in the second level looked so fun my family actually asked me to let them have a turn) and you have THE suprise hit of the TG-16 mini so far. I do have a couple complaints. #1: the level design alternates from inspired to absolute boredom with flat, straight stages that feel like they were totally phoned-in. And also, I shredded the first two bosses with double-clones and ninja stars in literally under one-second each. But make no mistake: Ninja Spirit is probably the best “forgotten game” in the collection.
Verdict: YES!

Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III
Genre: Arcade-Action
1991 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Taito

I’ve always been totally indifferent to the Bubble Bobble series. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. It’s just there for me. I don’t find its gameplay particularly interesting or boring. In terms of quote unquote “iconic” game IPs, it’s one of those ones that I don’t get how it remains relatively revered today while stuff like Double Dragon has mostly faded into the background. Granted, it probably owes a lot to the fact that there’s not any “bad” games in the series. They’re all just sort of fine. Parasol Stars is fine. It’s just.. fine. Instead of blowing bubbles to stun enemies that you then pop to defeat in a single-screened arcade-action game, you stun enemies on your umbrella and then throw them at other enemies or walls to defeat them in a single-screened arcade-action game. It’s seriously just Bubble Bobble with reskinned enemies and a different method of attack. Rainbow Islands was a lot more interesting because the levels stretched vertically and there was a goal beyond simply “kill all the baddies.” This reverts back to the same formula, with the same emphasis on co-op. For a mini-console that only comes with one controller and was made in a way where 99% of 3rd party USB controllers won’t work with it. Interesting game to include. It’s redundant and it seems like it’ll get old fast, and that first boss was boring and spongy as all fuck, but overall the game is.. fine. Yep, it’s a Bubble Bobble game.
Verdict: YES!

Power Golf
Genre: Shmup using golf clubs, golf balls, golf courses, and golfing play mechanics instead of bullets, space ships, and shumping.
1989 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft

Everyone had to launch with a golf game, so the TurboGrafx-16 has Power Golf. And it sucks. It uses the same triple-click method that Nintendo perfected with their black box Golf (I’m reviewing the Arcade Archives version soon), only this one is far too sensitive. Even the slightest bit off the meter results in dramatic hooks and slices. The very first hole doesn’t fuck around, with a water hazard to the right, a bunker to the left, and a narrow fairway. I’ll give you seven guesses how many attempts I needed to hit the fairway instead of the water hazard or sand trap. I love golf. I was raised literally right next to a country club, took up the sport at age ten when my Dad had a mild heart attack and was told “how about using that country club you literally live next to that you paid over $100,000 to become a member of so you can get a little bit of exercise?” At my peak, I was a sixteen handicap. That’s not bad. I was better than my Dad, who apparently was incapable of learning anything from the instructor. A highlight of my life was me taking a swing on the driving range, followed by Dad taking one that even Charles Barkley would have been embarrassed by, and the instructor nodding his head calmly, then looking at me and saying “so, you’re adopted, right?” Sorry if none of that has anything to do with Power Golf. What can I say? It fucking sucks.
Verdict: NO!

Psychosis
Genre: Shmup
1990 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Naxat Soft

Psychosis wants to be R-Type so bad it can taste it. But, despite a high-concept story (it’s all in your head and you’re fighting the devil for the soul of a man), this is just a miserably boring shooter that does every R-Type does, only worse. The guns feel weaker. The enemies have similar designs and attack patterns but feel weaker and less threatening. Plus your ship and the bad guys feel sort of feathery and light, thus the game lacks that oomph and gravity that I put so much stock in. There’s some neat ideas. Early in the stage one, enemies attack a caterpillar, and if you save it, it’ll come back to help you later in the stage. It’s sort of like how if you save Falco from being shot down in Star Fox 64, it opens up a branching path, only not as cool or important. Really, Psychosis succeeds in feeling like R-Type. A blander, boring, dollar store knock-off of R-Type, but it still counts.
Verdict: NO!

R-Type
Genre: Shump-Type
1989-Type TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft-type

A lot of people told me that, while Bonk gets credit as the “killer app” that put the TurboGrafx-16 on the map, and Legendary Axe was the game that got all the media accolades when it first came out, the launch-window game that was the real killer-app that bought NEC time for Bonk to have the impact it did was R-Type. Indeed, this is the first of the launch games that feels big, arcadey, next-gen (at least over NES), and fun. It’s a simple shmup that just feels bigger than it really is. The sci-fi setting, menacing robotic and alien enemy design, and inspired shield mechanic still hold-up relatively well today. I love that you can kick the shield across the screen for added damage and firing coverage. I wish the guns offered more variety and I wish the level design got more experimental. Plus, I killed the absolutely grotesque (and iconic) first boss with just two charge shots, which felt a little underwhelming. But, yea, I agree with fans: this is the hidden killer app that I’m happy gets to strut its stuff with the best the TG-16 has to offer. My TYPE of game. Hah. See what I did there?
Verdict: YES!

Seirei Senshi Spriggan
Genre: Shmup
1991 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by Compile

I’m running out of adjectives for all these shoot-em-ups in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. There’s only so many variations of saying what I like in a shmup and how each game in question handles it. Seirei Senshi Spriggan (Elemental Warriors) is yet another solid pew pewer. It gives you what you want: a nice variety of guns, a wide range of enemies, and huge bosses. I actually took the first boss down using only two bombs. That’s sort of becoming a theme with these later shmups: first bosses being taken down too quickly. Finding that goldilocks zone of not too difficulty, not too spongy, but just right I’m sure is hard, but I’d prefer things be too easy to being too hard because at least everyone gets to see the game in its entirety that way. If games are art, isn’t everyone getting to see it preferable to not getting to see it? Anyway, the same issues that plague a lot of these TG-16 shooters are also present. Slowdown, not enough level variety, and bullet visibility. That’s been consistent throughout this set, owing mostly to the limited horsepower. Let’s face it: it’s still just an 8-bit system at the end of the day, albeit the most supercharged 8-bit system out there. But, Elemental Warriors is still fun. Running out of ways to say that.
Verdict: YES!
Japanese Needed: Low

Snatcher
Genre: Graphic Novel
1992 Super CD-ROM²
Developed by Konami

For the overwhelming majority of fans, Snatcher’s inclusion in the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is the ultimate tease. Its only English-language release is a rare and expensive Sega CD game (I checked, and US copies go for between $700 to $2,500 on Ebay), and so when my readers saw this was on the itinerary for this retro blitz, they were initially very excited. That optimism was, ahem, snatched away from them. Snatcher is in Japanese only regardless of which region your TurboGrafx-16 Mini comes from. I reject the argument that “any version is better than no version” because if the language barrier is there and real, it’s still a barrier between the player and the game. It’s like a thick plane of glass between you and the game. You can see it, you can almost touch it, but you can’t have it. Not the way you want to. It’s actually crueler than leaving it off entirely.

Here’s a question: if you take pictures of the game and then use a translator to read them, does that technically make it a POINT and CLICK game?

There are ways around it, and they do work. I thought my Japanese was pretty okay, but man, was I wrong. In a graphic adventure, 30% to 40% of the words, even 60%, really isn’t going to cut it. Then a reader told me they pointed their smartphone at the television and used a translation program such as Google Translate. I tried this, and if you can do a real-time program that shows the new words on screen (and sometimes that requires a steady-hand), it works. While it won’t be 100% accurate, it’ll be just as effective at reading Japanese as you would get from studying the language for while (or better, in my case). Another reader pointed out that taking pictures and translating them got more accurate results, though now we’re getting cumbersome with the solutions. Really, none of these options are exactly ideal and will take what should be a couple-second process and make it take much longer. If you do manage to play the game, it’s a dynamic story with interesting characters. If you can’t read Japanese, you’ll probably not enjoy the life-hack solutions. This story might have a happy ending, as I’ve got it on good authority the outcry is being heard by those in a position to do something about it. Don’t be surprised if Snatcher.. the Sega CD English version.. gets a solo release on consoles and PC in the not to distant future.
Verdict: NO!
Japanese Needed: Fluency

Soldier Blade
Genre: Shmup
1992 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Hudson Soft

So, this is interesting. I took a two day break from finishing this project when I got writer’s block at this game. Then, when I went back to finish it, for the life of me I couldn’t remember any details of Soldier Blade. I couldn’t remember which one it was. It all came back to me once I started replaying it, but then I turned this off and it all deleted again. The fourth game of the Star Soldier series is pretty unmemorable. Don’t mistake that for being bad or anything. In fact, given the sheer girth of shoot-em-ups in this set, I find it pretty comforting that I can just pick a random one and have a pretty good chance of playing a relatively good game. Once again, you have a wide variety of weapons, but there’s a twist: the weapons can be unleashed as a bomb-type weapon. It destroys the upgrade, but unleashes a giant fuck-you explosion on all enemies. A neat idea and it works. The same issues that have plagued every quality shmup in the TurboGrafx-16 are here too. Bullet visibility can be problematic, levels can be less than clever, etc. But, fun is fun. Solider Blade is fun.
Verdict: YES!

Space Harrier
Genre: Arcade Rail-Shooter
1989 TurboGrafx-16
Developed by Interchannel

I didn’t like it. It played poorly, looked ugly, felt sloppily executed and I literally can’t think of anything nice to say about it. So, here’s a recipe for brownies: go to the store and buy a box of instant brownie mix. Make sure you have the stuff that isn’t included in the box. Usually things like eggs, butter, milk, that kind of stuff. The box will tell you. The box knows everything. Make sure to preheat your oven. Follow the directions on the box. Stirring the ingredients together is typically involved. Make sure when it says to use two eggs that you just don’t put whole eggs in the mix, nor do you use parts of the shells. Just the gooey chicken DNA inside. I can’t tell you how many times I made THAT mistake. Then pour all that into a baking pan.. hopefully you got one of those from the store too. If not, you have to make another trip. Sorry. Hopefully it’s close by and I didn’t just cost you more gas. Anyway, you pour that in, put it in the oven for however long the box tells you, and make sure you actually have something to alert you when that time is up, becuase you will forget otherwise. While you wait, if you’re the impatient type, you can lick the spoon and bowl that you mixed the ingredients with. If you want. And, hey, that only comes with about a 2% chance of getting salmonella poisoning, statistically speaking. In whatever amount of minutes.. I don’t know how many, I think brownies are gross and I never eat them.. you’ll get to enjoy your hard work.
Verdict: NO!

Spatterhouse
Genre: Side-Scrolling Beat-em-Up? I guess?
1990 Turbografx-16
Developed by Namco

I’m sure once upon a time, Splatterhouse was a jaw-dropping, grotesque game that was able to ride effortless shock value to notoriety. Today, in 2020? Shit, I’ve seen Super Sentai episodes with more gore. Apparently this is the nerfed American version. They’ve changed the mask from white to red and toned down some of the scenery. Apparently a lot of kids directly associated this game with Friday the 13th because the character looks like Jason Voorhees. It’s got about as much depth as he does. As far as I can tell, you walk right, punch stuff, then walk right more and punch stuff. Honestly, the violence in Double Dragon is a lot more impactful and cringe-inducing than this. The punches here lack that bone-cracking oomph to them that I absolutely need for my brawler-style games. And really, yea, there’s some interesting visuals here, but they’re limited to backgrounds. Among the “notorious for graphic violence” classic game franchises (think your Mortal Kombats), Splatterhouse is a franchise that doesn’t get a lot of chatter these days, and I can see why. Not only is this very tame by today’s standards but it’s not even a little fun. I stuck by this longer than any other game in the TG-16 that outright bored me and I literally can’t believe this game has a reputation for being anything but an overrated slog. It might not be the worst game in the TG-16 Mini, but it’s for sure the most boring. It even mananges to make an interesting theme and premise boring, and that’s the only remarkable thing it does.
Verdict: NO!

RANKINGS

  1. Bonk’s Revenge
  2. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
  3. Star Parodier
  4. Ninja Spirit
  5. Gradius II
  6. Bomberman ’94 (#3 if you can do co-op)
  7. Blazing Lazers
  8. Military Madness
  9. Neutopia II
  10. Neutopia
  11. R-Type
  12. Lords of Thunder
  13. Chew Man Fu
  14. Bonk’s Adventure
  15. Life Force
  16. Gradius
  17. Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III (#12 if you can do co-op)
  18. Soldier Blade
  19. Legend of Valkyrie
  20. Seirei Senshi Spriggan
  21. Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire
  22. Galaga ’88
  23. Bomberman ’93
  24. Alien Crush
  25. Fantasy Zone
  26. Spriggan Mark 2 **TERMINATOR LINE**
  27. Air Zonk
  28. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  29. New Adventure Island
  30. J.J. & Jeff
  31. Dungeon Explorer
  32. Appare! Gateball
  33. Dragon Spirit
  34. Psychosis
  35. Ninja Gaiden
  36. Aldynes
  37. Cadash
  38. Bomberman: Panic Bomber
  39. China Warrior
  40. Space Harrier
  41. Cho Aniki
  42. Splatterhouse
  43. Power Golf
  44. Moto Roader

Not Rated: Snatcher, Jaseiken Necromancer

STILL TO COME

Spriggan Mark 2 (Play Session complete, review pending)
Star Parodier (Play Session complete, review pending)
Super Darius
Super Momotarō Dentetsu II
Super Star Soldier
The Genji and the Heike Clans
Victory Run
Ys Book 1 & 2

HIDDEN BONUS GAMES
Force Gear
TwinBee

Arcade Archives: Clu Clu Land (Review)

Yep, I spent $7.99 on this. And this time, the game wasn’t purchased by a fan. It was all me. I also ordered 18lbs of my beloved Mega Fruit gum at the same time. Fuck it, if I’m going to burn money, I want to (eventually, it won’t be here until between May 11 – 18) chew synthetic rubber chased with plastic filler coated in artificial fruit-flavored sugar while I play my over-priced arcade versions of games that I already get free by being a Switch Online subscriber. I’m fucking stupid!

Not entirely stupid. Hey Daddy, if you’re reading this, I used your Visa card for the gum.

I’m going to enjoy chewing the lemon, grape, and orange flavors.. once I flatten them with a plate and break them into smaller pieces, at least.. and enjoy using the watermelon flavors on my putting green. Because they are disgusting. Apple is nasty too. Strawberry is what I save when I have nothing else to chew on.

So, Clu Clu Land. Or, in this case, “Vs. Clu Clu Land” even though the title doesn’t include the “Vs.” part. Previously, it had been one of my least favorite Nintendo-produced games. But, I go into these reviews with an open mind. After a few play-throughs of the various modes offered in the Arcade Archives release of it, I’ll admit that Clu Clu Land is simply a bad game and not an all-time toilet clogger. Hey, that’s progress! Also, I’m going to come to the defense of this stinkeroo by saying it’s not Nintendo’s attempt at Pac-Man. That would be Shigeru Miyamoto’s Japanese-and-Europe only release Devil World. Clu Clu Land doesn’t feel like Pac-Man at all, and as bad as it is (and it’s pretty bad), it at least deserves to be recognized as an original idea. Here, you only use the left and right arms to swing yourself around a grid of poles to reveal a pattern of hidden gems. Until the Donkey Kong: King of Swing games (for the record, I didn’t like those either), nothing controlled like Clu Clu Land.

That’s for the best.

Exclusive to the Arcade and Famicom Disk System versions of Clu Clu Land are these Super Urchins that look like that boss you have to blow the whistle to destroy in the NES Legend of Zelda. They don’t appear until you’ve squashed several of the smaller urchins in a stage, and only one spawns per level. They still only require one shot and a shove into the wall to kill, but doing so gives you credit for killing ten enemies. It’s essential if you’re chasing scores.

Really, Clu Clu Land’s controls frustrate beyond reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be insanely impressed watching someone who practiced long enough to wire their brain to adjust to the peg-swinging mechanics. I’m sure I could do it with enough practice. But, keeping it real, I could probably also train myself to juggle while riding a unicycle if I practiced long enough, and at least I can make tips at the piers doing that. Honestly, the best thing Clu Clu Land, Vs. or Clu Clu Land D have going for them is the combat formula. You get infinite shots with a sound wave, which stun-locks the enemy urchins that you then push into the walls to defeat. It’s a genuinely satisfying way to kill enemies, especially when they make that wonderful sound that’s a mixture of a crunch and a pop. That part’s fun. Uncovering the hidden patterns.. which is the actual point of the game.. isn’t so much. The bad controls actually take a back seat to the fact that Clu Clu Land is just sort of boring, and there’s no worse sin a game can commit.

This is as close as I came to getting all the gems in the bonus round. I tried so much I have a small sore on my thumb. That’s not a joke. I became obsessed for a couple hours with acing this bonus round and only managed 63.

BUT, before I wrap this up, there’s an interesting idea I didn’t make it far enough in the game to find out about until right before hitting publish. Later in the game, Vs. Clu Clu Land becomes a logic-reflex puzzler when suddenly the gems that form the puzzles have two sides. In order to beat levels, you have to put all the gems on the shiny side (if each turn of the gem is odd and even, it’s the odd side, or first side, that you need). If you have the Switch Online Famicom lineup, the version of Clu Clu Land in it is essentially Vs. Clu Clu Land, only you can start the game on these harder levels, with a fresh and genuinely good idea. This by itself would have saved Clu Clu Land because I was very interested in this concept. However, there’s a relatively quick time limit to each stage. The time limit and the control issues are going to be an insurmountable tag-team when you reach this point in the game. So, Clu Clu Land still sucks, but at least I see a light where a potential remake of this could build a fun and worthwhile play mechanic. You’d be dumb to spend $7.99 on Arcade Archives Clu Clu Land (unless you want to compete on a barren leaderboard where some absolutely horrible play by myself still put me in the top 40 global scores ever). But, the format isn’t as dead on arrival as I figured going into this review. That’s an upgrade in the same way being sick with flesh eating bacteria is upgraded to being healthy and missing a foot.

Arcade Archives: Clu Clu Land was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99  still had her Dad’s Visa card committed to memory in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Bells & Whistles (Review)

I’ve somehow managed to play multiple versions of TwinBee over the last year. The arcade version was included in the putrid Konami’s Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, while the NES version is free with Switch Online. I wrote off the formula as being unworkable and dumb. The concept of a shump where items come in the form of bells that must be juggled via shooting until they become useful is, frankly, kinda not good. That doesn’t change here. While playing Bells & Whistles, you’ll want to shoot a lot. But if the bell changes to a useful item, a second shot changes it back to gold, which is only worth points. And you’ll make that mistake a lot because, you know, you’re supposed to shoot a lot. That’s by design, too. The screen is often spammed with enemies at the very moment the clouds that contain the bells arrive. That’s useful in the typical Arcade Archives Hi-Score or 5-minute Caravan modes, but not so much when you’re trying to go as far as you can in the game without losing a life. It’s a bizarre mechanic for sure, and while it has fans, I’ll point out that TwinBee as a franchise is comfortably on the fringes of gaming and never rose above it. Maybe that’s why?

I’m happy to report that bosses are a LITTLE more than “spam with bullets until dead”. I mean, they really are still that, because Bells & Whistles is a shump, but the bosses are each different and open themselves to attack in ways that require a bit of finesse. I’m a finesse type of chick, so I appreciate the effort. Also, they’re some of the coolest looking bosses in a shmup.

Having said that, I’ve played two very decent entries in the series this last week. Bells & Whistles was chosen by a fan to be included in this Arcade Archives marathon, while a previously Japanese/Europe-only SNES release, Pop’n TwinBee, is now included globally on the Switch Online SNES lineup. Surprisingly, they’re both pretty decent. It’s not entirely a “realized potential” situation because I don’t think these represent the maximum “as good as TwinBee CAN get” situation. You still have to juggle those fucking bells, but at least the enemy formations are more rational (at least early on) and the speed, pacing, and reliability of projectiles feels more modern and slick. I wish the power-up system was handled differently, since getting the desirable guns was a pain in the ass, but otherwise these were both pretty decent shmups. Focusing on Bells & Whistles, it has some clever enemy & boss design, a charge shot that is bad ass, and a decent variety of power-ups. The cutesy setting is also a welcome break from your typical bleak space setting.

Don’t let the adorable facade fool you, though, because Belly & Whistler dips its toes in bullet hellfire late in the game. And that can be problematic, because the visually loud background and relatively small, under-developed bullets are often very hard to see. Some fans of the genre disagree with me, and I’ll fully admit I’m not a hardcore bullet hell fan, but I think the key to a really good bullet hell is to make the bullets visible. In a screen full of projectiles, the challenge should be dodging them, not trying to locate them and dodge them. In a fast-paced, auto-scrolling shump, having to do both isn’t a reasonable challenge. It’s just not. Granted, this game was made to earn money 25¢ at a time, and if the person is deep into the game, that means they’ve been sitting there for a while. If they’re there by virtue of being good, that machine wasn’t making money. Spamming the screen with low-visibility bullets against backgrounds that bleed into the bullet colors is a cheap, borderline dishonest way of getting the person occupying the cabinet to put more money in it, but it works.

For its time, this probably was visually impressive, but it needed to make bullets stand out more.

Still, this is the first TwinBee game that’s fun enough on its own merit to warrant a recommendation. I’ll be talking about Hamster’s misguided $7.99 price tag when this marathon is over with, but needless to say, eight bucks might be a bit too much for a one dimensional (albeit finesseful.. yes, finesseful, it’s a word as of now) shump. This should have been in the Konami Anniversary set, which had a miserable lineup outside of Life Force. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Bells & Whistles is comfortably better than everything in that set but Life Force. I’ve played a lot worse, and I’ve played a lot better, but if you’ve got an itch for a decent shmup, you won’t hate Bells & Whistles, even if it’s lacking, um.. something that indicates extra effort.

Arcade Achives: Bells & Whistles was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Switch, PlayStation 4

$7.99 never learned how to whistle in the making of this review. Hey, I only learned how to snap my fingers within the last year.

A fan purchased this game for this review.

Bells & Whistles is Chick-Approved and will be ranked on the IGC Arcade Retroboard when it debuts July 1, 2020.

IGC Retro Bowl III: Capcom Beat Em Up Bundle versus Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle

IN THIS CORNER
Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle
$19.99 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, & PC
7 Arcade Games released between 1989 – 1997
Set provided by a fan.

IN THE OTHER CORNER
Double Dragon & Kunio-kun: Retro Brawler Bundle
$39.99 for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4
18 NES/Famicom Games released between 1987 -1993
Set provided by publisher.

 

Both collection earn the IGC Retro Seal of Approval. A pair of slam dunks for the award, really.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of brawlers as a genre. Sometimes they’re fine. I was fond of Castle Crashers. I was fond of Charlie Murder. Of course, those strive to be a little bit more than just holding right and mashing an attack button. I’ve probably gotten more hatred and blowback for my review of the Simpsons Arcade Game than any other classic review. But, despite my hesitance, sometimes I do want to just mindlessly beat up generic enemies. Of course, most of the more famous brawlers of the 90s are tied to licensed properties, so a Ninja Turtles set is out of the question (“or is it?” she said with a coy smirk). Well, it turns out there are options if you want to get as much brawler for your buck as possible. Or, in the case of Double Dragon & Kunio-kun, brawlers with sports games featuring punching and kicking added.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

Once upon a time, Final Fight was actually considered a pretty big deal. After being a moderate hit in arcades, it was a flagship third-party launch-window release for the Super NES. It’s more on the heels of that version than the arcade version included here that Final Fight’s legacy is built. Bizarre, since that version is so stripped down that it’s barely a shadow of the arcade original. It’s not even a two player game and enemies are limited to three on-screen, roughly 1/3 the maximum the arcade version that’s included in Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle can handle. I suspect that if Final Fight hadn’t been released within that relatively quiet first 18 months of the Super NES lifespan, it’d been almost entirely forgotten to history. It’s so.. generic.

Final Fight is one of the least deserving games to be considered iconic I’ve ever played. The anger by all those offended by my boredom of such a nothing game was kind of insane. Also, not to ignite the Super Nintendo v Genesis war, but Streets of Rage was clearly the best 16-bit beat ’em up franchise. Sonic v Mario is a debate. Final Fight v Streets of Rage is a debate in the same way a hammer debates with a nail.

And, speaking of generic, Captain Commando was, for whatever reason, a character Capcom was banking a lot on. If you bought early-generation NES games, you’d recognize it as a pseudo-mascot of the company that promoted the Capcom brand in instruction manuals. I guess some people were confused as to whether Captain Commando was, in fact, the star of Bionic Commando. That was cleared up when he finally got his own beat ’em up game. A game which feels like it’s trying way too hard to be wacky. A baby in a mech suit is a playable character. Mind you, a lot of my fans weren’t even aware a Captain Commando game existed. That was par for the course with the rest of the set. The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round were, at best, third-string arcade beat ’em ups turned weekend rentals on the Super NES. But, at least they were remembered. Warriors of Fate and Armored Warriors were barely remembered at all by virtue of not getting 16-bit home releases, while Battle Circuit never came out in the United States at home or in arcades. Without this set, they’d been lost to history completely.

Meanwhile, Double Dragon is still one of those “oh yea, I remember that” NES franchises that hasn’t had the strongest staying power. Modern takes on the series tend to get, at best, “meh, it wasn’t horrible” type of reviews. It’s not a franchise that causes universal elation with each new release. Meanwhile, Kunio-kun was once a huge deal.. in Japan. In the United States, it’s mostly remembered for three games: River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball, and Nintendo World Cup. In reality, this series was huge on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The Famicom version of Dodge Ball was so popular (and so easy to make) that multiple spin-offs were created of varying quality. The first soccer game was so viable that Nintendo published it under their own label in the United States and even included as a pack-in for the NES at one point.

You’ll note that, even late into the game, even without having game overed, I don’t have 50,000 points. Man, that Jimmy Woods really was a wizard!

The thing is, Double Dragon is one of those franchises that feel like its best days are long gone. Think about it: it was a series with such name recognition that it got a live action movie. But even when that movie came out in 1994, it was believed that the best days of Double Dragon were already behind it. Sure, the movie was crap, but it takes more than simply being bad to fail to the degree the Double Dragon film did. It’s telling that twenty-five years later and that belief that Double Dragon doesn’t matter has proven remarkably true. Double Dragon may have laid the groundwork for the genre, but it was irrelevant before it even left the 8-bit era, while Kunio-Kun had a cult-following at best. Compare that to Final Fight, a stripped-down port of a game that was as shallow as a puddle of spit to begin with, still making “best-of” lists. Hell, Capcom’s beat ’em up style is more iconic than any individual game in Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun’s set. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself what would make bigger headlines today, in 2020: the announcement of a new Double Dragon game, or the announcement of a completely new but completely generic 2D sprite-based brawler from Capcom? The Capcom announcement would be huge. The Double Dragon announcement? Not so much.
Slight Edge: Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle

PRESENTATION & EMULATION

Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun’s menu has multiple filters AND each game gives you four save-state slots instead of just a single one that you get per game for Capcom. Also, look for the “Quality Up” tag in the corner of each game’s cover, like seen here. If the game has it, that means most of the flicker and slowdown inherit to NES/Famicom hardware has been removed. BUT, if you insist on having the crappy flicker and slowdown, you can switch to that version of the game. This is a hell of a package.

Both collections have good emulation that features save states, multiple viewing options, button-mapping, and online play. Both, however, come a little bit short of perfection. Neither set has rewind, something that the Technōs set hurts for a lot more than the Capcom set, especially the Double Dragon games with their platforming sections despite being totally unfit to have such sections. The lack of rewind is especially damning since Double Dragon, Double Dragon II, River City Ransom, and Field Day (Famicom Online only) are on the superior Switch Online NES/Famicom emulator that has rewind. If I could give my friends at Arc System Works one piece of advice: figure out rewind and patch it in. It would take away the only competitive advantage Switch Online has over it.

As is the standard for these types of sets now, Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle offers ROMs from the US and JP regions for each game. There’s also adjustable difficulty and lives for each game, and trust me, I used them. Only having one save slot per game sucks for people like me who like to use all the slots as I play for the sake of gathering good media for my articles later.

And actually, Double Dragon/Kunio-Kun’s package isn’t as perfect as it looks on the surface. You do get tons of Famicom-exclusive games, but for the three Double Dragon games, you can only play the US versions. That sort of sucks since the Japanese versions tended to be more player-friendly. For example, you can play the entire adventure of Double Dragon II on Famicom no matter what difficulty setting. On the NES, easy mode ends after level 3 while normal mode gates you from fighting the last boss and getting the ending. Arc System Works went the extra mile with their set, but the thing about going the extra mile is sometimes you miss the small details for the mile you had to travel. Nonetheless, the variety of achievements, avatars, explanation cards, and ability to sort the eighteen games shows the type of effort Capcom doesn’t display in their set. The icing on the cake is that most (but not all) of the titles included in Retro Brawler Bundle remove some (but not all) of the flicker and slowdown inherit to NES hardware. What more can you ask for? Well, besides rewind..
Edge: Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun

EXTRA EFFORT

You’ve probably never heard of Fighting Legend. It’s easily the best Kunio-Kun game that’s not River City Ransom or its sequel. It’s kind of like a professional wrestling game, only without a ring. There’s tons of fighters, tons of locations, tons of over-the-top violence, AND you can even change the win-conditions and rules for each match. Fighting Legend makes its English language debut in this set and is the very definition of “hidden gem” AND “lost classic.” It’s a ton of fun!

Both sets have grafted online play to their games, which is nifty. But beyond that, the amount of effort to show fans just how much their support is appreciated is a little lopsided. Capcom’s set has a selection of concept art and flyers. Meanwhile, the Kunio-Kun franchise was largely a Japanese-only series, and so Arc System Works translated all the Famicom games to English. This is no half-assed effort, either. They even went in and changed the graphics of the title screens into English. If the game already had an NES release, they still translated the Famicom version completely separately. These games weren’t quickie ports when they came to the US to begin with. The graphics and gameplay were often tweaked, so it’s truly like having two similar but often different versions of games like Nintendo World Cup, Super Dodge Ball, or Crash ‘N the Boys. So if you play the Japanese version of River City Ransom, you’ll get an entirely different script. If you play the Japanese Super Dodge Ball, you’ll get entirely different graphics. Granted, this effort makes the Double Dragon & Kunio Kun package cost double that of Capcom Beat ‘Em Bundle (and yes, that’s pretty much where the added cost comes from) but you can’t say they didn’t work hard for the money.
Major Edge: Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun

WHAT IS MISSING THE LEAST

I have to really stretch on this one to pretend Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun isn’t running away with this category. And actually, it’s not. Yea, it wins it, because.. fucking duh. They included every NES game (except Double Dragon & Battletoads), even the Japanese ones with full translation. UPDATE: Yes, Super Spike V-Ball is not included, but it’s not part of the Kunio-kun series and Nintendo still owns the US rights in their entirety, so non-Switch versions couldn’t include it. But, you have to take into consideration that most of those games are sports titles that have to work within the limitations of the time. Gaming has come a long ways, and while none of these games aspire to be sports simulations, hardware limitations and the two-button design they’re all held-back by severely limits their play value today, in 2020. All Out Dunk Heroes came out in December 13, 1993 for the Famicom, two months after NBA Jam came out in arcades in the United States and only six months before the Super NES and Genesis ports of that iconic arcade-action take on basketball. Which is not to say Dunk Heroes doesn’t have some incredible ideas. The issue is the Famicom hardware couldn’t support the design’s ambition. The game plays slow and clunky enough that, while you can admire the concept, playing it today is kind of the pits.

Historical Period Drama is THE best reason to buy Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun Retro Brawler Bundle. The thing is, without the English translation, it would have been of no value to anyone outside of Japan. The extra effort alone completely changes the dynamics of which games are worth having in the set, and elevates DD & KK to a higher tier of classic game collections.

There was a potential solution to this: include Kunio Kun games from other platforms. The soccer games came out on the Mega Drive (Genesis) and PC Engine (TurboGrafx 16). Super Dodge Ball had releases on the Super Famicom and Neo Geo. There were more options for the games that never had a chance of holding up. Did those later versions age better? I have no way of knowing. But they can’t possibly have aged worse than these did. I appreciate that we were given a complete collection of all these games from the 8-bit Nintendo platform, be it NES or Famicom, but that doesn’t mean the games hold-up today.

Battle Circuit feels like it tries TOO HARD to be quirky. I almost didn’t get to play it due to epilepsy concerns. Released in 1997, it’s the youngest game of any Retro Bowl III title, and the character design wants to fool people into thinking its inspired and out-there. It has a very cynical feel, like someone who wants to be the class clown but isn’t funny. “Hey look, one of the characters is riding a pink ostrich! RAAANNNNDDDOOOOMMMM!” Bullshit. Lazy and cynical. And sadly, all that effort for a game that’s ultimately just okay. I have it third of the seven, just ahead of King of Dragons but well below Warriors of Fate.

As for Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle, the problem with it was the decision to be married to arcade-only versions of the games. As many readers pointed out to me during my play-session, the title of the collection doesn’t imply arcade-only games. Final Fight got multiple sequels, but all SNES games were left out of the lineup. Having said that, it’s not reasonable to expect Capcom to include licensed games like X-Men or Alien v Predator or The Punisher. It’s just not. Which is not to imply they phoned the lineup in. Back during the PS2/Xbox era, Capcom released a pair of comprehensive classic arcade collections to those consoles. Among the games not included in those all-encompassing sets were Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit. Both those titles are making their home debuts in Beat ‘Em Up Bundle. Well, Armored Warriors got a limited release on Sega Saturn in Japan, but it’s also not reasonable to ask for Sega Saturn games to be emulated. Either way, it’s truly something that Capcom included two extremely off-the-grid games in this set, maybe every bit as much as including English versions of the Kunio-Kun titles. Okay, not quite that cool.
Slight Edge: Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun

BINGE POTENTIAL

The King of Dragons was the first of the seven games in its set to be dumped in the YES pile by me. Barely. Keeping it real, my scoring system for #IGCRetroBlitz (one-word, the # is part of the name) is a game is either a YES or a NO. If there was a middle ground, it would have been 3 yes, 3 no, and King of Dragons in the middle and causing the scales to slightly tip in favor of the yes side. Very slightly. As slightly as it gets. No game during any #IGCRetroBlitz has come as close to being a NO and ending up a YES than it. It’s bland. It’s sloggy at times. But, I felt the combat was responsive and there’s just enough variety (and lack of enemy sponginess) to make it worth playing. If you don’t play the games in chronological order, it’d make a decent palate cleanser.

If we did a list of the top pleasant surprises I’ve had reviewing games these past nine years as Indie Gamer Chick, near the top of the list would be Capcom ‘Beat Em Up Bundle. Under the Retro Odyssey format, it went 4 for 7, when I think the average IGC reader would have guessed it would either go 0 for 7 or 1 for 6. As a matter of fact, once you get past the earlier, blander stinkeroos Final Fight and Captain Commando, the next five games are at least always interesting. I still found Knights of the Round to not be a net-positive game for the collection, but at least it took me the entire length of the game to decide that. It’s a travesty that Final Fight is the most famous game in this collection. It’s far and away the most boring to play now, in 2020. Skip it and you could easily binge the other six games all at once and never get bored. IT’S A BRAWLER COLLECTION! These games should, by all rights, wear out their welcome quickly. Besides Final Fight, they don’t. Well, King of Dragons was right on the cusp of boring me to quit, but then the game ended with perfect timing. Three of the seven of these are among the best games in the genre ever, and the only truly putrid one is at least historically important.

When times are tough, you can relax by grabbing someone by the hair, kneeing them twice in the face, and throwing them off a roof. It’s my new gaming zen. Sorry, Tetris. You’re just not psychotic enough.

Meanwhile, Retro Brawler Bundle actually is surprisingly less brawler than you’d expect. Really, this collection is the near-complete works of Technos on the NES, most of which were probably insanely fun back then. Of course, it’s not back then anymore. In fact, only one of the three Double Dragon games (the second one) is especially good. The first Double Dragon is frustrating, slow, and clunky while the third game is among the worst I’ve ever played. Meanwhile, the Kunio games are maybe fun to sample. I enjoyed dipping my toes in their wacky-violent versions of soccer, basketball, and hockey. They get old very fast, but variety’s the spice of life. Only Fighting Legend really is worth a look among the “sporty” Kunio-kun titles, though with multiple players it’d probably make a fun party game. Really, the money is found in playing River City Ransom and its spiritual sequel, Historical Period Drama, back-to-back. These games are legitimately compelling, hilarious in their over-the-top violence, and genuinely fun today. Ultimately, one of these packs is a series of walking right and smacking attack buttons.. albeit it done better than pretty much any other games from that era did walking right and smacking attack buttons.. while the other is walking right while smacking attack buttons with some light sports fighting highlights mixed in. This was the closest call of any category, and ultimately I decided that you’re more likely to want to experience the seven games offered by Capcom from start-to-finish all at once. Frankly, most of the games in the Technos set will only be played once for a couple minutes, no more than ten, by most gamers. Sad but true.
Edge: Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle

BEST AND WORST GAMES

Renegade is truly putrid. Until literally right before publication of this feature, as I was uploading screenshots, I hadn’t made it past the first screen. I just did about two minutes before these words you’re reading now were typed. In about thirty previous attempts, I couldn’t get past the swarming enemies that don’t blink and sometimes have one-hit-knockdown weapons. It’s a HORRIBLE game, but it laid the foundation for River City Ransom.

Remarkably, the Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun set had not one but TWO games that’ll plug their nose and plunge into the murky depths of my NES rankings. Renegade (both the Famicom and NES versions) and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones are among the very worst games I’ve ever played. I couldn’t get past the first screen on Renegade, which I’m sure will cue up the typical “you suck at games” cries from retro fans. To which I say, I wasn’t alone. Maybe there’s no other levels. Maybe this is a Noah’s Arcade type of scam game (party-on those who get that reference). EDIT: Right before publication I finally did it. And then there’s Double Dragon III, probably the new “worst NES game I’ve ever played” on the grounds that they should have been able to make much better games by the point it came out. Presumably it would have been better, except the director decided to be a complete fucking asshole by turning the damage enemies cause up higher, the damage you cause lower, and then shrank the amount of lives you have to ZERO. You die, you start over. Fuck. That. There’s no comparison in the worst games Capcom’s set has, which are Final Fight and Captain Commando, because at least those simply BORE instead of frustrate or outright troll players.

I fully admit I didn’t “get” River City Ransom when I first played it as part of the Switch Online lineup. Specifically there was one area that involved jumping that I didn’t realize I was doing wrong. I finally played it through all the way to the end during this edition of IGC Retro Bowl and I’m glad I did. I get what people see in it now.

On the flip side, River City Ransom fans will be delighted to play the previously unreleased-in-the-US sequel/spin-off called Historical Period Drama. While the name doesn’t inspire confidence, trust me, this is the sequel people who grew-up with River City Ransom would have died for as a kid. A co-op adventure (replaced with an NPC that holds-up their end of the bargain if you’re playing alone) that has even funnier moves and characters that River City did, it’s fun and fresh even today, if still a bit clunky and vague in its interface. You’ll want to use a guide. You’ll also want to check out Double Dragon II: The Revenge, where my body made squeaky noises as I grabbed enemies by the hair, kneed them in the face a couple times, and then threw them off buildings. This made me so much more happy than any act of 8-bit murder should have been able to.

Armored Warriors has no semblance of finesse. It’s made of empty calories. It’s also just plain amazing fun. Isn’t that what we’re all here for in the first place?

But, the best game of IGC Retro Bowl III was easily Capcom’s Armored Warriors, a 1994 mech brawler that has never gotten a home release until this set. It was one of the fastest-paced, cathartic, balls-to-the-wall clusterfuck brawlers I’ve ever played. Items come in the form of different arms that change your character’s move-set, allowing a wide variety of attacks. The violence is insanely over-the-top, the bosses are (almost) all clever, and the levels are paced absolutely perfectly. In fact, the level length and timing of when enemies spawn or when the boss battles begins is the most fine-tuned for any arcade brawler I’ve ever played. And, as a special bonus, there’s Megazord/Voltron style combining of mechs during some boss fights if you’re playing co-op. Make no mistake, there’s some good, even very good brawlers here (Battle Circuit and Warriors of Fate were solid and fun, if unspectacular, beat ’em ups), but I wasn’t expecting such a delightful game in this set. When I do an IGC Retroboard for arcade games, expect Armored Warriors near the top. It’s the clear-cut MVP of this Retro Bowl.
Major Edge: Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle

PLAY VALUE TODAY

For the record, if you don’t absolutely love the 8-bit sports shenanigans of Super Dodge Ball and its sporty cousins, there’s almost zero replay value to be found in either set. Except Fighting Legend, which I could see getting play at parties. I really can. But, really, who wants to play beat ’em ups more than once? I can’t imagine how boring someone who genuinely loves playing Final Fight over and over again must be, but they exist apparently. Here’s the deal though: the brawler genre, when done right, is probably a little more fun that I ever took the time to realize. I certainly had more fun than I ever could have imagined playing all these games. But, if you want actual red meat gaming, the only hope you’ll find in any of these sets is from River City Ransom and its formerly JP-exclusive sequel Historic Period Drama. They’re not perfect. Not even close. Both games have shitty jumping mechanics that sometimes leave absurdly-low margin-of-error. Objectives can be unclear. Items can be really unclear and even counter-intuitive. In most games, food provides a one-time health refill. In River City Ransom, you do get health back but you also receive permanent stat upgrades. What you get from every item isn’t stated at all. Purists will claim it “doesn’t hold your hand” and “you have to figure it out for yourself” but considering you get those items by grinding, it really sounds like just padding and busy work to me.

Warriors of Fate is a truly generic, uninspired beat ’em up with gameplay shined to a mirror polish. You know how everyone calls unexciting, otherwise unremarkable games “vanilla”? Yea, well, I’ve tasted some damn wonderful vanilla ice cream in my life. That’s the best way to describe Warriors of Fate. Delicious vanilla.

And yet, these were the only gameplay experiences that felt deep and rewarding during this entire play session. Brawlers are gaming fast food. They’re dumb, unrewarding, unhealthy gaming comfort food. Which gaming does need sometimes. Hey, even Mr. Olympia probably craves a Big Mac once in a while. But River City Ransom and Historic Period Drama are deeper. They seek to entertain by more means than simply seeing people get beat up and fall down. There’s something to be said by the fact that even the act of grinding for hours never once got boring for me. Was I frustrated by the vagueness? Sure. Annoyed? Sure. And make no mistake, I walked away from these games wishing someone would remake them with modern gameplay hand-holding that would make retro snobs’ blood boil. But, I also walked away from them feeling like I was better for having finally played them. Actually, getting to tell people about Historic Period Drama’s existence and seeing the elation of so many NES fans who had no idea there was an actual 8-bit sequel/spinoff to River City Ransom made me feel good. If Armored Warriors is like unhealthy but delicious fast food, River City and Historical Period Drama are like having small portions of a greatly cooked meal, where the worst part is you wish you had more. And then they’re garnished with a game where you can grab someone by the hair, knee them twice in the face, and then throw them off a building and to their death. So that set wins.
Slight Edge: Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun Retro Brawler Bundle

WINNER
DOUBLE DRAGON & KUNIO-KUN RETRO BRAWLER BUNDLE

I feel like this is the first time the Retro Bowl format really pitted two games that were very close to each-other. Ultimately, all gamers are winners when we have sets like this competing for our money. It could have gone either way. If you value.. well, VALUE.. over things like binge potential, you might enjoy the $20 Capcom Beat ‘Em Up release (which is discounted all the time) over the $40 Technos release. If you really like 8-bit sports games, you’ll get A LOT more value out of the Kunio-Kun games than anyone else. I think the debate between these two releases will be compelling no matter who is telling it. But, this is IGC Retro Bowl, and in my book, gameplay is king and extra-effort is a close second. The only two games worth a deeper look are in the Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun package, and they went the extra-mile to translate many Japanese-only games for the English speaking world. That’s why it wins. Barely, but it’s better than barely losing.

You know, Mike, that’ll just make the fuse burn quicker. Spitting might work. Blowing will just explode you faster.

IGC Retro Odyssey: Disney Classic Games – Aladdin and Lion King (Review)

As someone who grew up with no nostalgia for any of the games featured here, I think maybe today’s gamers need a review like this. Because Aladdin (Genesis) and Lion King (SNES/Genesis) are not great games. But a lot of gamers from the 90s remember them as such. Kinda. I mean, the #1 memory of Lion King seems to be of children unable to beat it, even on easy mode. And really, that’s such a common story for so many licensed games of the era (especially on SNES it would seem) that I don’t really find it all that interesting. Aladdin has a little bit more going for it, but that’s by virtue of what’s not included in this package: the Super NES version. Oddly enough, I have played that one extensively. It was one of a handful of SNES titles we had in my house that I could go back to after 1996, when Santa Claus brought me a PlayStation and planted the seeds for my gaming life. In fact, it was probably my favorite of those. Besides Zombies Ate My Neighbors, which I didn’t like so much as seven-year-old me was *terrified* of that game and would play it while peeking out from under many, many blankets. Hey Konami, I have five or six excellent indie devs on standby to bring that series back. Call me!

So, Genesis Aladdin. It’s weird. Whereas the Capcom Aladdin for the House of N featured traditional hop-‘n-bop type of gameplay and was based around jumping on enemies and swinging off pegs, the Genny Aladdin opts for sword-based combat, and it looks great. Nice use of colors. Good animation. But, even the “final cut” version (which is the ONLY version you should play, take my word for it) has flimsy combat and confusing platforms. It’s often not clear what you can jump on, or how far platforms go. I had to turn to Twitter once because I couldn’t figure out how to outrun a boulder. It turns out, I was jumping too soon. You’ll forgive me, but where I come from, when the game shows the platform has ended, I don’t assume I can keep running past it before jumping. I’m weird like that. People say they could still see the platform. Let me ask you something: do you?

The issue here is that the shading for the rock changes but it does so in a way where it’s abrupt and you can’t tell it’s one continuous platform. Dumb.

See?! That’s ridiculous. But that kind of design is all over Genesis Aladdin. Now, I’ll concede that the game had a short, very rushed development cycle. Fun story on that: it was originally going to be made by BlueSky Software. There’s an irony there: BlueSky was who Sega gave the Joe Montana football series to after their original choice, a company called Mediagenic (who was the linear continuation of the Atari 2600 era Activision) lied to Sega about the progress they’d been making on the game. Sega had Electronic Arts finish the first Montana game while actively searching for who would do the remaining games on Montana’s contract, and BlueSky got the call. Years later, Disney and Sega were so unimpressed with BlueSky’s work on Aladdin that they turned to Virgin Games with 99 days to go before the game had to be finalized in order to be manufactured and ready to launch alongside the VHS release of the Aladdin film. Why? Because 10,000,000 flyers for the game had already been printed and would be included with the home release of the Aladdin movie.

The fun continues with the Montana story: EA was launching their first Genesis Madden game ON THE SAME DAY as the game Sega had hired them to make to compete with their own product. While that didn’t end up happening and Joe Montana instead came out a month later, you still have to think about it: it’d be like McDonalds paying Burger King to open a location next to theirs. But EA wanted a good relationship with Sega so they decided to make a more casual, arcade-style football game with Montana to counter their more simulation-like Madden title. But, get this: the Montana game they made in short order (around four months) was universally regarded at EA as more fun than their own Madden game, so right before they sent it back to Sega, they deliberately went back and made Joe Montana Football worse. Golly, the 16-Bit era produced some insane stories.

So yea, Aladdin had the development cycle from hell. But, I can’t factor that in to the review because it doesn’t make the game more fun. Just more technically impressive. Plus, that boulder thing above is just the tip of the iceberg. Unavoidable projectiles come from off-screen. Enemy placement can result in seemingly unavoidable damage. And then there’s the combat. The primary cited difference between the SNES and Genesis Aladdins is the Genny game is based on sword combat. My major combat pet peeve.. beyond controlling well, at least.. is that combat in games has to feel like there’s real world weight in it. I put so much stock into this that I gave Urban Champion, one of the most hated Nintendo games ever, my Seal of Approval, because I had fun throwing punches that felt like they were connecting. My expectations were high for Aladdin’s sword combat. It’s the third best selling Genesis game ever. For real. Only Sonic 1 & 2 sold more. It more than doubled the SNES version in sales. This HAD to be awesome, right? And then I swung the sword at an enemy, and nothing happened. I swung a bit more, and the enemy disappeared. Womp womp.

I think the main problem with it is there seems to be a system where enemies “open themselves to attack” that you have to wait for. But the problem is the enemy character models and stances they show don’t appear defensive in nature. They just look like cartoon characters sneering or looking left to right. There are statues that attack you that you can swing away at, but you can only actually hit them if they’re in the act of throwing something at you, and there’s nothing that really shows this. Because when they’re just standing there, it’s not like they look like they’re guarding at you or anything. And when you do defeat them, again, it’s like you wave a sword in front of you and they just sort of disappear into a puff of smoke. I’m not saying I want or expect blood & guts in a Disney game. But you don’t need those things to have combat feel like physical, living beings swinging sharpened metal at each-other. Hell, look at the original 1987 Legend of Zelda. When you hit an enemy there, it feels like you’re hitting SOMETHING. It doesn’t feel like you’re hitting anything in Genesis Aladdin, but merely doing a magic trick that blinks an enemy out of existence.

The real reason the Genesis version outsold the SNES version 2 to 1: no monsters that suck your brains out with their dicks. Nintendo sanitized everything back then.

Aladdin didn’t “do it” for me, and that’s a shame because there’s some nice level design elements and I happen to be a fan of the movie. I literally can’t believe that this was part of the “Genesis v SNES” debate. The only plausible explanation is that Genny Aladdin owners never played Capcom’s take. The single worst 16-bit sword combat I’ve ever seen, boring bosses (seriously, the boss fights are just awful), frustrating platform identification. Virgin’s Aladdin is pretty horrible. It still has fans, and frankly, those fans have made me repeat the line “have you played it lately?” more than any retro game I’ve ever done as Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t get it at all. This was a terrible game.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t familiar with Lion King at all. Like Aladdin, it had a short, cash-in development cycle. Its main claim to fame is that the character sprites were all done by “real artists” at Disney. Instead of those lowly video game artists. That this was apparently used for marketing reeks of elitism within the entertainment industry. Like video game artists had no clue what they were doing and to make sure they didn’t totally embarrass the integrity of the brand, the REAL artists of Disney made sure to do the heavy lifting for them. Weird, they didn’t do Aladdin and yet Aladdin looked like Aladdin. Amazing how that worked. And the really funny thing about it all is that they don’t look any better or worse than you’d expect. I mean.. it looks like Simba to me. I wish I had something more interesting to say about Lion Kong besides bitching about their marketing angle, but it’s just so damn bland. The primary novelty (besides playing as a lion) is a ROAR mechanic, which really only stun-locks enemies and takes too long to charge up. I found the Roar to be so worthless after the first stage that it was almost a detriment to use it because of how long it takes to activate. It really doesn’t help that, in later levels, enemies are so spongy that it feels like they’re taking pity on you when you finally beat them. Oddly enough, my favorite part of the entire game was a maze of monkeys that throw you around like the barrels in Donkey Kong Country. Apparently everyone but me hates this part. I liked it! I wish they’d build an entire game around it!

The only part of Lion King that I found truly offensive was this waterfall section. An overly tall climbing section that took me a solid half-hour to finish, even with rewinding. Now granted, my reaction time isn’t great while I recover from recent health issues, but I don’t think that factored in given how much pain my older Twitter fans underwent just from their memories of this section.

Lion King never truly shits the bed (except the above waterfall) but it’s rarely better than bland and boring either. And it makes many the same mistakes that Aladdin does, like taking unavoidable damage from enemy placement or from having projectiles fall from the ceiling so fast you can’t avoid them. Truth be told, I haven’t ran into too many people who fondly remember Lion King. It’s just not good. I don’t believe reviews should award actual points towards a recommendation for extra circumstances, since those don’t make the final product any more or less fun. But I think it deserves at least some respect.. from a safe distance away from actually playing the games.. for what it achieves. The team that made it only had roughly a week to draw up a gameplay concept, pitch it, and then around six months to develop a fully fleshed-out game. Yeah, a short development cycle that banks on name recognition is cynical, but that’s not on the actual game makers, because what’s here is playable. Of course, they took the safe route and didn’t get ambitious like Howard Scott Warshaw did with ET on the Atari 2600. That’s why I believe Lion King was doomed from the start, no matter who drew the sprites for it.

There are things that frustrate me Disney Classic Games. Why did it crash so much when I took media using my Switch? Why weren’t more Virgin Interactive Disney games included? Hell, why wasn’t Jungle Book included? It was made by Virgin Interactive and critically acclaimed. Uh, which is sort of the situation these two games were in, come to think of it. Because these were, and still are, pretty popular. I’ve said dozens of variations of “Aladdin sucks” on Twitter and gotten dozens of “no it doesn’t” variations back. But I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. Well, I guess “have you played it lately?” is doing that, but that’s not the point. Frankly, these might have been good for their time (except the Game Boy versions. I can’t imagine those were ever considered good). The really weird thing is the Final Cut version of Genny Aladdin doesn’t represent a later patched version of the cart, but rather a brand new version that re-balances combat damage (but doesn’t add weight to it) and smooths out scrolling, but doesn’t fix the biggest problems, like platform visibility. Had it not been for the package having Infinity Gauntlet of Emulation features like rewind or save states, I’d certainly not finished either game. I wouldn’t have had the patience.

The Game Boy/Super Game Boy (?) versions included are both among the worst games I’ve ever played in my life. Sluggish, unresponsive, and terrible in every single way imaginable. Chalk this up to them, instead of doing their own thing, trying to be shot-for-shot remakes of their 16-bit cousins with the same combat and same level design. What a dumb idea.

At this point, I do want to give a massive shout-out for Disney Classic Games featuring the coolest feature in all of retro gaming: like SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, there’s full play-through videos of some of the games, which you can pause at any time and take over the controls from that point in the video. This needs to be in EVERY retro gaming package. Among other things, when I’m wrapping up my reviews, it allows me quick access to go back and replay sections like the Scar battle at the end of Lion King to figure out if he was overly spongy or if I could beat him in mere seconds. The answer? Mere seconds. That feature saves me from sounding like an idiot more than my family hovering over me saying “don’t say that, check it again first” does.

The only thing I found of value in the set was the extensive making-of featurettes. And, surprise, they’re really nice to watch! Well, except the Lion King Breakfast, which is basically like a mini E3 style press conference just for the game, though it does make for an effective sleeping aid. Still, everyone involved is passionate about their work and excited to tell people about how these games came together. I hate that I didn’t like their games because they all seem so gosh darn nice and accomplished a lot for games with development cycles straight out of nightmares. But sadly, I do. Aladdin is bad. Lion King is bad. The Game Boy versions (which, to be fair, are included as bonuses) are among the worst games I’ve ever played. I do think there’s value in Aladdin for game developers, but for all the wrong reasons. Lion King offers no thrills and is so vanilla that it’s almost a chore to play, but in a completely competent way. Gaming history fans will appreciate the behind-the-scenes stuff (though it looks like most of it has been uploaded to YouTube) but it’s hardly worth buying a pack of two mediocre-at-best games to get them. And yes, I did test these games on the target age range and, in fairness, the kids (age 13 and 9) enjoyed Aladdin more than me. Lion King they were pretty much as bored as I was. That to me sums up the legacy of these titles.

Aladdin: still good for kids, badly aged, needs more work.
Lion King: never had a chance at being good. Flawed from the start. Sort of like the live action Lion King, only this didn’t gross 1.6 billion dollars.

Total Games: We’re calling it 4 (Final Cut Genesis Aladdin, Game Boy Aladdin, SNES/Genesis Lion King, Game Boy Lion King)
IGC Approved Goal: 2
IGC Approved: 0
**SET FAILS**

Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King were published by Disney Entertainment
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$29.99 are working on their roar in the making of this review.

A review copy was supplied by Disney Interactive. A physical cart was purchased so that money was paid for the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Quest (Switch Review)

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

Yeah.

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Arcade Archives: Pinball (Review for Nintendo Switch)

Another day, another Nintendo coin-op that’s damn-near identical to an NES launch counterpart that costs $7.99, which pretty much only nets you the same game that’ll inevitably be ported to Switch Online for free. Joy. Today, it’s 1983’s Pinball by Satoru Iwata of all people. And it’s not good at all. It’s horrible. It’s one of Nintendo’s worst published games.

But Mario has a very brief cameo in it, so Nintendo fanboys of the past convinced themselves it was awesome. That’s par for the course on those Nintendo black box releases. Imagine if he’d made an appearance in Urban Champion. It wouldn’t have the unjust reputation as the worst game Nintendo ever made. While we’re on the subject, Pinball somehow managed to not be that either despite busted physics and some of the the most cheating gameplay ever. Of all time.

I see London. I see France. Pauline ain’t wearing underpants!

You can tell Pinball wasn’t made by someone with a deep understanding of what makes real pinball work. A lot of people describe the pastime as “controlled chaos.” But I grew up in a house with pinball machines (specifically the Williams classics Firepower and Black Knight, both from 1980 and both by the legendary Steve Ritchie, both of which my Dad bought in the mid 80s before I was even born. I got two things from my father: a love of pinball and a predisposition to high blood pressure. Thanks Daddy). Pinball, when played at its top level, is anything but chaos. With enough time and patience, anyone can clock a table, learning every angle, skill shot, and the risk/reward factors of each target. Pinball is a very precise sport. Yes, sport. Fuck you. If curling, golf, or League of Legends are sports, so is pinball. And pinball, which is one of the great joys of my life, has only recently been successfully recreated digitally. It took gaming less time to figure out proper online play than it did to get digital pinball right.

This isn’t the snobbish “real pinball is the only pinball” hot air that you get from many silver ball enthusiasts. A lot of people don’t have the money you need to truly get into it. A decent pin will typically run you $1,500 – $2,500 minimum, $4,000 for iconic tables, going as high as $10,000 for legendary tables. And that’s not even considering the amount of work you need to put into them to clean and maintain them. Turning pinball from a hobby to a passion is very expensive. The majority of people who do buck up and buy a table end up not liking it as much as they imagined they would. That’s why I like video pinball’s potential. If you don’t fall completely in love with the experience, you’re only out a couple bucks. As opposed to thousands.

And, in 1983, this is probably as close to looking like a real table as video pins got. But it’s also not pinball in the sense that you can play it like a real machine. You can’t, because you simply can’t clock Nintendo Pinball. For starters, the ball is alive and always vibrating. Because it’s always having a seizure, even if you hold the ball with a flipper to set up a shot, you can’t control what trajectory it’ll take or how the ball will react upon hitting walls and surfaces. It’s completely random and never consistent from one shot to the next. Nintendo Pinball’s reality lives up to the greatest misconception of real pinball: it’s governed by random chance. The ball also does weird things like somehow retaining inertia that it should have lost when you grab the ball for a tee shot. And the plunger is not easy to use either since there’s no analog way to fire it off. Probably 49 shots out of 50 had me getting the in one of the 500 point lanes instead of the 1,000 point one. Which also tells me that the game does more than just rely on its limited physics to dictate the ball’s path. It must be doing something more to pull the ball away from targets. Simple random chance odds tell me that the ball should be able to go down the center chute one out of three times, instead of once every fifty shots. So something is not on the up-and-up with Pinball. Other parts of the game make this even more clear.

Those slots where the cards are became the most maddening aspect of the game. Because the ball is so erratic and doesn’t have consistent weight or gravity, even if I slowed it down so that it should drop into one of the slots, it’d inevitably suddenly become a high-density rubber ball and bounce off. Also, this almost always happened to the left, leading me to believe there’s invisible suction that draws the ball away from targets.

It also doesn’t help that the table layout isn’t very good. The game is split into two screens. The upper one contains a slot machine that you activate by going down one chute. The numbers don’t stop on their own, and instead you must hit a moving target when it’s hovering above the reel that’s spinning. In over ten hours spent on this game, I only successfully pulled this off three times. This mostly owes to the upper level having three ways for players to be sent down to the lower level: the drain (the gap between the flippers), a portal that fires you past targets on the lower level, and finally a outlane on the left side. This outlane I genuinely believe is rigged with some kind of suction. It has to be. Too many times the ball bounced into it when it had none of the required moment to even come close to the opening, let alone go through it. Inevitably, if the ball even came near the entrance to it, it was like crossing the event horizon of a black hole: no escape.

And then you have the lower level, where the majority of available points are (if you’re playing the five minute caravan mode, getting points in the upper level is so slow you practically have to let the ball fall down to it). Here, there’s five slots that reveal playing cards. Get all five cards revealed and you get a drain stopper and score points. You can also enter a bonus room here. This is where Mario shows up, and it’s possibly the most busted aspect of the game. Ironically, the BONUS room ruined my best runs of the five-minute mode because sometimes the ball’s momentum would just stop on a dime and it would proceed to very, very slowly roll towards a drain. It could eat up thirty seconds by itself. In the NES/Famicom version of Pinball, my understanding is you’re not guaranteed to be able to enter the bonus room. In the arcade version, you enter it every time you hit the portal to it. Assuming you’re actually trying to score points in it, you must reflect a ball with a paddle similar to Breakout. Mario holds the paddle, thus earning the game acclaim from slobbering Nintendo fanboys the world over. If you successfully do this, Pauline will fall from her holding chamber. You must then catch her and deliver her to an exit (which again, she walks VERY slowly to). If you successfully pull this off, you only get 5,000 points. It’s such a little amount of points for such a high-degree difficulty challenge. But, far too often, the ball will launch in a way where it’s unplayable from the start. And, since you only get the points earned in it after losing your last ball, it’s not desirable to enter this room at all in the Arcade Archives Caravan Mode. Even killing yourself to get those earned points isn’t worth it, because it takes forever for them to be added to your real score. Why is everything about Pinball so slow? Pinball ain’t slow!

This is NOT exactly the NES version. In it, the flippers apparently don’t disappear as often, the physics are altered, and you have to unlock being able to successfully enter the bonus room. I guess. I have no means to play it. I suspect it’ll be coming to Switch Online soon. But the disappearing flippers becomes insanely annoying. They’re still there. You just can’t see them. You can cheat like I did and mark where the optimal spot on the screen they are.

In fairness, this bonus room wasn’t designed around a special mode of the game being surgically grafted to it 36 years later. But that doesn’t excuse why the bonus room is so miserable to begin with. Or why knocking down all the drop targets makes your flippers invisible. What in all the fuck is that? Why invisible? Why is the scoring balance so off? Why are the high degree difficulty shots in the upper level worth so little points, while the relatively easy to hit bumpers on the lower level worth so much? High scoring is as simple as getting the ball trapped in a cycle in them, having them knock around, and up through the card slots. I posted the fifth highest score in Caravan Mode’s global leaderboard doing this. It’s pretty much the only way you can do it. I also finished 28th in Hi-Score mode, where you must play with the machine’s default options. So nobody can accuse me of disliking Pinball because I sucked at it. I’m high up on all three global leaderboards.

Especially the normal mode, where high scores count no matter what options you use. I kept all the default options but gave myself five lives instead of three. And then I posted the second highest score ever recorded on the Arcade Archives Pinball original mode global leaderboard: 843,020. A pretty amazing achievement.

Too bad it’s fake.

To my credit, the game kept cheating me. What’s good for the goose..

Yep, I cheated. It’s a bullshit score that I achieved by exploiting an absolutely galling oversight on developer Hamster’s part. Anyone can beat if they have enough time and patience, skill level be damned.

Here’s how I did it. Pay attention Hamster: I’m about to close a loophole in your games for you. You’re welcome.

Unlike Hi-Score and Caravan Modes, where pausing the game to the menu forfeits your score and session, original mode allows you to access a menu, where changing anything but the game’s dip switch options keeps your current session alive. Included in this is a Save State Interrupt feature. For most emulators, Save State Interrupt should only work to save a game if you need to power down the platform you’re on. When you resume the session, it erases the save state. Hamster forgot the erase part. Erasing the state only happens when you game over. Using the save state, I could quit to the game’s main menu if I died or the ball wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I would just replay sections bit by bit, creating a new state every 10,000 or so points and dropping balls occasionally to make it look like it was a believable score, finally laying my ball down once I cleared the 2nd place score to make it look realistic. In reality, I considered taking the top spot (which is over two-million points, significantly higher than the next highest scores) but it took me hours just to get to second using this trickery.

It’s absolutely fucking insane that Hamster didn’t think of this, and it puts a taint on every previous Arcade Archives release. I went back and checked them. All the ones I own have this exploit in their original modes. And yea, I feel bad about it (my apologies to everyone with real scores I beat out making this point). That’s why I put effort towards posting impressive real scores in the other two modes. But, ultimately, even my fifth play finish in Caravan Mode was via dumb luck. My ball at one point got stuck in a cycle in the middle of the bumpers and went through the queen’s slot a dozen times in a row. I also managed to avoid the bonus room and the ball, for literally the only time the entire time I was playing, seemed to bounce in my favor. But when my best accomplishment is based on dumb luck, it sort of mutes the point of being one of the top five scorers ever, does it not?

I’m going to guess the top score isn’t legit either. Looking back, all the Arcade Archives titles have massive gaps in the top scores. You can tell which ones are real and which ones aren’t just by noting those gaps and at which point on the list scores start to cluster closer together. This is also why the scores in Hi-Score Mode and Caravan Modes tend to be closer together. Still, I can’t believe the Vs. Super Mario score is legit. Meanwhile, I cheesed Kid Niki’s global board too in another way (that review is coming up).

So yea, I hated Pinball too. And I’m not even willing to give it kudos for ambition for its era. It’s a horrible layout. The scoring is all out of wack and not balanced to factor in risk/reward, it has a busted bonus room, and it’s almost entirely based on luck. It’s more pachinko than pinball, and since this was made for a primarily Japanese audience, that’s probably by design. I hate to bring back this old chestnut, but I’m sort of forced to: gaming has come a long ways. But the Atari 2600’s Video Pinball from 1980 did predictable, reliable physics better than this warped version of pinball on a more advanced platform three years after-the-fact did. I have to believe Nintendo’s version could have done it too and simply didn’t. Pinball isn’t the worst early Nintendo game. But it is maybe the most broken. We exist in a world that has Ice Climber, so that’s saying something.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (despite this being a Vs. System game, it’s not called “Vs. Pinball”) was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 studied under Rosie Ruiz in the making of this review.

A fan purchased this game for me. All indie games reviewed at this blog are purchased by me. Retro AAA games I accept fan donations on. I matched the purchase price of this with a contribution to the Epilepsy Foundation. And then I blistered my thumb playing it. Also, I think Iwata haunted my Switch.

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