Short Subject Saturdays: Böbl (NES Indie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look, Ma! No hands!

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

EMULATION EXTRAS

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA MEDIA FEATURES

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

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

THE ULTIMATE VERDICT ON THE COLLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

YES!: 5
NO!: 8

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

FINAL RANKINGS

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

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

GAME REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
for Arcades
Released October 11, 1989

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YES!: 20 + SonSon
NO!: 13

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

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

Final Rankings

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

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

GAME REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capcom Sports Club (1997)
Designed by Yoshifumi Fukuda

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

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

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

Darkstalkers Series (1994 – 1997)

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

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

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

Darkstalkers (1994) Verdict: YES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eco Fighters (1994)
Designed by Keisuke Mori

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Duel (1988)
Designed by Takashi Nishiyama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pnickies (1994)
Designed by Masanobu Tsukamoto

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

Rally 2011 LED Storm (1988)
Designed by Tomoshi Sadamoto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger Road (1987)
Designed by Tokuro Fujiwara

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

Avenging Spirit (2022 Release Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avenging Spirit is Chick-Approved.

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

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

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

LCD Games of the 80s VII: The Grand Finale

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VI

Here we go. This will really be the final part for a while, since I’ve run out of material to source from. But, I’ve gone all out here with the most games I’ve ever done for one of these. If your favorite childhood LCDs are still missing.. sorry. Actually, I probably would have done them if someone had emulated them. The issue with that is, someone has to donate a unit to someone willing to program the emulation for this. It’s actually likely they won’t ever get the original back either, because if you want to truly get the emulation and the backgrounds perfect, it might require the physical game itself to be destroyed in the process.

I wanted to do games like Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Super Mario Bros. for Game & Watch, but nobody has done them yet. Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch fetches hundreds of dollars. If I owned any rare LCD, I would donate it for this. The fact is, one day, these will stop working. But, if you donate your rare game now, yea, you lose out on a valuable keepsake. BUT, you’ve also preserved that game FOREVER, for everyone who will ever want to play it. Even shitheads like me who are likely to dump on it in features like this.

I almost added Game & Watch Gallery 4 to this, but I ended up with too many games on here to begin with.

See, no matter what I think of the quality of these games, I’m very happy they’ve been preserved. I love video games, and it’s not cool to believe only the games that I like should be immortalized. LCD games are a not-insignificant part of our heritage, and it’s a shame more haven’t been adapted. I played many of the games featured in the last three parts from the Internet Archive’s Handheld History exhibit. It’s a wonderful selection, but it’s limited to only 75 games, not even a quarter of Tiger Electronics’ combined output. It needs to grow! I’ve played LCD games where I feel there’s educational value for game designers. Look at the Tiger Electronics version of Gauntlet and its outside-the-box thinking on how to adapt it. Look at the genuinely dazzling Bandai port of Frisky Tom. But, even bad titles like Bandai’s Burgertime serve to show why some ideas don’t work. These could easily give inspiration to a new generation of indie developers. So, if you’re sitting on a mountain of Tiger LCDs, don’t just hoard them. Give them to the world

Special thanks to the Handheld Game Museum for their cataloging of these. Check this site out, seriously. My jaw dropped when I saw just how many games Tiger Electronics did.

Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, to EVERYONE who contributed these games. I’ll try to be nice to them. Okay, that’s a lie, but I’ll be fair, I promise.

LIFEBOAT!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1983)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

indie-gamer-chick-approvedCertainly one of the better spinning plate Game & Watch releases, a duel screen affair where you have to rub your head and pat your belly at the same time. No wait, actually you have to watch both screens and catch people jumping off a boat and help them reach the land on either side of the screen. Game & Watch did tons of these style of games, but Lifeboat is genuinely the only one that I couldn’t put down. Seriously, this should have been done a lot sooner than it was. I wanted to lead-off with the very first Game & Watch I’ve ever said is really good without having to qualify that statement with “for an LCD game.” Nah, Lifeboat is genuinely the best Game & Watch, at least of the ones I’ve played.

TOWERING RESCUE!!
Gakken (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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One of the simpler LCDs I’ve played. You just go back and forth and grab people stranded on a building and fly them to safety. You don’t even drop the ladder for them. It happens automatically. You only get one life, so that’s different, and it ended when I pushed left too much and I crashed into a building. It was the first time I saw the idea of “don’t just mash the button, or else” implemented, and it certainly did it better than Nintendo’s take on the same idea. While I wouldn’t want Towering Rescue today, I imagine it was a decent enough time waster in 1981.

SNOOPY!!
Nintendo Table Top (1983)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Snoopy is the OTHER game I played that penalizes you for moving too far. It’s a spinning-plate game where you have to smash colored music notes generated by Schroeder’s piano. I wanted to like this, because it’s so colorful and.. I mean.. LOOK AT IT! I very much regret that I didn’t grow-up in an era where “handheld” games looked like miniature arcade machines. Well, except for the fact that they mostly suck. Maybe I dodged a bullet, actually. Snoopy is a TERRIBLE game. It’s very sluggish, and positioning yourself to get to the notes is such a chore. It’s basically a revamp of Nintendo’s previous Game & Watch release Vermin, only you need to hit a button to activate the mallet. If you move too far over, you fall to your death. One of Nintendo’s very worst LCDs (yea yea, I know it’s an VFD).

SNOOPY’S TENNIS!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Probably the most famous Game & Watch that hasn’t been adapted to any Game & Watch Gallery, Snoopy’s Tennis is, surprise, not actually a Tennis game. It’s a spinning plate title where Charlie Brown lobs tennis balls to one of three channels and you have to hit them off the screen above him. You have to time it right, because if you miss, you have to wait an extra frame of animation before you can swing or move again, which is a nice touch. Occasionally Lucy Van Pelt, the biggest bitch in all of fiction, will block the lane with either a high or low racket that bats the balls back at you. On Game A, it takes FOREVER for the action to get intense, so go straight to Game B, though even that is kinda slow. I get the impression this was targeted specifically towards younger kids, and as a result, it’s pretty slow to get going and overall quite boring. On the plus side, it has the funniest death animation in Game & Watch: Snoopy just goes to sleep. It’s the first time anything related to The Peanuts actually made me laugh.

TURTLE BRIDGE!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1982)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

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While spinning plate type of games are the most common LCD game type, cross-the-road games are the surest bet for quality gaming. Well, relatively speaking. It’s not a sure bet by any means. Take Turtle Bridge, a slog of a game where you have to deliver a package from one side of the river to the other by hopping across the backs of turtles. There’s two catches. #1: fish draw closer to the turtles, who will eventually submerge to grab a bite to eat, and if you’re on them, or jump to them, you die. #2: the asshole who you’re supposed to deliver the package to has his mind wander and he disappears from time to time, leaving you stranded on the bridge and watching for fish while the person finishes taking his dump or whatever he’s doing. It sounds intense, but it’s just a boring, annoying slog of a game. Turtle Bridge has fans, but I’m not one of them.

BASEBALL!! and ENGINE TIME!! and DEFENDO!!
ENGINE TIME!!
Vtech Explorer Time & Fun (198?)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Vtech Time & Fun is basically generic off-brand Game & Watch that was sold through Sears, actually. They’re one of the most prolific makers of LCDs, some of which directly rip-off Nintendo’s gameplay, only suckily. These games though? Their Explorer line, though, is just desperate. I started cracking-up so hard because it has a compass and a teeny tiny little LCD flashlight built into it. That’s the most pathetic grasping at straws for a competitive edge I’ve ever seen in my life. “Gentlemen, how can we compete with Nintendo?” “I know.. hear me out.. you know how boring camping is? Well..” And it was a whole series of games! While they did a deluxe Baseball model that probably plays closer to the actual sport’s rules, their Explorer Baseball is really just a spinning plate game. Move your batter left and right and hit the balls. There’s no action button, and nothing else to do with baseball. It’s NOT baseball. You just have to intercept the balls, and rarely one will curve. You know, for challenge. It’s far and away the most basic LCD I’ve done in this now seven-part series, but they did the same exact game two more times, more or less. Engine Room has you shoveling coal as it reaches you, while Defendo has you thumping soldiers rushing your tent. I guess they had to skimp on the gameplay and pass the expense on to a tiny toy compass and a flashlight about as bright as lobotomized Kardashian.

ROLLER COASTER!!
Vtech (198?)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Another in the Explorer series, but the only one that actually had different gameplay. This is a juggler-variation of a spinning plate that’s closest cousin is Nintendo’s Game & Watch legend Fire, which gets closed a lot. Roller Coasters go across a broken track and you have to stand over three channels and juggle them to safety. It’s a toothless bore, but at least it’s more interesting than the other games in the Explorer series. I had planned to ignore it, but then I found a Vtech game that more directly rips off Fire, only it completely botches it..

CONDOR!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

See the three birds in this picture? The one on the left is about to cost me a life because the very next frame is it hitting the ground. It’s just awful design because it looks like it has one more frame to go before it hits the ground. Vtech’s direct rip-offs of Game & Watch games scream “we don’t understand what we’re doing at all!”

See?

Another straight-up rip-off of a Game & Watch design, in this case a mirrored version of Fire. You’re a caveman, and baby birds fall out of a nest above you, which you then CLUB TO DEATH WITH A HAMMER and then juggle their carcasses to the other side of the screen. Holy crap!! I can’t believe I can say this about an LCD game but Jesus Christ that’s so insanely violent!! Plus, they completely fucked-up Fire. Birds that are higher up on one channel will hit the ground faster than birds lower on another. Like Banana did with Manhole, they took one of the better Nintendo games and made it a lot worse. And more grotesque.

PIRATE!! and MONKEY!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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These are the exact same game with different sprites, and easily the most basic of the higher-end Game & Watch rip-offs. They’re the most basic spinning plate style games, where you have three channels to block people climbing up things. For Monkey, it’s coconut trees. For Pirate, it’s your ship. I’m going to assume they just recycled the programs from this for some of those Explorer games from above, and other games still to come. I wouldn’t want to play these, but at least they’re faster paced than other three-channel plate spinners and feature fun themes with awesome sprites, especially Pirate. See, I can be generous. But, let’s keep it real.. even their games that play fine are nothing compared to Nintendo’s.

PARACHUTE!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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It’s not simply the “name brand” aspect. Sorry all wannabes, but Nintendo just plain made better games. Here’s THEIR three-channel plate spinner. Parachute!! is the exact same gameplay as Vtech’s Pirate and Monkey, but it just plays faster, has better graphics, a more fun theme, and even little details like an LCD shark that occasionally pokes its fin and head up. The shark doesn’t even factor into gameplay, but it’s that extra touch towards making the experience as fun and playful as possible. As dirt simple a concept as this is, not to mention insanely easy from a gameplay perspective, it’s one of the best Game & Watch games and probably the best plate spinner ever made. It’s like popping LCD bubble-wrap.

PANCAKE!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Another that looks like a Game & Watch. Remember, in 1981, before the NES, it was a lot easier for a parent who had a kid asking for a Game & Watch for Christmas to instead get one of these. It feels skeezy to me. It’s another Fire/Chef clone, and of all the direct rip-offs of Game & Watch releases, Pancake plays the best. It’s still boring though.

BANANA!! and SLEEP WALKER!!
Vtech Time & Fun (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Vtech was pretty shameless about ripping off many of Nintendo’s Game & Watch designs. The iconic Manhole by Nintendo is pilfered here not once, but twice, only with much worse gameplay as the timing of when you have to make cover a path is all wrong. Given how Nintendo is famously litigious, I genuinely can’t believe they didn’t sue Vtech for some of their designs. Then again, this takes a famously decent Game & Watch and makes it nearly unplayable. Maybe they considered it free quality advertising?

ESCAPE!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

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It looks a lot like a real Game & Watch, and I think the actual gameplay is original. Then again, I haven’t played every Game & Watch so maybe I’m wrong. It’s sort of like Turtle Bridge, except without the crossing-back part. the idea is you’re sneaking prisoners out of a jail. The gate opens and closes, and there’s two lanes of guards that have five total openings. As long as the guards are on the bricks, you’re safe to move. If they pass through one of the five archways, they can see you. It’s not a bad concept, honestly. It’s one of Vtech’s stronger games, but I still didn’t really enjoy it. It would have been better with clearer-marked safety zones. Yea, I’ll go ahead and call this the best Vtech Game & Swatch.

BOMB FIGHT!!
Vtech Mini-Time & Fun (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedIt’s extremely hard for any of these games to actually get me to zonk out on, so imagine my surprise when this turned out to cost me over fifteen minutes. It’s not even better than other spinning plate games, really. Some dude chucks bombs at an elephant and you move the trunk and squirt them back at him. That’ sit. It’s easy. It’s so stupid, yet I just totally zoned out playing it, and next thing I know the Secret Base video on the Utah Jazz I was watching had finished and I was still playing. Maybe it’s because it’s so cramped and that adds to the intensity. Actually, no, here’s why: because it’s the only LCD juggler I’ve played where you can get ahead of the bounce. The water spray works at any distance. It doesn’t feel like you have to wait until the object is right on top of you to deflect it. Never seen that before, and it makes the game more exciting than artificial close calls. Wow. Even Vtech made a decent LCD. It proves my theory: EVERYONE who made many of these (and Vtech had over a hundred) had at least one winner.

RUSSIAN GAME & WATCH CLONES!!
Angstrem (1980s)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

A real 1984 Mickey Mouse Game & Watch, later reskinned as Egg.

Even though I’m not at all a fan of the Game & Watch anti-classic Egg, aka Mickey Mouse, I had to include this in my series of LCDs of the 80s. In Soviet Russia, the USSR authorized Game & Watch clones to be manufactured. 18 were made, and legends of the franchise titles like Octopus (released there as Mysteries of the Ocean) and Chef (released there as Merry Chef) were cloned pixel-for-pixel. Then, there’s Mickey Mouse, which not only got a pixel-for-pixel clone, but the exact same game code was reused ELEVEN MORE TIMES! Here’s the three examples I’ve been able to play.

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Why make two-thirds of your entire LCD game lineup the same game? There’s two reasons for that. The first is these we made on a fraction of the budget and the factory making them could only produce one type of circuit board. The way LCD games work, you can have the exact same game code but shape the actual lights differently, and that’s what they did. The second reason, and the most interesting: in Russia, they actually sold kits that allowed you to change the theme of your Game & Watch. It would still be the same game of Egg, of course, but the appearance would be different. That’s neat. While I personally don’t like Egg at all.. and I also don’t endorse cloning (in this case, it’s the appropriate use of the term).. part of me is happy kids from he other side of the Iron Curtain had their own Game & Watch series. For some reason, that puts a smile on my face. Gaming is truly universal.

MICKEY MOUSE!! and DONKEY KONG CIRCUS!!
Nintendo Game & Watch Panorama Series (1984)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate/Juggler

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In the very first LCD Games of the 80s feature I did here at IGC, I gave a snarky one-line review to these games, but they deserve better. I consider all juggler-type games to be part of the broader spinning-plate theme, and this is a prime example of it. As Mickey or Donkey Kong, depending on which version you play (though after checking a couple times, I’ve determined they’re the exact same difficulty either way), you move back and forth and juggle pineapples or batons that drop through five different channels. Drop one and you lose a life. Here’s the twist: there four actual spots you can stand on and your hands are stuck over two different channels as fireballs (or burning batons) fall onto the playfield, and if you touch the fire, you also lose a life. It’s awful because (1) there’s no sense of momentum. They could have easily added above and below motion lines to show you which direction the objects are going. (2) The timing of when the fire will hit your hands is so touchy and often synced perfectly with a falling object you have to juggle. I hated these. I really hated them.

PENGUIN LAND!!
by Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Versus Action

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This could have been one of the greats, but I didn’t get a chance to play it two player. It’s a battle type game. Bombs fall onto the playfield and the penguin has to catch them and throw them back at the walrus and wait for ice cubes to spawn on the left side of the screen. Stack three ice cubes to reach the top of the screen and score points. It’s a lot of fun, actually. A different concept. But I couldn’t get the anyone to play it with me. Oh, and despite being based on the Doki Doki Penguin Land series, this isn’t a puzzle game. That’s so weird.

WILD MAN JUMP!! and MONKEY JUMP!!
Vtech (1981 and 1982)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

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Vtech actually could rip-off with the best of them, but to their credit, their Donkey Kong is a closer LCD Donkey Kong than the crap that Coleco came up with. It LOOK so much like Donkey Kong that I’m stunned this wasn’t a major lawsuit from Nintendo, who DID in fact sue over Tiger’s King Kong game (and Tiger’s King Kong game sort of jump-started the whole Nintendo/Universal fiasco, with Tiger Electronics being the first company to actually ask Universal “hey wait, do you even own King Kong to begin with?”). Ironically, this is a LOT closer to Donkey Kong than King Kong ever was. Both these games play functionally the same, though I feel the colored game is a lot more unresponsive. I managed to reach the top of both games only when I stopped trying to grab the items and just legged it to the top. They look like Donkey Kong but there’s nothing fun about them.

DONKEY ANGLER!!
Gakken (1982?)
Gameplay Type: Spinning Plate

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I got so excited when I heard the name. I pictured Donkey Kong in a tacky fishing jackets. One of those fuzzy fishing lures that I’ve never actually seen (and I’ve “gone fishing” with my Dad a dozen times, though if you never get a bite, does it really count as fishing, or did we really just drive off to stare at body of water while contemplating if it’s worth impaling yourself “accidentally” with a hook if it’ll get you home to your TV and video games faster?). But actually this is just a three channel spinning plate game. The thing that really strikes me about this is just how much it looks like a Game & Watch. Even the sprites look exactly like Nintendo’s Mr. Game & Watch-type sprites. It’s so close it gets uncomfortable. Anyway, boring game but at least a little faster-paced than your typical plate spinner.

GRAB MAN!!
Unknown Developer (1980s? 90s?)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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This is literally the same game as the Toby Pac-Man, with the same “must be facing the dots rules” that I showed in LCD Games of the 80s IV. UPDATE: I actually got the game working once I realized I had to actually hold the movement buttons down. Also, I might be DUMB for not figuring that out since I literally have done 100 of these games and should have known that. Anyway, it’s weird that, of all the games to copy, the weird Pac-Man where you can’t eat dots if you’re facing the wrong direction was the one.

LAS VEGAS!!
Bandai (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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I probably shouldn’t have even included this one, but the theme boggled my mind so much that I had to. You hear the name “LAS VEGAS” and you naturally assume “card games, maybe dice, maybe roulette.” Nope. It’s a minimalist spinning plate game. Three careless slot jockeys are playing and when they hit a jackpot, you’re a degenerate grabbing the coins that slip pass them, I guess? There’s only three channels and the game tells you what they’re getting. It’s so weird and stupid. Why? Why would you even make this game? It’s boring and it feels like it should be a different name. Slot Jockey! There you go!

TOM & JERRY POPPER!!
Gakken (1983)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Another spinning plate game, though this one is a bit more challenging by virtue of how the sprites are done. They’re supposed to be balloons that Jerry is launching at you, and they sorta bob around and shrink like they’re fading into the background. It’s hard to clock. Here’s what’s REALLY weird: it’s a three channel plate spinner, but there’s a huge gap between the second and third panels. You don’t step on that gap, mind you. You jump from the 2nd channel to the 3rd like normal. It makes it feels like this “we gotta fit this all in to a small screen” haphazard design. Tom & Jerry’s not fun, but it’s notably weird.

MOTOR CROSS!!
Unknown Manufacturer (19??)
Gameplay Type: Racer

Remember the “TWO WEEKS” scene from Total Recall? Well, “GET READY FOR A SURPRISE!”

This feels like a cruel joke, because it’s shaped just like a Game Boy. It feels like something designed to dupe witless parents too stupid to realize they didn’t just find the bargain of the century while trying to find little Timmy a Game Boy for Christmas. I get that this phenomena exists in all forms of entertainment, from Asylum Mock Busters to Mega Super Rangers to alarmingly red Game Boy knock-offs. But the really batshit thing? Motor Cross is, no joke, the first racing LCD I’ve played that doesn’t suck. I can’t believe it at all! It makes me feel unclean to heap any praise on this obvious attempt at confusing unaware consumers, but Motor Cross’ gameplay is rock solid, genuinely exciting, kind of addictive, and yes, even fun.

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedMotor Cross actually does feel like a race, with an accelerator, breaking, laps, and fuel consumption. Huh. Even wilder is just how many objects on screen you might have to weave around. Sometimes, the entire course fills with bikes, and successfully navigating through it feels incredible. Finally, Motor Cross does what I didn’t think was possible in an LCD game: creates a sense of speed. There’s three speed you can use, and I shit you not, they work to make it feel like you’re on a bike traveling at a high velocity. I don’t think it quite beats Frisky Tom, but it’s one of the best LCD games I’ve ever played. Goddamnit, I have no choice but to declare Motor Cross the greatest LCD racing game until a more ethical option comes along.

ISIDORO & SONJA – CACCIA AL LADRO!!
aka HEATHCLIFF & SONJA – HUNT THE THIEF
Vtech (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning Plate

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Apparently “Heathcliff or Garfield” was a debate before I was born. I didn’t even know Heathcliff existed by time I was a Saturday Morning Cartoon watcher, but they still reran Garfield & Friends on TV. Game, set, match. Garfield wins. Fatality! But, hey, at least Heathcliff has a pair of games that are marginally better than the Konami Garfield LCD. This is the weaker of the two. You have to throw bombs up at someone raiding fish out of garbage cans. Occasionally a dog gets in the way, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to move it. I thought throwing a bomb at the dog would get it to move, but it doesn’t. It seems to move randomly, and that means you can’t defend that can. The fish remaining are presented by sprites. Vtech seemed to specialize in action-defense (oxymoron, I know) but this was not good.

ISIDORO & SONJA – IL FUOCO!!
aka HEATHCLIFF & SONJA – FIRE
Vtech (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning Plate

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Remember the “spray the bombs with the elephant trunk?” game from above? Same concept turned upside down. As Heathcliff, you spray drops of fire with a hose. Like Bomb Fight, you don’t have to wait to stop the drops of fire. You can destroy the fire at any spot of progress instead of waiting for it to be on top of you like a typical Game & Watch game. It changes it from feeling like a spinning plate game into a genuine defensive-oriented game. It’s not as fun as the bomb game though. It feels less claustrophobic and thus isn’t as exciting. I’m leaning towards not liking this, but let it be said: Heathcliff’s best LCD absolutely curb stomps Garfield’s.

CRAZY CHEWY!!
Vtech (1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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Once I remembered this is a Pac-Man clone and held down the movement buttons instead of pressing them like a normal LCD game, I found Crazy Chewy to be, far and away, the best Pac-Man LCD clone ever made. It’s not very hard, and the power-pellets last a generous amount of time. But, it’s actually not a bad little knock-off, and I’m only not awarding it my seal of approval because I just personally ain’t a Pac-Man fan. Generic and soulless and I imagine many a kid said “that’s NOT Pac-Man!” on Christmas mornings, but if you were a mega-sized Pacmaniac during this era, you had a pretty solid clone of it here.

CHICKY WOGGY!!
Vtech (Tini-Arcade 1981/Arcade Time & Fun 1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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Chicky Woggy is basically reverse-Pac-Man. Instead of eating the dots, you lay them down. You start with one wolf chasing you, and eating one of the two worms are like power-pellets that let you eat the wolves, but they only last a second or two. Like, on just the second level, I ate a worm, moved up only two spaces and the wolf killed me. Even considering that, I was able to clear multiple levels. Like other Vtech games, this got two releases: one as a premium color-picture tabletop similar to Nintendo’s Panorama or Coleco’s tabletops, and one as a simple LCD with a dial. Looking at the dial, ugh, can you imagine trying to play an LCD with that thing? Anyway, I’m giving it a pass for the same reason I did Chewy: I’m not a huge Pac-Man fan to begin with, but if you were a little kid in the early 80s who was gaga for the Pac, I imagine owning these would have passed the time in a car ride a lot better.

GALAXY II!!
Epoch (1981)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedI had this hunch that a Space Invaders-like LCD would be excellent. I’m grateful for Galaxy II, which proved I was 100% right. Actually, this is really like a better version of Coleco’s take on Galaxian. Even the sprites look very similar. But, this is a much better game that’s a lot of fun. A gallery shooter where the aliens dive down at you. I wish the controls were a little more responsive, and I wish it was just a channel or two wider, but otherwise, this is a solid shooter. A kid who opened this on Christmas morning in 1981 was a very lucky kid, especially compared to most of the larger fluorescent tube games. They usually suck, but Galaxy II is the best gallery shooter in LCD gaming that I’ve played and behind only Frisky Tom and Frogger on my top games list.

LCD Games VI: LC You, Wouldn’t Want to D You

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

Let’s finish the second IGC LCD trilogy!

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG!!
Tiger Electronics (1992)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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All credit where it’s due: Tiger didn’t half-ass their Sonic effort. They probably recognized this as a game that needed to achieve play-ability to help boost their reputation and earn further sales for their line. There’s ambition here. There’s levels. There’s a moderate variety of enemies that require different tactics to beat. There’s not one but TWO boss fights! There’s water hazards. You can get high-speed boosts and invincibility. The issue is, it doesn’t feel at all like Sonic. Even by 1992, Sonic bopping enemies wasn’t the hook: speed was. This isn’t a fast paced game. It’s plodding as hell. It takes forever to get to a boss. Worst of all, the gameplay is boring. Then again, how does one do a solid platformer that doesn’t have animation? I have no clue.

BACK TO THE FUTURE!!
Tiger Electronics (1988)
Gameplay Type: Racer

Based on the TV series, but actually more like it’s based on the movie, or not. You have to dodge rocks and oil slicks to presumably get the Delorean up to 88 mph, but I never got over 70 mph. I was bound and determined to get this, but I never even saw the rescue mechanics. I have no clue what I wasn’t doing right. This was one of those weird “the background isn’t there” but I imagine that didn’t matter. This was boring.

INDY 500!!
Tiger Electronics R-Zone (1995)
Gameplay Type: Racer

R-Zone was, I guess, Tiger’s low-rent version of Virtual Boy. I used to see it in clearance bins in toy stores. It’s hilarious that Tiger Electronics took serious the device that everyone else was snickering about under their breath. Really, it was just more LCD gaming, only with “carts” which is something Atari abandoned with Cosmos in the early 80s. Indy 500 is a super bland driving game that simply isn’t fun. You have to shift gears, stay on the road. Snore. I wanted to recognize R-Zone since this is likely the last LCD game feature I’ll be doing, but this is the only one I could find.

DORAEMON!!
Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedBandai is kind of the greatest maker of LCDs ever, and nobody knows it. In Part V, I found their finest work in Frisky Tom, the greatest LCD ever made. BUT, they also have the best maze chase LCD I’ve played. And yes, these are really not LCDs, but rather “Vacuum Fluorescent Displays” or VFDs, but tomato/potato. LCD is a format of gaming, and whether the screen is physically LCD or VFD, the gameplay is done in the standard LCD format. Either way, this game, based on the popular Japanese franchise, features you moving around a maze and grabbing bells while dodging mice. You’re given enough time if you find a mouse next to you to dodge it, and that cushion makes this so much more playable than most Tiger or Coleco chasers. It’s not exactly the most exciting game, but I was happy playing it.

ULTRAMAN
(1983, Bandai)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Spinning-Plate

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Okay, so not all Bandai games were good. In fact, their Burgertime was pretty shitty. Ultraman isn’t good either. It’s boring as hell, but at least there’s ambition here. The problem is you have to wait to score 500 points before you get to transform into Ultraman. That’s 50 slow moving bullets you have to just move out of the way of. Then, you have to grab some energy thing (despite being a Power Rangers/Sentai fangirl, I’ve never watched Ultraman) that transforms you. Then you have to fight the villains, and the game kind of becomes a spinning plate game where you have to stop them from destroying the city by karate chopping or kicking them. It’s not the worst concept, but getting to become Ultraman is such a boring slog. When the game forgets to count a point, which happens, you feel like crying. If not for that part, this wouldn’t be the worst effort. Sadly, Ultraman is more like Mediocreman

ROBOCOP 2!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Combative

BOOM! HEADSHOT!

I can’t believe this franchise was marketed as heavily to children as it was. Yea, I know it was made into a cartoon too, but I’ve never met anyone who associated the Robocop with the cartoon. They associated it with the ED209 blowing some poor fucker into giblets, and Robocop 2 features a child drug kingpin who nearly kills Robocop. The game is just a massively sluggish, unresponsive shooter. It’s one of those LCDs that Tiger phoned it, which was par for the course for them. Naturally, they made a sequel..

ROBOCOP 3!!
Tiger Electronics (1992)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedThis does a little more with the shooting than a normal Tiger Electronics game. In fact, it’s oriented more like a spinning plate game. There’s a few channels that you have move up and down and shoot punks. There’s scrolling but you don’t even need to do that, as the boss will come to you after you shoot X amount of punks. After two levels, you also have to rescue a girl that’s captured by the boss. Robocop 3 has smart scoring and the pace is fast enough that it’s not a typical bore. Golly, would look at that.. Robocop 3 isn’t Robocrap. Wow. I’m stunned. I mean, I know Tiger was capable of doing decent games, but I wasn’t expecting Robocop 3 to be one of them. Never assume.

SWAMP THING!!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gametype: Combative/Adventure

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I think the emulation for this must have been broken, because half the time, the game wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. If I pressed attack, the game ducked. If I tried to use a special move, the game ducked. I even switched my keyboard, but it kept happening. When the game actually worked, this is one of those “effort was made” Tiger games that has depth. You scroll right, but there’s also pipes you can take, Mario-style. There’s a punch move that NEVER worked (every time I tried it, the game like did the animation for it for a split second before going back to being stun-locked in a ducking animation) and a fire move where you melt into the ground and two columns of fire rise up on the sides the screen. If this is how the real Swamp Thing played, YIKES, terrible! But, if it was emulation, damn. This had a shot.

BATTLETOADS!!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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One of the absolute most boring LCDs I’ve experienced in this entire run. The gameplay is based on the second level well sequence from the NES game. Ravens fly by and you have to punch and kick them, while faces blow tornadoes at you. After FOREVER, you reach the bottom, where the Evil Queen shows up to.. uh.. I’m not entirely sure but I never seemed to be able to hit her. You can switch between the different characters, which in theory is nice, but the game takes your button presses as friendly advice that can be ignored. Like, I would hit the ravens and it would count as a hit, but then I’d take damage anyway. Apparently there’s a boss, but I never got to it even after over thirty minutes of gameplay. The real pain in the ass? Both times I reached the Evil Queen section, I didn’t die by losing life. I ran out of time. Are you kidding me? I’m so mad that this is what they came up with for Battletoads: a port of the most overly long and terminally boring part of the game. Yikes. I’ve never liked a single game in the Battletoads franchise, so when I say “Battletoads deserved better” that’s saying something.

JUDGE DREDD!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Combative

When you think there’s no bottom, Tiger Electronics comes through with another low. In Judge Dredd, you walk, wait for an enemy to come within range and then kick or punch them. If they’re to the edge of the screen, you have to hop-up an ever-present ladder and wait for them to step closer. Then you drop down, punch them, and they’ll drop their weapon, which you actually have to press a button to bend over slowly to get, because of course you do, because this is shit. Then you walk forward and try to use it. BUT, if you get shot, you lose the gun. And you will get shot, because there’s a massive lag between the command to shoot and the shot being fired. It’s a boring premise to begin with, but this is trash with the controls. Absolutely Dreddful.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Dodger

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Wow. This is the most incredibly boring game I’ve ever played in my entire life. They were aiming for a dodge-type game where you duck under bulbs and hide behind a Christmas Tree if a gnome shows up. Then you have to hop across roof tops and time the button to grab candy. This is so goddamned boring that I legitimately almost dozed-off playing it. Tim Burton must be spinning in his coffin. He’s not dead, but I just picture Tim Burton sleeping in a coffin.

SUPER DOUBLE DRAGON!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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Sigh. Well, at least you’re not kicking Lex Luthor in the balls. Guys show up. You jump up and kick them. You can stay on the ground and kick them but it’s much more effective to just jump up and do it. You’re less likely to take damage that way. Sure, Double Dragon is about fighting the same guys over and over again, so the LCD game should be a close approximation to it. But, the thing that makes Double Dragon fun is, frankly, the violence. You need animation for violence. For that sense of OOMPH, and for a variety of moves. Here the moves are a punch, a kick, and allegedly the ability to use special moves or grab weapons, but every time I tried to get them I took damage. The only good thing I can say about Super Double Dragon: it’s better than just plain Double Dragon was as an LCD. A lot less Lex Luthor.

THE INCREDIBLE CRASH TEST DUMMIES!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Racer

Want to do a racing type of game? Why would you make an LCD game like that? Something that isn’t capable of creating a sense of speed? Here, the idea is you’re trying to build up enough speed to deliberately crash yourself through the air, and you can build up speed by reaching out and petting a dog, I think? I got my speed one tick away from the top, but never got all the way there. Like so many LCD games, it takes too long to get to the hook of the game. I never managed to crash, and after twenty minutes of trying, I didn’t want to play this anymore. Holy crap, is this boring.

BATMAN FOREVER: DOUBLE DOSE OF DOOM!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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You have to punch or throw the Baterang at Two-Face if he’s in front of you. If he’s to the left of you, you have to call in Robin, who swings in and hits him (regardless of whether he’s above or below you). You also have to hop over pits, because when you think of Batman, you think pits. This is just a boring retread of the same type of game they’ve done to death. Enough with the brawlers! It’s not happening, Tiger. This is just boring. Really, really boring. I’m barely hanging on by this point.

MC HAMMER: U CAN’T TOUCH THIS!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gameplay Type: Rhythm

You’re right, I can’t.

Only two decent games this time? Fudge. I need a part VII, don’t I? Yea, I do. Part VII coming Sunday.

 

LCD Games Part V: BEEP MEEP NEEP BONG DONG BEEENNNNN

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

Let’s do another, and for the first time, let’s move largely out of the 80s. This is basically “all-Konami edition” with a few other games sprinkled in.

GARFIELD!!
Konami (1991)
Gameplay Type: Dodger

I always wondered how Garfield, who is established as being grotesquely overweight and out of shape, is also ninja-like when he stands on the fence to do his comedy routines?

You’re on a fence and you have to dodge pies and shoes and get lasagna Jon makes for you. Like so many LCDs, this feels like a generic gameplay template that any theme could have been plugged into. Does it feel like Garfield? Um, no. Is it fun? Not really. It’s so bland and the scoring is so slow and not unexciting. One thing I admire about Nintendo’s Game & Watch series: it has really smart scoring. Here, dodging shoes and pies doesn’t really earn you anything, even though that’s what you spend most of the game doing. I’m not on the fence for this one: Garfield is lame.

KINGMAN!!
Tomy/Tandy (1982)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

They could redo the graphics and make this a Toronto Raptors game.

A putrid, broken Donkey Kong rip-off (it looks like Donkey Kong mixed with Darth Vader. Darth Kong? Donkey Vader?) with some of the most unresponsive controls I’ve seen. I spent fifteen minutes trying to make it to the top, but the piles of poo that take the spot of the barrels come down in perfect intervals to prevent any progress, and it’s impossible to time anything when there’s no certainty the controls will actually respond to your commands. I wonder how many “Mom, Dad, this isn’t Donkey Kong” cries went out on Christmas mornings when kids unwrapped this unplayable knock-off. I mean, not that the Donkey Kong table-tops were better. They weren’t, but at least they were authentically awful.

GOLDENEYE 007!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Combative

No clue why did one didn’t have a background.

Run right and shoot left and right, or sometimes throw a karate kick. Typical effort-free Tiger Electronics dump. Wow, Rare Ltd. sure had their work cut out for them, here. I think the Nintendo 64 game had a more exciting menu than this game.

SPACE JAM!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Basketball

How hard can it be to make a basketball game, for Christ sake? But I never even saw my own basket in multiple sessions with this. Space Jam seems to be oriented like a cross the road game, but I never successfully pulled off a steal, never got a shot or a pass off (and only once saw Daffy Duck the entire time). Jesus wept. I’m sorry, Your Airness.. I failed you. And you thought the Bad Boy Pistons did Jordan dirty. Ouch.

C!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

No, Up Up Down Down doesn’t work. I tried.

C in this case stands for Contra. I’m not sure what I expected, but C is just a five-channel gallery shooter that has various meaningless LCD doodles pass by to give the illusion of forward movement, but really, this is just “line up with thing and shoot.” It’s no guarantee that’ll actually work. Multiple times my bullets went right through something, for apparently no reason. Maybe because we both switched channels, but if we switched channels and the bullets are animated in that channel that the alien is in, and they pass through the aliens, how is that not a hit? Terrible game. Practically broken.

BATMAN!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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This is sorta like a spinning plate game as an action game. There’s two channels of enemies and you have to dodge the attacks of one while taking out the other. I found it to be quite dull and there seemed to be massive lag with the timing after you came off the wall. I don’t know if that was a bug in the emulation or not, but this was practically unplayable.

GRADIUS!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

I really want to do a Space Invaders type of game but haven’t been able to find one. The closest so far is probably Gradius, which is nothing like the classic Konami shmup it takes its name from. This is another five-channel gallery shooter, only with a much bigger emphasis on dodging than Contra’s LCD did. You have to shoot enemies while avoiding cannon fire from enemy islands above and below you. It’s quite competent but very boring and very unambitious. I know that Konami didn’t really make these, but they were among the cream of the crop in gaming at the time and they put their names on these games. Oh, it gets worse..

THE ADVENTURES OF BAYOU BILLY!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

Replace the snake with a honey badger and this could have been The Gods Must Be Crazy: Part II

I’ve done a LOT of LCD brawlers now, and Bayou Billy (based on a somewhat obscure NES genre smorgasbord) might be the worst yet. It’s SO sluggish and it feels like it’s only registers every-third button press when you’re on attack, even if you haven’t already just attacked. When you have a snake attacking you from one side and what looks like Strong Bad if he just totally let himself go attacking you from the other, it’s like the game can’t decide what to let you do, and chooses to let you do nothing most of the time. I’m starting to see why legitimate gaming magazines didn’t give LCDs the time of day. Imagine all the money that they could have saved people if they had though.

BUCKY O’HARE!!
Konami (1991)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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Another gallery shooter, and one that gets old even quicker than Gradius. BUT, oddly enough, this does more to feel like Gradius than Gradius. There’s bosses, and you even switch characters after you beat the first boss. I got to the second boss a few times and he was a bullet sponge. You get generous hit points and lives yourself, a stark contrast to Bayou Billy’s “40 health, when it’s gone, Game Over” setup. Everything is in place for this to be Konami’s best LCD, except strong gameplay. Bucky O’Hare actually bored me right out of the gates, and if not for the bosses, I’d of quit long before I did. ENOUGH WITH THE GALLERY SHOOTERS, Konami. Try a spinning plate game or something. At the time I’m writing this, I haven’t played Blades of Steel yet. It’s up next, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s a sudden death hockey shoot-out arranged like a gallery shooter. I really wouldn’t. Let’s see..

BLADES OF STEEL!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Reflex Tester

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedWhoa. Hold on. Okay, so I was partially right. It is sort of oriented like a shooter, but it’s not a gallery shooter. It’s not really a hockey game either, but it’s actually a not awful concept for an LCD hockey-themed game. There’s no defense involved. You’re just trying to score as many goals in the time limit as possible. You have to take the puck, wait for a clearing and wait for the meter behind the goalie to flash a star, at which point if you fire, you’ll get a goal. It’s actually a clever way to make the extremely limited LCD hardware feel kinda like the NES game, and it works! Yea, this is only good for an LCD game, but I could see myself losing track of time playing this. Absolutely. Clever idea. I’m impressed. At this point, I’m convinced every LCD manufacturer had at least one “who’d of thunk it?” quality game.

DOUBLE DRIBBLE!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Reflex Tester

Yes, the iconic Double Dribble dunks are in the game. Kinda.

indie-gamer-chick-approvedBasically the same concept as Blades of Steel, only now you’re playing a 1-on-2 basketball game. You have to just break free of your defenders and time the meter above the basket. Here, the timing is a lot different than it is in Blade of Steel. You want to shoot when the meter is white so the ball’s arc drops in as the meter is lit for a goal. I liked Blades of Steel a lot more, but this is also a perfectly acceptable little waste of time. Gosh, I wonder if the NFL Football game will be along the same lines.

NFL FOOTBALL!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: American Football

Better than strips of red lights, no?

Easily the most ambitious LCD I’ve ever played, there is nothing half-assed about NFL Football. The funny thing is, they could have done that. The most successful LCD ever was the legendary Mattel Electronic Football that was a major fad in the late 70s (along with Coleco’s Electronic Quarterback), and a barely updated version of that would have worked, but instead, NFL Football focuses trying to make it feel like the sport. You only play offense and can choose between four plays (five including field goals when you’re in range) and have to scroll around the field looking for openings. It works and legitimately feels like the evolutionary Electronic Quarterback, and the problem is, I just never had fun with those. My Godfather’s son had both the Mattel and Coleco games. I still have them around here somewhere, and I never thought they were any fun. But, all credit where it’s due: while I didn’t have fun with this, I imagine kids of the era probably enjoyed it for what it was.

THE LONE RANGER!!
1989 (Konami)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedAs you know from my earlier bitching, gallery shooters are all over LCD. Which one has the most channels? Konami’s Lone Ranger, with a whopping ELEVEN different channels to take shots from. Each angle works towards taking out a bandit from a different angle or distance, and for me, I actually did kind of enjoy memorizing which channel hit which person from which distance. Even better: the characters come up with their hands up, and some will surrender and just disappear. You’re only supposed to shoot the ones who draw their gun on you. It’s so smart and makes the game kind of twitchy. Yep, this is the best of its breed. So far the best LCD shooter I’ve experienced. The funny thing is, Konami made a vastly underrated NES game based on the character, and their LCD game is probably one of the stronger LCDs out there. You’re even incentivized to fire accurately, as you only get 40 bullets. Well, what do you know? They actually did make a really good gallery shooter. So what’s the story on Contra and Gradius being so boring, gang?

FRISKY TOM!!
Bandai (1982)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

We have a new LCD Champion!

This should have gone Part IV, along with the other arcade games, but the truth is.. I’d never heard of it before. I don’t know how good the arcade game is, but as an LCD game, this is really very fun without having to qualify that statement. This is actually the best LCD game I’ve ever played by a mile. It’s sort of like Donkey Kong Jr. meets Pipe Dream. You have to shimmy around this mess of pipes, collect the pipes that are knocked down by evil mice that are total nightmare fuel, and replace where they go. The ultimate object is to fill a tub full of water. It’s crazy addictive, exciting, and so much fun.

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I played this game for over an hour on Saturday. I just couldn’t put it down. I wish it had more dynamic scoring, and I wish the collision was a little better, but I only wish for those things because this is the most addictive, exciting LCD I’ve ever played. Take a bow, Bandai. You’re the new champion of LCD gaming at Indie Gamer Chick. For the first time, I can say an LCD game is genuinely outstanding, and I never thought I’d use those words to describe an LCD. Wow. I’m blown away over here. It turns out that truly great LCD gaming wasn’t a pipe dream after all.

 

LCD Games of the 80s – Part IV: There’s no L in A-R-C-A-D-E

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. Previously, I’ve covered twenty-four LCD games (check the links above) and not liked a single one of them. Today’s feature includes seventeen more LCD games of the 80s (and a few from the 90s). I promise that I will name not just one, but FOUR quality LCD games before this feature is over.

Today’s theme: arcade conversions.

PAC-MAN!!
Tomy (1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

Like so many arcade games, multiple companies did LCDs of Pac-Man. Coleco did one too, up next.

Certainly one of the stronger LCD games I’ve done. Is it anything like the arcade Pac-Man? Oh god, not at all. Is it fun? Not really. But at least there’s a concept here that has legs that I’d like to see an actual ROM hacker try to recreate. Here, Pac-Man is always facing to the left, and this is worked into the play mechanics. If you pass over a dot from left to right, you don’t eat the dot, since Pac-Man’s mouth didn’t get it. You must pass over it right to left. It’s a one-off type of gameplay mechanic I’ve never even thought of before that certainly got my attention. Not as good is the super unresponsive controls and how I could never, even after four or five attempts, successfully eat a ghost after grabbing one of the stars. Yea, it’s awful, but I appreciate the unexpected twist.

PAC-MAN!!
Coleco (1981)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

ScreenShot073

Part of their famous table top line, Coleco made some beautiful facades that housed some terrible versions of popular coin-ops. Pac-Man at least is a stronger game than Donkey Kong, but it’s still pretty miserable. The ghosts all look like they’ve already eaten Pac-Man and it’s jarring as all hell. It’s PRETTY close to Pac-Man, but it’s also one of the uglier LCD games and I can’t get over how they look like some kind of virus that has absorbed Pac-Man.

PAC-MAN 2!!
Entex (1981)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

ScreenShot074

This is a little more close to the arcade game. There’s only two ghosts, but it functionally feels like a Pac-Man LCD. It doesn’t matter which direction you’re facing when you slurp up dots. There’s only two ghosts, but the power-pellets work. I kept having a ghost get the jump on me early on, probably because I left the center dots there as the last dots to get. Even though this is the best controlling LCD Pac-Man, I think it’s boring, but then again, I was never really a standard Pac-Man fan to begin with.

MS. PAC-MAN!!
Coleco (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS! OTHER COMPANIES DID GAMES THAT DON’T LOOK LIKE THIS! IT’S CREEPY!!

It’s the same “organisms that ate other organisms as viewed from under a microscope” look that Pac-Man had, but to Coleco’s credit, this is basically the same game as Pac-Man with more responsive controls. It’s still crap though.

DIG DUG!!
Gakken (1983)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

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Awful. Just plan awful. This might be the worst LCD yet. Nothing works. The enemies get too much a jump on you. In six games I never once successfully defeated an enemy with the pump or kill one using a rock without killing myself. It feels NOTHING like Dig Dug at all and has to be one of the worst games I’ve ever played in my entire life. I don’t dig this. See what I did there? UPDATE 7-18-22: I figured out how to play it. So, you have to actually hold the direction you want the pump to go. So, unlike the arcade game, you can pump enemies above and below you. Once I figured this out, I was able to clear a few levels. Total screw-up on my part and I’ll change my opinion on Dig Dug: from worst-ever contender to merely a cramped slog that is vaguely like the arcade game.

GALAXIAN!!
Coleco (1982)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

ScreenShot072

I’d love to review this for y’all, but I couldn’t stay alive for a single second without being shot. If you die, the aliens don’t stop firing bullets and I respawned right into the path of them. Maybe the emulation is bad, but given my experience with Coleco’s LCDs, I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

ZAXXON!!
Bandai (1982)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

Could be some weird space tennis game too for all I know.

I’ve never really cared for Zaxxon, so I was surprised that the LCD is one of the least bad LCDs. Notice I didn’t say “good.” I’d still rather suffer rectal prolapsing than be stuck with this as my only gaming option. BUT, at least this is a semi-competent shooter that feels somewhat vaguely like the arcade game. Shmups might actually work as an LCD. I’d like to try Space Invaders in this format, honestly. Maybe for Part V in 2024 (after making this joke, I posted the next three parts within 24 hours, go figure). Anyway, Zaxxon just doesn’t have excitement to it, which a shooter needs, but at least it’s fair and doesn’t just bleed you out right away like Galaxian does. Not awful, still not fun. Next!!

BURGERTIME!!
Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase/Action-Arcade

One of the better character sprites for sure, if nothing else.

Burgertime feels a lot closer to getting it right, but like so many LCD games, the enemies just catch you too fast. A really weird aspect here is that the “drop the food” gameplay is here, but you have to press a button to cause the buns and patties to collapse. I don’t know why! Wouldn’t it make sense to just be able to walk across them like in the game? Yea. But, it doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t make any progress because the enemies are faster than you and you only get five salts, but the salts only work if they’re right next to you, and if they’re right next to you that means they’re about to score a contact with you and cost you a life. The #1 thing about LCD games: they shouldn’t try to directly adapt any game that REQUIRES animation. Burgertime does, and it’s unplayable as a result.

MORTAL KOMBAT!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Fighter

Yea, no. Let it be said: I put in a good faith effort here, but I’ve yet to play a single Tiger Electronics fighting/brawling game that I thought had any value at all. Myself and the computer AI were throwing punches and landing basically nothing. I was surprised at how many moves are offered (the full range: high and low kicks and punches) but the fact that I wasn’t getting a single hit in on the lowest difficulty (the AI beat me to the punch every time) and that all my matches ended with a time-out? I’m FINISHED with this one. Quality Gaming loses. Fatality!!

DOUBLE DRAGON!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

What Superman should have done years ago.. drop kick Lex Luthor in the balls.

Walk left and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence. Then walk left more and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence. Then walk left more and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence.. occasionally Lex Luthor is inside a door, but then you just punch or kick him until he blinks out of existence. And you thought Double Dragon III was the shits. Oh my God, what a piece of shit game.

GOLDEN AXE!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

This one broke me. You walk left, and swing at enemies as they appear. If a skeleton shows up behind you, instead of doing the sensible thing, IE turning around, you instead dislocate your shoulders and just swing the sword that way. Good lord!! I started laughing so hard that I thought I might crack a rib. The funny thing about these Tiger games is that LCD games had been around for a decade, and the formulas that worked to create playable, somewhat enjoyable games were well established. They didn’t bother with ANY of that shit. This and Double Dragon are so stupidly brain dead simple that I can’t imagine anyone not under a fog of laughing gas could enjoy them.

KARNOV!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

“ARRRHH! I’M GONNA EATCHA LITTLE BIRD! ARRRHH!”

The thing that bugs me about Tiger Electronics games are they’re often so unimaginative. Move left, press fire button, keep moving right. There’s nothing dynamic or thrilling about this. Say what you will about Nintendo’s Game & Watch games, but they feel like there’s challenge and effort made. These are just so lazy and uninspired. This shit would have bombed in arcades in the 70s, and as a release made after a decade of figuring out how to make LCD game? It’s insulting and kind of disgusting, really. Karnov, based on a little-known arcade and NES game, feels so lazy. It’s a move right, jump and shoot game that they copied ad nauseam in lieu of, you know, effort.

ALTERED BEAST!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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You walk right and punch things to the left and right of you. There’s almost no gameplay here. BY GOLLY THIS IS A 100% ARCADE ACCURATE LCD! I kid. Actually, this might be the worst of all the punching-based Tiger games I’ve played so far, except maybe Mortal Kombat where literally nothing would happen for several excruciating minutes. There’s a horrible lag to it and it just feels like you’re barely interacting at all. If not for Dig Dug or Galaxian, this would be the worst game I played today.

BY GUM, THERE’S DECENT LCD GAMES!!

SPACE HARRIER II!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

By golly, they actually did it.

Do you know what frustrates me most about Tiger’s lazy, shitty, effortless shovelware? They actually were capable of making decent games. Take Space Harrier II, which will now be given the distinct honor of being the first ever LCD game I wouldn’t rather be dead than be stuck with. And mind you, I don’t even like Space Harrier, but this LCD gallery shooter actually works. It feels vaguely like the arcade game and retains the fun. It even has boss fights! How about that? It’s not very exciting and the timing is a bit jank, but this isn’t awful by any stretch, and for kids from households who couldn’t afford a Game Boy, they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed playing this one. It’s fine. Hallelujah!

Q*BERT!!
Parker Bros (1983)
Gameplay Type: @!#?@!

ScreenShot079

Well shiver me timbers: Q*Bert makes a great LCD game! Q*Bert by Parker Bros is a close approximation to the arcade game and not too bad at all. Once you get used to the controls (shit, it really is Q*Bert!), it feels like an LCD version of the arcade game. It works! Shifting the cube colors, dodging the eggs and snakes, and even jumping on the discs feels like an animation-free take on the original game. I’d basically rather play anything else, but this isn’t the worst thing to happen to me today. It’d not want to light myself on fire if I was stuck with only this for more than an hour. Good job, Parker Bros. Kids who had this in 1983 wouldn’t have to murder their parents if they were gifted this.

FROGGER!!
Coleco (1981)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

Fitting for a format where cross the road style games are probably the easiest to make quality games for, the king of cross the road is actually the most arcade-accurate LCD game I’ve ever played by a mile, and probably the greatest pure LCD game ever made. It works. It’s arcade-accurate. It didn’t have to compromise hardly anything from the arcade original. Most importantly: it’s actually really fun to play! If you were a kid who got Coleco’s table top Frogger under the Christmas tree in 1981, you were a pretty lucky kid. This is the best of gaming’s worst format, and the only LCD game I’ve ever gotten to say is fun without adding several “buts” to it. BUT, it’s also not my personal favorite..

GAUNTLET!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Adventure/Combative

Hail the Champion of LCD Gaming. You could say the (puts on shades) Gauntlet has been thrown down. Sorry.

Hey, wait a second.. this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. Tiger Electronics is objectively shit. They’re not supposed to have a genuinely interesting concept, fun and exciting gameplay, and a release that I could find myself playing for fun, on my own time, without doing it for a special feature for this blog. What is happening here? Something is wrong. I’ve slipped into another universe or something. A universe where Tiger Electronics made a good game: Gauntlet.

Is it arcade accurate? No. It’s a totally different take. Basically a third person game, but it features a dynamic 3D maze, satisfactory combat (as far as animation-free combat goes), and it’s fun to locate keys and figure out uses for them. After I finished the final game I played for this feature, I reloaded Gauntlet and kept playing it. That really says it all, doesn’t it? Honestly, the existence of Gauntlet put a smile on my face, but it also infuriated me to no end. That they could get THIS creative with their work and chose not to? Disgusting, really. I’m absolutely floored that anyone longs to see this format make a comeback, BUT, if they had a game like Tiger’s Gauntlet (as opposed to pretty much anything else by them) I could understand how they see their childhood spent getting these LCD games from misguided aunts and uncles who knew you liked those newfangled video game thingies with slightly rosier-tinted glasses.

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedUPDATE: Guess what? The prediction came true.. I found myself playing Gauntlet even more, just for fun. Seriously, I can’t stress enough what an impressive effort this is. There’s even secrets and bonus rooms and more than one breed of enemy. Calling this “shockingly fun” really understates how much I enjoyed this. It actually gives me hope for some of the games that haven’t been included in this now seven part feature. There’s a LOT of hype on Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and others have name dropped Metal Gear, Mega Man II, and more. Look at how many games they made. It’s stunning. Meanwhile, do you know what Gauntlet deserves? My seal of approval.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Snake, 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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