Q-Yo Blaster

Shmups aren’t normally my thing. Well, I say that at least. Upon reflection, I realize they’re in the same category as tower defense games. I say they do nothing for me and typically don’t seek them out. But, if I find myself playing a good one, I get sucked into the experience as much as any title from a preferred genre of mine. And, let’s face it, if you absolutely need to scratch that white-knuckle action itch but don’t have a lot of time to invest, a shmup is probably the best bet. It’s one of the few genres that can get away with a game that’s done in under thirty-minutes. As it should be. Imagine if Gradius was a ten hour long game. It’d suck. You’d be in physical pain by time it was over. Thirty minutes is perfect. It’s not even enough time for the logic center of your brain to say “just because we see the game from a side-perspective doesn’t mean it’s really taking place on a single line of existence that both the good guys and bad guys agreed to stay glued to with all their bullets traveling along that same line, right? Because wouldn’t it make more sense if a slow moving bullet was coming at you in a bullet-hell to just side-step it, move a little to the left or right, instead of up or down into the path of more bullets? 2D games make no sense, yo!”

Of course, you can say that about any 2D game. Moving on..

The game looks like a fever dream and a bad acid trip made horrible, disgusting love and this was the end result.

A session with Q-Yo Blaster can be finished in around thirty minutes. Knowing that, and seeing its gorgeous cartoonish visuals, you might mistake it for the type of shmup that’s all style and no substance. But this is a deceptively deep shooter. For starters, you have three different character types to choose from: Endurance, Damage, or a balance of both. There’s sixteen total characters to choose from, each with unique stats and an options. Sixteen! And trust me, playing as each feels just barely different enough that replaying the 30-minute quest doesn’t start to get stale. Plus, there’s multiple different play modes, with some items and weapons only available in higher difficulty levels.

Actually, that bit is sort of a dick move. There’s really no reason why weapons like the drone, laser or homing missiles should be excluded from easy mode. It’s like telling a person incapable of playing on higher difficulties that their dripping pussy ass deserves to have less fun. I don’t get it. Presumably a person playing on easy would be more likely to recommend the game to others and help developers sell more copies if they’re not gated off from having as much fun as everyone else. Developers who choose to gate based on difficulty really seem like they forfeit the right to bitch if their game doesn’t sell. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with Q-Yo Blaster and it’s going to be an IGC Top 50 game as of this writing. But I’ve never understood why the 2D shooter genre specifically does this type of stuff habitually: stripping out phases or weapons or bosses or ending. Is it because games like Contra III did it back in the day? Is it a way of pandering to hardcore genre fans, saying “look, we don’t want the casuals leeching off our coolness any more than you do, so we’re going to keep them from getting to play with the coolest toys.” I don’t know. I do know that your Cupheads or your Q-Yo Blasters would do better if people of all skill levels felt equally welcome, and they don’t.

See the weird octopus vagina thing in the dead center of the screen behind everything else? The one labeled “blood?” Yea, that’s not a boss. While you shoot at enemies, every bullet that hits fills up another charge meter. When that one fills up, it automatically unleashes some kind of super attack that clears the area and does low-to-moderate damage on bosses. It’s a neat idea, but it’s hard to really harness the potential of it because, being a shmup, there’s already so much shit you have to keep track without having another meter to keep glancing at. I wish the game let you manually use it when the bar fills up instead of auto-firing. About a third of the time, the thing would go off while I was clearing the last enemy on the screen.

Having said all that, Q-Yo Blaster’s thirty-minute quest, even with the cooler weapons gated off, is pretty engrossing. There’s a bonkers story tying all the animated cliches together, but it’s overly long and very poorly translated, with tons of grammar errors. Skip it and just pretend you’re in a game where Roger Rabbit’s Toontown is being invaded by insects. Levels can be very short (the first level barely lasts 30 seconds before you fight the first boss), but the variety rarely lacks and most of the bosses are memorable and fun to do battle with. If this were a basic, no-frills shooter, the setting and character design alone would make it stand out in a crowded field. And then it would disappoint, because nobody should want a bland game just because it’s pretty to look at. Then again, people do accept blandness as long as it’s pleasant on the eyes. It’s how Paul Walker and Jessica Biel became stars.

But Q-Yo adds strategic elements like the ability to collect “pulses.” Activating them turns all the enemy bullets on-screen into collectable energy that you can use to charge your own super weapon. It’s a fun concept that doubles as both a planned attack and an emergency get-out-of-dodge button. Plus, while you can select between using a mega laser or a shield as your super weapon on the character select screen, using the mega laser also will clear any bullets directly in the line of the blast, effectively making it a shield. You’ll need this for certain boss fights, especially on the normal difficulty. You get upgrades between each stage, but I wish those upgrades allowed things like increasing the amount of pulses you can collect. The upgrades all work, but they don’t make you feel like you’re gaining significant power. They’re small edges that you might not even notice are happening, like increasing your own bullet speed. With some characters that increase is so slight that it practically makes no difference. Also, you can choose to get a 1up between each stage, but you get a ton of continues on both easy and normal, so really the 1up is every bit as stupid a choice as taking the potion over an extra heart container from the old lady in the original Legend of Zelda.

While the power shots are visually impressive, I wish they felt more powerful than they actually are. The noise it makes sounds less like unleashing a devastating blast of energy upon your enemies and more like the type of noise a cheesy 70s sci-fi movie would use to signify characters hanging-up on a telecall.

Ignoring the easy/normal crap, the biggest problem with Q-Yo Blaster is the game sorta chugs in terms of performance. It’s hard to explain, really. The best way I can describe it is if you’ve ever tried to put an emulator on a computer or game device not powerful quite enough to run the games for it. Q-Yo Blaster on Switch feels like a Super Nintendo game being emulated at around 90% efficiency. It works, though sometimes the frame-rate stutters (rarely in the middle of action, though it did happen once or twice) and the game never feels smooth. Thankfully, responsiveness doesn’t take a hit. The controls are fine-tuned and apparently compensate for the engine’s short-comings. Still, while Q-Yo Blaster never crashed on me, it always feels like the game is barely holding together and could shit the bed at any moment. I can’t remember the last time I played a game so good that felt so rough. Q-Yo Blaster is a finished, completed game, but it also feels like a proof-of-concept prototype with its short levels and choppy animation. It’s the damnedest thing. It’s so jarring that I wonder if it was done deliberately. Odd stylistic choice if so, but then again there’s people that think girls want to sleep with guys that have a pierced cock. We don’t. Gross.

This is your brain on drugs.

Take all this with a grain of salt because I’m not an expert on this genre by any means, but I had a lot of fun with Q-Yo Blaster. Accessible even to non-fans, quick-enough that it doesn’t leave time to get old, complex enough that genre veterans should still get value out of it, and loaded with enough characters and modes that you get value for your purchase, thirty-minute length or not. This is a very good game. But, I worry about it. It’s been out for a while, yet nobody is really talking about it. It had a successful Kickstarter campaign, but it wasn’t a big campaign so nobody really knows about it anymore. It offers a 50% discount if you own any other game by publisher Forever Entertainment (which, if you’re a Switch owner, is pretty likely. They’re one of those companies that does blow-out $1-or-under deals on their mountain of titles all the time), but you wouldn’t know by going to Nintendo.com because the store page only mentions it when you’re on the actual eShop on your Switch. It’s one of those games that’s destined to win my “You Heartless Bastards Award” in the next few years. Q-Yo needs word of mouth, but I’d never heard of it until the moment I bought it while randomly browsing the eShop. It’s worth checking out and you totally should. Even before I moved up difficulties and discovered easy mode gated out weapons, I was having fun. After that, I was just having fun while being slightly annoyed, like having sex in a room full of house flies.

Q-Yo Blaster was developed by Team Robot Black Hat
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 (normally $9.99) wore the black hat in the making of this review.

Q-Yo Blaster is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

The Original Mobile Games (Nintendo Switch)

Yesterday, my journey into gaming’s past took an unexpected turn. During my daily browsing of the Nintendo Switch marketplace, I found an interesting title. The Original Mobile Games by Second Avenue Learning is made in collaboration with the Strong Museum. For those that don’t know, The Strong is basically a giant museum that also is the defacto host of both the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame. They also have a history of electronic games wing. In short, they have a massive collection of play things. Working with them, Second Avenue Learning has scanned/photographed vintage handheld games and tried to recreate them using the Nintendo Switch’s gyroscopic abilities. How vintage? The oldest game is nearly 150 years old and was reputed to have been played by Benjamin Harrison when he was the 23rd President of the United States. Now that one has to be bullshit. Harrison was notoriously boring. His nickname was “The White House Iceberg.” He wouldn’t be caught dead having fun. He did become the first President who attended a baseball game in person and.. well.. I rest my case.

These are just supposed to be colored cardboard discs. But the gravity for these, no matter how many times you restart the calibration, feel like you’re manipulating them under the pressure of the planet’s core.

And yeah, I’m sure these were crazy fun 150 years ago. Today? Well, I mean come on, that’s not really fair. These were never meant to be fun 150 years later. Which hypothetically would make this a tough set to review. Do I judge it on the merits of the gameplay or on what Original Mobile Games means as a museum piece or preservation effort? Well, thankfully the collection gave me an out for that conundrum. Because the physics for Original Mobile Games are so amateurish, so bad, so downright broken that I can’t even say “well at least it supports preservation.” This is a horrible release. It’s easily one of 2019’s worst Switch games.

When it works (and by works I mean the physics are not-crap-enough to be playable), and that’s rare in this collection but it does happen, you’re free to genuinely feel sorry for what people who are currently skeletons had to do for fun at the turn of the 20th century. All the games are based on tilting a rectangular cardboard/plastic case so that balls or other tokens fall into the appropriate slots. These type of games are still made today. Sometimes they’re sold in bulk to be used as party favors, or maybe found in dollar stores to be used as cheap stocking-stuffer type of deals for Christmas. All the games in Original Mobile are based on much older releases. The collection is broken up into six different sets. The Starter Pack runs you $1.99 and gets you six games. One of them, Pigs in Clover, was patented in 1889 (exactly one-hundred years before I was born! That’s sort of nifty!) and was the most popular game of its era. Behold: the height of portable individual entertainment achievement in the 1880s:

Yeah.

Though it is impressive that we went from that to Game Boy in a single century. I mean, how many millennia did it take for us to get from cave paintings to Netflix? Anyway, you can buy five other sets that contain four games each (except the Meltdown Pack, which has five) for $0.99 each. Not the way I would have recommended selling them, but then again, I would have recommended this stayed in development for another year or so.

Most of the games that controlled particularly badly require you the hold the Switch upright. These were almost always the worst offenders of the bad physics. And here the lack of proper physics unquestionably ruins this particular game, where I could hold the Switch at a nearly straight up and down angle, recaliberate the tilt mechanics over and over, and still have balls get stuck on the lips of 1mm of digital cardboard.

Keeping it real: The Original Mobile Games had absolutely no chance of winning me over on the merits of its gameplay. BUT, I’m a fan of preservation and a student of gaming history, and I could have forgiven.. even gotten excited.. over the primitive gameplay if it was presented accurately and contained appropriate history lessons. I’m singing the praises of SNK 40th Anniversary Collection to this day despite disliking the vast majority of games it has. Original Mobile Games does the museum stuff right. Each game contains historical information and even box scans when available. Awesome. That’s the good stuff a collection like this needed. So all they had to do was not totally shit the bed with the games and this would be an easy recommend. Hell, I might have dumped this review and did a comical IGC Retro Bowl pitting this against Atari Flashback Classics for Switch or something.

But those damn physics. They’re all wrong. Using the Switch’s gyroscopes, you’re supposed to tilt the console around to manipulate the balls or wooden tokens. It’s never perfect, or, upon reflection, ever that life-like. And even when the balls move smoothly, there’s a creepy uncanny valley feel where all the balls on the screen move in 100% perfect sync. You can recalibrate the neutral point of the tilt features on the fly, but it never makes the physics better. It just makes it easier for you to shuffle the objects around and get them to their goals.

Ironically, a game that’s a political attack on a South African figure involving teeth has no teeth. Here I beat the game in one second. ONE SECOND! This is one of four games in the “Political Pack” that cost me $0.99. Also there’s no online leaderboards so I have no idea of knowing how many people I am the current world champion over. Because clearly I am the world champion of “Oom Paul Gets His Teeth Drawn.”

The biggest problem is that each ball might roll realistically, but they don’t seem to interact with each-other correctly. Or at all. If you get a ball into a goal, in the virtual reality of the simulation, the ball is simply resting on a divot in the cardboard, right? So if another ball strikes it with sufficient force, it should be able to easily dislodge it, adding challenge. In Original Mobile Games, the balls apparently have no weight or inertia to transfer to other objects. The same goes for the wooden blocks. The objects feel like they have gravity but no weight. It’s like each moving object exists in an entirely different plane of existence. It completely breaks the illusion of playing a real cardboard ball-in-maze game. Well, the horrible physics do that too. Basically there’s no authenticity to the actual gameplay of these games, which sort of defeats the point of preservation, does it not? Look, it’s swell that these are based on real games and not made-up ones, but if they don’t play realistically, you really aren’t preserving anything besides photographs, are you?

I swear to God I went into this with an open mind. I wanted to enjoy my time with Original Mobile Games. Even after playing multiple busted games, I got excited by the premise for this one. And it let me down again. Having said that, I might start collecting vintage games like this for real now. They look neat. I like neat. I found this one for $6.99 with a Buy It Now on Ebay.

And the balls, which vary in size from game to game, are never consistent in their physics. It almost feels like the developers just took scans of the vintage games, mapped the relevant components, and then plugged in an existing marble physics engine without making the relevant adjustments. Because all the movement of the balls feels like a very unfinished tech demo. Like how everyone in 2011 with a dev kit could make a really bad version of 3D Marble Madness or Monkey Ball, where the physics were off but you could move a sphere in a 3D space and that was neat. It’s like that. It’s first-game-with-a-physics-engine quality. It’s actually embarrassing this was released in this state at the price it’s at. This is newbie level shit. It’s entirely possible these WERE made by newbies. I don’t know what to say if that’s the case, besides “try harder before releasing stuff like this.” Cold, but, yeah, this is a crap, guys. Someone had to say it.

By the way, since the “they just took scans” part sounded harsh, let me clarify something: there’s nothing wrong with just scanning/photographing the real game and drawing the moving parts yourself. It’s what the pros do. That’s what Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball do to recreate real-life pinball machines. Now granted, those probably had a bigger budget, but 1980s/90s pinballs machines are a lot more complex than a tiny handheld cardboard game with some holes cut in the surface and BBs to roll around. Really, they just needed to refine the movement physics and keep polishing them to perfection. Maybe they tried to. I don’t know. But just playing it, it feels like they laid a generic physics engine over pictures of old games. And hell, even if it was no-budget, that’s no excuse. Even my fake, free-to-download PinMAME/Visual Pinball stuff I have on my arcade cabinet have more life-like physics than this paid game.

This screenshot from Zen Studio’s PinballFX3 isn’t all that different from what they were trying with The Original Mobile Games. Because really, the tables are just very high-resolution scans or photographs of authentic pinball machines, with moving parts like the ball and flippers being animated in the game’s engine. Recreations do not have to be primitive or broken. Original Mobile Games is both. I’d love to see someone with more experience or talent take a stab at recreating these kind of games. There’s no reason why a collection like this can’t better represent the era it’s museuming. Yes, I said museuming. That’s a word. As of right now.

And then you get to the games that replace moving balls with moving cardboard slabs or logs or other tokens and the physics become complete garbage. No matter how many times I would try to recalibrate the neutral point, these games never felt like the way I was tilting my Switch was accurately measured in the way the pieces moved. One of the most shameful examples is Golden Rod, part of the $0.99 “Meltdown Pack.” So named because they’re supposed to be the most difficult games, though I’m not sure if that’s on the grounds of the authentic games being difficult or on the recreated versions in Original Mobile Games being so busted that they’re almost unplayable. A little from column A, a little from column B perhaps. The game features a series of progressively bigger yellow logs that roll around on a playfield. You’re supposed to situate them so they line up from smallest to biggest in a basket. But it doesn’t work. They don’t rotate right. The gravity is too heavy. What should have been one of the most interesting, original games in the collection instead ends up being the poster child for everything wrong with Original Mobile Games.

My family is all-in on my Indie Gamer Chick existence and, in moments where I’m drowning in frustration, push me to keep playing to “keep me fair.” For Original Mobile Games, they determined that fair meant “beat a game or spend at least fifteen minutes trying.” Then I handed my father this. He tried recalibrating the neutral point several times and told me that, indeed, the physics were off and I was free from any time commitment for games in this collection. That’s how bad this set sucks.

Other times, the challenge of the original cardboard/plastic games is lost in the digital translation. There’s a game where you have to rest five balls in holes, but there’s bigger holes that they can fall through. If you’re playing the real game and one of the balls falls through those, the only way to restart is to tip the game upside down and start over. But the auto-reset button used for these type of games in Original Mobile Games only respawns the balls that have fallen off the play field. The ones that are already in their slots stay put. Well, that sort of defeats the entire purpose of the original game, does it not? It’s such a half-assed effort. I wish I had something nice to say besides “hooray for preservation” but I can’t even say that. The concept is fine. The execution feels very lazy and disinterested. Trust me, I feel like a bitch for saying all this and coming across like a gigantic meany head, but it’s true. Did these guys even test these games? Did anyone involved say “logically speaking, if a player needs to respawn, ALL the balls should restart. Otherwise the point of the game is lost”? If not, someone should have. Maybe The Strong could have found a developer who cared more about the source material. For the best collections of vintage games, be it old video games or stuff like this, it feels like the people care a lot about the games they’re recreating. You don’t get that vibe at all here. The gameplay is so low-effort that it feels more like everyone who worked on this couldn’t wait to be finished.

This is the game I put the most time into at just over twelve minutes. I did complete it, and that felt good. It and the bowling game were probably the best in the collection. Of course, both those games are in separate DLCs, go figure. There’s six games in the starter pack (Pigs in Clover is the best of those), five in the Meltdown pack (Rainbow Puzzle being the best), four in the Politics pack (none of them worth the digital cardboard they’re printed on), four in the Hobby pack (Bowling being the best there), four in the Critters pack (one of which is a knock-off of Pigs in Clover), and four in the All-Balls pack (Speech Day being the most interesting of them) for twenty-seven total games. Some of them SOUNDED interesting but were completely ruined in execution, like the dice game and Golden Rod.

I suppose maybe the real games felt this way. I can’t believe that would be true, but maybe? Though I would suggest that if they did, it’s probably because the originals at The Strong Museum had warped with age. I mean.. cheap plastic/wooden logs from a handheld game during the Great Depression sure don’t seem like they’d move like that. One game with dice that caught my attention in the $0.99 Hobby Pack involves trying to get two dice into pockets facing a certain way. But even the slightest, slowest attempt at dropping them into these presumably very shallow cardboard slots would cause them to roll over. That’s not how physics work! It’s just not! The Original Mobile Games is complete amateur hour as far as moving parts physics or tilt-mechanics go. It’s actually embarrassing how bad this release is. Hell, sometimes stuff would happen like I would be credited with a victory in a game that I, by all logic, had failed at. In the Slippery Slabs game, where you must shuffle four colored cardboard pieces into the correct zones, the game declared me victorious even though the top two pieces had slid almost entirely out of their zones. Nobody in their right mind would call this a win. Unless you mean “now you don’t ever have to play that game with it’s terrible physics ever again! THAT’S A WIN!”

I get no pleasure at all in slamming any project to this degree. It especially hurts my heart to call a well-meaning preservation-based project like The Original Mobile Games one of 2019’s worst games. I write this knowing that feelings will almost certainly be hurt. But it is that bad. It’s not even a good value in terms of how they set it up. Really, these games are so simplistic that they should have shitcanned the DLC model (a hold-over from the collection’s introduction as a mobile game) and just included all 27 games in one $2.99 release. Putting games as simple as these in packs of four for $0.99 feels icky to me, but I could deal with it if the games played fine. They don’t. Even the playable games don’t ever feel authentic. And we know from projects like Pinball Arcade that you can rebuild vintage games in a virtual space and come very close to the real thing. When I bought The Original Mobile Games, I was so excited for what this represented. I was even hoping they’d continue to do other vintage-game-based recreations. Maybe older pinball machines or even Bagatelle (the forerunner to modern pinball). Now I want these developers to stay far away from anything like that until they’re willing to put in more effort. Wanting to preserve games is great. Heart in the right place and all that. But if you’re going to preserve, for fuck’s sake, DO BETTER THAN THIS! Because if this is the best you can do towards preservation, the games are better off staying in their original cardboard, being gawked at in a museum or found exclusively at a garage sale near you.

The Original Mobile Games was developed by Second Avenue Learning
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$6.94 ($1.99 Starter Pack, $0.99 for all five DLC packs) finished the review without making a dick joke out of Golden Rod in the making of this review. You’re welcome.

Rollin’ Eggz

Ugh. You know, in eight years, I’ve never nodded off playing a game I set out to review for Indie Gamer Chick. Which is more remarkable than it probably sounds. I’ve played a lot of boring games. And, before 2019, I’d even played games that felt like direct homages to classic LCD games. That’s what I felt Iron Snout was. And if that’s a stretch, there’s Nessie, which looked just like a Game & Watch. Rollin’ Eggz is actually based on a pair of Nintendo LCDs: one called Egg, the other called Mickey Mouse. They’re functionally the same game, though one Nintendo owed royalties on and the other they didn’t. Eggz tries to modernize the formula. But, not too modern. The final result was a play session that ended for me when I almost feel asleep and smacked my forehead on my Switch. At least I didn’t drop it.

Yes, let’s not LOOSE a life.

Getting the “positive” out of the way first: Rollin’ Eggz functionally works. It’s not like the game is mechanically broken or anything. It properly updates the 1981 spinning plate-style Game & Watch where the object is to simply position your basket to catch the eggs as chickens poop them out. The main game has the same layout as the LCD original, but with a few added twists. There’s gold eggs that restore a life to you and score three points, and rotten eggs that you must avoid. There’s also snails that temporarily slow the eggs, lady bugs that make it so the chickens temporarily only lay rotten eggs or golden eggs. And sometimes they shit a thunder egg that makes everything go faster. It sounds fine, and it would be. But, the problem is the game’s speed, even on “challenging” mode, takes forever to warm up. Even 300 points into the game and the action is very slow and lacking any teeth. It’s the single most tedious difficulty ramp-up I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable that anyone would let a game like this release as slow as it plays. Giant Sloths would be embarrassed scoring less than 400 in this.

I tried listening to “I’m So Excited” while playing this. The tape wore out. Which is weird because there was no tape. It was on my iPod. I think the iPod was fucking with me.

There’s two other modes. One that has five chutes positioned above you. The controls are a bit fickle for this one and honestly I had no desire to get the hang of it. The third takes you back to the original four-chute layout but makes you catch specific colored eggs. It’s too easy, especially since it tells you what the next color that you’ll be catching will be. And this is the mode where I genuinely nodded off for a second. Eight years, 600+ indies reviewed, and I’ve never had that happen. And, once again, it’s an issue of speed. Taking three-hundred points to get the game to a somewhat reasonable speed (though not enough to challenge, and mind you, I was playing on the “challenging” difficultly, which is the highest difficulty as far as I can tell) is just not good design. This is a drag race stuck in neutral. The 100 yard dash with garden snails. Wheelchair basketball with flat tires. BAD IDEAS!

There’s now a forehead-shaped smudge on my Switch. This isn’t something I’m making up for comic effect. I really did almost doze off playing this and conk my head on my Switch.

And there’s nothing here that makes the game worth playing. There’s no online leaderboards. Just a local-only high score. You get in-game currency to unlock new characters. Which sounds great, except there’s only two that cost 600 coins combined, and you can easily get 600 coins on your very first play session if your mind doesn’t wander looking for anything remotely more stimulating, like watching a fly navigate the lamp on the desk next to you. And finally, Rollin’ Eggz costs $2.99. Are you fucking kidding me? With all the Switch games that regularly go on sale for $0.19 or less (everyone knows about getting Bouncy Bob for a penny, even though it wasn’t worth even that), some of which are pretty decent (I’ve got a soft spot for Fly ‘O Clock), how can anyone justify $3 for this? It’s such a nothing game. It’s the caviar of indies: overpriced and bound to leave you with a salty taste in your mouth.

Rollin Eggz was developed by Square Head Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$2.99 wasn’t eggcited to play this in the making of this review. Sorry.

For $3.99, you can buy Game & Watch Gallery 3 for 3DS, which has a better modern remake of Egg, along with other games. Just sayin.

Arcade Archives: Sky Skipper

Over the last eight years, I’ve watched some incredible indie developers pour their hearts and souls into their projects, often only to be met with tumbleweeds or apathy. Whether anyone believes it or not, it always hurts my heart to see a game fail to find its audience. I don’t personally understand the demoralization. I can’t. I’m not a creator of games. I put everything into my work as Indie Gamer Chick, but it’s nowhere near the artistic spirit that goes into so many games that never catch on. A lot of those devs go on to be my friends. Some of them even close friends. I try to be encouraging and comforting when the greatest of efforts fails, but more often than not it feels like my words fail me.

With that in mind, have a look at Sky Skipper. This is an actual Nintendo coin-op from 1981 that was designed by the man himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. Well, actually there’s a sticky bit a business involving a guy named Ikegami Tsushinki who claims he’s the real creator and designer of all the Nintendo games up to Donkey Kong, and possibly Sky Skipper too since it was developed alongside DK. There was a lawsuit. Nobody knows what the result was. Having played Radar Scope and Space Firebird on my MAME, I’ll say that the difference between those games and the 1981-onward Nintendo titles is night and day. I’ll buy that someone else programmed them at that phase of Nintendo’s existence, but the design of Donkey Kong and Sky Skipper seem a little too original compared to everything that came before it. And, let’s face it, at the end the day, Miyamoto is revered among his peers while Tsushinki is barely worthy of being the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. There’s always going to be people who say legendary creators didn’t really create their work. They say it about Shakespeare too.

Sky Skipper ain’t much to look at. In fact, with the jaggy straight-lines and overly bright blue background, I can’t help but wonder if the graphics were unfinished as well. It’s so.. ugly. Also, this picture shows what I mean about how sometimes the cards refuse to free themselves even if the thing guarding them is out cold. Yea, I think it’s safe to say Sky Skipper was unfinished.

Whatever happened, Donkey Kong was a big hit. Sky Skipper? Not so much. It was given a very limited release in Japanese arcades, where it was ignored by players and hated by operators. Ten units were made for testing in North America, but because the game air-balled in the Japan, the USA test was apparently cancelled and the cabinets were instead turned into Popeye units for distribution. A single Sky Skipper cabinet was saved and kept by Nintendo of America. After years of restoration efforts, Nintendo allowed the ROM of their cabinet to be dumped by Hamster for this Arcade Archives re-release. One that apparently few people bought. I’m currently among the top 50 on every online leaderboard in the game (#18 in Caravan Mode!) despite my skills leaving a lot to be desired, which tells me it sold about as well as the Pontiac Aztek. Maybe if Nintendo had actually put out some kind of “hey, check out this lost game rediscovered of ours by the man who created Mario and Zelda” campaign it would have gotten some traction. But Nintendo really doesn’t seem all that interested in promoting ports of their own work. How peculiar. Maybe they’re as embarrassed by the $7.99 price tags as everyone else is.

Now, I’ve played my share of lost games. More often than not, they tend to suck. That’s why they found themselves lost in the first place. Look at Star Fox 2. I imagine many a slobbering fanboy with an SNES Classic had to spin with all the fury of a tornado in order to convince themselves they were having fun playing that clunky piece of shit. But I’ve had a lot of luck in 2019 with games like Joy Mech Fight and Kid Dracula (both Famicom games unreleased in the United States), and now Sky Skipper. A lot of people are shitting on it calling it confused or directionless. But honestly, this was easily my favorite of the nine Arcade Archive releases of Nintendo coin-ops I’ve played. It’s still original in 2019. There’s nothing quite like it. I also totally get how a game like this could bomb in 1981. You can be too original.

This is not a photoshop. The game says “damn it!” I was ten times more excited over this development than anyone in their right mind should be. I was practically doing cartwheels. Look! It’s a 1981 Nintendo game saying damn it! That is objectively FUCKING AWESOME!

The basic idea is you command a biplane that has to rescue sentient playing cards and a royal family from the clutches of evil gorillas, some of which look just like Donkey Kong but are most certainly not Donkey Kong nuh uh no sir not Donkey Kong at all how can you even say that?

Sorry.

You have limited gas (though I only once in dozens of sessions came close to running out) that can be refilled by flying into the starting flag of each stage. The cards and royalty are stuck in little compartments and will begin to leap up and down if you incapacitate the Notkey Kongs guarding it. Flying into them rescues them (presumably, that or you’re purging the royal blood blind and shredding them in your propeller. This can’t be ruled out) and scores points. Rescue all of them to advance to the next level. There’s four levels total, at which points stages recycle, just like every other Nintendo coin-op. Of all the early Nintendo arcade games, Sky Skipper is the most complex. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t a hit. The levels are sprawling, the object not entirely clear, and sometimes it doesn’t work exactly the way it should.

For example, sometimes the cards won’t start to jump even after their guards are temporarily knocked out. Other times, they’ll jump even when the patrolrillas are active and right above them. It makes me think the game wasn’t ever properly finished, because it’s never consistent from one round to the next and makes trying to shoot for high scores in the five minute caravan mode a chore. If it were finished, it’d actually be a nice gameplay style that features a deceptively complex scoring system build around the order you rescue the cards. Getting all the matching suits in a row scores extra points, while getting cards of matching colors in a row scores lightly less extra points. In theory, the royal family should act as wildcards, but they don’t seem to. Still, the relatively complex scoring was ahead of its time. It was even adapted to the Atari port of it.

Yea, if the name sounded familiar to older gamers, it’s because Parker Bros released a port of Sky Skipper for the 2600. I don’t think they actually wanted it. The deal they made was for Popeye (which Coleco, normally Nintendo’s partner during this era, passed on because of the cost of licensing the Popeye character). Nintendo threw Sky Skipper in with it. This was the first time I played an emulator to check a 2600 version of a game. It was fine. The cards are replaced with animals and the level design and enemy danger is toned drastically down, but it certainly passes for what they were aiming for. That really had nothing to do with this review, but you try making an interesting article out of an unreleased 1981 arcade game that was skipped for a reason.

This is the Atari 2600 version. Honestly, it’s no worse looking than the VCS version of Donkey Kong.

Actually, Sky Skipper is genuinely fun. I can also totally understand why this wouldn’t fly in 1981. Defender had already reached arcades by time Sky Skipper was ready for release. Defender, which I still hold up as the gold standard of arcade games, was fast-paced and white knuckle. Even with the throttle up on Sky Skipper, the pace is slow and plodding and the combination of Pac-Man style mazes and cutesy graphics with flying and a bombing giant cartoon gorillas just doesn’t seem like the type of thing that would catch attention on either side of the Pacific Ocean. But still, it’s a crying shame that a game with real entertainment value was trashed while actual garbage like Donkey Kong 3 was given a green light. Don’t get me wrong: Sky Skipper isn’t exactly incredible. It’s just alright. If the situation where the cards jumping to be rescued were fixed-up so that they behave more logically, it might even be a good game.

The gorillas throw baseballs that explode at you, but these don’t kill you directly. They cause you to lose control of the plane and crash into walls. Actually, the most lethal objects in the game, for me at least, were clouds. I lost more lives flying into them on accident than anything else. What kind of airplane can’t survive a cloud? Hell, what kind of pilot wouldn’t thrive on flying into clouds?

The Arcade Archive package isn’t exactly stellar either. I’d go so far as to say the five-minute Caravan Mode is functionally useless as a measuring stick of ability. There’s a lot of downtime between levels in Sky Skipper, but, the timer doesn’t stop between levels or when the plane is taking off at the start of new stages. It easily shaves a minute off the time and is so painful to sit through. In fact, most Arcade Archive games don’t stop the timer. Only Mario Bros. does as far as I’ve noticed, where the timer stops during the explanation screens. But in other games, like Vs. Super Mario Bros. the timer runs even if you’re not in control between stages. The obvious explanation is that Hamster has gotten lazy and complacent since Mario Bros. was released in October of 2017 and maybe some effort was made, while everything from Vs. Super Mario onward (with the exception of Donkey Kong, which has extra ROMs) was phoned in. Why bother with special features when anyone who would buy the port would do so either way, right?

As much as I’ve hated on Hamster and the Arcade Archive series (seriously, it’s 2 for 9 following this review, and the only other game in the series I actually liked was the universally hated Urban Champion, go figure), I really like what this release represents. In fact, it’s the first Arcade Archives game where I’m okay with the $7.99 price tag. I’m all about preservation and giving gamers and game developers access to lost or unfinished games to take apart like a digital autopsy. Maybe in the future, developers can finish cancelled games, BUT, also include things like the last stable build before it was cancelled. Imagine what students creating new games could learn if they had the ability to play the unfinished parts of Duke Nukem Forever or the original tech demos of Mario 64 or Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Weirdly enough, nowhere in the advertising does it mention the game’s lost status. That’s strange, because it’s literally the only reason anyone in their right mind would want this. I mean, I had fun, but it’s not even that legendary. I hadn’t even heard of Sky Skipper until last week.

You see, we’re all products of every game we’ve played up to this moment, and the same goes for developers. All of them are inspired by their favorite games, but the best of them learn from their least favorites and study those that they know to be bad. If every game is an opportunity for education, having access to the unreleased failures of those who came before them is invaluable to their progress. There’s lessons to be learned in them. So on this, my 30th birthday, I want to share this advice with everyone: you will fail sometimes, and that’s okay. Shigeru Miyamoto probably felt dejection when Sky Skipper was ignored by players and loathed by arcade operators. Look what he went on to accomplish. Dreams are always out of reach to those who quit. Not everyone who perseveres will find success, but you can be proud of yourself knowing that you didn’t fail you. And, if you press on, maybe one day a future generation indie critic will look back on your early work and say “well, that sucked, but I’m happy they didn’t give up.”

Arcade Archives: Sky Skipper was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 took the sky from me in the making of this review.

Sky Skipper is Chick-Approved. Non-indies and retro games are not eligible for the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. BUT, the IGC Retroboards are coming very soon.

Arcade Archives: Ice Climber

THIS, my friends, is the worst Nintendo game. Well, maybe not. Donkey Kong 3 is pretty damn shitty. And Nintendo has made a lot of games that are uninspired at best, if not actively horrible. Now granted, I haven’t played Stack Up, and unless Nintendo does a digital simulator for R.O.B. it’s unlikely I ever will. I’m not sure why Stack Up has such a bad reputation besides being a game that requires players to keep score via the honor system. It seems like totally functional concept that wouldn’t be bad if it weren’t controlled by an accessory so slow that you have to measure its movement speed in epochs. I know that part is true because I have played Gyromite. With actual gyros. It’s plodding, but it works. But, I don’t think the NES robot games should be in the discussion. They were never meant to be good. They were part of Nintendo’s trojan horse strategy to get the NES into retailers. Expecting them to be good would be like a pothead giving glaucoma a positive review because at least it gives them a legal excuse to smoke weed.

We’ll never see Stack Up again. I mean, that Ron Howard likeness license ain’t cheap.

Well hell, shouldn’t part of the requirement for a worst-game contender be that the game had aspirations of high quality? People find charm in Ed Wood’s failures because he was trying so gosh-darn hard to make something good. That he was giving his maximum effort and still ended up with Plan 9 from Outer Space is adorable in how pitiful it is. That’s why I found Press X to Not Die so obnoxious. It’s not just because it was bad, but because it was trying to be deliberately 90s FMV-bad. But those games like Sewer Shark or Night Trap weren’t trying to be badly acted or horrible to play. That’s just how they turned out. They have camp value specifically because everyone involved didn’t know they were making bad games. Being bad on purpose takes no skill or effort. Anyone can do it. Being remarkably bad takes ambition and the belief you’re making something good. Remember, it’s not really failing if you didn’t even try. Which, coincidentally, is what New York Knicks management have to say to themselves just to sleep at night.

The one less-negative thing I can say about Arcade Archives: Ice Climber is that it controls not-as-horrible as the NES version. I don’t want to use the word “better” to describe anything related to this game. It doesn’t deserve even the slightest hint of positivity.

I suspect Ice Climber was considered a high-prospect game at Nintendo. In the immediate aftermath of Super Mario Bros., they probably thought jumping and scrolling were the keys to its success and decided “well, Super Mario worked horizontally, so let’s quickly make a vertical scroller and corner that market too!” If true, that’d be a solid theory. But the problem is Super Mario Bros., for all the shit I’ve given it for its relatively bad control (compared to how the series evolved at least), was probably the best controlling game Nintendo had ever made up to that point. Ice Climber goes the other way. It has bizarre jumping physics that severely limit how much horizontal distance you can cover each jump, presumably to make it clear that this is the vertical game. It honestly feels like something is physically pushing into your character while you jump. So the characters can jump fairly high vertically but not to the left and right. Fine. And then they built a game not tailored to these specific physics that requires you to jump up and to the left or right. Not fine.

Ice Climber is so putrid that it’s insane to think anyone could have been satisfied releasing this in the state it’s in. It’s horrible. Maybe with tight level design built to the strengths of the jumping mechanics it could have been something. But Ice Climber often requires quick jumping reflexes and precision movement. Some of the floors are like conveyor belts that push you one direction. Sometimes there’s wind blowing against you in addition to the strange leaping physics. Sometimes progress is dependent on waiting for slooooooooowwwwwww moving platforms. If there’s multiple moving platforms, they obviously weren’t programed with any form of synchronization in mind. You might end of having to wait a long time for them to line up in a way that’s useful. That mostly happens in bonus section of levels, where if you fall to your death you don’t lose a life. But, sometimes you end up getting stuck waiting in the actual level part of stages. And mind you, there’s a penalty for lingering. Simply atrocious. Gaming has come a long way and we should all take a moment to be thankful that little things like moving platform design have evolved to the point they have. But, even when everything seems like it’s working right, something will happen like trying to jump to the level above you and clipping through the floor instead. Really, Ice Climber’s most amazing aspect is how little time you spend playing it where nothing is wrong or off at that specific moment.

Pictured here: the climber clipping right through the blocks. This is incredibly annoying. The NES version of Mario Bros does this too. The arcade version of Mario doesn’t, which is the only reason why I bought Arcade Archives: Ice Climber. I figured if Mario Bros’s coin-op fixed my biggest complaint about the NES port, maybe Ice Climber’s would too. It doesn’t. I was constantly trying to jump to above platforms only to go straight through them because I didn’t land flush-enough, even though the majority of my body was over the platform. If Ice Climber was a little more forgiving, it might be a fun game. Probably not, but you can’t rule it out. Also, in Japan, instead of furry little monsters, you club seals. I’m not kidding.

And so, yeah, this is the worst Nintendo game. The most annoying mechanically. The most boring in level design. The least rewarding to complete. And it’s not even historically important. Finally, it’s not even fun in a campy type of way. Being a bad game isn’t like being a bad movie. Movies are a passive experience. You just sit back and watch them. Games you take an active role in. I never thought there was value in bad games. Ice Climber is worthless in every way a game can be. If not for the fact that they wanted some obscure gag characters for Smash Bros. Melee and thought Mr. Game & Watch was too obscure, Ice Climber would be completely inconsequential to gaming today. Donkey Kong 3 is bland, but Ice Climber is bland AND bad. It’s the worst combination imaginable. It’s terrible in ways that almost defy reality. This was developed alongside Super Mario Bros. Someone looked at both games and said “yep, we’re on the right track!” It’s unreal that nobody said “look at how the Super Mario project is going. We can do better!” Ice Climber deserved to be lost to history. It almost was. And then Sakurai needed a joke for Melee and snatched it from oblivion. Funny joke, but not that funny.

Oh, right, Arcade Archives release. This cost $7.99. HAH. There’s, that’s my review of this port in its entirety.

Arcade Archives: Ice Climber was developed by Hamster.
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 said honestly using a gun would be a kinder form of robbery than charging $8 for Ice Climber in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Urban Champion

Reputations are a fickle thing. They happen for a reason, are usually rooted in some form of reality, but just as often as not, are completely inaccurate. I have a reputation for being a tough but fair game critic, which I take great pride maintaining. But among some, my reputation is also that I’m anti-retro and anti-Nintendo. Those are fiction. The anti-retro thing comes from the fact that I don’t bend the knee to every legendary older game based on their legacy alone. I hated Super Mario Bros. I hated Centipede. I owe them nothing and have no problem telling people I think they suck. But anti retro? Are you kidding? If the rep were true, would I have needed to pause my session of Gunstar Heroes just to cry tears of joy at how awesome it was? Because I totally did. It was so good and I was so blown away. And I even wrote a two-thousand word essay on how amazing Super Mario Bros. 2 is. If that’s hate, by all means, hate me that way.

The anti-Nintendo rep comes from the fact that I’ll criticize Nintendo when I think the situation calls for it. That’s really it. That alone makes you “anti-Nintendo” to the generation of latchkey kids raised by an NES or a Wii who live their lives under the delusion that Nintendo is their bestie. Or, even worse, an insecure deity, and if they stop kissing its ass for even a split second, they might end up never seeing more entries in their favorite franchises. Because, right, Nintendo is totally going to stop making Metroid or Zelda games if anyone expresses even the faintest hint of rejection. Uh huh. By the way, my rep there is, again, obviously untrue. I’ve named two Nintendo-developed titles my Game of the Year since starting IGC (Link Between Worlds in 2013, Mario Odyssey in 2017) and my site has been focused recently more on Switch indies and releases. Strange way of being anti-Nintendo: covering games that would serve to help their bottom line. So, I’ve learned to take reputations with a grain of salt and judge people and things by my experience with them.

“I told you to make my hair look like Elvis! This isn’t Elvis! His hair wasn’t green!”

I bring up reputation because Urban Champion is, by reputation, the worst Nintendo game ever made. There’s of course outliers who argued that the title belongs to Ice Climber, Clu Clu Land, NES Baseball, Stack Up (the R.O.B. game), or even later stuff like Wii Music or Pokemon Channel. Hell, I’d throw Kid Icarus: Uprising into that mix. The fact that they had to include an accessory just to play it without causing damage to your hands should have been a warning to them that maybe the game needed serious re-thinking. But, Urban Champion is the game that comes up most, at least from what I can tell. It’s not even close. The argument is never that it’s unplayable or broken, but rather that it’s so bland and uninspired that it almost defies belief. Even while I was playing it and uploading videos today, people pointed out that, after five seconds, you’d seen everything the game had to offer. A baffling argument in my opinion. I mean, how many seconds do you need to see everything Pac-Man has to offer?

I’d never played Urban Champion properly. I’d played it as part of NES Remix or a microgame in WarioWare, but I’d never played the real deal. I wasn’t sure what to expect. And then I turned it on, and I started playing it, and now I’m sitting here wondering how in the world this of all games became the worst Nintendo game title holder. Because it’s not. It’s not even the most bland early Nintendo game I’ve played. It’s fine, honestly. There’s not a whole lot of depth here, but the concept of two guys throwing punches on the street, high and low, jabs and heavy punches, works. And, in fact, being a fan of games where attacks feel like they have real world weight and impact, I liked Urban Champion’s violence a lot. The punches feel like they’re connecting and hurt. I’d be nice if the characters looked like they had damage, like a black eye or swollen faces just to really sell it, but still, it’s not bad. It’s almost unreal that a rushed, half-assed 1984 arcade game genuinely feels like a real fist fight between two angry people, but Urban Champion pulls that off.

You’ve got to appreciate that citizens of Urban Champion City keep confetti by their windows so that if someone below their apartment happens to punch some other poor SOB into a sewer, you can help them to celebrate their almost-certain manslaughter.

And it’s slightly more than a button-masher. It’s basically rock-scissors-paper with a fourth option. There’s two types of punches: a jab and a “knock-out punch” that, if you land it, always knocks a person to the ground. Both types of punches can be thrown to the face or to the gut, giving you four total attack methods. Every landed punch moves your opponent backwards. After a character is knocked back two screens, the third screen will always have an open manhole, where to win the fight you have to punch them into it. It’s a novel version of the round format, and really, a sort of precursor to Smash Bros when you think about it. They’re both fighting games where you’re trying to knock your opponents off the screen. I’m not saying Urban Champion is the grandfather of Smash Bros, but there’s some shared DNA for sure. In the same way humans are related to sea sponges, but it still counts.

Of course, the problem is that there’s not a lot of meat on these bones. Each opponent is identical in model with only the coloration changed. The difficult does ramp up, but rounds of Urban Champion are still long and slow. I can’t imagine arcade operators ever liked this. Then again, most of my fans weren’t even aware this was an arcade game. In fact, this (along with other current Arcade Archives releases like Clu Clu Land, Ice Climber, and Excitebike) were part of the Nintendo Vs. System that were basically made of slightly upgraded NES hardware. The games were interchangeable, with operators simply being given different marquees and other decorations to change the look of the cabinet. This is why the arcade version of Super Mario is called Vs. Super Mario Bros. It was a hugely profitable set-up, but it was limited to one, maybe two games, per unit. Nintendo eventually discontinued it in favor of the PlayChoice-10, which many of my older fans describe as “playing an NES, five minutes for 25¢ at a time.” Anyway, Urban Champion was part of the Vs. Series, though it’s so rare that not a single person registered to the Killer List of Video Games owns one, or even the board for it. As an NES game, it’s not hard to find, but it’s not exactly wanted as anything but a curio either.

Imagine how hilarious it would be if Urban Champion was announced as the next Smash Bros DLC. There’d be an internet riot.

I think history was a bit unfair to Urban Champion. If this had come out for something like the Intellivsion or Colecovision, it might have been remembered as one of the all-time greats. It even feels like it belongs more on one of those consoles. Maybe if it had been, today it’d be considered the rightful patriarch to games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Instead, titles like Karate Champ or Yie Ar Kung-Fu hold that distinction, even though I think Urban Champion is a better game. Compared to other early NES titles like Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda, Champion feels so damn primitive. Maybe it was the victim of the worst timing in gaming history. And being slightly bland or limited in play mechanics aren’t the only flaw. The police periodically resetting a round, seemingly at random, is annoying as fuck. The people dropping pots out the window, sometimes in your favor and sometimes not, break up the game’s flow terribly. There’s no special moves and I hate having to move manually after every knock-down and to start every round. But, I liked the no-frills fisticuffs it offered. Urban Champion isn’t the worst Nintendo game. It’s not even a bad game. It’s genuinely decent. I liked it. I’m sure people will think I’m being sarcastic or taking the piss. I’m not. Urban Champion is underrated. It has the most undue reputation in all of gaming, positive or negative. I’m dead serious. Check it out if you get the chance.

Now, having said all that, the package and value of the Hamster release is pretty terrible. There’s only three modes. The first allows you to mess with options, though the game defaults to easy so really the only thing you can tinker with is your life count. Which, even if you do, you can post a high score to online leaderboards with it. The second mode is high-score, which you have to use the default settings. The third is caravan mode, which is the typical five-minute timer mode with online boards. Thankfully, for this release, the timer actually stops when the action does between rounds. Nice touch. The problem with this mode is that you’re playing a game where you’ll be hitting the buttons a lot, including the B button. If you’re doing that and the time runs out, you reject your own score and it doesn’t get posted. I had a top 50 score and threw it away, and I’m fucking pissed off about that. It’s such careless, lazy, stupid design. Have a fucking warning screen or something before tossing a score out. It’s just common sense. Just because your company is called Hamster doesn’t need you need to display the brainpower of one.

And finally, there’s the price tag: yet another $7.99 game. And that’s what presents a problem for me. If the game had been $1, I’d considered it one of the best dollars I’ve spent on a game in recent memory. EIGHT FUCKING DOLLARS FOR THIS? I bought six discounted Switch indies for that last night. All these Arcade Archives releases (and their Johnny Turbo cousins) are terrible values. $5 is a good price for an old game. That’s an impulse buy. $7.99 is something most people will want to think about. And that’s where I’m struggling here. You see, I liked Urban Champion. I just detest the price. But, my rule here is that price and value are not what I’m deciding on. I’m reviewing a game as a game, not a product. So, for that reason, I have to give Arcade Archives: Urban Champion the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. And I have to tell people to not buy it for $7.99. If you get a chance at $5 or less, give it a chance with an open mind and you’ll probably walk away agreeing that Nintendo not only has done a lot worse, but that Urban Champion shouldn’t even make the list. But for $7.99? Urban Champion and this whole series (which I’m not done with yet, two more to go) can jump in a manhole and become part of a fatberg. A fatberg is a congealed mess of wetwipes and cooking grease that clogs up sewers. There’s also dozens of overpriced arcade relics on home consoles holding it together. I’m almost certain of this.

Arcade Archives: Urban Champion was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 (TOO MUCH, DON’T BUY IT, IGNORE THE SEAL OF APPROVAL) said “maybe if I make the seal of approval smaller nobody will notice” in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Urban Champion is Chick-Approved but as a non-indie isn’t ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

Arcade Archives: Mario Bros.

One thing I’ve noticed while playing Mario Bros: people either love and defend the 1983 arcade original and its direct ports, or they love and defend the numerous remakes of it, some of which happened in games like the Mario Advance series, as a competitive minigame in Super Mario 3, or even as a Virtual Boy game. Regardless of the quality of the coin-op (spoiler: it sucks), that tells me that the fundamental concept is one of Nintendo’s biggest home runs during their formative years as a game maker. Of all their early titles, it’s certainly the one with the most staying power. And that’s kind of amazing, because Mario Bros really sucks. Sorry for those that I didn’t give proper spoiler warning to above.

For those that say “you’d of had more fun if you played (name of game) co-op”, I played Mario Bros. co-op. I didn’t have fun and dragged an innocent child’s weekend down with me. I’m a monster thanks to your peer pressure. Hope you can sleep at night now, because I won’t be able to. Also, you can’t play the high-score modes or caravan modes co-op. Maybe an option for a version of both would have been nice, but so far the only game in the Arcade Archive series that seems to have gone the extra mile is Donkey Kong, which includes three different ROMs for the game.

Okay, that’s a bit unfair. Mario Bros. actually has a lot going for it, including co-op. People have complained that I don’t always play these arcade games the “best way”, IE with a partner. Because I guess miserly loves company. But the thing is, my family doesn’t really like misery. They get enough of it from me. But, I conned my nephew C.J. into playing a round with me. He couldn’t quite comprehend what the game in question was. “Mario Bros!” “Mario Maker 2?” “Mario Bros!” “New Super Mario DX?” “Mario Bros!” “Mario 3D World?” “Mario Bros!” “I uh.. Mario Maker 1?” That’s not a joke, by the way. He couldn’t compute the concept. Then I showed it to him and I’m convinced he played deliberately poorly just to escape. He’s a shifty one.

By the way, if not for how bad the emulation for Punch-Out!! seems to be, this would be by far the worst of the Arcade Archives releases. Not because the emulation is bad. It’s not, except for the sound. My understanding is that all the authentic pre-Donkey Kong 3 Nintendo arcade games had strange sound programming that requires emulators to take actual audio recordings in .wav files in order to have, you know, noise. It made the sound effects of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. sound strange. But at least the audio was clear for those. For Mario Bros, sometimes the sound effects sound washed out, like they’re coming from another room. I’d show you a 30 second clip, but video capture is disabled for this one. It’s the first time that’s happened during this mini-series I’m doing. Which really means my fans are just being spared seeing me post roughly two-thousands videos of me dying in a fire(ball).

Probably the biggest difference between all these arcade games and their NES counterparts are the lack of cut scenes. NES Donkey Kong doesn’t have the “how high can you get” screens. Donkey Kong Jr. is missing cut scenes and animations. Mario Bros. is missing explanation screens. It made me wonder why they couldn’t do these things on the NES. The NES went on to do impressive things graphically. Well, I found out that it was a cost-cutting thing. Back in 1983, every KB cost extra money.

Yea, those fucking fireballs. I get why they’re there. Being an arcade game, Mario Bros. was expected to generate revenue for arcade operators. You can’t do that if players last too long. Ideally, you want a fun game where players last just long enough to make them think they’ve got skills, then die in a way where it sure seems like the player, or those watching, think they could have done better. They drop quarters, then die again in the same spot because it’s close to fucking impossible. That’s Mario Bros, only they forgot the fun part.

After a few stages, fireballs start to spawn with such breakneck frequency that it felt like there was no opening to flip the enemies over. I’d go to jump over the fireballs and they seemed like they’d always zag straight into me. You can kill the fireballs the same way you flip enemies over for lots of bonus points, but the vulnerable surface area of them seems very small, and the timing of even being able to stop them is so short that you’re more likely to die pursuing it than you are to succeed. And while all this is going on, the actual enemies you’re supposed to be targeting are still walking around, doing their thing.

The POW block isn’t as useful as you’d think. The crabs take two hits. The flies can’t be hit if they’re not on the floor. For the five-minute mode, I found I did better when I burned it early to shave time.

Mario Bros. goes from simple, reasonable challenge to unmanageable cluster-fuck of shit happening with so little transition in-between that I can’t believe this isn’t remembered alongside Defender or Smash TV as one of the all-time hardest arcade games. It’s insane how tough it is. And this isn’t helped by some of the most slippery, imprecise movement controls of any Golden Age of Arcades title. I actually longed for the lumbering, heavy movement of Donkey Kong Jr. multiple times while playing this steamer, because at least that was accurate. Mario Bros. actually introduces little sentient ice monsters that, if not stopped, will freeze platforms and cause slipping. To quote Dorthy Parker when she heard Calvin Coolidge died: “how can they tell?” Because this shit is already buttered-floor levels of slick to begin with.

There’s less bonus stages in the arcade version too I think. You certainly get the bonus levels faster in the NES version, which only opens with two turtle waves. The arcade game has three before you get to the first bonus round. I pictured a seedy arcade operator, shirt stained, cheap cigar hanging out of his mouth, saying “BONUS STAGES? FREE LIVES? DO YOU THINK I’M RUNNING A FUCKING CHARITY HERE?”

To Mario Bros.’s credit, the framework for something special was laid here. I didn’t like it, but at least the foundation gave rise to Super Mario Bros. and the modern game industry as a whole. And actually, the five minute caravan mode is best with Mario Bros. because it takes about four minutes for everything to become out-of-hand. When things get unplayable then, at least the game is going to end within a minute. Funny enough, I fired up the NES/Famicom version of Mario Bros. to compare to the arcade original. The graphics are a major step down on the NES, more-so than any other arcade game I’ve played so far. And, while the movement is more accurate and less slippery, the home version has a horrible Ice Climber-like glitch where you clip right through the platform if you jump in a certain way. So there were tons of times where I was trying to jump onto the platform above me and went straight fucking through it and back down to the level I was already on, or even lower. That doesn’t happen in the arcade version. That really sucks because now I have to turn my six-game marathon into a seven game one and buy Arcade Archives: Ice Climber to see if the clipping isn’t present in the arcade version of that, which I consider the NES version to be the worst Nintendo game ever. Fuck you Mario Bros. for making me do that.

Fine, but I draw the line at Clu Clu Land. I think that’s reasonable.

Arcade Archives: Mario Bros. was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 said the crabs and flies sort of got the shaft in the Mario universe in the making of this review.

While all indies I review are purchased by me out of pocket, a fan paid for Arcade Archives: Mario Bros. for me. I matched their purchase price with a donation to Direct Relief. Last year, they provided relief to my home state of California, and they’ll sadly have to do it again this year. They need money though. Give them some, please.

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