The Mod Complex: Episode Two – Super MODio Bros. 3 (CONTAINS THE GREATEST 2D MARIO GAME OF ALL-TIME!)

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

EPISODE TWO: SUPER MODIO BROS. 3

Spent an hour trying to think of the title and that’s what I came up with.

There’s no denying that Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the greatest games of all-time. It’s universally accepted. I know this because I catch holy hell anytime I note it’s my third favorite 2D Mario game, behind Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario World. I wrote a lengthy love letter to Mario 2, and I’ve openly said that Mario World is the best-controlling 2D platformer ever, even if I’m not totally blown away by the level design at times. Mario 3 is somewhere below those two. I’m not in love with the auto-scrolling airship levels, or the bite-sized Hammer Bros. encounters, and I think a few of the worlds are full of stinkeroos of levels (2 and 6 spring to mind).

Super Mario Bros. 3 (Japan) (Rev A)-220522-011422

I get that Mario 3 was THE gaming event of a generation that came before me, but it’s literally insane that people are offended that you don’t call a game “the greatest of all-time.” If it is for you, good for you. It’s not for me. It’s not even in the top fifty. It wasn’t an event in my life. Fun fact: Super Mario Bros. 3 actually made its American debut when it was added to Play-Choice 10 arcade machines in the United States on July 15, 1989. That’s exactly four days after I was born! I didn’t really play it until it became Super Mario Advance 4 (which released in Japan on July 11, 2003, which happens to have been my 14th birthday!). And, you know, it was great! It’s Mario 3! Mario 3 is great!

And it proved to be an inspiration for a new generation of game makers. Now, Nintendo obviously knows what a talented developer with a vision and the proper tools can do with the foundations they’ve laid with the Super Mario franchise. That’s why Super Mario Maker happened. The modding community has done some incredible things with Super Mario 3. I have four such experiences for you to check out, two of which left me in tears because I was just so overjoyed with how good they were. Let’s begin and end with those!

Never judge a book by its cover.. or a game by its title screen. Going off this, I figured this would be awful. I never imagined I was about to discover one of the greatest Mario games ever made.

Super Mario Ultimate

Normally, Mario Ultimate would be the type of ROM hack I’m not looking for. It’s mostly a respriting and level remix of Mario 3. It doesn’t add a whole lot new to the formula, but there are some tweaks. Like, there’s a reserve item now, and that’s really cool. A couple stages feature a small green block that acts as a platform that you have to push into position. There’s a handful of new enemies and new behaviors. But, beyond that, it’s what you expect from a run-of-the-mill Mario 3 ROM hack, right down to an over-emphasis on previously underutilized powers like the Frog Suit and especially the Tanooki suit. With so many mods that add whole new powers and gameplay mechanics, why would I even bother with this?

Because it might actually be in the discussion for best 2D Mario game ever made.

It even has difficulty settings. I played on “Gamer” and have no clue what “hard” means. This was pretty damn hard on Gamer, so who knows?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if Nintendo had released Super Mario Ultimate, it would be considered a landmark in platform gaming level design. Mario Ultimate makes you realize how pedestrian the levels in Mario 3 are. Oh, it’s full of many fine levels, no doubt. That’s why it’s an all-timer. BUT, having replayed Mario 3 after I ran through this game, I was struck by how basic they are. They still boil down to “go from POINT A to POINT B” for the most part. The most experimental Nintendo got with it was, like, making one of the airship stages go really, really fast. Even that’s mundane.

There’s a huge emphasis on close shaves between you and the blade things there. It works though. It’s one of the most thrilling Mario games for sure.

Super Mario Ultimate feels like a mad scientist looked at all the base tools and physics of Mario 3 and said “how can I screw around with this in a way where a player must use it to clear a stage?” Like, you know those windmill platforms that spin around and can knock you across the stage? Well, what if you put one of those next to an ice platform and made it slide the player like a curling stone? Or what if you had to use the Tanooki Suit’s statue on the right side of a moving platform and have the platform shove you past obstacles? That’s the type of design you see in Super Mario Ultimate. While it has a handful of basic levels, most of the design is based around using the already-existing gameplay in unique ways.

The puzzles aren’t of the Baba is You thinking-cap variety. More like finding your way through things. Like here, there’s a shell that breaks through blocks, and tons of invisible blocks that you have to hit to create a pathway for the shell to eventually set off a block that creates a vine that lets you get out of the stage. And no, you can’t cheese your way through these levels with P-Wings. Trust me, I tried.

And it’s brilliant! There’s a few stages that feel weirdly janky, but certainly no weirder or haphazard as the Special World levels from Super Mario World. Hell, that’s actually the closest comparison I could come up with for Super Mario Ultimate: like someone had the Special World mentality of Mario World spread over the course of an entire game. A series of high-concept stages, executed flawlessly in a way that is sure to surprise even the most hardened Mario fan. It’s dazzling and left me in tears when I finished the final stage. I never imagined I’d play another 2D Mario game this good.

There’s several “lost woods” style “where the HELL is the exit?” stages, but all of them are super fun to play, with none of them using space logic. You can sort out all of them through trial and error.

It almost feels like Mario 3 if Mario 3 had puzzle elements. There’s new ideas like racing to reach a platform before a vine gets to it. If you fail at that, it’s okay. Just go through a door and the room resets for you to try again. If a stage requires a specific suit for you to complete it, you’ll be provided with it at the start of the level. Now granted, I used save states heavily while I played it, but I tried to avoid things like rewinding (except to grab media) because I wanted to experience the game’s intended difficulty. Which is pretty well balanced. It’s hard, for sure, but in a good way. It definitely frustrates you, sure, but Super Mario Ultimate never fully angers you.

You get tons of Tanooki Suits and a smattering of Frog Suits to help you out. The card matching game seriously gives you like four Tanooki suits in Super Mario Ultimate. Oh, and the game goes nuts with the bouncing music blocks.

It’s not all perfect. I think the game overuses quicksand. I’d never of been able to finish this if I didn’t have autofire for some of the sections to take the edge off the required button-mashing. I also wish more had been done to alter the fights with the Koopalings at the end of each world. As far as I can tell, only one of the six was toyed with: the one who balances on a ball added platforms to playfield that made the fight feel totally fresh. On the other hand, the Boom-Boom fights at the end of castles, after a few basic ones, have been totally freshened-up, and some of them are jaw-dropping in how they work. While I’m on the subject, there’s THREE possible final levels, each with a unique way arena for battling Bowser. Play all three. Trust me. They’re awesome.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Probably the biggest problem with Super Mario Ultimate is that the best levels are mostly in the final two worlds. But, that might work in service to the game. It’s one of very few titles I’ve ever played that gets better as it goes along. Often I’m anxious for a game to be over by time I reach the end. For Super Mario Ultimate, I probably would have gone another five or six full game worlds at the rate it was going. It never got boring. Every time I thought I’d seen it all and the developer HAD to be out of ideas, yet another new concept would be introduced. Oh, it’s the last world? How about a puzzle where you have to guide Goombas down a series of platforms so you can spring off one and reach a pipe? The best thing I can say about Super Mario Ultimate: I might look back on it as the best 2D Mario game I’ve ever played. Only time will tell. That time being a week later, when I played the last game featured today. Anyway, get Mario Ultimate here.

Mario Adventure

By acclimation, Mario Adventure isn’t merely just one of the best Mario 3 ROM Hacks, but possibly the greatest ROM Hack of all time. I’m not even close to going that far. It’s FINE, but I found Ultimate to have much stronger level design. Here, the entire game is modified. New levels. New powers. New ideas. But, moderate level design and one game-ruining power. Unlike Mario Ultimate, this isn’t an attempt to build the most elaborate levels. Instead, this is a full reboot.

Some major changes: Fire Mario can jump super high (like Luigi in Mario 2), fireballs you spit travel in a straight line instead of hopping along the ground (but can curve around blocks) and there’s no lives. Instead of 1up Mushrooms, you get 50 coin mushrooms. Using the toad houses costs 300 coins, while the match-the-symbols roulette costs 100 coins and rewards you with items.

The first major thing you notice is that levels can have one of five different randomly-selected weather conditions: early morning, afternoon, night, rain, and snow. As far as I can tell, the only one that makes a difference is the snow setting, which makes EVERYTHING slippery. Even things like standing on the item blocks, you’ll slip and slide around. It makes solving some stages a miserable experience. This is somewhat tempered by the treasure-hunt feel of Mario Adventure. Each of the main seven game worlds has a key hidden somewhere in it. You have to find an invisible music note that will launch you to a special room that contains it. When you beat a game world, you get a clue that vaguely guides you to the key’s location. So vaguely that I resorted to a guide. I wish I could say this freshens up the whole experience, but I was actually pretty bored with it after a couple worlds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then there’s the new power-ups. An invisible cap that is.. uh.. honestly I couldn’t figure out a use for it. But then there’s the magic wand, which turns you into Magic Mario. It works like the fire flower in Mario Adventure does, where you shoot projectiles that travel in a straight line instead of hopping across the ground. But, instead of fireballs, you shoot stars. The stars kill everything. Even if it’s a normally indestructible thing, don’t worry, the stars take it out. The end of stage Boom-Booms? Dead. In one hit. For real. Having trouble with the Boos? They die too. It’s absurdly over-powered. Also, once you have the wand it takes a whopping three hits to knock the suit off you. The only drawback is that, if you need a turtle shell to break a block, you can’t be Magic Mario because jumping on a turtle with the suit on kills the turtle and destroys the shell in one hit. Don’t worry though, because this is one of those mods that lets you bank an item like Mario World, and so you can swap Magic Mario for Racoon Mario just long enough to do what you need with the turtle. There’s a reason Nintendo has never included an item this over-powered in a game. Because it ruins everything.

One consistently mediocre aspect of ALL these Mario 3 mods (except the last one in this feature): the Koopalings are just shitty bosses. They’re boring. They’re too easy. They’re all sorta samey. And I’m not a fan of saying “well the point isn’t the bosses.” The point of Blaster Master isn’t the bosses, but holy shit, are they some damn memorable bosses. Even Nintendo understood the importance of them, because Doki Doki Panic had three Mousers. For Mario 2, Nintendo replaced one of them with an original character: a giant crab named Clawgrip.

I’m certainly not calling Mario Adventure mediocre or anything. For those in the generation before me, where Super Mario 3’s release was THE event of their childhood, they’ll certainly enjoy this a lot more than me. But, the difference between Mario Adventure and the best games featured in the Mod Complex: this feels like a ROM Hack. There’s a lack of authenticity. Ideally, the sweet spot is the ability to believe that Nintendo would put out something close to the hack. I never got that out of Mario Adventure. It’s a solid effort with some neat ideas, but I just didn’t feel it. It’s telling that, of the four games highlighted in this feature, this is the only I didn’t bother finishing, and the only of the three I’m not awarding my seal of approval to. But I do think Mario 3 mega fans will get a kick out of it, apparently, since many name it the greatest ROM hack of all time. I assume they didn’t play the other three games featured here. Anyway, get Mario Adventure here.

Mario in: Some Usual Day

I really should write these things right after I finish playing. I completed Some Usual Day six days ago, and I liked it, but now that I’m writing it the review of it, the only parts that still stand out to me is there’s a Zelda II themed dungeon and Boom-Boom jumped extra high. I had to go through the screencaps I took of it to remind myself “oh right, that was good. That was good too! That was really good. Eh, the Koopa Kids suck, but THAT was good..” You know what? This is a damn fine take on Mario 3, and I feel guilty that it just had the misfortune of being swallowed-up by the last game I played in Episode 2 of The Mod Complex.

It’s sort of hard to forget this part, really. AND YES, this is exactly what you want it to be: a Zelda II Dungeon-type-maze, only it’s Mario 3.

Some Usual Day is a solid, enjoyable, professional-quality take on Mario 3. It’s, more or less, like a more by-the-books expansion of Super Mario Bros. 3, with several twists. There’s special coins in the stages, though I’m not even sure if I figured out what they’re for. There’s only four game worlds, but the effort at making the levels be a joy to play is clear. Give me four worlds that are never boring over eight hit-and-miss ones any day of the week. It does manage to bring some fun twists, too. The Fire Flower stacks with other suits, so you can fly through the air as Racoon Mario and carpet-bomb enemies with fireballs, or be Frog Fire Mario (SO HELPFUL in many stages, to the point that I realize how much the real Mario 3 should have had this be a thing). Even funnier, you can have the firepower when you’re little Mario. It’s always good for a laugh.

Some Usual Day is loaded with secrets, and one day, I will go back and look for them. But, as good a time as I had, it still was just more Mario 3. It felt like finding an old pair of tennis shoes in the closet, putting them on, and remembering how good THIS pair felt. Walk around in them a bit, but as good as they feel, who wears Reebok Pumps anymore?

And it does manage to bring the clever occasionally. Like, one stage will start and you’ll immediately see coins arranged to spell-out GO! and you’re like “huh, what’s that about?” And then you see a sign post that says “HURRY-UP, MARIO!” and you look at the timer, and it’s already down to 90 seconds. “Oh.” AND IT WORKS because the level is designed as an intense maze. Great! Love it! Whereas Super Mario Ultimate wowed me with a mad scientist vibe, the level design of Some Usual Day feels almost scholarly, as if designed by the best student in Level Design 101. Nothing too radical or experimental, but just flawlessly designed and paced stages that highlight what a terrific game Mario 3 already was.

I wish it did more with the bosses. I just assumed that Mario 3’s engine, besides the iconic Bowser fight, just didn’t lend itself to good bosses. Then I played the next game, and uh.. yea, this could have done a lot better. THOUGH. Excellent Bowser fights, though.

And, really, that’s all I have to say. Grab Mario in Some Usual Day here. It actually gave me very little to criticize, which is annoying, because, you know, I’m goddamned Indie Gamer Chick and bitching about little things is my job. I guess Mario in Some Usual Day is remarkable in that sense. It doesn’t give me a lot to work with on the flip side. Which is, you know, my side. The side people used to come read this blog for. I dunno what to say. It’s not Some Usual Day.

Christ, that was tortured.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix

After one-and-a-half worlds, I almost walked away from Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix. Originally, I had Mario Ultimate as the finale of Mod Complex: Episode 2, and had intended Mix to be the buffer game I talked about in snarky, flattering but underwhelming terms. It made sense to me. Ultimate was so good it left me in tears. Do you know when the last time a retro game did that to me? Gunstar Heroes, which I played for the first time in 2018. It’s a rarity. Surely, it wouldn’t happen twice in one Mod Complex episode.

Make sure you read ALL THIS, because I think, as a review, I need to describe my full experience playing Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix to understand my verdict on this one.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix allows you to choose between Mario, Luigi, or Toad. Do they have different jumping physics? Different play speeds? Do you have to switch between them to access some secrets or clear specific goals? NOPE! Luigi and Toad play exactly the same as Mario. And that’s FINE! Trust me, this game does enough. Oh boy, does it do enough.

I beat World 1 of Mario Mix, which is a tribute to the original Super Mario Bros and remakes many levels beat-for-beat, only it’s Super Mario 3’s engine. Impressive? Sure. Mimicry done right is crazy impressive, and Mario Mix did change-up the formula a touch by adding three hidden Star Coins in each stage to give it added play value. You’ll recall it’s the exact same trick Nintendo themselves used for Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on the Game Boy Color to give people who are sick of the same game they’ve played a million times before added value. It worked then, and it works here. They’re fun to collect. But, I already played these stages before. Hell, the thing I just referenced WAS a 1999 remake of Super Mario 1! This shit has been remade to death already! STOP DOING IT!!

“Wee! Look, I went down a pipe! Just like I did in 1987.” Spoiler: Mario Mix is actually amazing on a level I’ve never before experienced. I just wish worlds 1 and 2 paid tribute to the SPIRIT of the original games with new stuff instead of just rebuilding the same old levels.

And then, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix got really weird. World 2 is based on Super Mario Bros. 2. As in re-skinned, over-powered Doki Doki Panic. Now, I’ve lubricated all-over Mario 2 already. It WAS my previous favorite 2D Mario game. And while playing that game with Mario 3’s physics sounds like a fun experiment, and trust me, this is THOSE STAGES, so convincing that it blew my mind at the effort that must have gone into building them, those stages only work to the degree they did within Mario 2’s engine. Transplant Mario 3’s engine, physics, and powers into that, and it becomes just very bland. Never totally boring, because I was just fascinated by the total dissonance of it all. But it was the same issue: been there, done that. Hello, Mario 2 has been remade before as the goddamned flagship launch game of the Game Boy Advance, Super Mario Advance. AND DO YOU FUCKING PEOPLE REMEMBER MARIO ALL-STARS?! I get what Mario Mix was trying to be: a tribute to all things Mario, but after two levels of World 2, I said “you know what? This isn’t for me.”

The Star Coins are one of the highlights. They take-up the spot that previously held the cards you got at the end of stages in Mario 3 (that whole thing is replaced by a flagpole). These days, I rarely try to ace levels. Only two recent games were so fun I actively sought out EVERYTHING: Mario Odyssey and Mario Mix. If Super Mario Odyssey is the 3D Mario formula made perfect, then Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix is the 2D Mario formula made perfect.

So, I quit. I wrote up a few paragraphs about Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix (which I’ll just call Mario Mix from here out if it’s okay with you) comparing it to Mario Maker’s user levels. Anyone who has played any of Nintendo’s Mario Maker games knows 90% of the user-made levels are remakes of the same fucking levels we’ve all played a thousand times. Seriously, if I ever see Level 1 – 1 of Mario 1 again (or Green Hill from Sonic for that matter) I’m going to fucking scream! Was I impressed with how World 1 has Bowser battles that shirk the “make Bowser crack through the floor” in favor of playing like the Bowser battles in Mario 1, only with Mario 3 physics? Sure. That’s way cool. Hey, Mario 3 DIDN’T do that, so it must have taken effort to include it here and make it feel totally convincing and not janky.

Instead of an axe at the end of the bridge, it’s a P-Switch, which is a lot more Mario-ish than an axe anyway so I’ll allow it. But, as impressive as it is that a convincing version of the Bowser battles from Mario 1 are here in a game built with Mario 3’s engine, it’s also a stark reminder how far boss battles have come in the four decades since. Fighting Bowser in Mario 1 is just not fun. Period.

Let me be clear about something: I was very impressed by the professionalism of Mario Mix. It never feels at all like a ROM hack. It feels like what Nintendo is doing right now with Mario Kart 8: re-releasing old stuff with the new game’s physics as DLC. If Super Mario Bros. 3 had come out for the very first time in 2020, this feels like something Nintendo would up-sell for it in 2022. Some people want that. Some people want to have pool cues shoved up their asses and broken off for sexual pleasure. I don’t understand those people, and I don’t understand people who want to play the same shit over and over.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then, I realized I didn’t capture enough screenshots for my write-up, and I had some down time, so after finishing the previous three games, I decided “I should at least finish World 2, to play this Mario 2 as Mario 3 train-wreck out.” While it didn’t get better, because the two game styles just simply are not compatible, no matter what, even with all the effort in the world and the best of intentions, I wanted to finish it. And then Birdo showed up, and it wasn’t simply like a reskin of a Koopa Kid or something. It felt just like the Birdo fight from Mario 2, ONLY IF that had never happened and Birdo had started in Mario 3 all along. It felt good! It worked! It was fun! It was even fresh, somehow! Did it breathe interest into the game? Not at all. I was still like “yea, really good boss fight, but I still have to play levels to get there.”

Mouser shows up too! And yes, HIS FIGHT IS BETTER TOO! He throws Bob-Ombs at you that you have to throw back and he jumps back and forth between platforms. It’s not a slouch. I had a lot of people tell me the Koopalings being cinches to defeat didn’t matter, but you know what? Mario Mix has some genuinely difficult bosses. BUT, what’s really impressive about Mario Mix’s boss fights is, unlike many ROM hacks, you can’t see the “seams” of where they modified existing stuff within the game code to create a slightly new thing. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what existing Mario 3 things the bosses were built out of to play as well and as new feeling and fresh as they do.

Then Wart showed up as the final boss of World 2.

Fucking WART!

And, it felt great! Unlike the Birdo fight, this one didn’t try to be a 100% 1-to-1 copy of the feel of the battle from Mario 2. The “feed him to beat him” mechanic didn’t carry-over (I assume they wanted to but couldn’t make it work), so while Wart uses the same pattern of spitting bubbles from Mario 2, the way you hit him (throwing enemies at him) is different, AND THEN once you hit him, a whole-new attack cycle is added. It made the whole thing feel fresh, new, and SO FUN! I was totally impressed by the effort. Zero jank. Totally professional, and very creative. THIS IS HOW YOU DO A TRIBUTE, I thought. And, it was also the turning point.

Wart’s battle is a joy to play. I mean, tough too, but not punishingly difficult. So many ROM hacks fall into the trap of “make hardest, most GOTCHA!-riddled Mario levels possible” (see also Mario Maker). Every level in Mix is balanced and fine-tuned for proper difficult scaling on a level that would be the envy of most professional developers. Only ONE TIME the entire game did a bullshit GOTCHA! get me and I’m not even entirely sure it was a deliberate thing.

Once you get past World 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix becomes a candidate for the greatest video game ever made.

Not greatest ROM hack.

Not greatest Mario game.

GREATEST VIDEO GAME!

It just never takes its foot off the gas from that point on. Everything after World 2 feels fresh, new, polished, professional, and incredible! Every single level is a joy. It’s still, at heart, a tribute to Mario’s platform games, but it’s so much more. Mario Mix captures what makes the Super Mario series fun, and cuts out almost all the garbage. It’s like the best the gameplay style can do, over and over and over and over and over, for hours. There’s so much content, and so many surprises. It’s why I can’t excuse the Koopalings for other ROM Hacks, because they’re not here. There’s original bosses here, somehow done in the Mario 3 engine that feel nothing like anything in Mario 3, that are so fun to play. It PAYS TRIBUTE to games like Mario Land, Mario Land 2, Mario Sunshine, and even Mario Galaxy while feeling completely original, and it’s AWESOME!!

Yep, that’s Yoshi! You know, I once played a homebrew of Mario World on the NES (I think it was a Chinese bootleg) and it was horrible, especially using Yoshi. Here, Yoshi plays REALLY well, though not perfect. The eating enemy mechanic feels spot-on. But, dismounting him for super jumps is significantly more difficult to do, to the point that it’s literally the only reminder you’re actually playing a ROM hack and not a big-budget, massive development team first-party Nintendo Mario 3 expansion pack.

Mario Mix is perfection, and a big part of that is the discipline the developer showed with pacing. Hell, you don’t even get some of the suits Mario can use until very late in the main quest. It’s like the opposite of Mario Adventure, where the Magic Mario Suit just totally kills the tension and excitement dead. The powers here, like the Penguin Suit and the Boomerang Suit are teased in the menu on the map screen, but you don’t get them until later (in the case of the Boomerang suit, MUCH later) and they’re balanced and fun when you finally do. You might be better off with a Fire Flower than the boomerangs. You might want to be a Racoon instead of a penguin in some levels. Even the real Mario 3 didn’t do that stuff right. Once you get the Hammer Bros. Suit, the game’s more or less over. Not here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mario Mix is not without issue. Tributes to the ghost houses from Mario World are here, but they suffer from horrific slowdown. Some emulators can eliminate that, but if you play on one that can’t, you might be stuck playing close to whole levels in slow motion. World 8 – 1 had me briefly worried Mario Mix had lost the plot when it reverted to Mario 1 level copying, especially when it had so much slowdown that is wasn’t enjoyable at all. Thankfully, hardware problems to that degree didn’t crop up again, and the levels that followed righted the ship. In fact, that’s my only major complaint. Well, besides the fact that the maybe-greatest-game-ever doesn’t show up until you reach the boss of World 2.

UPDATE MAY 31, 2022: Actually, slowdown seems to crop up a bit more often in the after-the-main-quest Comet challenges, sometimes brutally so. There’s more than enough content in the main game to justify my lovesick puppy shit you’re seeing in this feature, but in fairness, I got that part wrong. Slowdown is all over the bonus material and somewhat muffles the fun. Oh, not ruins it. This is the first NES game I’ve ever played that I’m going for a 100% completion on.

This is why Episode 3 of Mod Complex will be a while: after I finish writing this, I’m going back to Mario Mix right away to 100% it. I only found one single access point to World 0, the hidden bonus world, and I want MORE! And even this doesn’t scratch the surface of all the extra content the developers included beyond the main quest. This thing is overstuffed with entertaining diversions and extras.

Worlds 3 – 8 though? Wow. Just.. wow! Never dull, never boring, consistently surprising, often creative, and ALWAYS fun. And that’s why anyone should be playing games. Honestly, they’d never do it, but Nintendo should just buy Mario Mix and slap a $50 tag on it. It’s that good. It’s got that much value in it. When you beat the game, a second quest pops up that adds the comet challenges from Mario Galaxy to most of the levels. There’s secrets all over Mario Mix, including the Mario World concept of some levels having multiple exits. There’s a whole secret world that I’ve only played one level of thus far, but that level, like most others in Mix, was excellent. This is the rare 8-bit game that I’ve beaten the final boss of (a pretty good, but not spectacular, twist on the “let Bowser break through the floor” fight at the end of Mario 3) and I’m going to keep playing for a while yet. I want to find all the secrets. I want to do all the comet challenges. I want to score a 100%, and I’ll never be bored doing it. Hell, even those World 1 and 2 levels that I was not in love with, with the inclusion of the comet challenges, now I am.

I thought I’d seen it all, but then a world that’s a tribute to Mario Galaxy shows up, complete with crazy gravity effects, and it’s everything you want a 2D Mario Galaxy to be. The gravity works. The level design built around it works. It’s unbelievable. As in I literally do not believe this game exists. I’m in a coma in some hospital somewhere and this is my coma dream, right?

Here we are, almost eleven full years into my Indie Gamer Chick existence, and the best indie I’ve ever played is a ROM hack of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s better than any 2D Mario game Nintendo has ever made. It might be the best Mario game of all-time, period (though, did really love Mario Odyssey, so I have to think about it a LONG time). Hell, it might be the best video game I’ve ever played. Mario Ultimate left me in tears of joy, but Mario Mix left in tears of pure euphoria because I’d had such an incredible time and I wasn’t even remotely done with it yet. I can’t put it #1 on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. It would be weird, when this is.. in polite terms.. a grey-area, but for now, whatever is ranked #1 (currently Dead Cells) will have an asterisk on it, because some guy and his siblings took the already stupendous Super Mario Bros. 3, tinkered around with it, and turned in this: Mario’s finest hour. Get it here.

And only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of Mario fans will ever play it, let alone know about it.

Heartbreaking, huh?

And I’m finally done with episode two. MARIO MIX COMET PURPLE COIN CHALLENGES, HERE I COME!!

The Mod Complex: Episode One – Castlevania Mania

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

EPISODE ONE: CASTLEVANIA MANIA

I love Castlevania! Two of the three NES Castlevanias are among the best games on the entire platform. Simon’s Quest is the shits and no amount of editing will change that. It’s just a terrible game. Castlevania and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, on the other hand, are still enjoyable today, over thirty years after their releases. I can’t get enough of them, but why just replay the same games I’ve played already? The NES mod community has messed with the Belmont clan more than Dracula.

Castlevania Reborn

Of course, the majority of ROM hacks are just the same game that’s been resprited (that’s a word now) or had the colors changed. I guess some people are into that sort of thing. But, if you want a new experience, there’s several modders who tinkered with the level design. Think of these versions of games as remixes. Castlevania Reborn is one of the more popular efforts, and yea, it’s not bad. This one feels like a really good second quest. At least at times.

Castelvania Reborn-220520-211406

The red-headed Simon of Castlevania: Reborn is the most striking change. Several of the boss fights feel identical. Which is kind of fine, maybe? I mean, they are iconic. On the other hand, the third boss has been changed from a pair of mummies to a pair of gargoyles that I slayed in about five seconds. No joke. Five seconds.

Castelvania Reborn-220520-231951Levels are rethemed and play out differently, and a few of the enemies (especially bosses) play differently. It’s a good effort, especially the concept of multiple paths in some of the levels. The issue is, there’s a lot of sections that are just basically straight lines. Yes, the original Castlevania has the “infamous hallway” before you face the Grim Reaper, but that section was a harrowing final test before arguably one of the toughest bosses in Castlevania. The hallways in Reborn are just dull. Also, there’s too many of the axe-throwing knights. But, it’s still pretty okay. Find it here.

Castelvania Reborn-220520-230931

If you want to play an entirely new Castlevania 1 experience, this is a good starting spot.

Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries

When I started Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries, I figured it was one of many games that promises tons of newness, but really is just a low-effort reskin. The first level here feels a lot like Castlevania’s first level. It’s so close that I almost quit. And then I noticed there was a new item that makes you invincible, like those jugs that occasionally get dropped, only as an item. So, I stuck it out, and I’m happy I did, because the level design became noticeably different after the first stage. It turns out that Chorus of Mysteries is a pretty dang good effort at revamping Castlevania. Hah, revamp. It’s funny because it’s about Dracula.

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-003929

Chorus of Mysteries has new enemies, like these bastards here. So overwhelming were these things that I needed a barrage of boomerangs to get past them and ended up fighting the equally new boss that followed them with only four hearts. Still beat it, and I didn’t use rewinding to do it.. more than a dozen times. Hell, in this pic you can see I was doing just that. And if you’re wondering why Simon looks like a cross between Rambo and Solid State, it’s because it’s supposed to be Grant Dynasty from Castlevania III. No, none of Grant’s abilities are there. At least I don’t think so.

And it has teeth, too. HEY, also like Dracula! I’m on a roll! Once you get past the ultra-samey first level, you find one of the most impressive efforts in ROM hacking. Even better is the final boss is the Grim Reaper. I never understood why Death Incarnate works for Dracula. It’s so nonsensical. Here, he’s the last boss, and it’s one of the most impressive and difficult versions of Death I’ve ever fought in all of Castlevania. It’s an excellent effort and a damn fine waste of an hour. Like, this could be a paid expansion pack of the first game.

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-002622

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-012435I don’t really have anything bad to say, except the game is often pretty ugly, and curving Medusa enemies are drawn smaller but seem to retain their old collision boxes, which makes avoiding them particularly problematic. In fact, besides a few enemies with new behaviors and fairly strong level design, you never totally shake that “redrawn/remapped” feeling. Which, again, is why this feels like a really good expansion pack that you can get right here. What I really want is something that feels totally new and original. A mod that uses Castlevania 1 as the base of something new.

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-011716

Of all my ROM hack Castlevania experiences, this was by far the most impressive to me. It just works as a final boss. Chorus of Mysteries did all its bosses (except the first.. God, I hate that boring ass Giant Bat) the best.

Castlevania: The Holy Relics

Now, this is what I’m talking about!

Castlevania Holy Relics1-220520-190451

Enemies that feel like reskins of Castlevania 1 enemies have different, often smarter behavior. I played several games where “new” bosses meant changing the giant bat at the end of level one into a giant vulture. That’s not the case here. This is what it promises and more.

I was blown away by The Holy Relics. This ROM hack of Castlevania 1 is a whole new game, with whole new play mechanics, whole new levels, whole new weapons, whole new enemies, whole new music, and whole new bosses. It’s a NEW game, so good that Konami ought to buy it and resell it.

Castlevania Holy Relics1-220520-195716

The first five levels are non-sequential and can be taken in any order from the starting menu, and this is where the first major gameplay addition is revealed: relics. You know the seizure-inducing cross that clears all the enemies? Instead of random candles having it and being basically useless, you just get a few to use any time you want, using the select button. Some of the giant hearts in the game are now shaded blue and reload your relic uses. Beating levels unlocks other relics that have powers like invincibility, restoring health, increasing your whip strength, or even accessing hidden areas. Along with the keys and doors, it assures this NEVER feels like some kind of paint-over of Castlevania 1. You’d swear this is a new game build from scratch.

Castlevania Holy Relics1-220520-201157

The one knock I have on the key concept (which seems to pay tribute to the franchise on MSX) is that the first candle you encounter is often where they’re at. You know what would have been REALLY sick? If they hid the keys inside the walls, where the life refills normally are. That would have dramatically changed the game’s dynamic.

It’s a really strong game too. At times, the level design, at the very least, matches the best NES Castlevania experiences. My one and only knock on the design is sometimes the game relies heavily on moving platforms that you have to wait FOREVER for, which is especially annoying because the game still utilizes a timer. You’re encouraged to find hidden treasure chests as a bonus, but exploring isn’t really an option, especially since you never know if you’re going to have to backtrack. Yea, backtracking. Levels wind around, sometimes requiring you to double or even triple back. You’ll find yourself constantly wondering if you should stay on the pathway of platforms or drop to the level below you. Play it without save states and you’ll be cutting it too close on the timer.

Castlevania Holy Relics1-220520-193727

The weakest aspect of Holy Relics are the bosses. It’s not that they’re bad or anything, but they are a bit underwhelming, both in their attacks and the fact that they totally lack that Castlevania spookiness. This one here I was hoping for a second, terrifying phase. I mean, look at it! It’s kind of adorable.

 

indie-gamer-chick-approved

All three games today earned this.

ROM hacks are truly the unsung heroes of indie gaming. When they’re what you want them to be, it’s a dream come true. That some guy and a team of artists came up with a better Castlevania sequel than Konami did with Simon’s Quest is astonishing. That’s what this is. Holy Relics certainly doesn’t feel like Castlevania 1.5. It feels like what Konami should have done with #2. It’s really impressive. Bravo to the entire team behind it. So yea, check out Holy Relics, and if you have other games like this to recommend, let me know. I’m dying to play them!

Castlevania Holy Relics1-220520-202034

 

Black Widow: Recharged (Review)

Black Widow: Recharged is not what they said at Disney when they buried the hatchet with Scarlett Johansson. It’s another entry in the Atari Recharged franchise that takes old games and makes them all look the same now. Like Centipede: Recharged, it’s downright criminal that they’ve taken one of the most visually striking games from 80s arcades and turned it into an extraordinarily bland-looking Geometry Wars knock-off. Now granted, Black Widow looks closer to its vector graphics original than Centipede: Recharged did, but there’s something ugly about these Recharged games that I think is hurting their sales in the same way nobody would buy a perfectly delicious apple if it had a skull & bones pattern on it.

The dark white lines are barriers you can’t cross over. It’s the catch of Black Widow that makes it one of the more effective twin-stick shooters. Not so fun are the crappy exploding bullets I have in the picture that have no range and are sooooooooo slow.

Gameplay is king, and I like Black Widow’s remake. I didn’t at first. It had to grow on me. The single-life set-up returns, meaning if you die, game over. That’s not how Black Widow (or Geometry Wars, for that matter) played. It’s a bizarre choice for all these Recharged games and contributes to the niggling sensation that these would have been better off as a collection of games, because none can stand on their own. It’s not like you have a health meter to protect you, either. You’re always one errand projectile, enemy or cheap spawn away from death. Hypothetically, that would make things more intense, but really, shit gets so busy after a couple minutes of playing Black Widow: Recharged that death most often just caught me by surprise. It didn’t feel anything like Centipede, where I was slowly overwhelmed. It felt like “I got it, I got it, I got it, crap, I’m dead.” The dirty little secret of Centipede is that those moments where you’re slowly watching your game bleed-out are, in fact, the best stuff in the game.

Like Centipede: Recharged, the extra challenges did nothing for me here. I’d rather had a mode with three lives and the possibility of earning extra lives, which is apparently not an option. The one-life-to-live thing feels like a hardcore challenge mode, yet it’s the the main mode for this entire franchise. I don’t get that at all, since that hammers-home the feeling that these are mini-games, not stand-alone titles.

BUT, make no mistake about it, Black Widow: Recharged is still a quality game. When shit gets cooking, it’s incredibly thrilling to watch your score climb. Most of the items are fantastic. Most of them. The exploding shots that have no range directly led to my death so much that I actively avoided them as much as I could, only picking them up if another item was on-screen that I could immediately pick-up afterwards to clear the screen out. The inclusion of bombs helps a ton, and the way they work is smartly implemented: you clear out a wedge of the screen instead of the whole thing. Just make sure you aim it right, since there’s a second or two delay between the time you press the button and time it fires. The main issue with Black Widow is it just doesn’t out-class the original 1982 arcader. If Atari had combined all these Recharged games into a single package and called it “Atari Recharged” AND THEN offered each new game as a $9.99 DLC add-on, that would have been smart. Didn’t these guys learn anything from Power Rangers? You’re so much stronger together than (sold) separately.

Black Widow Recharged is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #198 of 299*
Top 69 Percentile of All 627 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 34 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
Please Note: A positive review is a positive review. Being among the bottom tier of IGC-Approved games still means the game is IGC-Approved.

*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Black Widow: Recharged was developed by Adamvision Games (Published by Atari)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, Epic Store

$6.69 (normally 9.99) asked why spiders need money in the making of this review?

I’m heading on vacation! See you in a couple weeks!

Centipede: Recharged (Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Centipede fan, yet it’s the golden age arcade game that I’ve reviewed the most variants of. Granted, that was all in a single review, with one follow-up eight years later. I think I was counting on modern gaming to spruce up an iconic game that I never “got” for lack of a better term. Bad Caterpillar is still the standard bearer, but we have a new challenger: Atari themselves. They recruited indie developer Adam Nickerson to revive the Pede (and other games in their lineup). The result today is Centipede: Recharged, and it’s my favorite game in the franchise’s history. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s genuinely a quality game. One that both feels like it would fit in with other arcade games of the 80s, while also feeling so slow and deliberate enough that it’s decidedly modern, maybe too much so for fans of twitchy shooters. What a truly bizarre remake. It’s like how you hear John Tyler, who was President of the United States in 1841, has a living grandson today, in 2022. Not great-grandson. GRANDSON! His son’s son is alive, today, over 180 years after his grandfather became President. It’s just so weird, but not as weird as this game.

Geometrypede.

All the Atari Recharged games use vector-art style line-drawings. I’m not sure this was the best choice for Centipede, which stood out in the 80s largely on the strength of its uniquely pastel-colored playfield. It differentiated itself from a very crowded field, but the remake looks like any other Atari Recharged release. Plus, the game opens with this ghastly green/purple scheme that makes it look like it’s advertising tickets for the Charlotte Hornets. If any game called for something truly unique, it’s Centipede. I’d love to see it done like the Link’s Awakening remake, or claymation, or even some really bonkers-looking form of cel shading. All of the Atari Recharged games, with the exception of Missile Command, use the same basic engine, menus, and look alike. Consequently, none of them have their own identity. They all feel like they’d be better off in a collection instead of as individual releases.

Weirdly.. VERY weirdly.. the one game that can legally include the iconic Centipede DELLLEP DELLLEP DELLLEP sound effect doesn’t use it, or anything that sounds like a modern version of it. What a horrible oversight. Seriously, patch that shit in, Adam/Atari! It would be like a Mario game without the jump noise: it’s distracting when it’s NOT there!

As for the gameplay, this is a slower, more survival-focused Centipede. Like all the Recharged games, the main mode is an endless game where you only have one life, and as soon as you die, the game ends. Your mission is to go as long as you can, scoring as high as you can, to try and land a prestigious placement on the online leaderboards. In addition to an extra-wide playfield, you’re given a variety of power-ups dropped by the spiders that crawl in from the sides. They’re mostly fun to use, but you’re fully dependent on them due to how weaksauce your base gun is. It’s limited to having one bullet on-screen at a time. Centipede: Recharged picks up speed quite quickly, which thus renders the base gun slow and worthless. This is especially true when dealing with the mushrooms on screen. You can’t ignore them, since they’ll pile-up in the player’s area of the screen and block your path. Then the scorpions leave poison mushrooms that cause the centipedes to dive-bomb down into YOUR portion of the playfield. Eventually, you’ll just be overwhelmed. Most of my games ended when I simply ran out of room to maneuver. Frustrating as it is, it’s definitively arcadey, more-so than the other Recharged games.

Everything about Centipede: Recharged is just north of average. Like, an overgrown toenail above the line.

I prefer my arcaders a lot more white-knuckle than Centipede: Recharged is, but, it’s fine. It’ll get you an enjoyable hour or two, or more if don’t think the optional challenges are kind of lame as fuck, like I did. Really, what holds back Centipede: Recharged is, after an hour of playing it, you come to realize that your best games come down to getting lucky item drops. I mean, you still have to PLAY well once you get them, so it’s not an entirely luck-based game. But, if you keep getting the wrong items during a round that you’re playing well, you’re eventually going to be overwhelmed faster than you deserve. You’re limited by how fast you can clear out the scorpion’s toxic mushrooms, and that requires the right items. Luck also factors in with the enemies. If the scorpions leave the mushrooms directly behind a row of ten other mushrooms and you don’t get an item that can clear mushrooms quickly, well, you’re just plain fucked, yo. It really needs to juice-up the base gun to push this above just barely decent (but still decent, can’t stress that enough). This was never going to be a great game anyway, but with a faster gun, players would get peed-off a lot less.

Centipede: Recharged is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #198 of 297*
Top 69 Percentile (nice) of All 627 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 33 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
Please Note: A positive review is a positive review. Being among the bottom tier of IGC-Approved games still means the game is IGC-Approved.

*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Centipede Recharged was developed by Adamvision Games (Published by Atari)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, Epic Store, Atari VCS

$6.69 (normally $9.99) peed herself in the making of this review.

From Below (NES Indie Review)

From Below is Tetris set during a giant squid attack. Or maybe it’s an octopus. Either/or. It’s free-to-play (but you’ll need an NES emulator. I suggest MESEN), and it’s one of the most clever things to happen to the puzzler in years. Seriously, this is inspired. It’s just plain, run-of-the-mill Tetris (purists will be happy to hear you can’t hold a block here) with the twist being a tentacle will pop up and push existing blocks and debris onto the playfield. This one teeny, tiny mechanic adds so much to the experience that it makes Tetris feel fresh. Again. Jeez, has there ever been a game that’s been successfully revamped more times than Tetris? Just when you think you think you’ve seen it all, some developer smacks F5 on it and you find yourself playing Tetris for hours again.

The same blocks. The same goal. One little difference. A whole new experience.

Really, the only difference is the tentacles, which randomly take up a single row the same width as one block component. The tentacles can wreck your progress, but also, rarely, undo holes and mistakes. If you think of them as just another block that’s assigned randomly, in theory, a lucky tentacle draw can actually be used to fix a deeply-buried gap you left from a previous screw-up. If a line forms next to the tentacle, it retracts. Only one arm enters the playfield at a time. Again, it’s such a small inclusion, but that one thing adds layers of complexity and multidimensional strategy to the established formula. And it works so damn brilliantly that I’m stunned nobody thought of this until now. It’s just so damn smart that it makes me laugh. Like, DUH, why hasn’t the official Tetris done this yet? It’s great!

Looks great too! Maybe a touch too darkly shaded, but eh, I loved the look.

There’s two different modes for the cephalopod attack. The default setting is TIMED. Here, the tentacles are not in sync with block drops and will push up every ten seconds regardless of whether you’re in the middle of moving a block or not. You can consider this the “easy mode” as it’s the one that I often could just ignore the tentacles early on and get into a rhythm. I’m the type of Tetris player that needs a few minutes to warm-up anyway. However, late in the game, you might find yourself hosed as you attempt to move a block over, only to have the squid cut you off when its ten second waiting period is up. Once you enter the mindset of “it’s me versus the squid” the dynamic changes so radically that From Below is almost as thrilling as Tetris 99. That shouldn’t even be possible!

Honestly, my biggest problem with From Below is I can consistently get to 200 lines, but once I hit that mark, the game goes so fast and blocks lock in so instantly that I can’t defend anymore. 214 is my high, despite having over a dozen 200-line games.

Then, there’s the deadly FIXED mode. Here, every time you drop a block, the squid makes a move. This is the HARD mode for sure, and also one of the most thrilling versions of Tetris ever created. You won’t believe it at first, but rounds of From Below on FIXED can turn on a dime. One moment, you’re in complete control, and before you know it, you’re desperately trying to find some solution to cut off the squid before it’s too late. Outside of Tetris 99, a game of Tetris has never been more intense.

Like real Tetris, you’ll scream yourself hoarse with “COME ON! GIVE ME A LINE!”

Keeping it real, this would basically just be an added mode for any Tetris release today, in 2022. It’d be hard to market this as a full game, except to NES collectors. But, Matt Hughson has really done something very special here, and I think he deserves to hear it from at least one semi-big game critic. So, here it is: From Below is the best thing to happen to Tetris since Tetris 99. I’ve now played a bit of Tetris Effect, and actually, I like From Below more. I love how seamlessly and intuitively it works with the long-established mechanics and rules. There’s a lesson to be learned here for developers of all stripes: you don’t need to make big, sweeping changes to classic games to create something profound and incredible. One tiny change can have gargantuan results. You know, I always liked that word. “Gargantuan.” I so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.

From Below was developed by Matt Hughson
Free to Play on NES Emulators. DOWNLOAD HERE

From Below is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

If you want to show your support to Matt for his achievement, you can buy his NES game Witch n’ Wiz for $9.99. A full review of that, and other NES indies, will be happening in February for #IGCvNES Homebrew Month. If you know of an incredible NES homebrew/indie that you think should be included, let me know on Twitter and I’ll at least play it a bit and hot-take it on Twitter.

Indie Gamer Chick versus Game Boy: Game & Watch Gallery

I’m experimenting with using my blog instead of Twitter.

Game & Watch Gallery
Developed & Published by Nintendo
Also developed by TOSE
1997 Game Boy

Certainly an interesting concept for a 1997 game. Nintendo had this wonderful library of LCD handhelds that predated even the Famicom/NES. Simple games that lent themselves to portable gameplay. Meanwhile, the Game Boy was still going strong, and Nintendo had this massive collection of games that could be collected. Nintendo did a trial run with the concept in 1994-95 with a release that never happened outside of Europe and Australia.

Game Boy Gallery, released in 1995, tasked developer TOSE with recreating five of their vintage LCDs.

This is basically the prototype for the Game & Watch Gallery series, as all five games have updated graphics that aren’t intended to look exactly like their LCD counterparts, but rather modern interpretations of them. However, the gameplay is directly-lifted from the originals, with no “modern” minigame counterpart.

I can’t find sales data on Game Boy Gallery, but I imagine it must have done well-enough to keep the concept alive. The solution was self-evident: include both the classic games in all their animation-devoid glory, but also include updated versions of the games. And use popular Mario characters. Genius! The series was successful enough (or cheap and easy enough to produce) to run four-games deep. Today, I’m checking the games of Game & Watch Gallery 1. Do they hold up?

MANHOLE
Series: Gold, New Wide Screen
Release: January 29, 1981 (Gold), August 24, 1983 (New Wide Screen)
Gameplay: Spinning-Plate
Cathy’s High Score 848 (Classic) 1,081 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: Manhole is, for me, the definitive Game & Watch release. The gameplay couldn’t be more simple: you have a single manhole cover and four gaps. Cover the gap for each runner. It’s just a matter of judging which runner is going to be the next to step over a gap. You have to memorize how many steps each runner will need before he’s over a manhole. Once you’ve registered a “cover” over a gap, you can move and the runner will hang over the gap in defiance of gravity without following. It’s not exactly “fun” in the traditional sense, but I really found myself unwilling to quit when I reached 500 points and had lost my one miss at some point. The key to Manhole is remembering to press A to automatically switch to the opposite diagonal corner. I’m almost certain the 848 points I had on my second attempt of Manhole beat even my childhood score, but I was *never* having fun.
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: The basic layout remains, only now there’s three different types of beings crossing: endless Toad clones, endless Donkey Kong Jr. clones, and rarely, Mario clones. Each runs at a different speed, which further complicates the spinning-plate element. But, this time, there’s four manhole covers that you can replace and leave alone. When something crossing runs across a cover, it displaces it. Yoshi can stop this from happening on one cover at a time, and then when free, replace the covers that have been knocked loose. As far as updating the Manhole formula goes, this is probably the very best you could do. I hate how the free-lives work, as every 200 (400?) saves, a heart will be tossed onto the playfield, but it wasn’t always tossed at an opportune time, which forced me to miss one. But, this is a *lot* more engaging than the 1981 LCD while also feeling exactly like a proper remake of it. One of the better remakes. I did only play one game of it and scored 1,081. As a kid, I scored almost 2,000 once.
Verdict: YES Pile.

FIRE
Alternate Title: Fireman Fireman (North America original title)
Series: Silver, Wide-Screen
Release Date: July 31, 1980 (Silver), December 4, 1981 (Wide Screen)
Gameplay: Juggler
Cathy’s High Score: 447 (Classic) 642 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: A “classic” that I can’t believe people don’t consider an abject failure. The concept of having to juggle people jumping from a burning building sounds fine, but this is one of those games where the lack of animation completely ruins the gameplay. Once the game gets moving and there’s four or more jumpers at once, it’s damn near impossible to judge which ones are next to land, or even if you correctly “saved” the next jumper. This is a formula that *needed* a taller screen with more animation cells
Verdict: NO Pile.

MODERN VERSION: Having animation made me realize another problem with Fire: there’s no quick passage from the left side to the right. Every single one of my deaths was the result of split-second gap between making a save on the right side not leaving enough time to save the jumper on the left side. But what can you do? Fire shows up again during Game & Watch Gallery series. Here’s hoping it improves.
Verdict: NO Pile

OCTOPUS
Alternate Titles: Mysteries of the Sea (UK) and Mysteries of the Deep
Series: Wide Screen
Release Date: July 16, 1981
Gameplay: Cross the Road
Cathy’s High Score: 1,138 (Classic) 1,371 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: Octopus is probably my favorite classic Game & Watch game. Having played a ton of LCD games last summer (go here, here, and here), I’ve come to the conclusion that cross-the-road format games are inherently the best use of LCD’s technology. Octopus’s mechanic of having you go from the ship to the treasure chest to load-up on plunder while avoiding tentacles is fairly straight forward. IN THEORY you should be capped at how much you can load up from the chest. But I scored my first 400 or so points while barely surfacing at all. IN THEORY your hand should get a lot slower when loading the treasure, but it’s never insanely slow. Without animation, movement from spot to spot can’t be slower. Also, you’re capped at 3 bonus points per surfacing. It’s super easy to time the tentacles too. Octopus is still one of the better Game & Watch games. Which tells you how badly these games aged that I still can’t recommend it.
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: Much, much better. Here, loading up on treasure slows your movement down, but you also bank extra points for every grab you make. Also, the tentacles can go into different lanes, but you seem to have the ability to bait them into going down specific ones. It turns Octopus Remake into the game that tests your greed. You have no limit on how much treasure you can get, but you can become so slow that it’s impossible to get back to the boat no matter how perfect your reflexes are. The game dares you to grab a ton of gold, but as long as you remember that there’s no time limit, it’s just a matter of how patient you are in grinding up a score. As a remake of an LCD game, Octopus gets incredibly repetitive. It’s also the fastest-scoring and genuinely best video game in Game & Watch Gallery 1.
Verdict: YES Pile

OIL PANIC
Series: Multi Screen
Release: May 28, 1982
Gameplay: Catch-and-Release
Cathy’s High Score: 2,775 (Classic) 1,022 (Modern)

CLASSIC MODE: My god. MY GOD! I have never in my entire, miserable life played a game that is this competently made that is also so boring that it’s genuinely torturous. Here, you collect drops of oil that fall from the ceiling and then dump them out the windows. Below you is a man walking back and forth with a bucket that is apparently limitless. Instead of doing the logical thing, saying “HEY ASSHOLE, CAN I USE *THAT* BUCKET?!” you have to deal with a three-drop limit for your own. You lose a life if you miss the oil, catch a drop when your bucket is full, or if you throw the oil out the window when the big bucket guy isn’t on that side. Mind you, if the oil hits the floor, it catches fire. In theory you should be napalming the two pedestrians below. To death. They certainly should be just shouting at you with as much anger is generally displayed when one is cut-off on the freeway. Anyway, the formula seems like a decent-enough take on the Catch-and-Release genre. But, it’s actually too easy. On the A mode, I rolled the scoreboard twice, and would have a third time if I hadn’t got bored to the point that I asked my family to walk in front of the TV screen to add challenge. Which they got bored with after a couple minutes, so I held the controller upside-down and I think I made it two whole points after that. One of the problems is you have, in theory, as many as five lives in Oil Panic, because screwing up the oil-side of the screen and screwing up the roaming oil collector and two fire-proof pedestrian side of the screen are counted separately. For no reason. Also, all your misses are erased every time you reach X300 points. That’s just too generous. But the real biggest problem is that the difficulty, and speed of the oil drips, resets when you roll the scoreboard after X999 points. Which you will, because this is insultingly easy. I suppose I could have quit and reviewed the B part, but who actually plays Mode B?
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: Easily the best remake in Game & Watch Gallery 1, as Octopus already had a more-than-solid foundation and was on the cusp of being good, while this time, it turns a boring game into a decent one. Oil Panic retains the basic “catch the oil” formula, only there’s now multiple twists. As Mario instead of Mr. Game & Watch, you hold two buckets instead of one. And instead of a bottomless bucket holder to throw to, it’s Yoshi. You have the ability to rotate your buckets, which makes this feel like a follow-up the NES/Game Boy classic Yoshi. There’s also a few bonuses tied to Yoshi if you feed him two full buckets back-to-back within nano-seconds IN THE RIGHT POSITION. You see, Yoshi walks back and forth too, and he has to be as far to one side as possible to get the bonus. On the plus side, Yoshi’s tongue can catch the oil even if he’s not exactly to the edge. On the negative side, I never benefited from this from a meaningful range away from the ledge. It only screwed me out of the bonuses. Anyway, on the right side, doing back-to-back full buckets creates a block which has coins (and, when you reach milestones in points, also provides a free life). On the left side, Yoshi creates a block, and making four of them allows Yoshi to fireball/egg/melon-seed-spit Bowser for extra bonus points. You’ll be tempted to fill up the the buckets to the max every time, but like many Game & Watch titles, it’s often your own greed and impatience that will cost you lives. In fact, with both Octopus and Oil Panic, it’s absolutely possible to slowly grind up world-record points (the best you can do is tie former Donkey Kong world champion Wes Copeland’s 9,999 max score). It would take forever and be considered a form of self-harm, but it can be done.
Verdict: YES Pile

VERDICT

I actually owned Game & Watch Gallery as a kid, and I’m almost certain it’s a game I fished out of a clearance bin. To be frank, Game & Watch Gallery going four-deep as a franchise (five if you count the pilot-run with Game Boy Gallery.. seven if you count the lazy DS games that were given as part of Nintendo’s reward program) is astonishing, because there’s Mario Party minigames with more depth.

Game & Watch Gallery is a odd cat. When you get right down to it, it’s just a mini-game collection where the only true significance is these are based on early 80s Nintendo LCD games. All eight games presented here are incredibly repetitive and often you’ll welcome a game over. That’s usually a sign of being a bad game. I literally gave none of the “classic” Game & Watch games a YES, and to be frank, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about any of the YES pile games. It was more like I conceded their decency. Octopus Remake feels the most balanced. Oil Panic Remake is probably the most compelling formula that seems like it could lead to a solid full-fledged game. Manhole Remake is fine, just like the other two YES pile occupants. But none of these are worth actively seeking out. The most telling thing: Game & Watch Gallery is a slog, even when it’s at its best. It’s NEVER exciting.
Overall Verdict: NO Pile

#IGCvSNES Leaderboard & Database: UPDATED November 7, 2021

LEADERBOARD

Total Games: 194
YES: 88 – 45.36%
NO: 106 – 54.63%
TERMINATOR LINE: #88 (Killer Instinct) over #89 (Super Star Wars)
Click each game to go to its #IGCvSNES thread on Twitter.

  1. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
  2. Super Metroid
  3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  4. Tetris Attack
  5. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
  6. Terranigma
  7. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
  8. Super Mario World
  9. Super Castlevania IV
  10. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  11. Super Punch-Out!!
  12. Chorno Trigger
  13. Sutte Hakkun
  14. Parodius
  15. Zombies Ate my Neighbors
  16. Aladdin
  17. Mega Man 7
  18. TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure
  19. Kirby’s Dream Course
  20. Donald Duck no Mahō no Bōshi
  21. Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics
  22. Gokujō Parodius!
  23. Kirby’s Super Star Stacker
  24. Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius
  25. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City
  26. Demon’s Crest
  27. Illusion of Gaia
  28. Nankoku Shōnen Papuwa-kun
  29. Donkey Kong Country
  30. Super Bomberman 3
  31. The Addams Family
  32. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
  33. Castlevania: Dracula X
  34. Tetris 2
  35. SimCity
  36. Porky Pig’s Haunted Holiday
  37. Batman Returns
  38. The Firemen
  39. Hameln no Violin Hiki
  40. The Lost Vikings
  41. Brain Lord
  42. Biker Mice from Mars
  43. Yoshi’s Safari
  44. Goof Troop
  45. F-Zero
  46. Super Bonk
  47. DoReMi Fantasy
  48. Kirby Super Star
  49. Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge
  50. Battle Clash
  51. Mario Paint
  52. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
  53. Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Seahag no Maki
  54. NHL ’94
  55. ActRaiser
  56. Super Bomberman 2
  57. Tin Star
  58. Mario’s Super Picross/NP Picross Vol 1 – 8
  59. The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse
  60. Tetris & Dr. Mario
  61. Spanky’s Quest
  62. Sparkster
  63. Super Genjin 2 (Super Bonk 2)
  64. Joe & Mac
  65. Power Soukoban
  66. NBA Hangtime
  67. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
  68. Super Street Fighter II
  69. Wrecking Crew ’98
  70. Super Mario Kart
  71. Rockman & Forte (Mega Man & Bass)
  72. Plok
  73. Arkanoid: Doh It Again
  74. The Pagemaster
  75. Little Magic
  76. Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos
  77. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition
  78. Super Scope 6
  79. GS Mikami: Joreishi wa Nice Body (Ghost Sweeper)
  80. Street Fighter Alpha 2
  81. WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game
  82. Mario & Wario
  83. Cacoma Knight in Bizyland
  84. Kirby’s Avalanche
  85. Smart Ball
  86. Knights of the Round
  87. Pilotwings
  88. Killer Instinct
    **TERMINATOR LINE**
  89. Super Star Wars
  90. Earthbound
  91. Super Bomberman
  92. Inspector Gadget
  93. Go! Go! Ackman
  94. The Adventures of Batman & Robin
  95. E.V.O.: The Search for Eden
  96. The Flintstones: The Treasure of the Sierra Madrock
  97. Super Smash TV
  98. Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken
  99. Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose
  100. Mega Man X
  101. Toy Story
  102. Battle Cross
  103. Out of This World
  104. Congo’s Caper
  105. 3 Ninjas Kick Back
  106. Addams Family Values
  107. Batman: Revenge of the Joker
  108. Taz-Mania
  109. Kirby’s Dream Land 3
  110. Wordtris
  111. Magical Pop’n
  112. Krusty’s Super Fun House
  113. Battletoads/Double Dragon
  114. Clock Tower
  115. Beavis & Butthead
  116. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
  117. Pac-in-Time
  118. Star Fox
  119. King of the Dragons
  120. Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run
  121. Ken Griffey Jr. presents Major League Baseball
  122. Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  123. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  124. Wolfenstein 3D
  125. Sunset Riders
  126. Mickey Mania
  127. Super Tekkyu Fight!
  128. Cool Spot
  129. Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally
  130. Doom
  131. Super Adventure Island II
  132. Home Alone
  133. Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill
  134. Disney’s Bonkers
  135. The Jungle Book
  136. The Itchy & Scratchy Game
  137. Indiana Jones: Greatest Adventures
  138. The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang
  139. The Lion King
  140. U.N. Squadron
  141. Spindizzy Worlds
  142. Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen
  143. Vegas Stakes
  144. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
  145. Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium
  146. Hagane
  147. Super 3D Noah’s Ark
  148. Pinocchio
  149. Bubsy II
  150. Super Adventure Island
  151. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure
  152. Pac-Attack
  153. Final Fight 2
  154. Final Fight 3
  155. Final Fight & Final Fight Guy
  156. Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage
  157. Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel
  158. Super Back to the Future II
  159. Ghoul Patrol
  160. Animaniacs
  161. Super Godzilla
  162. Captain Commando
  163. Scooby-Doo Mystery
  164. Star Fox 2
  165. ActRaiser 2
  166. Equinox
  167. Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow
  168. Super Bomberman 4
  169. X-Zone
  170. Bazooka Blitzkrieg
  171. Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions
  172. Wayne’s World
  173. Saban’s Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers
  174. DinoCity
  175. Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind
  176. The Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt
  177. Virtual Bart
  178. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare
  179. Operation Thunderbolt
  180. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
  181. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
  182. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
  183. The Flintstones
  184. T2: The Arcade Game
  185. Space Ace
  186. Disney’s Beauty & The Beast
  187. Dragon’s Lair
  188. Go! Go! Ackman 2
  189. Batman Forever
  190. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
  191. Shaq-Fu
  192. Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D
  193. The Adventures of Mighty Max
  194. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball

#IGCvSNES Lineup Order

Beginning November 2, 2020
Donate to Direct Relief. One game = $10. Three games = $20.
Check the hashtag #IGCvSNES on Twitter
Click the Game’s Title for its #IGCvSNES thread.
Click the Game’s YES/NO PILE Status for IGC’s Mini-Review

COMPLETED

SESSION #1
Brain Lord YES PILE
Super Adventure Island NO PILE
Goof Troop YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #2
Super Godzilla NO PILE
Super Bonk YES PILE
WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Super Genjin 2 (Super Bonk 2) YES PILE
BONUS GAME
: Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #3
The Lost Vikings YES PILE
Spanky’s Quest YES PILE
Street Fighter Alpha 2 YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Super Street Fighter II YES PILE
*Note: No more Street Fighter 2s for #IGCvSNES

ONE HOUR SESSION #1
Scooby-Doo Mystery NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #4
Zombies Ate my Neighbors YES PILE
Sunset Riders NO PILE
Sparkster YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Ghoul Patrol NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #5
Illusion of Gaia YES PILE
Spindizzy Worlds NO PILE
Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Seahag no Maki YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #6
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time YES PILE
U.N. Squadron NO PILE
Demon’s Crest YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #7
Hagane NO PILE
Super Adventure Island II NO PILE
Super 3D Noah’s Ark NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Doom NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Wolfenstein 3D NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #8
SimCity YES PILE
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja YES PILE
Vegas Stakes NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #9
Mario & Wario YES PILE
Mickey Mania NO PILE
Wrecking Crew ’98 YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Star Fox NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Star Fox 2 NO PILE
CANCELLED DUE TO EPILEPSY CONCERNS: Uniracers

THREE HOUR SESSION #10
Final Fight 2 NO PILE
NHL ’94 YES PILE
Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium NO PILE
BONUS GAME(s): Final Fight & Fight Fight Guy NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Final Fight 3 NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #11
King of the Dragons NO PILE
Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius YES PILE
Terranigma YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Knights of the Round YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Captain Commando NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Parodius YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Parodius: Fantastic Journey YES PILE

SUPER MARIO WORLD 30TH ANNIVERSARY BONUS
Super Mario World YES PILE
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest YES PILE
F-Zero YES PILE

ONE HOUR SESSION #2
ActRaiser 2 NO PILE
BONUS GAME: ActRaiser YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #12
Mario Paint YES PILE
Pac-in-Time NO PILE
Aladdin YES PILE
BONUS GAME(s): Mario’s Super Picross/NP Picross Vol 1 – 8 YES PILE

ONE HOUR SESSION #3
Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #13
Bubsy II NO PILE
Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D NO PILE
Disney’s Bonkers NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #14
SmartBall YES PILE
Indiana Jones: Greatest Adventures NO PILE
Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel NO PILE
BONUS GAME: NBA Hangtime YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #15 (Super Scope Session)
Super Scope 6 YES PILE
Yoshi’s Safari YES PILE
T2: The Arcade Game NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Battle Clash YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Bazooka Blitzkrieg NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Tin Star YES PILE
BONUS GAME: X-Zone NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Operation Thunderbolt NO PILE

POWER RANGERS MINI-MARATHON
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers NO PILE
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie NO PILE
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition YES PILE
Saban’s Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers NO PILE
Postponed: Gekisou Sentai Carranger (Failure to Load)

BONUS BENCHMARK SESSION
$1,600 RAISED BONUS GAME: Super Metroid YES PILE **CURRENT #1**
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Super Mario Kart YES PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts YES PILE
CATHY NEEDED A BREAK BONUS GAME: Super Punch-Out YES PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED SPECIAL LOOK GAME: BS Zelda UNRANKED YES
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Pilotwings YES PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Dreamland 3 NO PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Kirby Super Star YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Super Star Stacker YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Dream Course YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Avalanche YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #16
Equinox NO PILE
E.V.O. Search for Eden NO PILE
Plok YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #17
The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang NO PILE*
Biker Mice from Mars YES PILE
Dino City NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #18
Clock Tower NO PILE
Hameln no Violin Hiki YES PILE
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Mega Man X NO PILE

BONUS ALL-STARS SECTION
Chrono Trigger YES PILE
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #19
The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse YES PILE
Pitfall! The Mayan Adventure NO PILE
The Adventures of Mighty Max NO PILE

ONE HOUR SESSION #4
Cacoma Knight in Bizyland YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #20
Pop’n TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventures YES PILE
Magical Pop’n NO PILE
Sailor Moon: Another Story NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #21
Super Back to the Future II NO PILE
The Firemen YES PILE
DoReMi Fantasy: Milon’s DokiDoki Adventure YES PILE


NON-SESSION PHASE

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures NO PILE
The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare NO PILE
Virtual Bart NO PILE
The Itchy & Scratchy Game NO PILE
Krusty’s Super Fun House NO PILE
Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally NO PILE
Taz-Mania NO PILE
Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose NO PILE
Animaniacs NO PILE
Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage NO PILE
Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions NO PILE
Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos YES PILE
Porky Pig’s Haunted Holiday YES PILE
The Addams Family YES PILE
The Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt NO PILE
Addams Family Values NO PILE
Cool Spot NO PILE
Beavis & Butthead NO PILE
Batman: Revenge of the Joker NO PILE **UNRELEASED PROTOTYPE**
Batman Returns YES PILE
Batman Forever NO PILE
The Adventures of Batman & Robin NO PILE
3 Ninjas Kick Back NO PILE
Donkey Kong Country YES PILE
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble YES PILE
Mario is Missing EDUCATIONAL GAME EXEMPT FROM VERDICT
Home Alone NO PILE
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York NO PILE
Shaq-Fu NO PILE
Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City YES PILE
Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball NO PILE
Wayne’s World NO PILE
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past YES PILE
Disney’s Beauty & The Beast NO PILE
The Pagemaster YES PILE
Joe & Mac YES PILE
Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics YES PILE
Congo’s Caper NO PILE
Inspector Gadget NO PILE
Super Castlevania IV YES PILE
Castlevania: Dracula X YES PILE
Out of this World (Another World) NO PILE
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run NO PILE
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs NO PILE
Killer Instinct YES PILE
Battletoads/Double Dragon NO PILE
Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken NO PILE
Donald Duck no Mahō no Bōshi YES PILE
Pinocchio NO PILE
The Jungle Book NO PILE
Toy Story NO PILE
Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow NO PILE
Super Smash TV NO PILE
Super Star Wars NO PILE
Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back NO PILE
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi NO PILE
Tetris & Dr. Mario YES PILE (Dr. Mario Solo Release NO PILE)
Tetris 2 YES PILE
Wordtris NO PILE
Pac-Attack NO PILE
Tetris Attack YES PILE
Earthbound NO PILE
Dragon’s Lair NO PILE
Space Ace NO PILE
Mega Man 7 YES PILE
Rockman & Forte (Mega Man & Bass) YES PILE
Arkanoid: Doh It Again YES PILE
Mr. Do! YES PILE (Not Ranked on Leaderboard)


STILL TO COME


Aerobiz Supersonic
Alien³
Arkanoid: Doh it Again
Art of Fighting 2
Axelay
Bahamut Lagoon
Bass Masters Classic Pro Edition
Battletoads & Double Dragon
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
Beethoven
BlackThrone
Boogerman (Interplay Collection 1)
Bronkie The Bronchiasaurus
Brutal: Paws of Fury
Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs
Bushi Seiryūden: Futari no Yūsha
Captain Novolin
Chaos Seed: Fūsui Kairōki
Chuck Rock
Clay Fighter (Interplay Collection 1)
Clay Fighter 2 (Interplay Collection 2)
Claymates (Interplay Collection 2)
Cutthroat Island
Cybernator
Dennis the Menace
Disney’s Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey & Donald
Dragon View (Piko 1)
Dragon’s Lair
Earth Defense Force (Jaleco Collection 1)
Earthbound
Earthworm Jim 2 (Interplay Collection 2)
Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shōjo (Famicom Detective Club 2)
Fatal Fury Special
Final Fantasy IV (aka Final Fantasy 2 in the US)
Final Fantasy VI (aka Final Fantasy 3 in the US)
Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
Firepower 2000
Firestriker
Front Mission
Ganbare! Daiku no Gen-san
Gemfire
Gundam Wing: Endless Duel
Gunman’s Proof
Harvest Moon
Heracles no Eikō III: Kamigami no Chinmoku
Hong Kong ’97
Hook
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Volume One
Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S: Covert Action Teams
Judge Dredd
Jurassic Park
Kamen Rider
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run
King Arthur’s World
King of Demons
King of the Monsters 2
Lady Stalker: Kako kara no Chōsen
Laplace no Ma (Laplace’s Demon)
Lemmings
Lester the Unlikely
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals
Lufia: Fortress of Doom
Magic Sword
Magical Drop 2 (Data East Collection 1)
Magical Pop’n
Marvelous: Mōhitotsu no Takarajima
Mega Man 7
Mega Man Soccer
Metal Warriors
Mohawk & Headphone Jack
Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat 3
Mortal Kombat II
Mr. Do!
NBA Give ‘n Go
New Horizons
Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen
On the Ball/Cameltry
Paladin’s Quest
Phantom 2040
Pieces
Pinocchio
Pocky & Rocky
Populous
Prehistoric Man (Interplay Collection 2)
Prince of Persia
PTO: Pacific Theater of Operations
Q*Bert 3
Race Drivin’
Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon
Rise of the Robots
Robocop versus Terminator
Robotrek
Rock ‘n Roll Racing
Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day
Run Saber
Saturday Night Slam Masters
Secret of Mana
Shadowrun
Shin Nekketsu Kouha – Kunio-tachi no Banka
SimAnt
SimEarth
Skyblazer
Soccer Kid (Piko Interaction Collection 2)
SOS
Soul Blazer
Space Ace
Speed Racer
Spider-Man & X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Super Baseball 2020
Super Bomberman
Super Bomberman 2
Super Bomberman 3
Super Bomberman 4
Super Bomberman 5
Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie
Super Double Dragon (Technos Collection)
Super Empire Strikes Back
Super Famicom Wars
Super Gussun Oyoyo
Super Ninja Boy
Super Return of the Jedi
Super Robot Wars Gaiden
Super Star Wars
Super Tekkyu Fight!
Super Widget
Sutte Hakkun
Sutte Hakkun
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
The Flintstones
The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock
The Great Battle IV
The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie
The Humans (Piko Interactive Collection 1)
The Jetsons: Invasion of the Planet Pirates
The Pirates of Dark Water
The Tick
TimeCop
Top Racer 2 (Piko 2)
Trials of Mana
True Lies
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Umihara Kawase
Undercover Cops
Weaponlord (Namco Collection 2)
Wild Guns
Wolverine: Adamantium Rage
Wonder Project J
X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse
Ys V: Kefin, Lost Kingdom of Sand
Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling 2: 3-4
Zig Zag Cat

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.

%d bloggers like this: