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Q&A With Elden Pixels

With Metroidvania titles being one of the most prominent genres developed for among the ever-growing indie development community, one series of games I’ve been following closely over the last three years is the Alwa series. Created by Swedish indie outfit Elden Pixels under principal designer and former developer at Zoink Games, Mikael Forslind, the series began with the release of Alwa’s Awakening in 2017, and most recently in 2020, Alwa’s Legacy. Both titles were initially launched on Steam with Awakening seeing releases on multiple platforms with Legacy set for a release on the Nintendo Switch. In three short years, the series has gained popularity among fans of the Metroidvania genre and among gamers in general, and with the sequel possibly set to make it on multiple platforms in addition, the series’ popularity is set to only increase further. Wanting to find out more about the conception of Alwa, as well as the future of this exciting new series of games, I posed a few questions to Mikael of Elden Pixels to find out more. Here’s what he had to say about Alwa and the future of Elden Pixels:

 

How has it been to experience such an influx of interest surrounding the Alwa series and the fanbase it has already garnished?

Amazing! Every time someone reaches out to us talking about how they enjoyed our games it feels great. We were proud over how well Alwa’s Awakening was received but we felt we could add more to the formula so the design for Alwa’s Legacy came to us quite easily and we were able to improve on everything that the first game offered and this, of course, led to more and more people discovering both games.

 

What were the influences behind the world of the Alwa series?

It was a mix between the fast gameplay of Battle Kid and the more puzzle-platforming style of Trine that was the main inspiration for the first game. After a long night of playing these two games, I blurted out to my friends – “Let’s make a game. How hard can it be?” And here we are a couple of years later.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?

To me, the best part of making games is actually looking back at a released game and thinking – “Damn, we made it. It’s out there.” I’m not one of those developers that spend years and years on one game. I think a maximum of two years is perfect for a game and I’m proud that both our games took about that time to finish. But seeing a game come together is always nice, and the way we built Alwa’s Legacy was that very early in the process we had all rooms in place but they were basically empty and stayed empty for the longest of time. But once all design was locked down, all art was done and all sprites were done we basically filled the entire world with content in a 3-4 month period. All of a sudden it went from looking empty to being shippable. That’s a great feeling.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?

Wow, where do I start? I actually wanted to delve into this subject for a long blog post sometime in the future but I’ll try to keep it short here but basically these things were the major headaches during our development – Cancer scare, anxiety, personal finances, IVF treatment, potential pr disaster using Kickstarter, political heatwave during launch and the constant scare of bankruptcy. I’m just happy we were able to overcome all obstacles with our sanity and health intact and we’re all still good friends. And we managed to release a game that everyone seems to really like! That’s a major accomplishment.

 

What’s next for Elden Pixels?

We’re not really sure. We’ve made enough money to breathe for a month or two but nowhere near enough money to fund the next game so right now we’re just exploring what and if we can start a new project. But we’d love to take a stab at porting our first game to NES 8-bit so we’re going to put out a job ad for that very shortly. We might have found some cash to fund this project so we’re very excited, especially since it was already made with the 8-bit restrictions in mind.

 

How important has fan feedback been throughout the development of Alwa’s Legacy?

Since Alwa’s Legacy is a standalone sequel to our first game Alwa’s Awakening we kind of knew what we were doing during the development. So we took more notes from what we didn’t like with the first game to build our second game. But community involvement is very important and we had a lot of feedback from our Kickstarter backers and we did a huge semi-open beta where we built this custom tool so any player could directly report feedback into our project management tool. I love building games with the community involved and it’s definitely something that I want to consider doing in the future.

 

Have any of the guys at Image & Form or Zoink had any input into the game, or any advice to offer you?

Yeah, I worked at those companies for about four years so I made a lot of friends and they’re all beautiful people. A few of them do consulting work so we actually ended up working with Pelle Cahndlerby with the script, Joel Bille did the sound effects and Julius Guldbog did our trailer, all of them are from those companies.

Every now and then I also get a chance to grab some lunch with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, who’s the head honcho at Thunderful, the owner of Image & Form and Zoink Games and I cherish those lunches because I get so much valuable information and tips from him. He’s such a nice guy. I also get free lunch!

 

If you had the chance to develop for any mainstream development company or work on any gaming series, which one would it be?

I don’t know how much it would be considered mainstream but our first game Alwa’s Awakening was heavily inspired by an NES game called Battle Kid and I would LOVE to develop a game in that series. I think in the hands of Elden Pixels and the original creator we’d be able to make a really cool and fun game. I can easily think of a bunch of cool and creative ideas for a potential sequel.

 

The progression of the series is obviously reminiscent of the transitions between past generations of gaming; i.e. 8-BIT to 16-BIT. Do you see the Alwa series making the transition from 2D to 3D in the future?

If someone asked me to design a 3D game I wouldn’t know how to even approach it. I’d probably have as much as luck as I would if I decided to take up opera singing. So I don’t see that happening in the near future. But who knows, if we find a talented 3D designer somewhere in the future it might happen. Right now we’re more exploring ideas that aren’t based in the Alwa universe.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Right now the game is out on Steam and GOG and we’re releasing it on Switch soon. We want to take it to Microsoft and Sony as well and ask them for a release on their platforms but we haven’t yet. We’re such a small team so we got to think carefully about each decision making sure we don’t take on too much work and releasing on a new platform is a lot of work.

 

Do you have any advice to give to any aspiring developers who may be reading this?

Don’t go into indie development thinking you’ll make money. If you want to make money, get a job in the IT business or something. For me making indie games is like playing in a small rock band. You don’t get to play at the big arenas right away, you probably never will. And it can take years before anyone even notices you. Don’t expect to make that one indie game and make it Shovel Knight style. Sure, it can happen but most likely not. But if you’re dedicated, make cool stuff that people want to enjoy and stay at it, maybe in a few years, you’ll be able to make a living from it. I’m confident that Elden Pixels will eventually be something I can live off full-time, but we probably need a game or two more out before we can do that. But we’ll get there.

 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, if you take 3 deciliters of water, add 2 deciliters of sugar, 1 deciliter of vinegar essence, 15 small peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves. Boil for a few minutes and then let cool off you’ll have an awesome brine for pickled herring. A Swedish classic!

 

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mikael for sharing everything he had about the Alwa series and about Elden Pixels and to wish them the best of luck with what the next title they develop may be. Both Alwa’s Awakening and Alwa’s Legacy are available on Steam and I would highly recommend anyone reading who hasn’t played either title that they check them out; I’ve played and reviewed both games and they’re definitely worth playing through at least once. Thanks for reading this Q&A and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Alwa’s Legacy (PC)

Developer – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

 

Following on from the Success of Elden Pixels’ breakout indie game Alwa’s Awakening, Alwa’s Legacy continues the series, introducing a number of new gameplay mechanics and challenges, as well making use of graphics more reminiscent of the 16-BIT era, which was hinted at with the end of the original game. Having been impressed with the first game when I played through it, I was fully expecting yet another immersing gaming experience with the sequel, and to say the least, I was not disappointed. 

 

Graphics – 9/10

The games makes use of a 16-BIT art style similar to that of Super NES classics such as Super Castlevania IV and Secret of Mana; there is a wide range of beautifully vibrant and eerily dark locations throughout the newly designed world of Alwa, which look far better than what even the small glimpse at the end of the first game seemed to touch upon. The environments are each wonderfully designed and despite there being a few locations being recycled from the original game, the areas that have been recycled have been drastically improved upon compared to Awakening. The game’s soundtrack, again composed by Robert Kreese, is also stellar; some of the tracks used for many of the dungeons specifically gave the game more of a Castlevania feel to it than the last game; atmospheric, foreboding and catchy as all hell.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

Keeping to the same principle formula of the first game, Alwa’s Legacy is a traditional Metroidvania game with light RPG elements, with players being able to learn new abilities and unlocking new areas with each new ability acquired. But it also has the very strong feeling of a dungeon crawler to it like a traditional Legend of Zelda game, with players having to traverse a stronghold by solving puzzles and going up against a boss. 

Overall, there have been significant improvements made to gameplay as well as visuals, with the player having a lot more to play for and to discover than the previous game. The boss fights, in particular, are also a lot more creative than in Awakening in both appearance and in the required strategy to beat them. The additional abilities make it so that players can strategize in their own ways in accordance with what boss they’re up against, giving the game a pleasant amount of variety

 

Controls – 10/10

Even taking into account the introduction of new mechanics such as the shield boots and the ability to temporarily slow down time, Legacy plays out pretty much identically to Awakening and as such, the control scheme presents no issues. In addition, a few new control mechanics have been introduced to the formula; most notably the anti-gravity sequences whereby players have to walk on ceilings to solve puzzles, much like Mega Man 5’s Gravity Man stage. Although the visuals were clearly taken from 16-BIT classics, there are a lot of nods to the 8-BIT era, which served as the inspiration for the original game in the series. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

Another aspect in which this game is an improvement on the original, albeit to a lesser extent than the graphics and gameplay, is in its longevity. On average, the game can take around 8 to 10 hours to complete to 100%. Although this amount of time is still relatively short for a Metroidvania, it certainly answers for the short amount of time it takes to complete Alwa’s Awakening and it’s a step in the direction of possibly making a third game in the series last even longer; if Elden decides to make a third game.

 

Storyline – 7/10

Essentially, the story of Legacy is pretty much a carbon copy to that of Awakening, whereby the main character Zoe awakes in the land of Alwa, and by traversing the land and honing her abilities as a powerful sorcerer, must save the land from the villain Vicar, who plots to invade Alwa. There are a couple of differences and certain plot threads which help to advance the story in a different way, so I can’t bash on it too much for being unoriginal; it’s an epic odyssey with plenty of twists and turns along the way and plenty of quirky characters to meet. It would be hypocritical of me as a fan of a lot of games that tell virtually the same story with each installment, such as Mario and Zelda, to criticize the Alwa games for doing the same thing. 

 

Originality – 7/10

Taking into account the many similarities that this game has with not only it’s predecessor, but many other Metroidvania game that served as the basis for it. It still has its own unique brand of gameplay, visual design, and story structure that makes it stand out among many Metroidvania titles, despite the greatly increased output of games in the genre in recent years, such as Ori & the Blind Forest, Dust: An Elysian Tail and Guacamelee. Legacy greatly expands on the ideas perpetuated by Awakening and delivers a challenging and satisfying gaming experience that ought not to be overlooked.

 

Happii

In summation, Alwa’s Legacy is certainly a must-have for Metroidvania fans. If you’re a fan of 2D exploration, dungeon crawling, 16-BIT graphics, and epic 8-BIT music, I can’t recommend this title enough. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

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

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

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

PEGI – 3

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)

Super Castlevania IV (Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Konami

Publisher(s) – Konami

Director – Masahiro Ueno

Producer – Kazumi Kitaue

PEGI – 7

Release relatively early on in the Super Nintendo’s shelf Life, Super Castlevania IV was a game directed by Masahiro Ueno, who was credited under the name Jun Furano, since Konami at the time prohibited the use of real names), who’s a favourite game in the series at that point was the first and wanted to create a similar experience, minus the frustrations that came with the first. To me, this game is the perfect jumping-on point for people who want to indulge in the series and is vastly superior to the original game in quite a few different ways.

Graphics – 10/10

The most obvious improvement is in the game’s visuals, which are not only many times more realistic-looking than the NES classic, but also present a darker and even grittier atmosphere than the former. The opening sequence, in particular, has been cited as one of the scariest moments in video gaming among many other critics. Another massive talking point is the soundtrack. Ueno also wanted the environments of this game to be a lot more interactive and believable, and has stated how proud he is regarding how well the music and sound effects were implemented; and to me, this is rightfully so.

Gameplay – 9/10

Aside from the extensive improvements made to the game’s visuals and sound quality, dramatic enhancement was also made to the gameplay. The difficulty has been greatly toned down, which I believe is a pivotal factor in determining why this is the best possible starting point for prospective fans of the saga. The original game was much more difficult, and therefore much less accessible to as wide a variety of players as there could have possibly been otherwise. Not only that but there are also longer levels, and by proxy, it makes for a longer game overall.

Controls – 10/10

Another extremely positive change is that the control scheme has also been improved to a great extent. The player can now attack in 8 different directions instead of just one, allowing for more of an edge in combat as well as the elimination of enemies delivering sucker punches that can’t possibly be avoided otherwise. Another feature introduced to the series was the facility to swing from hook to hook using the whip to get around certain obstacles in the game.

Lifespan – 7/10

Super Castlevania IV will take around an hour and a half to finish, which may not seem like very much today (or a lifespan even passable in most modern games), but at the time, it was longer than the average side scroller, and quite literally, three times longer than the original game. The levels are longer and much more drawn out, featuring a bigger map and more enemies added to slow players down. I would be shown what a truly great lifespan was in the following generation, but at the time, a game like Super Castlevania IV was fairly impressive.

Storyline – 3/10

The biggest problem with this game, however, is the fact that the story is exactly the same as that of the original game, and no real innovation or improvement has been made in this aspect. It is simply a re-telling of Simon Belmont’s quest to destroy the newly resurrected Dracula, and rid the world of his castle. The fact that it’s the same story being told again isn’t the only problem either. It’s also still extremely typical of the kind of story that was being attached to most video games at the time, and throughout the previous generation as well.

Originality – 6/10

2D side scrollers were the industry standard at the time, so consequently, there’s not a great deal present to make this game stand out to any great extent. It loses a lot of its uniqueness for the fact that it isn’t as challenging as the first game, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is bad, however, is that the general setting and basic premise have been presented before, and despite improvements, there wasn’t much innovation made Outside of this.

Happii

Happii

Overall, despite the few things wrong with it, Super Castlevania IV is easily the best game out of the original four, and I would recommend it to any gamer who has yet to experience any other facet of the series before they try any game in the original trilogy. It would get better from hereon with the release of Symphony of the Night, but this game is most definitely the best possible place to begin.

Score

45/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Street Racer (Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive, Game Boy, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Amiga, Amiga 32CD & PC)

Developer – Vivid Image

Publisher – Ubisoft

Rating – N/A

After the release of Super Mario Kart, kart-racing games were being developed left, right, and center; one of many company standards and innovations that Nintendo pioneered at the time. Street Racer, to me, was undoubtedly the closest competitor to Super Mario Kart, as there was more depth in gameplay than the likes of Apogee Software’s Wacky Wheels and Sonic Drift for the Game Gear, for example. One thing that I must point out, however, is that it heavily depends on which system the game is being played on, as many of them differ greatly. Personally, I would recommend either the Super Nintendo or Sega Mega Drive port over any of the others, as the PlayStation and Sega Saturn ports, for example, was heavily dubbed down in terms of gameplay and nowhere near as enjoyable as a result.

Graphics – 7.5/10

From a technical standpoint at least, the visuals actually exceed the quality of Super Mario Kart, as mode 7 rendering was used to design the game, and thus it was made a lot more graphically smoother and much more polished than the former. However, whilst the settings are fairly diverse, they’re not as diverse as Super Mario Kart, and I personally believe that artistic merit in visuals should come before graphical capability. The Super Nintendo port also has much more diverse settings than that of the PlayStation, and because the graphics were rendered differently for the PlayStation port, details can also take longer to load up than in the Super Nintendo version. So, not only is the Super Nintendo superior from a conceptual perspective, but it’s superior from a technical perspective too, which to me, would have seemed particularly embarrassing at the time, given that the PlayStation was supposed to be the superior console.

Gameplay – 6.5/10

In terms of gameplay, I think that this is a decent Super Mario Kart clone; but nowadays, that would be pretty much all I would have to say about it, really. There are a few imaginative gameplay modes attributed to it, such as the soccer mode for example, but the problem is it’s just not quite as varied as even the original Super Mario Kart; let alone other games of the kind that have been released since, such as Diddy Kong Racing, for example. So by that logic, at hasn’t held up as well as I initially suspected that it might have done before I started playing it again for the purposes of this review. But as I pointed out earlier, it is much more enjoyable to play the game on the earlier consoles, as alternative gameplay modes were removed from the PlayStation version in particular.

Controls – 10/10

For all ports, there are no problems with the controls; not even for the systems, it was later ported to, as the formula had been long since mastered by developers. Something interesting about the PlayStation version was that the game could be switched to a different gameplay mode, which would make the gameplay out a bit more like the Micro Machines games as opposed to a conventional kart-racing game.

Lifespan – N/A (10/10)

Though it will take an hour or two to complete each championship mode tournament (if that), very much like Mario Kart and other games of the genre, it then becomes a game that can simply be picked up and played at any time without the worry of needing to make conventional progress. After the championship mode is completed, the game’s lifespan is simply dependant on the player’s own personal interest.

Storyline- N/A (10/10)

As a racing game, there wasn’t any call for any kind of elaborate storyline, and there’s no need for Street Racer to lose marks for not having something that it didn’t require. I think if the developers did try and make a story of it, however, I don’t suspect they will have gotten very far. It’d be particularly hard to make a story out of the characters that are included in the game, I find.

Originality – 3/10

Though this game does have a certain level of uniqueness about it such as the moderate level of diversity in track design, it is essentially a rip-off of Super Mario Kart, and there’s wasn’t enough for me to make it stand out to the extent whereby it would hold up today. I believe this opinion of mine is made even more apparent whilst playing the PlayStation version, as many of the best track design and additional game modes had been taken away; like the life had been sucked out of it, in a sense.

Happii

Happii

Overall, I believe Street Racer makes for a good few hours of entertainment, but I would advise people wanting to try it out to get their hands on the Super Nintendo or Sega Mega Drive version of the game to truly see the game for what it is; a moderately imaginative and fairly enjoyable Mario Kart clone.

Score

44/10

7/10 (Fair)

Star Fox (Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EAD & Argonaut Software

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Katsuya Eguchi

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 3

Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takaya Imamura, Star Fox, or Starwing as it was known in Europe due to copyright issues, Star Fox launched yet another successful Nintendo franchise, with the game receiving commercial and critical acclaim upon release, including an award for best shooter of 1993 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. As a kid, I thought much less of this game, but after revisiting it a few times over the last few years, my opinion of it has improved vastly, and I consider it a must-have for anyone who may own a Super Nintendo.

Graphics – 8/10

The first Super Nintendo cartridge to make use of the revolutionary Super FX chip, Star Fox was the first 3D video game I ever laid eyes on, and as a kid, it at least captivated me in this respect. As I alluded to earlier, I would also go on to learn about the various references to Japanese folklore that are present within this game. The four main characters are based on four well-known Japanese stories, which I wrote about in greater depth in a previous article.

Gameplay – 9/10

The objective of the game is simply to get from A to B like many others, but it plays out much more different from the archetypical 2D platforming games that took precedent at that time. It was a rail-shooting game, which required players to fly through a multitude of different dangers and obstacles, shooting down as many enemies as possible to accumulate as high a score as they possibly could. Though it took me too much time to realize what a positive change from the norm it was for the longest time, I would eventually come back to it frequently after religiously playing its sequel; Lylat Wars.

Controls – 9/10

Though there isn’t anything wrong with the game’s control scheme in the conventional sense, what weighs it down significantly is the extremely slow frame rate, since that the Super FX chip was inside the cartridge, the console still had difficulty running it. Giving it about the same frame rate as Bubsy 3D; though the controls of that game were far more annoying, and harder to get to grips with. It all depended largely on how much was on the screen, and how much graphical information the console had to process at any one time, which was usually a lot.

Lifespan – 7/10

Though one playthrough can take up to an hour tops, multiple playthroughs can present multiple challenges, since the game is actually non-linear to a certain extent. Players have the option of changing course depending on their preference of difficulty, giving the game a fair bit of replayability, making it last slightly longer than what the average was at that time.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game follows the members of the Star Fox team, Fox, Peppy, Slippy, and Falco on their mission to free the Lylat System from the Venomian army, and their leader Andross. Though the basic structure of the story was extremely typical of most other video game stories at the time, it was, of course, kept fresh by the conceptual design of the scenery, style, and design of the characters themselves, as well as their dialogue-driven displays of personality throughout. These principles would be carried on and further developed in further games, but it was in this era where it will have stood out most, I think; especially as the idea was extremely new at the time.

Originality – 8/10

Most of everything about this game is original, from the conceptual design to the gameplay to the graphical rendering techniques to the basic story structure. It was a shining example of Nintendo wanting to extensively innovate as they did throughout the third and fourth generations of gaming, which would go on to inspire the creation of many different games in the future, leaving behind a long legacy about to be renewed by the upcoming Wii U title.

Happii

Happii

In summation, Star Fox is undoubtedly one of the greatest games on the Super Nintendo, and I would highly recommend it. Though I believe the sequel would improve on this to a massive extent, it served as more than a mere template for greater things to come.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Plok (Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Software Creations

Publisher(s) – Activision, Tradewest & Nintendo

Designer(s) – Ste & John Pickford, Lyndon Brooks & John Buckley

Producer(s) – John & Ste Pickford

PEGI – 3

Reborn out of an abandoned arcade game entitled Fleapit, Plok was a traditional 2D platformer typical of the type of game that Nintendo would most frequently publish at the time. It’s a pretty enjoyable game, and wonderfully weird in conceptual design, as many of Nintendo’s own efforts were. Interestingly, Mario and Donkey Kong’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto expressed a strong interest in working on the game himself, but in the end, Nintendo simply chose to publish the game in Europe. Designer Ste Pickford suspected the reason behind Nintendo’s ultimate reluctance was that they thought the game was too similar to the upcoming Yoshi’s Island for Nintendo to want to work on both. Although I think Nintendo unanimously made the right choice, that’s not to discredit Plok. For me, it still stands out as one of the better 2D side scrollers on the Super Nintendo.

Graphics – 7/10

As colorful and outlandish as most other efforts from Nintendo at the time, Plok features a fair bit of visual diversity in its level design, as well as some particularly strange enemies, such as walking vegetables and disembodied heads disguised as road signs. Even the main character himself is extremely strange in design, being a red creature in a yellow t-shirt capable of firing his own limbs at enemies to fight. Although at first glance the game may seem pretty weak from a conceptual standpoint, I think players do have to wonder what was going through the developer’s heads whilst making this game.

Gameplay – 7/10

For a game that was quite archetypical for the mid-nineties, it’s surprising to discover just how much variety there is the gameplay. Aside from simply having to get from point A to point B in lieu of the genre’s tradition, there are also bonus sequences which require players to race through courses on various different vehicles; most likely a reason why Nintendo may have felt it to be too similar to Yoshi’s Island. There’s also a small element of Donkey Kong Country, whereby the player can collect the four letters from Plok’s name to receive extra lives, and even a reference to Metroid in the way Plok jumps.

Controls – 10/10

As 2D side scrollers were the set standard at the time, the developers could have had even greater problems than they ended up doing on a commercial level with this game if the control scheme hadn’t been handled correctly. Fortunately, however, there are no issues with the controls, and it plays out just as well as any other game in the genre, with no unnecessary complications.

Lifespan – 6/10

Plok can take just under 2 hours to complete, which was about the average lifespan of a video game at the time. It actually surprised me somewhat that this game lasted as short a time as did, since the similarities between it and Yoshi’s Island in terms of variety in gameplay are very noticeable, and Yoshi’s Island could be made to last about an hour longer than that; even longer if the player would try to complete the game to 100%.

Storyline – 6/10

The story simply follows the main character Plok, who after having one of his many flags stolen, sets out to retrieve it. Only after doing so, arrives back home to find that he had been distracted merely for somebody else to steal the rest of his flags, and s Plok resolves to find them all again. Most games of that era, and the era before, were relatively light on story, and this is no exception. However, the developers did change things up as the game progressed, and there are a few interesting references. For example, one of the dud flags discovered at the end of one level is in the form of a pair of red dungarees; an obvious reference to Super Mario Bros.

Originality – 6/10

Taking into account both it’s gameplay variety and conceptual design, Plok stands out about as much as any other game of its kind could have done at the time, which wasn’t an easy thing to do, so at least some credit is owed to its developers for that. It would have taken some serious talent to make a game in the genre stand out as much as possible, and this title certainly does that.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Plok is a pretty fun side scroller, and it comes recommended from me. It isn’t one of the greatest games of all time, but it’s certainly one of the most standout games of its respective era; it’s just a shame that Shigeru Miyamoto ultimately decided against dedicating the first-hand effort into it. We can only speculate how much better a game it would have turned out to be.

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

Mortal Kombat II

Developer(s) – Midway Games, Probe Entertainment & Sculptured Software

Publisher(s) – Midway Games & Acclaim Entertainment

Designer(s) – Ed Boon & John Tobias

Producer(s) – Ken Fedesna & Neil Nicastro

PEGI – 18

One of the first examples of a video game appearing on prime-time news across America, Mortal Kombat II gained media attention for it’s use of excessive violence compared to other video games at the time, but was also met with a high level of critical and commercial acclaim. In my opinion, it was certainly a positive departure from the first game, and a massive improvement to it.

Graphics – 9/10

One of the main improvements made to the series with the advent of the second game was that since the developers weren’t pressed for time, they added a plethora of new characters to the roster, such as Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, Noob Saibot, Smoke and Kung Lao to name but a few. People will argue that this was point in which the developers got out of hand using palette swapping to create new characters, but I think the point where they got truly out of hand with that was with Ultimate Mortal Kombat III, when not only new characters were made with this technique, but more or less every other previous character had been added to the roster as well.

Gameplay – 7/10

The core gameplay concept remains largely the same as in the first instalment, but it was made a lot more diverse with the second, since the multitude of different characters also provided players with a lot more variety in terms of not only fatalities, but in different character abilities too. Indeed, having Shang Tsung as playable helped a lot in this respect, as well introducing such characters as Jax and Kung Lao.

Controls – 7/10

Before Street Fighter II came along and properly introduced fans of the fighting game genre to the concept of pulling off combos, things started out relatively primitively; especially given how poor the original Street Fighter was. Fighting games relied on combining attacks in a much spaced out and precise manner than combo system of today, which in fact started out as a glitch; and it was all fairly well handled in Mortal Kombat II.

Originality – 8/10

Since it’s inception, the Mortal Kombat franchise was particularly unique for many different factors, such as its core story concept and selection of characters. But the second game took all that to the next level, so to speak, introducing not only different characters, but different direction in which story went at the time, or where it would go in the future. Ever since, there have been spin-off films and TV series’ of the game, and I think the second instalment proved to be a huge step to making a lot of all that happen.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Mortal Kombat II, though not the perfect fighting game by any stretch of the imagination, was a massive improvement over the first, and one of the more standout games of the time. It would have inevitably been difficult for a fighting game to hold up after the release of Street Fighter II, but Mortal Kombat II did that very well.

Score

31/40

7.5/10 (Good)

Mario Paint (Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Nintendo R&D1 & Intelligent Systems

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Hirofumi Matsuoka

Producer – Gunpei Yokoi

PEGI – 3

Released on the Super Nintendo in 1992, and making use of the SNES mouse peripheral, Mario Paint allowed players to create their own personalized artwork within a video game. It was extremely well received by critics; AllGame even stating that it was  “perhaps the most ingenious and inspired idea Nintendo ever came up with for a product”. Although I personally wouldn’t label it as such, nor even give it a perfect score as they did, I do need to state as a prerequisite, I spent a lot of time playing this game, and I still think it holds up for various reasons despite the creation of the very similar Paint software for PCs.

Graphics – 6/10

Though many people may argue that Nintendo didn’t include much within the game to give players a rough idea of what possibilities lay before them, and the general layout of the games look extremely empty, that was the point. The game was all about players having to use their own imagination to create whatever they saw fit. Though Nintendo had failed to put out a decent educational game prior to this, it was successful due to the fact that it would encourage creativity, eventually even leading to schools contemplating using the same method. This game was also one of the first to include the famed Totaka’s song, which would become synonymous with many other big-name Nintendo releases.

Gameplay – 6.5/10

As well as creating pictures, the game also offers a variety of different activities, including composing music pieces, animations, and even a hidden mini-game called Gnat Attack, whereby players must swat various insects flying across the screen in somewhat Galaga-esque fashion. Though the picture-drawing aspect may have been rendered redundant over the years, the game still retains a fair bit of replay value in these other activities, and whilst not deserved of a perfect high score, does provide quite a bit of entertainment.

Controls – 10/10

Since this game primarily relied on the use of a mouse and pad, there were never going to be any problems with the controls; especially at this point, since home computers were well on their way to becoming something only used to play video games on to a household necessity.

Originality – 9/10

Even though many of the ideas this game perpetuated have since been fazed out by PCs and laptops, the fact of the matter remains that there was no game like it at the time of its release. Many video games at the time may have spoken of creativity in their own ways, despite the lack of technology compared to what is available now, but his game encouraged it in its players, as well as presented them with a retro arcade gaming experience in the process.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Mario Paint stands out as one of the most unique gaming experiences on the Super Nintendo. It isn’t one of the greatest games to have ever been developed and hasn’t held up well with the times like many other games of the era have, but many gamers will still be able to find a use for it.

Score

31.5/40

7.5/10 (Good)

F-Zero (Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EAD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

Artist – Takaya Imamura

PEGI – 3

One of the two original launch titles for the Super Nintendo in Japan, F-Zero was proved to be one of the most influential titles on the system, is one of the first to incorporate Mode-7 graphics to allow for 3D rendering. Though Super Mario Kart would arrive a year later and eclipse the popularity of this game, it is not without its merits and has remained a cult classic to many gamers.

Graphics – 8/10

Aside from the visuals being particularly advanced for the time, it also has a surprising amount of conceptual diversity, with each of the fifteen courses in the game containing their own color schemes, scenery and style, and even soundtracks; some of which are extremely catchy. Debatably, it’s even a lot more diverse than Super Mario Kart was, but I disagree with this, since not only are there more characters to compete as, but like Super Mario Kart, there are also a lot recycled elements in each course despite standing out from one another. I Think both Shigeru Miyamoto and Takaya Imamura would really shine together creatively during their collaborative work on the Star Fox series.

Gameplay – 7/10

Going beyond most conventional racing games of the time, the original F-Zero would become known for its surprising level of challenge, and fast-paced racing. Like Super Mario Kart, there exist different tournaments for gamers to compete in, usually consisting of four tracks. There are no weapons to use whilst on the road, but nonetheless, the game still provides an extremely exhilarating experience, unlike most others on the system.

Controls – 10/10

For one of the first games to use the graphic-rendering techniques it did, it’s actually quite impressive how the control scheme was handled and would become a massive influence on future franchises, such as Wipeout. The L and R triggers could be used to strafe from side to side rather than simply having the players use the d-pad to turn and skid in different directions. This, in turn, allowed for the creation of some of the many different basic structures of certain tracks, such as Mute City II.

Originality – 8/10

Racing games had already been established as a prominent genre at this point, and it was only natural that Nintendo wanted to capitalize on this ever-evolving style of play, but what has made Nintendo’s approach to this so special is that they’ve never shied away from trying new concepts and ideas. It’s been seen in all of the Mario Kart games since, but it was first seen in F-Zero. This wasn’t the first game to play out the way it does, as Pole Position came many years before it, but it did it at a much faster and challenging pace.

Happii

Happii

Overall, F-Zero to this day remains a must-have for anyone with either the original console, access to the Virtual Console. It went on to have a huge impact on many future racing games and spawn two sequels, and whist in more recent years has merely made appearances in other Nintendo series’ (the most recent of which being Mario Kart 8), the original game has earned its rightfully place in the industry’s history.

Score

33/40

8/10 (Very Good)