Tag Archives: NES

Alwa’s Awakening (PC)

Developer(s) – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

The debut title of Elden pixels, and developed under the supervision of Zoink Games’ Mikael Forslind, Alwa’s Awakening is a throwback to the classic games of the NES era, including Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Metroid and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. An 8-bit Metroidvania game, it focuses heavily on exploration, combat and acquiring a range of different abilities in order to progress from area to area. Playing this game felt like an absolute pleasure, as well as a fitting tribute to games of the late 80s, and I would recommend it to any fan of that era of gaming.

Graphics – 8/10

Conceptually, where this game stands out is the design of the enemies, as well as the boss battles. Though clearly influenced by many aspects of medieval mythology, including other fantasy franchises (elements of Dungeons & Dragons seemed most evident to me personally), the developers took these influences, and formed their own cohesive concepts in terms of visual design, which is quite difficult to do when dealing with medieval fantasy, making it seem all the more impressive. The soundtrack, recorded by Robert Kreese, is also nothing short of stellar, being on par with, if not better than, many classic NES games.

Gameplay – 8/10

Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania game focusing on adventure and exploration, but the developers also boasted a heightened level of challenge compared to many other classic NES games during development, promising an unforgettable throwback experience to suit both the seasoned and casual classes of gamers of that time. When Elden Pixels first announced this, I did get nervous that they would develop a game that was nigh on inaccessible, as what I’ve found in many NES games, such as those in the original Mega Man series. However, wile playing through it, I found it offer a level of challenge that is stern, yet reasonable; a level of challenge on par with Shovel Knight, for example. It came as a relief to me, and I was able to enjoy the game with minimal frustration because of it. There are secrets to uncover along the way, and some of the most invigorating boss fights I’ve seen in a 2D game.

Controls – 10/10

Part of the reason why I found the game to be more accessible that many fully NES titles purposefully made to be hard was because the controls are also flawless. In many Mega Man games, I have experienced problems with the controls, and time and time again, it defeats the object of demanding skill from the player if the developers can’t program the game properly. In this game, however, no such issues exist; the controls are perfect, and any error made will be down to player performance.

Lifespan – 6.5/10

The game can be made to last around 6 to 7 hours in total, taking everything to do within it into account, which by NES standards at the time may have been outstanding, but in the current era, especially for a Metroidvania, it does fall somewhat short in this respect. It is the game’s biggest issue in my opinion, and I think it could have been made to last at least 12 to 13 hours given more things to do within it. However, there is more than enough substance in gameplay for how long it does last, which does emphasize quality of over quantity.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Alwa’s Awakening follows a girl called Zoe, who is playing video games one night, and after dozing off, she finds herself in the land of Alwa, where her favourite video game is set, and she is thrust into a quest in order to save the land for real. The plot itself may be quite straightforward, but there are certain aspects of it that do well to foster an air of mystery about the game, as was customary among NES title in the console’s heyday. It’s a nice touch the developers added that makes the game more enjoyable to play through overall.

Originality – 7/10

Taking everything into account, I was impressed with how many unique aspects there were within this game compared to other classic 2D titles. As someone who first started out playing video games on the NES, my first ever video games being Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, it was refreshing to take a step back from AAA mainstream titles, and play a game that not only hearkens back to the days of gaming simplicity, but also offers something different to any other NES title.

In summation, Alwa’s Awakening is a welcome addition to ever-growing indie scene, and a definitive joy to play. There’s great gameplay, atmospheric visuals, an excellent soundtrack and a level of challenge that will satisfy all classes of third generation gamer.

Score

46.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Play Manchester 2016

The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.

Snake Pass

snake-pass

The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.

http://www.sumo-digital.com/snakepass/#

@SumoDigitalLtd

Dragon Bros

dragon-bros

Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.

http://spacelizardstudio.com/work/dragon-bros/

@SpaceLizardSt

Mao Mao Castle

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Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:

http://aso.bi/maomao/

Unbox

unbox

Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.

http://www.unboxgame.com/

@ProspectGames

Sub Level Zero

sub-level-zero

Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.

http://www.sigtrapgames.com/sublevelzero/

@SIGTRAPgames

Hyper Sentinel

hyper-sentinel

The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.

http://www.hypersentinel.com/

@HewsonJoystick

Tekken 7: First Impressions

tekken-7

One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.

WWE 2K17: First Impressions

wwe-2k17

The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.

The Tomb Raider Panel

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In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.

The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.

Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.

 

Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions

pierhead-arcade

As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.

As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.

Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.

In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developer(s) – Nintendo R&D 4

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director(s) – Tadashi Sugiyama & Yoichi Yamada

Producer(s) – Shigeru Miyamoto

Released the year after the original game, and to universal acclaim and sales eventually peaking at over 4 million units worldwide, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link made many radical departures from the first game. Whilst exploration and travel was handled using the top-down perspective synonymous with the first Legend of Zelda, combat was represented through a 2D side-scrolling perspective, and working very similarly to games such as Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, thus joining a class of NES sequels that were drastically different to their predecessors, alongside Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters and most famously, Super Mario Bros 2. Personally, I found that although this formula has never been able to quite match the same level of enjoyment with the classic top-down Zelda formula used in the likes of A Link to the Past or A Link Between Worlds, I still found the first game extremely entertaining, and a strong entry in the series that still holds up even after almost 30 years.

Graphics – 8/10

Making a significant departure from it’s predecessor, the second game in the Legend of Zelda series displayed many improvements in visual presentation from a technical standpoint. Sprites and scenery are much more detailed, and there is an abundance in enemy variety; some of which have gone on to become stables of the series, such as the Moblins, the Iron Knuckles and perhaps most notably, Dark Link. In the timeline of the series, this game is the latest following the game over scenario in Ocarina of Time, which lead to the decline of the land of Hyrule, so like many of the games in the series, it has a level of conceptual design that has since continued to deviate away from many familiar elements like Hyrule Castle and Kakariko Village, and thus, it still continues to stand out in this respect. It’s also interesting to consider how the names of towns in this game were later reworked into other entries; most notable, Ocarina of time.

Gameplay – 7/10

The developers adopted a style of play for the second Zelda game that went against almost everything the original game was based on, and a style of play that has not really been seen in the series since. Instead of the game solely focusing on the bird’s eye view synonymous with 2D Zelda games, the developers instead opted to use 2D side scrolling mechanics for the combat side, and even incorporated a classic RPG style of play whereby Link would level up in order to become stronger overtime. Whilst Nintendo have never chosen to focus on this style of play again (and most definitely for the better in my opinion), it still made for a particularly fun game; certainly one of the better titles on the NES. Combat is addictive, as well as challenging. Whilst it may not have been innovative for the time, since it was largely based on games such as Castlevania and Faxanadu, it still worked surprisingly well.

Controls – 9/10

Since both styles of play portrayed in the game were quite prominent at the time, especially 2D side scrolling, there are no problems with this game for the most part. The mechanic of the player having to periodically switch between both was seamlessly handled, and combat was handled almost as well as most other games it was based on. The only bad thing I would say about it, as was indeed the case with a fair few side scrollers on the NES (most notably both Castlevania and Mega Man) is that the controls can at times be a little bit stiff and slow to register player commands, which adds an unnecessary degree of annoyance. Thankfully, since this game is much accessible than both the aforementioned examples, it doesn’t cause anywhere near as much of a problem.

Lifespan – 8/10

In all, Zelda II can take around 3 and a half hours to complete to 100%, which by today’s standards may seem like nothing, but it was exceptionally long for the time. Generally, games took little more than an hour or to complete, but there were exceptions made to this rule in titles such as the first two Zelda games, as well as Metroid, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. Though it may be understandable to wish for a longer lifespan, since the game is certainly addictive enough to warrant at least a few more hours of play, hardware limitations at that time should be taken into consideration.

Storyline – 8/10

The story of the second game takes place some years after the first game during the era of Hyrule’s decline. Princess Zelda has fallen under a sleeping spell, and it is up to Link to seek out Zelda’s caretaker Impa to find a way of breaking the curse, as well as stopping followers of the evil wizard Ganon, who plan to kill Link and use his blood to bring their master back to Hyrule. Interestingly, I found that Zelda II introduced many darker aspects of the series that would also be seen in later entries, such as mature themes and hints of ritualistic behaviour reminiscent of the likes of Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. It’s considered a black sheep of the series in terms of gameplay by most fans, but I believe it can also be considered as such in terms of story too, since it has a fairly prominent dark undertone to it. Although games at the time generally relied on players reading the manual for the most part, it of course adds to the experience to look for things like this within the actual game.

Originality – 8/10

As I previously mentioned, Zelda II belongs to a group of sequels that were drastically different from their predecessors, and consequently, this game stands out much more than many others at the time; but in all, in a positive way. Though there would be many future games in the series released that would surpass the quality of this entry, it’s still an extremely pleasurable experience in its own right, which is owed largely to how much it stands out from the rest of the entire Zelda saga.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a very strong entry, both despite of and because of how different it is to any other Zelda game, and I would recommend it like I would recommend most others in the series. Exploration is rewarded greatly, combat is very addictive, and in my opinion, it is a game that is likely to hold up for another 30 years.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developer(s) – Radical Entertainment

Publisher(s) – THQ

Released first on the NES and Game Boy in 1992, and then remarkable re-release on the Super NES the following year, and then on the Mega Drive the year after that, Rocky and Bullwinkle was one of many mediocre licensed games released on the system, along with Nightmare on Elm Street and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But out of these three games, the worst has to be Rock and Bullwinkle for a good number of reasons.

Graphics – 5/10

The first of which being the visuals. Though a number of more advanced graphics rendering techniques were incorporated during development, such as black outlines for characters and sprites, the overall conceptual design is nothing short of woeful. There have been many games to have come and gone that have made good use of cartoon-like visuals (most cel-shaded games spring to mind), but the scenery and style of this game make it seem that it was literally drawn by a four year old.

Gameplay – 2/10

A traditional 2D platformer, the game basically involves having to get from point A to point B, and not much of anything else. There is a small basis in combat, with being able to use grenade and some specialist attacks, and some basis in variety being able to switch from two characters at will, but that’s not to say that any of it is enjoyable. The game can simply be rushed without much difficulty, making combat largely unnecessary.

Controls – 4/10

Even after almost a decade since the release of the original Super Mario Bros, there were development companies that still couldn’t get the fundamentals of the genre right. Rocky and Bullwinkle is one of the most prominent examples of which. Not only are the stair climbing controls terrible inaccurate, but so is the hit detection, making combat unnecessarily hard and nigh on unbearable to cope with. There were other games in the genre that suffered from issues like this, but this game took it to a whole new level.

Lifespan – 0.5/10

For first time players, it will take about an hour to play through this game, but for veteran players (although there aren’t many of them, since not a lot of people in the right mind should actually play this game for any extended amount of time), the game can take inside seven minutes to finish. It is a painfully short amount of time for a video game to last, but with a game of such undeniably bad quality, there isn’t much call for it to last any longer than that.

Storyline – 2/10

As in the cartoon, the story involves Rocky and Bullwinkle resolving to find and defeat their arch nemesis, Fearless Leader. Personally, I was never a fan of the cartoon, and so making a video game from the source material was always going to be an inevitably bad idea. It’s a terrible license, which has somehow warranted the development of a terrible game, and by proxy, a terrible film (by some distance, the worst thing Robert De Niro has ever done with his career).

Originality – 0/10

There is no originality about this game, since everything that is incorporated within had already been done before, and theres absolutely nothing present in it to be able to differentiate it from other prominent games in the genre at the time. I fact, a lot of the many stables of the genre, such as bosses, are not present, which only makes matter worse.

Furiious

Furiious

In summation, Rocky and Bullwinkle is one of the worse video games I’ve ever played. Even if players may have played every single platform game, and still hunger for more of the same, I can’t recommend it at all.

Score

13.5/60

2/10 (Terrible)

Tetris 2 (Game Boy, Nintendo Entertainment System & Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Nintendo R&D1, TOSE & Nintendo

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

First published and brought to consoles in 1993 by Nintendo following the immense success of the 1989 classic designed by Dr. Alexei Pajitnov, Tetris 2 was met with an equal amount of acclaim by critics, with Electronic Gaming Monthly going on record to say that any fans of the first game will surely be satisfied with the sequel as well. Personally, I have a much more dim view of the second game than many others, which may seem like semantics when first thought about, since it’s easy to assume that the second would simply play out more or less identically to the first, but it doesn’t, and there are some key reasons why I think much less of this than the original game.

Graphics – 6/10

Whilst judging the game on it’s visuals, it highly depends on which port is being played. The Game Boy version consists of very little in terms of presentation, and has a much less catchy soundtrack than it’s predecessor. Though games like this are not primarily played for it’s graphics, the original game did have a few different pieces of scenery throughout reminiscent of the country that it came from, but there’s nothing like that in the second. The NES version of course has colour to it, since the Game Boy is a monochromatic system, but there is unfortunately the same lack of additional conceptual design.

Gameplay – 6/10

Nintendo decided to not only port the game to their consoles, but re-invent it as well; in my opinion, resulting in a very underwhelming final product. The objective of the second game is to eliminate blocks pre-emptively fixed on the game board by matching them up with blocks of the same colour or pattern using the falling tetrimino shapes. I found it simply to be dull and unsatisfying compared to the first game, which was designed by a man who understood the very concept of addiction, having studied it for a long time.

Controls – 6/10

Because the tetrimino shapes are structured much differently to those of the first game, yet with the game itself functioning on largely the same control scheme, to me, it doesn’t work anywhere near as well as in the first game. It simply highlights how overly hard the developers tried to fix something that wasn’t broken, and complicated something that did not need to be complicated at all.

Originality – 6/10

Although I can commend Nintendo to a certain extent for trying something new with an overwhelmingly popular gameplay formula, something which by default would have been extremely difficult to even begin to undertake, let alone top, it tuned out to be the wrong decision, and it made for a game that fell well short of the quality of it’s predecessor in my opinion. The idea was passable when it was implemented in Dr. Mario, since it was much more simplistic having the player use two colours at a time, but if Gunpei Yokoi was involved in any way, shape or form with the second Tetris game, it wouldn’t stand out as being among his best works the way I see it.

Niiutral

Niiutral

To summarize, Tetris 2 is just about playable, but nowhere near as fun or as addictive as what the concept had been before that, or what it would be following it. The formula would be vastly improved on with the release of Tetris Plus, but the direct sequel to the biggest one-hit wonder in gaming history certainly failed to live up to the set standards in my opinion.

Score

24/40

6/10 (Average)

Sword Master (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developer(s) – Athena

Publisher(s) – Athena & Activision

Designer(s) – Hironobu Tamai & R. Nakashima

Released late into the shelf life of both the NES and the Famicom back in 1990, with the overseas released not happening until 1992, Sword Master was the sequel to Athena’s previous NES game Castle of Dragon, and is today considered an extremely weak effort on their part, and thus has fallen into considerable obscurity compared to may other NES games. And I must say, after having examined this title, and having come across a plethora of flaws, it’s very much deserved of it’s status.

Graphics – 2/10

Aside from bearing a striking resemblance to the original Castlevania, in terms of things like overworld map layout, colour scheme and character and enemy design, it also happens to be one of the most unpolished games I’ve ever played. A fair few NES games suffered from graphic glitches, but this game took it to new heights, with graphical errors appearing whenever a player attacks or is defeated. Just like in Castlevania, enemies are also engulfed in fames whenever they are defeated, which makes me question how much of this game can actually be attributed to its respective developers.

Gameplay – 4.5/10

The game is also extremely similar to the original Castlevania in many more ways than one; including the gameplay. The objective, as in many other video games at the time, is simply to get from point A to point B, fighting any or all enemies that stand in the way, and with the added challenge of a few boss fights thrown in for good measure. But the main reason why I believe this game should lose many marks is because it’s extremely bland even compared to the many different games that followed these tropes. Though this happened, games like Castlevania, Mega Man and Super Mario Bros had things going for them that no other game at the time did, such as heightened challenge, a heightened sense of non-linearity or greater gameplay variety. Unfortunately, this game has none of these things associated with it.

Controls – 10/10

The one positive thing I can point out about this game, however, is that unlike Castlevania, the controls don’t feel quite as stiff, and therefore, there is much less of a sense of unnecessary complication with the controls scheme. The movement speed may be more or less the same as the original Castlevania, but that doesn’t really too much to hinder what little gameplay there is.

Lifespan – 6/10

Though by today’s standards, 20 minutes will seem laughable to most gamers, it was about the average lifespan of a game for the time; indeed, even Super Mario Bros would take around that much time to complete given the right amount of experience. That being said, it’s hard to imagine that the developers wouldn’t have been able to add even a few more levels to make this game last a little bit longer. I guess they didn’t share Nintendo’s reservations about leaving empty space on a cartridge whilst developing their games.

Storyline – 3/10

The story is also practically non-existent, most likely confined to the game’s manual; a regular occurrence at this time, when emphasis on story in video games was a rarity. It involves a knight called Sword Master out to slay the evil duo of a demon and a wizard, which he apparently summoned. So not only is it very half-hearted, but it’s also very typical of the kind of story most video games would utilize; only in this game, there isn’t a princess seemingly being taken from one castle to the next.

Originality – 0/10

As well as this game being very boring, it’s also very unimaginative too. Although console gaming was still in a primitive form, and had yet to evolve into the highly standardized industry it is today, far better games than this had already been developed before on the NES or Famicom, and as I’ve thoroughly outlined, this title failed to deliver the same kind of classic gaming experience synonymous with other NES games.

Angrii

Angrii

To summarize, Sword Master is a classic example of developers creating a game haphazardly, and failing in almost every aspect imaginable. Activision have since gone on to publish much greater games than this, but things started out primitively upon heir breakaway from Atari, and this game is a prominent example of which.

Score

25.5/60

4/10 (Poor)

Robodemons (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developer(s) – Color Dreams

Publisher(s) – Color Dreams

Artist – Dan Burke

Yet another 2D side scroller, albeit a more traditional one, Robodemons was developed by Color Dreams, who would later come to be known as Wisdom Tree, selling video games from Christian bookstores. The company themselves have given two separate accounts of this history; one story being that they re-branded for the sake of spreading the word of the bible, and the other was that they did it as a joke. But I think anyone who has had the misfortune of playing their games will realize that neither is correct, and that they simply did it to keep their business alive after Nintendo forcefully halted the sale of unlicensed games in shops, which couldn’t afford to not carry Nintendo games at the time. Not only is this game living prove of this, but its also extremely bad.

Graphics – 6/10

As the best aspect of the game, the visuals are fairly diverse, containing satanic imagery, as well as being a very early example of an overly violent video game. The level of flesh in particular contains rivers of blood, platforms made out of brains and heart ventricles, which act as doorways to different areas of the level. It isn’t anywhere near as violent as Abadox was, but it was almost as intriguing. Major problems with the game, however, are that it is infested with glitches and the same song plays throughout the entire game, like in many of Color Dreams’ titles.

Gameplay – 3/10

The objective of Robodemons is to simply traverse each level, defeat enemies, whist racking up a high score not visible on the screen (as a result of inconsistent programming), and beat a boss at the end of it; and when I say simply, I mean the game is easy beyond comprehension. In the third level, it is even possible to beat the boss at the start without even coming into contact with it. The fact that the high score isn’t even displayed on the screen also encourages incentive considerably less than any other game on the market at the time, and even back then, not many people cared about the score to begin with.

Controls – 10/10

Since this kind of game was commonplace at the time, there shouldn’t have been a problem with it. Even so, I was glad to see that the developers got this aspect right at least. Not suffering from many of the same problems as many of the more challenging games at the time, including the original Castlevania and Mega Man, the controls are fluent and easy to get to grips with, and will cause no unnecessary complications for players willing to plough through the experience.

Lifespan – 0.5/10

Clocking in at about 20 minutes in total, this was overly short even for an NES game; and a late one at that, having been released in 1990. Side scrollers could be made to last at least an hour at this point, and for a game to last a fifth of that lifespan was and is unacceptable.

Storyline – 4/10

The game’s story is extremely archetypical for it’s time, save for the lack of a damsel in distress. An unnamed hero resolves to defeat a demon king named Kull. It does have a small element of artistic value, since it was inspired by the Divine Comedy, and the levels are supposedly structured in the same way as Dante’s journey through Hell, but the developers were never going to make the story stand out any more than what they needed it to, which at this time, was very little anyway.

Originality – 2/10

The only unique thing this game has going for it is in the kind of things that influenced it; but even then, demonic or disturbing imagery had been seen in video games, such as Castlevania and Abadox. It certainly doesn’t stand out in gameplay either, since the genre it belongs to was the standard at the time, and a trend that had been well and truly set.

Angrii

Angrii

In summation, Robodemons is most probably one of the worst video games of the third generation. It’s insultingly easy, very unoriginal, and was clearly rushed by a developer who was unsurprisingly unworthy of Nintendo’s seal of quality.

Score

25.5/60

4/10 (Poor)

Raid 2020 (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developer(s) – Colour Dreams

Publisher(s) – Colour Dreams & HES Interactive

Producer(s) – Frank Waung & Dan Burke

Released exclusively in Australia and North America as one of the many unlicensed games produced by the infamous development company Colour Dreams, Raid 2020 is largely considered to be one of the worst games available for the original NES; especially after having gained increased exposure across the Internet following reviews from the likes of the Angry Video Game Nerd and Stan Burdman. After playing the game myself, it’s no wonder why it has been given such a terrible reception. It’s mediocre at best; even for the time.

Graphics – 6/10

The best thing about the game is the visuals, but even they come into question. The conceptual design of the game is quite varied, with levels taking place on boardwalks, in futuristic cities, swamps, and even in space at one point. From a technical standpoint, the graphics aren’t too bad either, with the developers having taken advantage of some of the most revolutionary techniques used at the time; such as giving characters black outlines and use of shadow here and there. Even enemies from one of Colour Dreams’ previous efforts, Robodemons, make a cameo appearance towards the start of the game. The problem being is that most of the levels are largely recycled, and by proxy, it can feel as if the player is simply playing the same level three times in a row before advancing to the next stage. Also like Robodemons, the music the exactly the same throughout, which can become irritating after a while.

Gameplay – 4/10

Raid 2020 is a run-and-gun 2D side-scroller, with vehicular combat interspersed between levels. Though the game does have variety in the respect, compared to other games of the time, it can also be seen as being fairly inaccessible, since it is much harder than it ought to have been. This is compounded by the fact that there are things happening in the game that don’t make any sense, such as the player losing health after being hit by bird droppings or being hurt by stepping on tomatoes in the road, or being hit by flies.

Controls – 5/10

The control scheme is also very needlessly complicated to say the least; mostly due to the fact that the movement is extremely awkward, despite the fact that the 2D side-scrolling formula had been perpetuated for over five years prior to the release of this game. When the player presses the up button, the character moves diagonally up and left, and for down, it moves down and right, as opposed to simply moving up and down, as the player would have come to expect at this point.

Lifespan – 1/10

The game can take a grand total of 20 minutes to complete; just like Robodemons, it’s hopelessly short, even for the time. Given the fact that the RRP price of an NES game back then was anywhere in between $40 and $65 in the US in particular, I’m sure it would have felt like an insult to anyone who may have went ahead and bought it at the time.

Storyline – 3/10

The story of Raid 2020 follows a detective who is codenamed Shadow, who is on a mission to topple a massive drugs empire by the kingpin Pitbull. Though it does break away from the typical white saving the damsel in distress story that the industry had become synonymous with at that point, the plot still makes little to no sense, since not only are there merely vague explanations of what exactly is going on, but the dialogue interspersed between levels only appear on-screen for a few seconds, which would have made is even more unnecessarily harder to follow what exactly is going on.

Originality – 2/10

The only true aspect of originality this game has going for it is the fact that the gameplay is fairly well varied and it isn’t all jut the same thing over and over again. The problem being that everything else is the same thing over and over again. The individual levels are largely recycled throughout despite visual diversity between stages of the game, and personally, I’ve found that inaccessible games always make for a much more needlessly frustrating experience.

Angrii

Angrii

Overall, Raid 2020 is thoroughly deserved of the bad wrap is had gotten; especially over the last few years with the advent of YouTube reviewing. Out of all the efforts produced by Colour Dreams, it stands as being one of the worst; if not, the worst.

Score

21/60

3.5/10 (Very Poor)

Punch-Out!! (Arcade)

Developer(s) – Nintendo IRD & Nintendo R&D1

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Producer – Genyo Takeda

The original Punch-Out was one of the first franchises established by Nintendo, even before the release of Super Mario, and was met with positive reviews worldwide after it’s international release in 1984. The project was worked on by many now-famous Nintendo employees such as Genyo Takeda, Shigeru Miyamoto, and is notable for being the first Nintendo game to have the soundtrack composed by the esteemed Koji Kondo, who would go on to compose some of Nintendo’s most familiar musical scores. To me, it is one of the most memorable arcade games of the 1980s, and I’m glad Nintendo chose to build upon the franchise over many of the others they had even back then.

Graphics – 6/10

The visuals have a fair bit of graphical detail for the time, and I’ve always been wise to how intelligent a move it was on Nintendo’s part to represent the playable character as a wire frame to get around to many technological limitations of the time. The biggest problem that many people have had with this game, however, is the fact that almost every character is either hopelessly generic, or an overblown racial stereotype; despite the fact that it was Shigeru Miyamoto who designed them. For example, there’s an Italian boxer named Pizza Pasta, and a wimpy French boxer named Glass Joe. Though personality would come into play more as the series progress, even despite the fact that racist caricatures of the characters would become even more pronounced, it all started out quite primitively; especially since this was only an arcade game.

Gameplay – 7/10

The way the game plays out is actually particularly interesting. The player would use the bottoms screen to fight, and the top screen would portray the stats and character portraits of the fighters. It also worked well as it was ported to the Game & Watch, and is also in turn seen as a precursor to the idea of the DS, interestingly enough. It also becomes a lot more challenging as it progresses, but the difficulty does mercifully ca after beating the game thrice, so it’s not too inaccessible.

Controls – 10/10

The general control scheme of the game is rather simple, and getting to grips with it will be self explanatory for any gamer of today looking to try it out. The direct sequel would introduce some particularly strange mechanics, but still, players can pretty much jump from the first to the second without missing a beat. It was that straightforward, even back then.

Originality – 9/10

Though at the time the game seemed particularly simple in scope, it would go on to become instrumental in inspiring many of Nintendo’s future works, and consequently, this game is actually a very important piece of gaming history. Not only that, but it would also go on to inspire the creation of the licensed boxing video game sub-genre; especially as Mike Tyson lent his own name and likeness to a later instalment of the series for the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Punch-Out is a much more important game than most people probably realize. It would go on to serve as inspiration for a plethora of games, and even consoles, and at the same time, managed to entertain a lot of people in the process, and is an essential for any fan of retro gaming.

Score

33/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Menace Beach (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Developer(s) – Color Dreams

Publisher(s) – Color Dreams & Hacker International

Programmer – Vance Kozik

Like many games of it’s kind, the most interesting thing about this game is it’s history. Back in the days of the NES, Nintendo included the 10-NES lockout chip inside the console to prevent developers from releasing unlicensed games for it. Regardless, there were a number of unlicensed games released for the NES, as development companies did find a way of circumventing the 10-NES chip. Perhaps the company who did this more than any other was Color Dreams. Amongst their NES repertoire was Menace Beach; one of their most well-known games, for it’s level of violence and mature content. But when Nintendo threatened to stop doing business with retailers who carried unlicensed NES games, Color Dreams renamed themselves Wisdom Tree, and then took to re-developing their games and selling them in Christian bookstores instead. Menace Beach was re-developed and renamed Sunday Funday, and toned down considerably; though there was a strong level of violence. But in my opinion, Menace Beach stands out more as being one of the first genuinely mature games on the NES.

Graphics – 7/10

The visuals are by some distance the best element that I can attribute to this game, since they were fairly advanced for the time. For example, the characters have black outlines for the most part, which effectively separates them from the scenery, which though may have been pioneered by Capcom with the Mega Man series, it still makes the game stand out somewhat from many others. There is also an unprecedented amount of variety in level design, as the last level in particular is set in Hell and the last boss is a demon.

Gameplay – 5.5/10

As for the gameplay, however, I found it extremely typical for what was being released for the NES at the time, as well as being typical of the type of game that Color Dreams would release back then. It’s a 2D side scroller, whereby the player must simply get from A to B without dying. And even then, there’s not a great amount of variety in it compared with many other Nintendo-licensed titles, such as Mario or Zelda. Plus, the fact that the main character rides around on a skateboard doesn’t have as much bearing on gameplay as it might sound like if the idea was presented on paper.

Controls – 10/10

I am happy, however, to say that there aren’t any issues with the game’s control scheme, which at the time at least, did seem fairly difficult for developers to execute, as many 2D platformers did have some issues with controls, such as Castlevania and Mega Man. Though riding on a skateboard doesn’t really make any kind of difference, the point is that the formula was done as well as it could have been, and the game is due credit for that, at least.

Lifespan – 6/10

Menace Beach can be made to last for just under half an hour, which was about the average lifespan for an NES game. Though it doesn’t last any longer than a game like Super Mario Bros or Mega Man, there’s nothing in gameplay which would suggest to me that it would or could be made to last any longer without players becoming bored of it, so to me, it’s just as well that it lasted as long as it did.

Storyline – 5.5/10

Also adding to the game’s typicality is it’s storyline. The main character is an unnamed skateboarder, who must rescue his girlfriend Bunny, who has been kidnapped by a gang led by a villain called Demon Dan. The most standout story element is the series of cutscenes played in between each level, whereby Bunny is tied to a table demeaning her boyfriend for not rescuing her faster, whilst her clothes are gradually falling off until she is left in her underwear. I think the inclusion of that element, similar to Killer is Dead, which I reviewed earlier this year, was a particularly cheap way to get players to continue with it, and can only be seen nowadays as being much less believable, since Menace has long since been graphically outdated.

Originality – 4/10

Although this game stands out for how violent it is for the time as well as including other mature elements and fairly advanced graphics, there’s not much else to distinguish it from others. It is a very typical NES game, which has the misfortune of not having the official Nintendo seal of quality.

Niiutral

Niiutral

Overall, I think Menace it worth one playthrough, but not really worth bothering with for any extended amount of time. Though Color Dreams did release quite a few 2D platformers for the NES, none of them really stand out in terms of gameplay to any great extent; and Menace Beach is no different.

Score

37.5/60

6/10 (Average)