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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Quest (Switch Review)

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

Yeah.

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Arcade Archives: Pinball (Review for Nintendo Switch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too bad it’s fake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

StarTropics

I’m rushing through all the games included with a Switch Online subscription, along with other NES games available on current consoles via other classic gaming collections, trying to get the Indie Gamer Chick Retroboards ready for launch (coming this Fall!). I usually post what games are the ones I’m about to hit-up during my NES play sessions. And then, when everyone saw that I was about to play StarTropics, it got an usual amount of hype and anxiety. Which took me by surprise, because StarTropics is such a non-entity in Nintendo history. It’s literally the only Nintendo-published franchise that has no representation in the Smash Bros series. Not a single cameo, trophy, sticker.. nothing. Maybe because it never came out in Japan and Smash Bros is supposed to be a tribute to Japanese games. I don’t know. I do know that, based on what I’ve seen from my fans (who tend to skew 7 to 10 years older than me), it is remembered. That should count for something.

It doesn’t, apparently. Frankly, I’m surprised Nintendo has even thought to include StarTropics in Switch Online, or the NES Classic for that matter. Maybe it was an afterthought. Given that the Switch Online port doesn’t include the “dip the note in water” instruction book mechanic that reveals you’re supposed to give the R.O.B. that pilots your submarine the code 747 to get past Chapter 4, it probably was an afterthought. And that’s a shame, because there’s some very fun gameplay in StarTropics. And a whole lot of bullshit and downtime, but hey, it’s free!

Hey, this place sucks-cola! You’re boring-cola! Go fuck yourself-cola!

StarTropics is one of the most give and take games I’ve ever played. It has a very indie feel to it, with lots of pop-culture references, or NPCs being given quirky speaking ticks (adding “cola” to the end of a lot of names and sentences for no fucking reason), and awful pacing issues. Action areas are buffered by sloggy top-down RPG style talking, and this is where the game is almost entirely ruined. It’s such a chore. You don’t open up the first action section of the game until you talk to every single, solitary member of the intro village. Which wouldn’t be bad if they had anything relevant to say. They don’t. It’s busy work for the sake busy work. If it was done for immersion, talk about a fail. It’d be like saying I couldn’t play a round of golf at the country club until I’ve talked to everyone in the dining hall, pro shop, gym, and swimming pool first. The world doesn’t work that way. StarTropics does, because it’s the absolute stupidest good game ever made.

Which is not to say it’s always stupid. It has some clever boss fights that are more than “smack enemy until dead” encounters. Here, you have to activate two buttons that drop this fire god thingy into water. Why a fire god thingy would place its lair above its only weakness is beyond me. Okay, fine, maybe it’s always stupid.

And that sense of busy work never ends. In the third chapter, you have to once again talk every boring villager, then make your way through a bush maze to the bottom of the village to talk to a chief, then make your way through the bush maze and to the top of the building the same chief is in, go up a stair case, talk to his comatose daughter who literally only says “Zzzz” before going back through the bush maze and out a different exit. BUSY WORK!

In the fifth level, you have to talk to everyone in a village, including a chief, to unlock a parrot. Then you have to walk all the way to the left of the map to find the parrot who will tell you that it won’t talk with you until you bring it a gift. Then you have to get into your submarine, where the R.O.B. the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. Then you have to go all the way south on the map, then east and submerge in your sub, which will take you to another island, where you pass a giant pipe organ that you can’t get past even if you know the right tune because you haven’t triggered the event that allows it yet. You have to make your way through a maze to find a worm to give to the parrot. You then have to go back to your sub, where AGAIN the ROB the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. Then you have to go south again, submerge in your sub, then go back up north to the island you started the level on and give the worm to the parrot. The parrot then tells you what keys you have to press on pipe organ to open up the action stage for the chapter. You then have to go back to your sub, where ONCE AGAIN the ROB the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. You then have to go south and east and submerge AGAIN in the same spot, then go to the island north of you and into the place with the pipe organ, where you now can press the keys and it’ll actually work. Finally, this opens up the action area for the chapter.

BUSY WORK!!

So much busy work that I’m surprised California schools don’t make StarTropics part of their ciriculum.

You can suck my asshole, Chapter 5, you miserable fucking slog.

It completely killed the mood of the game for me. Instead of feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation about the Indiana Jones-like adventure that awaited me every new action section, I felt a sense of relief that I was given a break from the boring RPG stuff. And that’s where StarTropics really fails. The RPG stuff is among the worst I’ve ever played. The writing is embarrassing. The NPCs are not remotely interesting (No, I don’t give a shit who won Miss Cola in a village with a population of eleven. IS THERE EVEN ANOTHER CHICK ON THIS ISLAND BESIDES THE 103 YEAR OLD? DID SHE EVEN COMPETE AGAINST YOU? You fucking won by default!) It’s BORING! But the action stuff is not among the best ever, which throws off the balance so much. I can’t tell if the action stuff is interrupting what the director thought was a brilliant RPG or if the RPG stuff was added to pad out the action. The two gameplay elements do not mix well at all.

And then there’s the action, which is based on grids and features some of the strangest movement ever. It feels clunky and never intuitive. Then again, I also had StarTropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge for the Wii Virtual Console, which kept the same basic idea but eliminated the grid stuff and found it to be practically unplayable. Maybe they were onto something here. But the issue is that too much of the “puzzle solving” is limited to slowly hopping around on different tiles hoping to spawn buttons that will open up the next room. It gets tedious. And then there’s times where you open up a new room and walk into it, only to find out it’s an insta-kill death pit. OR, even worse, you go up a staircase and it takes you out of the fucking stage and forces you to start it over again. A mechanic I officially nominate as the worst “gotcha” in gaming history. I can’t imagine playing this without the Switch’s Infinity Gauntlet-like rewind feature. I’d say it’s beneath the quality of StarTropics, but then again, read what you have to do to simply open up the action section of chapter five. Clearly Genyo Takeda had a busy work fetish and his main focus was coming up with as many ways as possible to create it for players. I literally can’t believe this is the same guy who was responsible for my beloved Punch-Out!! games. This shit feels beneath him.

With some older games, you can spot the exact moment that everyone creatively gave up and then broke out the cocaine. With StarTropics, that moment is easier to spot than most.

Reading back all the above, I realize it must sound like I hated StarTropics. I didn’t. All the above is frustration, because the level design (besides the gotcha shit) is really well done, and the combat is truly fantastic. Using a yoyo (now ROM-hacked into being called an “Island Star” because Yoyo is a trademarked term) to smack enemies works. It feels like it has weight to it, and I’m all about combat that feels like actual damage is being registered. There’s also a ton of items, a huge variety of enemies, and some of the most entertaining boss fights from the NES era. It mostly made the RPG slog worth slogging through. And then the game totally shits the bed by having the final two chapters turn into a generic space adventure. Hell, Zoda, the final boss and the titular character of the sequel, you don’t even learn the existence about until the very last action stage of the game. Having my island-hopping tropical adventure devolve into a dull affair featuring space aliens and ray guns was just the final punch in the gut for what is the most inconsistent NES game ever made. That’s what gives it that indie feel. It’s like nobody was ever there to tell anyone involved “maybe drop the 30 minute long RPG runaround stuff” or “maybe we shouldn’t do aliens.” It’s a great game without an editor, and hence it becomes merely okay.

The reveal of the whole game being about aliens would be quite the twist. That is, if that wasn’t spoiled by a single throw-away line earlier in the game. And here, seeing Zoda morph into this giant alien piranha thing would have been a heart-pounding final twist to the final boss fight. That is, if you the game hadn’t showed the morph about fifteen minutes earlier when you beat Zoda’s first form.

And that sucks, because there’s a masterpiece buried somewhere in this dumpster fire. A game that can be one of the most boring shit-sandwiches in gaming at its worst, yet still feels fresh when you’re actually fighting monsters and hoping around tiles. Perhaps because no game ever has felt like StarTropics. Not even its sequel. It’s almost thirty-years old and still feels like it has new ideas to bring to the table. I’d love to Nintendo give this to an indie developer with a pedigree and let them try to revive the series for modern audiences, only with sharp writing and less gotcha bullshit. Sadly, StarTropics has never had the chance to live up to its potential. That it can’t even get a passing reference in Smash Bros, a game that has EVERYTHING Nintendo in it, really tells you how much faith Nintendo has for the franchise. It’s dead. And it’s unlikely to come back. Well, at least beyond re-releasing it every few years. I mean, they’re not going to not re-release it. It’s Nintendo! That’s what they do!

StarTropics was developed by Nintendo
Free to play with a Switch Online Subscription

StarTropics is Chick-Approved and soon to be ranked on the IGC NES Retroboard

IGC Retro Odyssey: Atari Flashback Classics (Switch)

For the IGC Retro Odyssey concept, I have members of Indie Gamer Team set a target for me, where if I find that many games in a retro compilation compelling enough to play further, the set wins my Seal of Approval. For Atari Flashback Classics, the target number was 50 out of 150, or 33.3%. The actual set finished with..

Fourteen approved. Or 9.3%.

Maybe that was to be expected. I cut my teeth in the PS1/N64 era of gaming. The two most important games of my rearing were Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie. Comparatively, most Atari 2600 era games would barely qualify as mini-games even then. I’m sure my opinions on these relics will infuriate the generations that came before me, but remember: nothing bad I say here undoes the historical contributions of Atari or its games. If you genuinely enjoy playing these “classics” today, I’m happy for you. But these games need to be evaluated on their own merit, without historic context, because they’re commercially sold today to gamers of all ages. Games between 29 to 47 years old. Where even the newest commercially-released game (which came out after I was born, I had no idea such games existed for the 2600) is still a game developed for a console that came out in 1977. These games were never meant to still be fun forty-years later. The test of time isn’t fair, but it still happens anyway.

Hell, Atari Flashback Classics is LOADED with games that didn’t even get the test of the present. Maze Invaders is a cancelled arcade game where you play as a drunken Lolo and plays like a cross of Wizard of Wor and Ladybug. It’s terrible, but in an endearing way, like listening to elderly basketball players bitch about the three-point line.

Arcade games are a little more future proof, and that makes sense when you think about it. They’re not something you purchase for the sake of enjoying at home. They were made for route operators or arcade owners to generate ongoing revenue. Companies who made games that quickly went obsolete, ending the lifespan of what should be a long-term investment, would be unlikely to get further business from operators. So the games had to be fun enough to generate revenue for a couple years.

That shows with Atari Flashback Collection. Thirty-two of the titles included are coin-operated games. I liked six of them: Asteroids Deluxe, Black Widow, Lunar Lander, Pool Shark, Red Baron, and Space Duel. One of those, Pool Shark, I’ll admit was a guilty pleasure. The concept is beyond stupid: you play as a cue-ball, and you simply move around a pool table pocketing the other balls. That’s it. It’s so dumb, but it also made me giggle in just how desperate it is. Also, it’s sort of funny because growing up a little girl who had a pool table in her home, I used to “play pool” by just rolling the cue-ball at the other balls with no rhyme or reason besides trying to pocket them. That someone took THAT, a six-year-old’s version of billiards, and made it into a video game.. I can’t help but wonder if creator Michael Albaugh (who was with Atari from 1976 – 2000) had a similar experience to mine. I can’t argue with a straight face that Pool Shark is a good game, but I had fun with it. That’s all that should matter.

By the way, Pool Shark was a complete failure. Operators hated it. Very few units were ever made. I can’t imagine why.

Other games in the set should have been good, but were let-down by poor translations of their unique arcade control schemes. Crystal Castles is one of the better games to come out of the Pac-Man craze, but you can’t replace a trackball with the Switch touch-screen, or even the analog stick. It’s just not the same, and can’t hold a candle to the original. Even with adjustable controls, the bear moved like he had just taken a Belushi-sized speedball, which practically renders the game unplayable (I called it Crystal Meth Castles). Every trackball game suffers this fate. While playing the set, I realized the only way you could do a proper home-version on consoles is to do a bundle that includes replicas of the arcade controls. Which, by the way, would be worth the price. People who actually give a shit about historical accuracy (and I do) would pay the difference. Tempest isn’t Tempest without a turbo spinner. Missile Command isn’t Missile Command without a trackball (weirdly enough, the Atari 2600 port plays MUCH better and was one of eight home games I liked in the collection). In fact, in only one game with unique controls, Lunar Lander, did the touch-screen controls feel like they were a suitable replacement for the original. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe the games wouldn’t have stood up anyway. But at least they would have had a better chance. I know for a fact Crystal Castles is better than this, but my rule for IGC Retro Odyssey is I can only evaluate the games as they’re commercially available for modern platforms. The only version of Crystal Castles you can buy for consoles now is bear-ly playable. See what I did there?

This is Red Baron, which does hold up relatively well. It’s not amazing or anything, but it was the game that convinced George Lucas to sign a deal with Atari. So there’s that.

This issue carries over to the Atari 2600 and 5200 games that used unique controllers. For the Atari 5200, forget about it. Every game included with it either controls poorly or is overall a shoddy release. The ports of Millipede and Asteroids were so bad that I was honestly embarrassed for the company. The company that basically no longer exists, but still, they were pretty fucking shameful. Take a look at the 2600 version of Millipede (which I didn’t like overall, but hey, it’s pretty Millipede-like in terms of gameplay if not graphics)..

And now compare that to the Atari 5200 port, made for a significantly more advanced console (and mind you, this game cost nearly $100 in 2019 dollars back in the day)..

Genuinely repulsive. Only the most shallow, vain ignoramus would trade good graphics for good gameplay. Then again, Atari was run by Ray Kassar..

As for the 2600, unfortunately some sacred all-time games didn’t exactly hold up today. Adventure is probably the most famous of the lot that I had to fail. Despite the set being able to “eliminate” the infamous Atari flicker, Adventure still has blinking issues. Additionally, sometimes the Dragon spawns in a way you can’t hope to run away from. Sometimes you can maroon items in a way where you can’t reach them. And it’s just plain dull compared to modern games that I can’t simply vanish the knowledge that they exist from my mind. Honestly, I think I would have been bored with Adventure even if I had been born back then. It’s just such a nothing game.

Duck Duck GOOSE, mother fucker!

Weirdly enough, two of the eight home console games I enjoyed in this set never actually came out. Both Saboteur (which almost got reskinned as A*Team) and Save Mary (by Tod Frye, programmer of the infamous dumpster fire Pac-Man 2600) had more going for them than a typical Atari game. Well, fine, Save Mary is another “glorified mini-game” type of deal, but it’s a cool one. A woman is in the bottom of a well that’s filling up with water. You have to drop boxes that she can stand on. It’s very clever. It’s also the Duke Nukem Forever of its time. It spent years in development (Frye was probably only part-time by then, and the game was developed by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell’s Axlon), underwent multiple renditions, and ultimately never was completed in its original state. Still, Bushnell himself apparently called it his favorite Atari 2600 game. Meanwhile, Saboteur is cut from the Yar’s Revenge cloth. At heart, it’s a simple shooter, but dressed up slightly better.

Speaking of Yars, it was my favorite home game in the set. It actually held up relatively well, although there’s only two screens. It’s the one and only game in the entire collection I wish had more going for it, because the concept had legs and I would have felt compelled to continue on its own gameplay merits. A home-brew sequel is included in the collection, but it’s really just a glorified ROM hack that moves the action to the center of the screen and feels like Yars’ Revenge as played through a fun-house mirror. Again, ignore the way its advertised as a completely unique game. It’s a ROM hack, and nothing more. There’s a few of those included. Adventure II is a ROM hack of Adventure. Haunted House (the first video game to ever give me a seizure, which happened when my father bought me an early version of the Atari Flashback plug-and-play as a novelty gift before I started IGC) gets a sequel called Return to Haunted House, which is another Adventure ROM hack. Meanwhile, other un-released games included are Combat Two (which is so bad that it’s practically broken) and the 2600 version of Tempest that isn’t even finished and looks like it takes place on Skeletor’s underwear.

I hated the almost the entire Atari experience, but I did learn some things. I learned that Atari’s reputation of having poor arcade translations is total bullshit. Space Invaders isn’t included (given that it was THE killer app that sold the system, come on AtGames: cut a fucking check to include it), but I’ve played the 2600 port and it’s very close to the arcade experience. Asteroids is in the set, and the 2600 version I liked more than the arcade version (others pointed out you can cheese it and not even try, which might be true but I didn’t really explore it). Missile Command is stripped down, simplified, and better on the 2600 than in the arcade version (that might owe to the crappy control translation for the arcade version). Granted, that’s not always the case. Home versions of Crystal Castles, Pong (which has invincible AI), and Warlords are disgraceful. But still, if I were a kid in the 80s who was into Centipede, I don’t think I’d hate the game I got for the Atari 2600 if that was my only home option.

Don’t let the 150 game count fool you though. A lot of the games are stuff nobody in their right mind could want to play today. Educational games like Basic Math, board games like Backgammon or Checkers, and lots of sports games pad out the game count. Some of them are neat as curios. I came very close to saying “yes” to a bizarre one-on-one baseball game called Home Run that was such a desperate, god-awful attempt at doing baseball early in the 2600’s life-cycle (before the file sizes crept up) that you can’t help but admire it. It’s actually kind of playable too. In a silly, I’m laughing at you and not with you type of way. On the flip side of that, there’s stuff like Golf or Miniature Golf, both of which I think would have to be on the list of worst games I’ve ever played in my entire life.

About ten years ago, my Dad bought me a MAME panel, fully-loaded, off Ebay. Seven buttons per a player. Authentic arcade parts. It’s very nice. And I bring that panel up because included on its surface is a turbo spinner that exists just to play Tempest. That’s how important that spinner is to the Tempest experience: an arcade panel that cost close to $1,000 has an interface just for it. (Well, it also works as a steering wheel too, and it’s not like I’ve played all 12,000+ games I have for MAME so there might be other spinner-based games). No amount of controller adjustments to the Switch Joycons or alternative controllers (I tried a Pro and GameCube controller) can make up for the speed-of-light accuracy of the turbo spinner.

Really, there’s easily under 100 games in the set that most people would actually want to at least experiment with. But experimenting is as far as you’ll probably make it. The legendary Swordquest games are included, and the comic books that the tie-in contest used are available, but the gameplay is so abstract and so anti-fun that you can completely understand how only a handful of gamers submitted the correct answers. Neat ideas, I guess, but the actual “gameplay” would boil down to variations of Avalanche or Frogger or other games that already existed. And the Frogger-like components in the Swordquest games were honestly the worst versions of Frogger I’ve ever played. The Swordquest games started as a sequel to Adventure, and not that I like Adventure, but at least it was its own thing instead of derivatives of other, better games.

That was the story for Atari Flashback Classics to me: lots of ambition (sometimes. Anyone that thinks they weren’t totally phoning it in with garbage like Basic Math or Slot Machine is so drunk on nostalgia they probably vomit out chunks of Punky Brewster), lots of imagination, but no means to see it out. A lot of Atari’s staff were handicapped by things like limited storage (every single KB cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in production posts) and a cut-throat work environment where programmers cliqued-up and rarely intermingled. So yea, I hated most of the games. But, that I actually liked eight of 2600 games is kind of a miracle. I wish I could recommend the set because no collection of classic games is closer to the modern indie can-do experience.

It says Spire. IT SAYS SPIRE! That gigantic, bejeweled sword is MINE!

But I can’t. The controller translations are garbage. There’s no bonus features unless you count unreleased games (which I’m not) or instruction books. There’s online leaderboards, but only for the arcade games, and online leaderboards for terrible games is like putting garnish on a plate of shit. And there’s a lot of missing games. Why isn’t Battlezone on this set? Why couldn’t they spring the extra money and include Activision games? I mean, this is a $40 game. That ain’t cheap, and these games have such limited play value that you need as many reasons to buy as possible. I’m guessing Activision’s 2600 games haven’t aged that much better than Atari ones, but I can’t know until I play them. The only third-party games included are M Network games, and they all aged badly too. Really, this set just feels incomplete and cheap. Not as cheap as Flashback is on Xbox One, where the same games are broken into three sets of fifty games each and will cost you $60 to get them all. But still, the only thing keeping this from being the worst set of classic games I’ve ever played is the fact that I own Dragon’s Lair Trilogy.

INDIE GAMER CHICK RETRO-APPROVED RANKINGS

Arcade
1. Lunar Lander
2. Space Duel
3. Black Widow
4. Red Baron
5. Asteroids Deluxe
6. Pool Shark

Atari 2600/5200
1. Yar’s Revenge
2. Save Mary
3. Fatal Run
4. Saboteur
5. Combat
6. Bowling
7. Asteroids (2600 version)
8. Missile Command (2600 version)

Total Games: 150
IGC Goal: 50
IGC Approved: 14
**SET FAILS**

Atari Flashback Classics was developed by AtGames
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$39.99 just lost points with the senior demographic in the making of this review.

The same game is $19.99 on Vita. Same collection. Switch Tax!! Ba na na na na na na na SWITCH TAX! Yes, I just sang the Batman 60s theme but replaced the words “Bat” and “Man” with “Switch” and “Tax.”

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