I’m a huge fan of beat-them-ups. You lowly peasants may refer to them as “beat-em-ups.” However, I am a classy gentleman. So, naturally, I am above such vulgarities as the term “‘em”. I am a man of leisure and as such I have time to fully pronounce the word. If you do not, please know that I detest you.
If you’re going to talk about beat-them-ups, there’s only one place to start. Actually, there are probably several, but fuck it, I’m starting with Double Dragon.
Double Dragon (various systems, 1987, Technos Japan)
If you want to get technical, Renegade (also made by Technos Japan) was the first game in the walk-down-the-street-and-kill-everybody genre, in 1986 (it’s also the first game in the legendary Kunio-Kun series, which also included such magnificent games as River City Ransom and Super Dodgeball). However, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I really don’t like that game. I find it repetitive and a bit overly-primitive to really be fun. So yes, it may technically be the first of its genre, but Double Dragon is where things really picked up steam. It took a lot of the mechanics of Renegade and made them smoother. It also added weapons and some totally kick-ass music (0:56 seconds is where the most epic guitar solo in all of video game music begins).
Double Dragon was, of course, extremely popular, and began the “golden age” of beat-em-ups. It was a huge success in the arcade and led to many, many home versions. Ordinarily I try to maintain a standard of journalistic excellence here (stop laughing, goddammit), but I will come right out and say that the Master System version of Double Dragon is by far the best. No other version even comes close. The Master System version didn’t use the weird leveling system of the NES version, it featured more on-screen enemies at once as well as a larger variety of enemies, and it even looked better. Just compare the NES version:
To the Master System version:
Seriously, what the fuck is even going on in that first picture? It looks like the bad guy punched Billy’s face so hard that it came out of his ass. The Master System version, on the other hand, looks remarkably smooth and bright for its time.
Perhaps the most significant and, frankly, unbelievable difference between the two is that the NES version didn’t even have a co-op mode. I found this out many, many years ago, and I still find it unbelievable. Double Dragon is a seminal co-op game, and the NES is possibly the most famously co-op centric console ever. That alone would make the Master System version superior in my book.
Of course, the NES later got River City Ransom, so Sega kinda got fucked there. It’s very reminiscent of the Mortal Kombat debacle, when the SNES version of Mortal Kombat 2 made the Genesis version look like shit after Sega spent a year bragging about how their version of the first game had red pixels instead of grey pixels. Nintendo wins. FATALITY.
Double Dragon is a lot of fun, especially with another person, but it still feels a little repetitive and primitive when compared to later games in the genre. Without a life bar, it feels like it takes just a little too long to kill enemies, especially toward the end, when the game starts sending wave after wave of enemies after you. This is the same problem that marked early fighting games; there was little to break the monotony. However, the team at Technos being the geniuses they were, the game has various tricks to combat that, even if ultimately this didn’t completely fix it. The weapons were a very forward-thinking addition, and helped make the gameplay a little more varied, although the fact that they magically disappear after clearing the screen in the home versions was a little frustrating. The traps in the last two levels also helped, although they were fucking irritating. I must have lost 1000 dragons to that goddammed bridge. And keep in mind, these were double dragons, so that’s, like… 2000 dragons.
Captain America and the Avengers (Arcade/SNES/Genesis, 1991, Data East)
I’ve said many times before that I am an engine that runs solely on nostalgia. While this is true, I rarely get nostalgic feelings from games themselves, because I’ve kept every game I’ve ever had (the only game I’ve ever sold was Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge, the sequel to Battleclash which I received as a birthday gift, and the only reason I sold it was because I didn’t have a Super Scope. And despite that, my inner collector was still threatening to rip a hole in the space time continuum to show me a time where I would own a Super Scope, thus making the sale seem insane), and have played them pretty consistently since I was young. However, occasionally I have such strong memories of a specific time tied a game that playing it always brings me back. Captain America and the Avengers is one of those games.
I’m not sure if this was true everywhere, or just here in Knoxville, but the arcade version of this game was all over the place. Gas stations, grocery stores, skating rinks, even arcades, if you can believe it. And, being that this was in the early 1990s, which I personally consider to be the golden age of arcades (if only because my favorite genres of arcade games, beat-em-ups and fighting games, really came to prominence then, and because I consider the golden age of arcades to be so because of the games, and not the culture around them), there was always a large pool of kids older than me with whom to play. This was good, because it meant I didn’t have to be good at the games in order to enjoy them.
Of course, that said, there wasn’t anything you could be terribly GOOD at with Captain America and the Avengers, except maybe putting in quarters as fast as possible and tapping the attack button REEEEEALLY fast during the “shooter” sections of the game. In a lot of cases, that sounds like a bad thing, but here, it just works somehow; It’s fun as hell to just run around as Cap or Iron Man hucking Coke machines at robots. It also doesn’t hurt that CAatA had the worst dialogue in video game history, coupled with the BEST voice acting in gaming history. In most games, “‘You cannot escape!’ ‘You will be the one escaping!’” wouldn’t pass for anything decent, much less exciting. But holy shit, with the voice acting? Whatever they’re talking about, it becomes the most exciting thing in history. “‘YOU CANNOT ESCAPE!!!’ ‘YOUUUU WILL BE THE ONE ESCAPIIIING!’” Even little minor things like death (well, minor here, since it happens so fucking much) become exciting. When I die, if I don’t yell “I… CAN’T… MOOOOOOOOOOVE!”, I’m going to be very disappointed with myself. In fact, the only time the game seems bored is, oddly enough, when it’s announcing its own name. “Captain America, and… the… Avennnnnngerrrrrrrrr…sh.” The voice sounds like Captain America’s (and now that I think about it, also Vision’s, Iron Man’s, Hawkeye’s, and pretty much all of the villains) but it’s read with all the excitement of a spy who’s been captured and is consigned to his fate, drinking his last bottle of liquor before being brought back to be shot in the back of the neck. It’s fantastic. The only bad thing I’ll say about the dialogue in the game is that the game’s best line, “WHY SHOULD IT GOES WELL?” isn’t read aloud. When you get to that line in the game, every line around it is read by the voice actors, but it just goes silent there. You kind of expect to hear papers shuffling around followed by “Should I… am I supposed to read that? I don’t think that’s what it’s supposed to say.”
I’m trying really hard not to let nostalgia color my love of this game. It’s hard, but I’m pretty sure this is accurate. CAatA is a really great game. The gameplay manages to stay pretty fresh throughout the whole game, partly due to a myriad of throwable weapons and a couple of horizontal shooter sequences. It never quite gets to the point of feeling like you’re just mashing buttons. It keeps the pace of the game going, and allows you to clear groups of enemies quickly enough that it gives you a sense of power without making you feel like you’re invincible, which I think is key to the genre.
There are also a lot of little touches that make the game really special, especially for fans of the Marvel mythos. Cameos from all sorts of crazy-ass characters abound, both popular and obscure (The Living Laser? KLAW? I’m surprised they didn’t pull out Batroc the Leaper or Turner D. Century), and unlike a lot of licensed games from the era, they really pay attention to the established canon of the stories. No one acts out of character (like in early Batman games where Batman would use guns, or early Spiderman games where Spidey had to murder and eat helpless children for sustenance), and while the storyline doesn’t approach the sophistication and moral complexity of comic storylines of the time, it does at least feel like a plausible comic book story. My favorite little touch in the game, though, is one that shows a keen eye for detail and almost certainly an appreciation for the genre. The bosses can be quite difficult, which is typical for arcade games, especially beat-em-ups; after all, that’s the best way to keep quarters rolling in without making the game feel unbalanced or too difficult in the actual stages. You expect a boss to be difficult. But the coolest part of the boss fight is when you start to round the last corner and the boss’s life bar starts to run out. All of a sudden, your hero yells “OKAY, GO!” and this heroic, triumphant music kicks in. It really makes it feel like an epic battle, and gives you this feeling of being a kid and just really wanting the good guys to win, even though you know they’re going to. It sounds stupid, but just watch this video and tell me it’s not true (boss fight starts at 2:20, epic music kicks in at 2:35):
FUCK YEAH GO VISION
Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis, 1993, Sega)
STREETS OF FUCKING RAGE 2.
You think you know, but you don’t know. You have no idea.
Every once in a while a game dominates its genre to such an extent that it is impossible to extricate the two. With beat-em-ups, it’s… well, it’s probably Final Fight. But Streets of Rage 2 is the game that has always been near and dear to my own heart. Well, so has Final Fight, as evidenced by the fact that Mike Haggar is the de facto mascot of this site.
But look, just bear with me for a minute. Streets of Rage 2 is fucking incredible. It has the most actively engaging and deepest engine of any beat-em-up I’ve ever played, which is a big part of why the game is great, but I’ll get to that in a minute. What really makes the game special is the incredible atmosphere. There’s a unique feeling to the game that is missing in other games in the genre, a feeling of apocalyptic doom hanging in the air as you beat up various palette-swapped rave kids and punk rockers. Even Double Dragon, which is ostensibly about a post-nuclear war society where karate is the only law, starring Chuck Norris as Billy, doesn’t have this kind of feeling of dread. It might be that the type of fear that SOR2 plays on is a much more realistic one in this era, a “decline of western civilization” feeling, where society seems to be in such a state of disrepair that gangs just roam the streets in search of random violence for fun (this was present in Final Fight as well, of course, but felt much more cartoonish than it did in SOR2).
Adding to this atmosphere, and possibly even the biggest factor in its existence, is the music. Holy sweet goddamn. I have a tough time picking favorite things, but this soundtrack could easily make it in the running for favorite soundtracks, and favorite music, and just favorite anythings ever. I could really dedicate a whole article to this soundtrack, and probably should, but I’m going to play the arbitrary journalism card here and pretend like I need to keep this relevant to the game. Yuzo Koshiro is a monumentally underrated composer, and this is him at his strongest; the music draws you into the atmosphere of the game like few other soundtracks I’ve ever heard. One of the most unique things about it is how amazing it is at serving as both standalone music and background ambience. Typically I tend to greatly prefer soundtracks that consist mainly of standalone music that works in the background, but isn’t ambient, which is why I tend to find the music for so many newer games like Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls games boring, but SOR2 has music that builds the atmosphere and excitement of the game without being the most noticeable part, at least at first; it isn’t until you start listening to the music by itself that you realize that every single track from the game has permanently imprinted itself in your head.
Yes, another ten out of ten. Fuck you, this game deserves it.
It is simply impossible to make a better beat-em-up than Streets of Rage 2. Want proof of this statement? There are not one but two engines that emulate the way SOR2 is played, and despite nearly 20 years of progress, and a shitload of fantastic games with all kinds of new and innovative features, there still isn’t a game that has usurped it. Go ahead, go get those games. Spend a few hours playing them, it’s worth the time. They’re fun. But they’re never going to replace SOR2.
So we’ve already gone over how great the atmosphere is in the game. How does it actually play?
Well, like I said at the beginning of the article, it fucking delivers in the gameplay department too. The reason there are two remakes of the SOR engine and none of the Final Fight engine is because the mechanics of the SOR engine are simply more complex and more fun without being any more difficult to use. Final Fight feels like it was built around the arcade, made not to have any of the complexities that would take a while to learn or, more importantly, allow you to get good enough at the game to beat it without spending a lot of money. SOR2, on the other hand, was built for consoles, made for players to learn and explore, and challenges players by expecting them to get good at the game, rather than throwing herds of enemies and cheap-ass bosses at them (okay, well, there’s Jet, but he doesn’t count, because fuck him).
Ultimately, if I were asked to pick between Final Fight and Streets of Rage 2? I hate making decisions like that, because come on, I live in the real world, and I can’t imagine any bizarre fucking scenario in which I would have to decide between the two. Have I come into possession of the last copies of each game, and my son is dying, and they have to sacrifice one of the games to implant it into his robot body to turn him into a cyborg to save his life? In that case, it’s no question: I choose to implant Streets of Rage 2, because then I can have speakers installed in him and have some badass bass-pumpin’ beats wherever I go. But in a simple situation in which I had to pick one? I’m not sure I can say, Haggar is looking right at me. But hey, I did write about SOR2 in this article and not Final Fight. Infer from that what you will.
One common complaint about games today is that they don’t provide any challenge. Honestly, I don’t fully know how I feel about that; on one hand, while many of the major games of this generation, like Halo, where your character is functionally invincible as long as you hide behind a box every once in a while, and God of War, for which you can literally write a one-sentence walkthrough for the entire series (“Hold up and mash the attack button as fast as you can until you hear the ending credits roll.”), do seem to offer very little challenge, less mainstream games, such as Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy, and even a few of the bigger franchises (most notably Call of Duty, which, while it also has the magically regenerating health of the Halo series, also presents a realistic level of damage from bullets, which makes the regeneration far less of an advantage) offer some pretty difficult experiences. However, the main thing that I’ve noticed about even the more challenging games of this generation is that most of them focus less on challenge of skill than challenge of perseverance. Essentially, it feels like, no matter how many times you die, you can keep trying again and again until you succeed, usually restarting from 3 seconds before you died.
This is where games today differ from the games of the past; in most games, you got three lives. If you ran out of those, either you could continue (a limited number of times, from the beginning of the stage, if not the entire world), or your ass could go back to the title screen. The only thing close to a “save” we had was when we converted to Christ and baptized our cartridges in holy water in the hopes of God sending His divine army to help us beat Death in Castlevania. Hey, you laugh now, but it worked once. God really sent a legion of angels. We still couldn’t beat Death.
So, in the interest of remembering the days when our electronic parent substitutes were still abusive drunks, here are some reviews of a few games that definitely kicked my ass around the block when I was a kid (and still do, for that matter):
Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts (SNES, 1991, Capcom)
Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts hit the sweet spot between “ball-breakingly difficult” and “dick-yankingly awesome”. It’s the only game I’ve ever played that sees me throwing the controller down out of fury, then immediately picking it back up and continuing to play. That’s not a joke, either; I really do that. I’ll scream “MOTHERFUCKING UNDEAD DICK BISHOP” and throw the controller at the TV, then immediately pick it back up before the next life starts, because hey, I don’t want to lose my armor right away. That shit’ll get you killed. AGAIN.
A big part of what made the game so hard was just the sheer amount of shit flying at you at once. Within just a few seconds on the first level there are enemies EVERYWHERE. They just come out of the ground. They’re unpredictable too; there’s no way to know when an enemy is gonna pop up, or if the coffin it comes out of will just pop open or start hovering, or if something’s going to fly in from offscreen, or if something behind you threw a projectile, or pretty much anything else. It would be enough to make you check into a hospital for PTSD if it wouldn’t be so embarrassing to tell a room full of war veterans and spousal abuse survivors that you’re there because the ice level was reeeeeally hard.
To make things worse, this game isn’t like most other platformers; when you decide to jump, you goddammed well better make up your mind as to where you want to go, because if you decide midway through to change directions, that’s too fucking bad. You jumped left, and god help you, you’re GOING left, whether you like it or not.
Probably the most notorious factor making SGnG so difficult, though, is that after finishing all the hard-ass levels in the game, you finally find the princess you’re trying to save… who informs you that you have to beat the whole goddamn game AGAIN. And, just in case it wasn’t excruciating enough the first time, this time you have to beat it with a shittier weapon, which is apparently the only one that damages the already-fucking-hard final boss. It’s like, come on, Capcom. There are easier and faster ways of making people kill themselves.
Despite how insane everything about the game is, Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts is a fucking stellar game. As far as run-and-gun platformers go, there are few better; as a matter of fact, I would argue that Super C (the NES version of Super Contra) and Metal Slug are the only games that can really give it a run for its money (well, except for Mega Man of course, but as far as I’m concerned NOTHING compares to Mega Man). It has Capcom’s legendary attention to balance and solid controls, and the level designs add a lot of variety to the gameplay. What’s not to like?
Oh, right. The skull-fucking difficulty level.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES, 1989, Konami)
Pretty much everybody knows about this game and it’s outrageous difficulty level, most of which centers around the dam level, and for good reason.
But while that may be the stuff every 7-year-old’s nightmares are made of, it’s not like the rest of the game is really any easier. There’s an imperial shitload of enemies in the game, and just in case there aren’t enough, they reload every time you leave the screen, just like a Mega Man game. Some of the enemies take several hits to kill, and have a long period of invincibility after you hit them, so you have to run around and dodge them after you hit them once, waiting until they’re vulnerable again. Some of the enemies only take a one-to-two hits to kill. Don’t worry, though! They come in swarms, and when I say swarms, I don’t mean 3 or 4, I mean like 7 or 8 at a time. Konami was confident that this game was going to sell strictly on the strength of the TMNT license. Most companies choose to coast on that and crank out a really shitty licensed game. Konami, on the other hand, decided to make a game that simply defied the technological limits placed on them by the NES, ignoring the fact that placing fucking 20 enemies on the screen at the same time not only made the game unpleasant to play but also made the game slow to a crawl and flicker constantly. They knew you wanted a TMNT game, and you weren’t going to look into what it played like before you bought it. Why not use this opportunity to kill any of the stragglers who survived playing Castlevania?
This game is a unique case for me, though, because there’s a specific part that has a particularly memorable challenge that endures in my memory even today. I can progress pretty quickly through most games that I remember being really challenged by as a kid, but TMNT has one section that still raises my hackles anytime I think about it. In fact, I actually hate it more than the underwater portion, even with its turtle-killing electric spaghetti.
Now, I think we can agree that being killed in a video game because you aren’t good at it, while frustrating, makes you angry at yourself, and not at the game. That’s the rational reaction to have, because you’re the one who isn’t good enough; that’s what keeps you playing. You want to build your skill. That said, I simply cannot jump over this stupid goddamn fucking gap.
At the end of the first part of the Dam level (more like the GODdamN level, amirite), you come to a gap that is situated extremely high up in the level. It isn’t very long, but it’s just long enough that it becomes very difficult to jump across, because for some reason the Turtles can get fucking airborne in this game. In fact, they can jump from the ground almost to the top platform in the picture above (remember this, because it’s important later). You jump so high that even if you just barely tap the A button, you end up hitting the fucking ceiling and falling down the gap.
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if you could just jump back up and continue on. But remember how I said you could jump “almost” to the top platform? Well, over to the right there’s an entire half a level, so they couldn’t let you jump all the way up there. And if you miss this ridiculously hard to accomplish jump? You have to do the WHOLE GODDAMN AREA AGAIN. Oh, and for extra credit: what did I say happened to enemies that you killed previously? If you said “they stay dead and don’t come back”, then, well, you just failed this extended metaphor I’ve carried on way too far. In fact, I would wager you’re being a smartass and deliberately saying the opposite of the correct answer to be funny. That’s not funny. Just like this test metaphor.
For some reason a lot of people knock this game these days. Most of the criticisms revolve around the game’s difficulty, and rightfully so, but just like with Battletoads, just because a game’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not fun. It had one of my favorite NES soundtracks, and it was decently playable. This game isn’t Battletoads, though. It’s not even Conflict Amphibians (because turtles are reptiles, not amphibians). It’s a good game, but the Turtles control pretty stiffly, and there isn’t much to break up the action, despite the neat overworld system that links the little mini-levels that make up the main game. It was a nice try, giving you little areas to explore for extra items, but the items didn’t really include much other than pizza, which refills your life. This would be a blessing if it wasn’t for the fact that these side areas were usually so goddammed hard that you’d lose more life getting in and out of the pizza areas than you’d get back from the pizza. Add that to the fact that you really only had two useful turtles, Leonardo and Donatello, and you’d have to choose between giving the pizza to them when they had a lot of health and giving it to Raphael or Michelangelo so they could continue being your hit shields, since you could only get turtles back after they died in one level. In fact, you know what? Fuck you, Teenage Ninja Turtles. I’m changing your score.
Retroactive Score: 6/10
Cadash (Arcade/Genesis/Turbografx-16, 1989, Taito)
Cadash is a weird game, a platform-RPG similar to Zelda II, but one which was made for arcades. It’s fun, but ball-crushingly difficult. The game is based around a system of going into dungeons, collecting experience and gold, then coming out and spending it on items and equipment, just like an RPG, but it doesn’t work out that well in-game. In my experience with the game (the Genesis version), the equipment you buy just barely keeps you up with the power of the enemies you’re fighting, particularly the bosses, and even worse, the shitty healing items are outdated by the end of the first dungeon and cost far more than the equipment. Imagine if you played a Final Fantasy game and the only healing item was the potion, but they cost 5000 GP (or gil, or whatever) each, and they still only healed 50HP at a time, and bosses had regular attacks that did 25-30 damage every hit. On the plus side it’s called the “medicinal herb” and WE ALL KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS! YEEEEEAH BOY! DON’T FUCK UP THE ROTATION! PUFF PUFF PASS! And so forth.
The arcade version is apparently even worse, because while the herbs are cheaper, they’re also considerably weaker. In addition to that, for some reason the developers thought that making the game extremely fucking difficult wasn’t enough, so they made the game timed. In order to continue playing the game, you had to go into shops and purchase magic hourglasses that extended the length of the game. This was awesome, because they kept becoming more expensive every time you bought one, until they literally cost half of the maximum value of gold the game could store. Keep in mind you had to buy these in order to continue trying to win; they didn’t guarantee success or anything. In fact, they probably inhibited it, considering they were so more expensive than most of the other items in the game. It’s like giving a loan shark all the money you have on you so he’ll give you another 2 days to pay him the actual debt you owe him so he won’t break your legs.
Cadash is a pretty average platform-RPG with some neat features. That’s really just about all I have to say about it. However, I’m going to do a follow-up about it in another feature at some point. Or, just as likely, it’ll be one of those things I promise and never follow up on.
Want to solve the mystery of the forthcoming Cadash article? Then stay tuned!
Or, if you don’t, which is exponentially more likely, then I guess you can just keep checking back here. Or, you can take advantage of my new email and Facebook page subscription things on the right sidebar, which will ensure I won’t even get any accidental visits from you! Enjoy!
I seem to be getting a lot of traffic from my last post. A lot of controversy was generated! Will a post on a game about collecting magic cards for Ronald McDonald be as controversial? We shall see.
There are a few truths that are generally accepted. The sky is blue, nachos are awesome, Dark Side of the Moon may be a perfect album, and licensed games suck. And yet, as universal as those truths are, they can be contradicted. The sky turns many different colors throughout the day, On the Run isn’t quite as interesting as the rest of the album outside of a historical context, and nachos can be prepared… ugh… California-style. And licensed games? Well, every once in a while a developer will make one that isn’t completely abysmal. And I’m not just talking about Goldeneye; there are great games that are based on way lamer franchises than that. Case in point:
M.C. Kids (NES, 1992, Virgin Interactive)
“A McDonalds game? They made a game based on McDonalds?”
Actually, they made two. But let’s not talk about the second one.
M.C. Kids is the story of 2 kids, one who is white, and one who is Buckwheat from the Little Rascals, who get sucked into a book they’re reading, which is apparently about McDonalds. I like to think that the kids live in a future dystopian corporatocracy, wherein all forms of entertainment are just advertising for major businesses. I like to think this, because, as depressing as that dark vision of the future is, it’s way less depressing than the idea that kids would just be reading a story about Ronald McDonald in their spare time. The kids find out that the Hamburglar has stolen Ronald McDonald’s magic bag! Fuck! Now it’s up to them to get Ronald’s magic bag back. Ronald would get it himself, but I mean, you know, he has stuff to do.
Furthermore, Ronald asks that you obtain some of his puzzle cards for him, which he has hidden throughout the levels. These are required in order to finish the worlds, but not the individual levels. In other words, Ronald has basically decided to make your quest to get his magic bag back as difficult as possible. In fact, it would probably be easier to just forgo Ronald’s requests and just go after the magic bag yourself. Why do I need to get a bunch of cards for Ronald, just so he can tell me how to get his goddamned magic bag back? If I have to work for his help in doing him a favor he can just go fuck himself. I’ll go hang out with Grimace. We’ll drink juice boxes and play on the special kids’ see-saw all day.
Yeah, the setting and story are retarded, but the game is fucking good. It’s easily one of the best and most creative platformers of its time. It contains some puzzle aspects, and even uses a lot of physics-based platforming; for example, sometimes you see little spinners at the end of a platform. If you run over them while going fast enough, you’ll flip upside down, and gravity changes. Instead of falling to the ground, you “fall” up toward the ceiling. Often a level would have an entirely different style while you were flipped. Instead of avoiding enemies, you might be avoiding arrows that launch you all the way back to the beginning of the level, or trying to find a block you can hold on to to launch yourself even further with a trampoline, thus getting you further in the level.
The music is another high point. It’s very obviously designed by Europeans, because all European game composers insist on making the sound fidelity similar to a Commodore 64, even long after the technology could do better. Despite this, the music is extremely memorable, and is just begging to be remixed.
Graphically, the game is fairly pretty, with lots of well-contrasted colors, although the design of the characters is lacking. Your characters smile blankly, with no features other than large, dark, soulless voids for eyes. They seem almost as though they stare past you, beckoning you to come into their own personal hell, where you will be tormented by Fry Guys forever. Don’t believe me?
Look at them. They’re not reading. They’re looking at you. They’re looking past you. They’re looking through you.
Jurassic Park (SNES, 1993, Ocean)
The Jurassic Park games always got a bad rap, but some of them were actually pretty good. The SNES one was the best, although the first-person segments, while genuinely frightening at times, were clunky and slow. The really weird thing about the games, though, is that they usually wouldn’t let you kill dinosaurs, which you think would be a pretty integral part of a game about killing dinosaurs. Instead, you were allowed to “stun” the dinosaurs, which looked a hell of a lot like killing them. Just look at this screenshot:
Those have to be dead. And the best part is that Dr. Grant is standing among their corpses as though to show the remaining dinosaurs who’s gonna be running this Jurassic bullshit from now on. I can’t imagine him not screaming the lyrics to a Dio song and firing his lightning gun up in the air. Dude’s gotta have a dick the size of a water slide.
Jurassic Park may not be an award-winning masterpiece, but it’s pretty entertaining for a few hours, if for no other reason than to see how many dinosaurs you can murder with lightning.
DuckTales (NES, 1990, Capcom)
DuckTales was always one of my favorite shows as a kid. This was back in the day when the Disney Afternoon was the single greatest thing you could watch on TV. TaleSpin, Gummi Bears, Rescue Rangers, and DuckTales? Insanity. If I’m not mistaken, in the early 90s it was the longest period of time you could sit without someone trying to teach you something. And the best part is that, with the exception of Gummi Bears, those were all turned into spectacular games.
The DuckTales game, however, was a clear cut above the rest, just like the show. Excluding first-party games, I don’t think there’s an NES game that I would rank higher than it except the Mega Man games, and it’s no wonder: they were produced by the exact same team. DuckTales perfectly captured everything that made the show fun, like the adventure, characters, and landscapes, but also managed to be a creative, involving platformer, the kind that acted as the bridge between games as entertaining diversions and games as storytelling art. It just goes to show that not only are licensed games sometimes “not shitty,” they can even sometimes be better than most non-licensed games.
I know, I hand out perfect scores like they’re Skittles and I’m the unpopular kid whose parents give him money every day to buy candy. But DuckTales really deserves it. The game is nothing short of perfect. The level design is inventive and rewards exploration (just like in the show), the gameplay and controls are tight, the graphics are some of the best of the 8-bit era, and the music is nothing short of amazing. It’s by far one of my fondest memories of the NES era.
DuckTales is very visibly designed by Capcom. In addition to their characteristically perfect controls and gameplay, as well as the easily identifiable music of Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (who I spoke about at length a while back), the graphic design looks very similar to Mega Man. Check it out:
Although nearly every element of this game was great, the single thing that probably stands out the most to gamers of a certain age (like myself) is the theme music for the Moon level. While I’ve written about it previously, I just can’t understate what a big deal this song is to gamers who grew up playing games in the early 90s. It encapsulates everything that has ever been great about video game music.
I’m just going to leave you with this:
I’ve always had a really hard time keeping a steady list of my favorite things. Which of a series of things is my favorite is often decided by a number of factors, but, as sad as this is, the most constant one is which one I happen to be using at the time. For example, if you asked me at a time when I’m not listening to music, I’d probably cite Jellyfish, Puffy Amiyumi, or Steely Dan as my favorite band. But, if you caught me while I was listening to, say, Miles Davis or Pink Floyd, I could just as easily name them as my favorite. I’m especially bad about that with games. My favorite Final Fantasy jumps from IV to VI constantly, with occasional jumps to V or VII. Likewise, I think I’ve named every Zelda game except Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess as my favorite at some point.
So why would I even attempt to make a list of the Mario games I think are the best, which can be a very contentious issue? Because I love to make lists. I make them compulsively, in fact. I have a spiral notebook with many, many lists in it, counting everything from favorite snack cakes to favorite cartoons. This, coupled with my terrible handwriting, leads most people to think the lists were made by a surprisingly sophisticated 6-year-old, and these people are usually a bit worried when they find that a 22-year-old man has a list of his favorite spaceships. Nonetheless, I find making these lists a lot of fun, and that spills over into this site quite a bit.
Anyway, let’s get started. (Keep in mind these are in no particular order.)
Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996, Nintendo)
Super Mario 64 marked an absolute landmark moment in gaming history. Just like with Super Mario Bros. before it, it marked a turning point in the industry, and marked the moment when 3D games really reached the “next generation” we’d been promised for so long. It’s impossible to overstate what a massive impact this game had on the industry. After it came out, every 3D platformer had to control tightly and allow you control over the camera, or else it would end up like Bubsy 3D, the shitting-room floor of the outhouse of bad 90s 3D platformers.
But none of this really matters if you’re reviewing the game itself. So how does the game stand up if you review only on its merits as a game?
Pretty fucking well. There have been quite a few games I loved in my adolescence that I have recently returned to playing. Some, like Mario Kart 64 and Wave Race 64, are (naturally) exactly as fun as I remembered. Others, like Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball and Doom 64, simply don’t hold up as well as I remember. But Super Mario 64 manages to still inspire the exact same level of fascination and wonder that it did the first time I played it, craning my neck to look at a screen 4feet above me at a Wal-Mart kiosk, trying to use all 5 fingers to control the thumbstick.
But this isn’t just nostalgia; every single element of this game still holds up. The music, the sound, the graphics, the level design, the controls, all of it is still absolutely stunning, although perhaps not technically so. The graphics look jagged sometimes and there’s a lot of clipping problems, but despite that, the game still looks quite impressive. Although a lot of later N64 games, particularly platformers, had a lot of problems with color contrast (my wife still has trouble playing a lot of games she loves just because the colors give her such a headache), Mario 64 had a beautifully lush palette and a lot of really well-designed characters that manage to be every bit as iconic and recognizable as characters in previous Mario games. The same goes for the sound; I love the music in all the Mario games, but I would say hands down the best song in the series, if not necessarily the most iconic or important, is the Dire Dire Docks theme from SM64. I never really noticed it when I first played the game, but when I started listening to game music as a genre, I really noticed how spectacular this song was. It’s incredibly atmospheric, and there’s something that is just indescribably beautiful about it.
Probably the biggest key to SM64′s success, however, is how incredibly fun it is to control Mario. To this day there has never been a game more fun to control than this one. The controls were just tight enough, and the range of moves Mario had was just big enough to allow you an extreme degree of freedom of movement without feeling too complicated. Honestly, I’m not sure there will ever be a game that will be more of a blast to play than this one.
Also, I just realized that not a single thing I just said was funny. So, in lieu of my own comedy, here’s some made with Super Mario 64. Mario sliding backwards at 90 miles an hour up those stairs is maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen:
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES, 1996, Nintendo/Squaresoft)
God, 1996 was so awesome.
Super Mario RPG was far, far more than just Mario in a Squaresoft RPG. In fact, in terms of gameplay, it’s probably the most innovative RPG to come out since, well, Dragon Warrior. For some reason, it’s also one of my absolute clearest memories of purchasing a game. I remember my grandmother (who also really likes RPGs) brought me to Wal-Mart on the way home from her house to my parents’, and had me go ahead and pick it up. Then, I finally got home, and found that my parents weren’t home, and I had no key. So, I ended up having to wait for what felt like hours riding around with my grandparents waiting for them to get home. I don’t know why I remember that so clearly, but I can remember every second of it, everything that was on our deck while I was waiting, what was in my grandmother’s car, everything. I don’t even remember my first girlfriend as well as that. Mostly because she was a bitch.
I know it seems like I’m giving out perfect scores like candy, but I really think it’s justified here. SMRPG is one of the most unique games ever made, in terms of gameplay, story, and even the way it interprets Mario canon. It’s also a very fun game, and it has a surprising amount of depth and replay value.
One thing that really stands out to me about the game is how entertaining the characters are. The characters created specifically for the game are very entertaining (and are graphically really well-designed SMRPG has given me some of my personal favorite characters ever, like Booster, Belome and Jonathan Jones, and even the minor characters, like Croco and Punchinello, are very memorable. The Mario series characters are given new twists that manage to both fit in with the characters’ established personalities and provide endearing new twists to the characters – for example, Bowser’s hidden emotional side. This is another high point about the game: it’s hilarious. It’s actually genuinely funny, on purpose, which is still really rare in games. The story is also really entertaining, despite its (on the surface) generic “collect the 7 somethings” storyline.
One big thing that made the game so memorable and enjoyable to me that never seems to be mentioned by most reviewers is the absolutely spectacular music. Yoko Shimomura is really underrated. She’s done great work, especially with Capcom (where she worked on Breath of Fire, Street Fighter II, and several classic Capcom beat-em-ups), but Super Mario RPG is probably my favorite thing she ever did. She really brings Koji Kondo’s music from the Mario games to new heights as an arranger and goes far beyond just remixing them. These arranged tracks, combined with her original music, really brings together the atmosphere of the game – fun, upbeat, and entertaining.
The gameplay, though, is what sets the game apart for most people. SMRPG is a perfect example of how fresh you can make a traditional JRPG seem without utilizing confusing, over-complicated, or just downright shitty battle systems. Mario doesn’t just veeeeeery sloooooowly walk 1 tile at a time from conversation to conversation; you jump, run, dodge, and interact with everything around you. You even get to do the slide-under-the-block trick from level 1-2 of Super Mario Bros. in the Pipe Maze section. The battles are also really entertaining, retaining the fight-magic-item system from traditional JRPGs, but involving you in the battle via “timed hits.” This simple timed-press trick makes it very fun to fight, and finding a new weapon or learning a new spell refreshes the battles before they have a chance to get stale.
SMRPG is charming, innovative, unique, and just a blast to play; in short, everything an RPG based on the Mario series should be.
Super Mario World (SNES, 1991, Nintendo)
It was a tough decision between this and Mario Kart 64, but SMW won out by a small margin.
I know that everybody considers SMB3 to be the best of the 2D platformers, and I understand why. It’s phenomenal. It’s such an incredible game and really presaged the future of games, arguably more than the original. There are few games that bring more pure, unadulterated fun directly to your face.
I said “few” for a reason. SMW is, in my opinion (which admittedly is a bit off from the rest of the world) anyway, more fun than SMB3. As great as SMB3 was, SMW controlled better, had superior level design, and had even more depth than its predecessor.
Funny story about SMW: Shigeru Miyamoto was disappointed with it at the time. He felt that it was incomplete and that he didn’t get to do everything with it he wanted to, which was apparently a recurring theme with the early Mario games (for example, he had wanted to add Yoshi ever since the original SMB). That’s right – Shigeru Miyamoto was disappointed with what is generally considered to be one of the absolute greatest games of all time. Kind of like how John Lennon threw away songs that were better than anything most bands spent their entire lives on; that’s why Miyamoto is one of the greatest creators of our time, and why I favor just giving him the Moon, as a gift. Seriously. I’ll present it to him; I’ll be like “This is for Mario. And Zelda. Seriously! You can keep it.”
That’s right; three ten out of tens. And honestly, there are probably several more games in the series I would give a perfect score in this series.
Super Mario World is just one of those games that did everything right. It’s still one of the prettiest 2D games ever. The graphic design is top-notch, and undoubtedly influenced the look of many other games from the same time, and even now. The music did the same, and really showed off Koji Kondo’s skills as an arranger as well as a composer; nearly all of the music in the game is a variation on one tune, and most people I know don’t notice that until I tell them. Having bongo drums added to the music while you’re riding Yoshi was a neat touch as well. SMW is also one of the biggest Mario games, and has a mind-boggling amount of things to do, especially if you consider that the concept of having so much to do in a platform game was nearly unprecedented at the time. It’s also just a tightly made platformer; I still don’t think there’s ever been a game in the genre that controls so well and encourages so much exploration of the physics and momentum of the game. As an example, check out this awesome fucking video. It’s made entirely with sounds and objects in the game (although they’re arranged with a level designer, which just hacks up the ROM as it exists with no modifications). It doesn’t really make my point very well, but isn’t it fucking awesome?!?
Saturday, I posted a list of games that really need sequels. I tried really hard to keep it exclusively to games that never received sequels, but in the course of research for the article (I.E. sitting in my pajamas playing video games), most of the games I came across that really needed sequels were parts of established franchises that had already had at least one sequel. This goes back to what I was saying about good games deserving sequels; obviously, these were games that worked the first couple of times, and, given the chance, would probably work again. Games like…
Battletoads (NES, 1991, Rare)
Battletoads was a really popular game, which is why it’s so weird it hasn’t been revisited since 1994. Nowadays Rare is more popular for their fucking unprecedented run of incredible games for the SNES and N64 from the mid-90s to the late 2000s, but, as my European fans (if any) will know, they’ve been kicking ass since 1982, when they were founded as Ultimate Play the Game, possibly the most obtuse name ever for any kind of company.
Battletoads was partly an attempt at aping the popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was so popular at the time that it was actually elected governor of Connecticut for 2 terms. It actually even had a spin-off cartoon, which had 1 pilot episode produced. It was aired on Fox, but it never got picked up. Being that I was lucky enough to have picked up a VHS with the episode in the bargain bin at Walmart when I was little, I can’t really figure out why. I mean, it wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t going to be the new G.I. Joe or anything, but it probably could have been reasonably successful. When that failed, they seemed to give up on making it a media franchise, but it wasn’t lost on anyone that this was one of the best beat-em-ups ever made.
Rare has joked about a sequel to Battletoads for years, even going as far as to fuck with people who thought, upon seeing Banjo-Kazooie resurrected for the 360, that other Rare franchise updates were inevitable. And yet they fail to deliver, despite a huge demand from fans. Teh 4ch0ns actually called Gamestop, over and over, for several days demanding to preorder it. Of course that was more of a joke than anything else, but Gamestop isn’t smart enough to figure that out. A current-gen 2D version of Battletoads would be awesome if done correctly. Something along the lines of Castle Crashers, but hopefully a little less repetitive and with more replay value. Actually, now that I think about it, it would be fucking awesome if The Behemoth handled it. It would fit well with their style.
Battletoads is fun as fuck. But it’s hard. It’s unreasonably hard. Most people who hear how hard it is tend to play the first level and think “I don’t know what everybody is talking about, this isn’t that bad.” Then they play a little bit into the second level, where you rappel down a tunnel, and they run into those fucking crows that snip your cable and kill you before you can do anything about it, and they think “Wow, that’s obnoxious, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” Then they reach the third level. The vehicle level.
You shoot around at absurdly high speeds dodging obstacles that appear in front of you less than a second before you have to jump over them. And if you don’t? You lose a life, and you have a maximum of 9. The worst part is that, to lull you into a sense of safety, there’s a secret warp you can hit that takes you to another level. “Thank god,” our first-time players say. “I only had 1 life left.” At this point, Battletoads can barely contain its laughter as you walk forward and jump on a goddammed surfboard. That’s right. Another vehicle level. And this one’s even harder than the first. And when you beat it? You fight a ridiculously powerful boss that can kill you in 2 hits. And if you beat him? Well…
You go to the snake level.
God was mocking you with the vehicle levels. Perhaps He had another bet with Satan that His followers would have trust in Him no matter what He did. But with the snakes, God isn’t mocking you. This isn’t his sense of humor. This is the vengeance of an angry god. I actually saw a man die while playing this level once. And it wasn’t a fast death, either. I won’t go into a details, but suffice to say his testicles fell off before it was over.
So I guess my point is that, as great as Battletoads is, it’s a murderer. And that’s worth at least a point or two off.
Killer Instinct (SNES/Arcade, 1994, Rare)
Here we have another Rare franchise, which is equally renowned by those who remember it. Killer Instinct was one of the best 2D fighters of its day, and like most fighting games of its time, it was CHOCK FULL OF OVER THE TOP ACTION! ~ Gamefan Magazine. KI, however, was over the top in a different way than its competitors. Instead of going crazy with the violence and brutality, Killer Instinct just got really, really excited about the combos you were doing. Really excited. For example, in Super Street Fighter II, when you do a combo, all you see is a little pop-up that says how many hits you got in. With Mortal Kombat, you get a pat on the back from Shao Khan, a small “outstanding!” or something. But in Killer Instinct, everything is a cause for celebration. Did you get an 8-hit combo? Fuck no you didn’t, you got a SUPER HYPER MEGA ULTRA COMBOOOOOO! And when you stop someone in the middle of a combo, the announcer is so shocked that he can’t even speak. He stutters out “C-C-C-C-COMBOOOOO BREAKERRRRRRR!!!!!!!” Presumably he can’t talk because he was so shocked that it gave him a brain hemorrhage.
Rare has been even more of a cocktease about a sequel to KI than it has been about Battletoads. Not only are there references in actual games, employees even directly talk about how awesome it would be to make a sequel. Ken Lobb of Rare (who I know from Nintendo of America through countless hours of reading Nintendo Power as a kid, and who you may know as the namesake of the Klobb gun from Goldeneye and Perfect Dark) has expressed interest in doing it several times, as has Rare head Mark Betteridge. Lobb even went as far as to say it “will happen someday.” The only thing that worries me is that one rumor that Betteridge instigated was that KI3 would be coming out… for fucking Natal. I would love more than anything to see a KI3, but I really couldn’t possibly give a shit less about Microsoft’s goddammed EyeToy. I’m not going to buy one, and I really would like to see a version of KI3 that doesn’t involve me flailing my arms to swat away Fulgore. I’m not on fucking Nick Arcade, and my Xbox isn’t named Phil Moore. Not anymore anyway.
Other gamers be dammed; I fucking love Killer Instinct. Most people have a bias against non-Capcom 2D fighters, and it’s easy to see why; SF games are not only great games, they created the genre and were responsible for nearly every innovation in fighting game history. But, just like with SNK’s amazing fighting games, like Samurai Showdown and King of Fighters, the Mortal Kombat series, and even Capcom’s own Darkstalkers games, Killer Instinct is a smooth, well-designed, downright fun fighter that got the short end of the stick just for not being Street Fighter. KI is every bit as good as MK, and is even better in some ways. Plus, it had a lot of character, and it-
River City Ransom (NES, 1990, Technos Japan)
Everybody knows River City Ransom by now. It’s the Beyond Good and Evil of its day, the game that everyone who actually bothered to buy it worships, and that everybody else discovered long after it mattered. Emulation has made it famous, and now everybody realizes that they should have been mailing envelopes full of money to Technos in the 90s.
In Japan, RCR is part of a huge franchise known as Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, or Downtown Hot-Blooded Story. For some reason the internet doesn’t seem to know how many games are in the series, but rest assured there are dozens of them. While this was the one of only two parts of the main series (the other being the mediocre Renegade) that was released in America, a few tertiary games, like Super Dodge Ball, Crash n’ The Boys: Street Challenge, and Nintendo World Cup, did see a release here. The franchise was revisited briefly in 2004, but all that really came out of it was a remake of the original for the Game Boy Advance. I think that it could benefit from the same kind of treatment Final Fight received last month, playing upon the strengths of the original game while improving the graphics. However, if they choose to do it this way, they should add a lot more areas and shops. The RPG elements of the original are a lot of what made it so fun, and the quirky charm of the shops could be greatly expanded upon.
This is pretty much the perfect beat-em-up. Limitless replay value, solid mechanics, and a remarkable amount of depth (compared to other games in the genre). Plus you can eat 100 hamburgers and become more powerful, which is pretty much the opposite of what happens in real life.
Actraiser (SNES, 1991, Enix)
I know I already talked about Actraiser a few days ago, but hey, now I’m doing it again. That other article sucked anyway.
Actraiser was a pretty big hit at the time it was released, as far as I can tell. It’s very fondly remembered, and it’s most people’s go-to example of how you can blend two diametrically opposed genres to make something great. But for some reason, after the somewhat disappointing sequel, which was fun but dropped the sim elements that made the original unique, the series dropped off the face of the planet.
This is unfortunate, because a new Actraiser would be phenomenal. I would happy with a 3D third-person action section (as long as it’s nothing like the “mash the X button until the game ends” mechanics of God of War) melded with a more intricate sim section. One thought, although I can’t fully decide how much I would like this, would be for a more RTS-influenced sim section. When I envision this, I see something like Genesis cult classic Herzog Zwei. You have your main angel unit, which can build stuff, carry units where they need to go, and also directly intervene as an offensive unit. You construct squads to go in and fight demons back to their lair, which you can have a special unit seal, thus killing off all the remaining monsters. You earn resources by killing demons off. Maybe that wouldn’t be the best direction to go in from a commercial point of view, but I think it would be fun. And isn’t that what’s truly important? Me?
I love Actraiser so much. It’s one of the first SNES games I had, and I used to play it all the time, even though I didn’t fully understand exactly what I was supposed to be doing in the sim sections. I figured it out pretty fast though, which I’m kinda proud of, since I was like 4 at the time.
I also need to note how amazing the music is. It’s one of the best soundtracks Yuzo Koshiro ever did. Koshiro is a grossly underrated composer. He’s in the same league as composers like Yasunori Shiono and Yoko Shimomura, in that he should really be regarded on the same level as composers like Nobuo Uematsu. The games he wrote for unfortunately weren’t as popular as a Final Fantasy or a Zelda, but the soundtrack is just as good. He also did the soundtracks for the Ys and Streets of Rage series, among other things. His work on Streets of Rage 2 is some of the most solid and atmospheric game music this side of Metroid.
The platforming sections are fun, although the controls are a little bit clunky. It’s forgivable for the most part, but it’s kind of irritating when you jump, bump into something, and fall into a pit of lava. They get really difficult in the later levels, and the new magic you earn in the sim sections add a bit of customization to the game.
The sim sections are where the game really shines, though. There’s never really been a sim game like it. It blends a shoot-em-up-style method of attack with an extremely simplified version of the city building you see in RTSs. It doesn’t sound like much, but it actually gets rather intense in later levels. It’s difficult to balance directing the building of an area with killing monsters before they can kill your villagers. It never gets frustrating though, which makes it pretty much the only sim game I’ve never had to rage quit out of. This is because I am kind of a bitch at RTS games. I mean, hell, I can’t even get a Zerg rush to work properly (kekeke).
Super Off-Road (Arcade/Several Consoles, 1989, Leland Corporation)
This is going to be quick, because there really isn’t much to say. Remember this game? Even if you don’t remember the name, if you went to a pizza place or a gas station between 1989 and 1994 you played this at least once. It’s a classic arcade cabinet. 3 steering wheels, placed awkwardly sticking out in the middle (I guess because they thought only 4-feet tall kids would be playing it).
Ordinarily I would pitch an idea for a new Super Off-Road game, but there’s really not anything terribly new that they could do. It pretty much has to be a top-down racing game. I suppose they could add in some stunts and expand the awesome truck customization, but other than that, there’s really not any way they could do it any differently than the original and make it the same game. I know this, because there were 3 sequels to the game that didn’t have anything in common with it except for the presence of trucks.
Super Off-Road was great at the time. There’s not a whole lot else to say. There weren’t a whole lot of games like it, and it was especially fun if you managed to round up a couple of friends to play with, although unfortunately no one gets to play as the silver truck. That’s Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. The game carried his endorsement, and, as is always the case with racing games, the endorser was granted superhuman abilities. It’s just like with Gran Turismo and its continued insistence (even when they promise to stop) that their licensed cars cannot be harmed in any way. Ironman drives 6 times faster than everyone else, has complete metaphysical control over his truck, and is probably sleeping with your girlfriend.
The Adventures of Rad Gravity has a funny Wikipedia entry. It says that the game had “a wacky storyline,” and that Activision inserted “humorous antics” into the game. While this is true on the surface, the article fails to recognize a very important element of the game: the fact that it is about a goddamned space psychopath. The game tries to make it out like you’re just a big headed, silly space hero, and at first that seems to be the case, but when you actually play the game, you realize that you aren’t firing your “space phazor” at “alien replicoids from beyond the moon” or some silly camp stuff like that. Look at the title screen:
It looks like a fun, silly space game. Everything is cool, you get your text opening, and you beam down to a planet. Everything seems cool:
Wow! It almost seems cute! Who could think something like this is sick? After you beam down you end up on some planet.
Hmm, this city seems a little dirty, sleazy even, but I’m sure it’s just a weird design. Also, have you noticed every cyberpunk work always has neon lights with Asian characters in them? It’s a fact. I wonder why people in 1993 thought Asian type would be the chief written language in 1997. I guess that’s the kind of odd delusion you get when you set impossible future fiction 4 years in the future, like so many cyberpunk artists did. For something so cool, it had a fuckload of problems. Like cyborg Billy Idol.
Anyway, everything looks totally (wait for it) RAD (FUUUUUUCK YEAAAAAAAH PUNS) until you try to attack an enemy. Look at Rad now:
It’s hard to tell with that screenshot, but that isn’t a laser or something. That is a knife. Not a space knife. Just a fucking fixed-blade knife. Rad Gravity isn’t a fun campy hero. He is a goddammed space psychopath. I can’t even figure out why he went to this planet, except to stab MC Hammer backup dancers. I guess that’s pretty respectable, but still, a knife? He could at least use a gun, make it quick and painless. If you kill someone with a knife, you fucking enjoy it.
Anyway, this game is fairly decent, I suppose. I can’t figure out any point to it other than to brutally gut a bunch of space Vanilla Ice rejects. It’s nice to see where games like Manhunt got their start, though.
(I know I promised an article every day. And I’m sure most of you expected me to break that promise very, very quickly. Technically, I did not have a substantive article up on 4/19. However, I published it before I went to sleep, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s close enough to “on time”. Hopefully the waiting increased the enjoyment. Otherwise, I’ve got no case.)
I never updated about it, but believe me, I’ve known about it for a while: May 30th was Capcom’s 30th anniversary, and I’m celebrating my favorite non-Nintendo developer with a huge series of reviews of their games, hopefully for the rest of this year if I can keep my attention focused on it. With any luck, I’ll make it through all of them.
So, here’s my format: I’ll start off with all the big series, so I can get them all out of the way at the same time. After that, I’ll be following this list of Capcom games on Wikipedia, writing a review of each one in the same format as all my other reviews, only doing one for each multiplatform game. If I actually finish it, I’m gonna have a fucking parade in my honor.
We’ll start off with Street Fighter. Unfortunately, that means starting out with…
Street Fighter (Arcade, 1987)
The Street Fighter series started out with an… underwhelming performance. The basic ideas behind the series are there (1-on-1 2-round timed matches between 2 colorful characters from around the world, one of whom is always Ryu), but it’s just not the same. This just illustrates what sets Street Fighter II and it’s progeny (and, though this isn’t really on the topic, SNK’s perennially underrated fighting games) apart from all the other shitty cash-in games: gameplay as smooth and flowing as John Romero’s hair (oh wait, he cut it. Yet again I forgot it wasn’t 10 years ago.). Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of factors that make Street Fighter II better than other fighting games (and other games in general, and for that matter, most art, literature and theatre). but the speed and smoothness of the gameplay are absolutely the biggest factor. Without that smoothness, the game feels just as awkward and hard to control as, say, Deadly Moves. And that’s not something I say lightly.
Speaking of controls, something I think is interesting is that this game had some unique (read: bizarre) buttons. Two mechatronic pads, one for punches and one for kicks, are used, and depending on how hard you hit the button, you perform either a light, medium, or heavy attack. And, logically, after people broke every single one of these machines, the pads were replaced with the familiar 6-button setup seen even nowadays on SFIV machines. I hate to say it, but that was a terrible, terrible idea. I’ve destroyed controllers just because fucking Sonic wouldn’t listen to me when I told him to fucking goddammed jump, you fucking hedgehog son of a bitch; I fear to think what would happen if the game revolved around me hitting buttons as hard as I could on a controller that cost $10,000. I’d probably be a fucking construction worker. Or maybe a senator or something. I don’t know what caused my ADD, maybe it was games.
The Street Fighter II Series (Multiplatform, SFII: 1991, SFII Hyper Fighting: 1992, SFII Tournament Edition: 1992, SSFII: 1993, SSFII Turbo: 1994)
There’s really not a whole lot that can even be said about Street Fighter II. Even that sentence I just typed has already been said over and over. I think this one and the last one are new though. Anyway, it’s perfect. There’s really not much else to say, but I’ll try.
There have been soooo many versions of Street Fighter II, and for this reason, the series (and Capcom) is often mocked. On one hand, I do agree that 6 versions of a single game is a bit much, but at the same time, few of the versions came out with just minor changes. Playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo and then going back to play plain ol’ Street Fighter II is a pretty big juxtaposition. The graphics were better, the music was remixed, the fighting became faster, smoother, more aerial, and, most noticably, there are 9 more fucking characters to play as in SSFIIT. There are also many, many technical changes, ranging from what moves can be cancelled into other moves, to entirely new moves, to new scoring methods. And yet, no version of SFII is completely superior to another. Even in different ports of the same version, there are usually little tics and differences that make each version special, if not necessary. I personally own 4 different version of SFII, not counting emulation, demos, and other such things, and I don’t regret the purchase of any of them. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (I would make fun of the title, but it’s kind of like making fun of a clown; what is there to make fun of that hasn’t already parodied itself?) feels completely different than the SNES version of Street Fighter II, and I enjoy both equally, because my play style is completely different; I’m an aggressive Balrog user in SSFIITHDR, and a more defensive Zangief user in SFII. Also, SSFIITHDRMALSODFMEWASDFEVZX is really really really pretty, but SFII has the classic, hilarious character portraits and such, and because I am an engine that runs solely off nostalgia, I can’t help but love that.
Street Fighter II is a such a landmark game that there’s not really anything to talk about in a standard review. It’s like Casablanca or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; everybody’s familiar with it, there’s nothing new to say about it, and it’s such a huge topic that you can’t really cover it in 2 or 3 paragraphs.
But because I need to pad this out, I’m creating my own Street Fighter II drinking game. Here we go:
- Take 1 drink every time someone picks Ken or Ryu. (Make sure to buy plenty of your party liquor of choice; this rule alone will cause you to run dry quick.)
- Take 2 drinks every time someone plays as Guile or Chun-Li.
- Take 3 drinks every time someone plays as Dhalsim or Blanka.
- Take 4 drinks every time someone plays as E. Honda, Sagat, Balrog, or M. Bison.
- Take 5 drinks every time someone plays as Zangief. You need something to handicap you, because it’s a given they have no idea how to use Zangief.
- Finish a drink and huck the container at anyone who picks Vega. Vega is an asshole and you are an asshole by association for playing as him.
- Take 1 drink every time a character throws a fireball, but stop after 20; I don’t want you guys passing out mid-match.
- Take 1 drink every time you, personally, use the shoryuken as Ken. I want Ken users to associate Shoryuken abuse with projectile vomiting and day-long hangovers.
- Every time Dhalsim uses a Yoga Noogie, everybody drinks for the duration of the noogie, then screams “YOGA!” Dhalsim rules.
- Every time you jump forward and do a heavy kick, take a drink. Stop when the alcohol makes your eyes cross.
- When Guile uses that sweep kick where he kicks with one foot and then the other, take a drink every time you get hit by the second kick because you forgot he does it.
- Take 1 drink every time M. Bison uses a move OTHER than the Psycho Crusher.
- Switch liquors every time someone gets punched for throwing hadokens until you have no choice but to jump into a shoryuken. Then punch the person who did it.
- Drink every time someone gets dizzy until your drink is empty. Then imitate the dizzy dance the character just did. Try not to fall down.
- Use a move you learned from the game to hit anyone who suggests you stop playing SFII to play Halo or Madden or something. Then drink, I guess. Just make sure you hit them.
- True Devil Ultra Hard Mode: Get to Akuma in SSFIIT, then take turns trying to beat him. Drink every time someone loses a round. You will get drunk FAST.
There you have it. Be careful. Depending on who you play with, this game may cause alcohol poisoning.
Score: 10/10 (For the whole series.)
The Street Fighter Alpha Series (Multiplatform, SFA: 1995, SFA2: 1996, SFA3: 1998)
Street Fighter Alpha always gets overlooked in the scheme of things, though it’s debatable if that’s deserving or not. I mean hell, look at me. I’m lumping the whole series into 1 review. The SFA series is great, don’t get me wrong; it just doesn’t stand out in any way, unlike its dependable, always-there-for-you brother Street Fighter II, or its sexy, hard-partying cousin, the VS. series. However, despite two completely great sequels to SFII, SFA and its sequels feel the most like the logical progression of the series.
The Alpha series actually began essentially as a direct sequel to SFII, albeit chronologically before it storyline-wise. It employed a more refined version of the gameplay featured in the games before it, with a revamped super combo system and a few new moves. It also featured a few characters that hadn’t been seen since the original Street Fighter, and a couple new ones who were totally awesome (Charlie and Dan) and one who actually kinda sucked (Rose).
While we’re on the topic, I’d like to take a moment to talk about Dan Hibiki.
Dan Hibiki is Capcom’s big giant “fuck you” to SNK. He’s based on Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia from Art of Fighting. As much as I love Dan, he always makes me shed a single tear for SNK. Why did Capcom feel the need to insult them? It’s like if Brad Pitt came to your house and made fun of you for not being able to pick up girls like he does. Get this: the president of Capcom literally lives in a 3-square-mile castle built entirely of quarters earned from Street Fighter II. SNK wasted all the quarters they got from Art of Fighting in the company vending machine over the period of a month. It’s over, Capcom. You already won! You don’t need to keep kicking.
The real reason I’m not reviewing each game separately is because there really aren’t a whole lot of differences between games. The series has always been more about advancing the storyline rather than bringing in new gameplay concepts. There are some technical differences, but they really aren’t significant enough to warrant an entirely separate review. If I tried to do one for each game you’d end up with “Gameplay’s a little bit faster. New air combos. You can now cancel a dash punch into a Shoryuken.” The last thing I want to do is drown what readers I do have in technical information that interests only me and like 20 other obsessed hobbyists. What I do is already way too close to that anyway.
Street Fighter Alpha: 7/10
Street Fighter Alpha 2: 8/10
Street Fighter Alpha 3: 8/10
The Street Fighter EX Series (Multiplatform, SFEX: 1996, SFEX2: 1998, SFEX3: 2000)
“We here at the Arika company take good, old-fashioned, Capcom-style Street Fighter action, smother it in molasses, deep-fry it until it’s jagged and blocky, then serve it to you, hot and ready to be quickly forgotten.”
The Street Fighter III Series (Multiplatform, SFIII: 1997, SFIII 2nd Impact: 1997, SFIII: 3rd Strike: 1999)
Before I say anything else, I wanna go ahead and get it out of the way: SFIII took out most of the SFII roster, and it was a terrible, terrible mistake. Most of the characters were essentially the same, but they weren’t exactly the same, and that makes a big difference. Sure, Dudley’s pretty much Balrog, but he isn’t Balrog, and that makes a big difference. Ryu and Ken are there, and later they added Chun-Li and Akuma, but I want to play as Blanka, goddammit. It’s great having new characters, but removing almost all of the original characters that people have grown to love, and more importantly, to dominate with, is kind of a betrayal to everybody who had been waiting for 6 years to see E. Honda fly using ancient sumo magic in totally new environments.
That said, the game is fucking great. It’s one of my favorite games in the SF series as a whole, and while it isn’t as good for casual fighting fans or for parties, for hardcore Street Fighter fans it provides a great unique experience, and I believe if this had been the game released in 1991 instead of SFII, it would have been just as successful. The gameplay is smooth and intense, and, depending on how you want to play it, it can either be extremely, painstakingly technical or just as simple and fun as the first time you played SFII. I played the original SFIII very soon after it came out at the grocery store near my house (also where I first experienced SFII, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, X-Men: Children of the Atom, and several other games. I still shop there to this day, and I’ll never understand why grocery stores don’t have arcade machines anymore. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up an old SFII machine or something), and it happened to be just around the same time I was really learning how to really play fighting games. I managed to learn Dudley pretty quickly (I’m a Makoto player now, for what that matters), and managed to start dominating the various people I played against (admittedly, they weren’t very good, so it’s not like I was a prodigy or anything). As much as I loved SFII before, learning how to actually play a fighting game through SFIII was a major part of the path that eventually led to me competing in a tournament 11 years later. If I hadn’t learned to play from SFIII, I’m sure it would have happened with another game eventually, but I did learn it from SFIII, and that means I’ll love it forever.
SFIII 2I: 8/10
SFIII 3S: 9/10
Street Fighter IV (Multiplatform, 2008)
This is easily the best game in the series since there were 10 letters in the abbreviation. Having learned from the mistakes made in the years since SFII, Capcom took everything that was great about the series, distilled it, and created the greatest fighting game of the last 14 years. SFIV is not only every bit as satisfying and addictive as SFII, it’s even as fun to bust out at parties, which is more than can be said about SFA or any of the other subsequent games, although that may just be because both games feature most of the same characters.
If you’re ever bored at a party and have access to to SFII or SFIV, try this: write down every character’s name, shuffle them, and draw them out of a hat. Play as whoever you draw. It’s extremely simple, but, for me at least, it’s never failed to entertain everybody at the party. Pulling people out of their element and making them play as, say, Zangief or C. Viper, is incredibly entertaining.
There’s really not a whole lot else to say, because there isn’t much about this game that can be summed up with “perfection”. I will say this, though; I think this is going to be the first game in the series that won’t have ten update releases. No one seems to have noted this, as odd as that seems, considering they’re all so eager to make totally original and never-before-heard jokes about how each Street Fighter game has so many small updates every time they talk about the series. Now that we’ve got DLC and patches, I doubt there will be any justification for releasing a “Street Fighter IV: Hyper Deluxe” or the like. It seems strange to think that technology has moved ahead that much in 18 years… but not as strange as it does to think that it’s been 18 years since stopping a Beast Roll with a Hadoken became a reflex.
The Genesis is a mixed bag. Several unmistakable classics were released for it, but there was also a lot of unbelievable shit. For every Vectorman, there was a Misadventures of Flink. This extends especially to fighters. For a long time, the Genesis was considered to have the superior versions of both Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, and even had some exclusive hits (like Virtua Fighter 2), but it also had some of the shittiest fighters ever made. A few examples:
Weaponlord (Genesis/SNES, Namco, 1995)
Weaponlord was a fighter in the mid 90′s that is still revered today, largely because it was so different from other fighters in its day. It included a parry system, the ability to rip your opponent’s clothes or hair or even break their weapon, and a different special move system than the norm (more on that later). Unfortunately, none of this makes up for the fact that the game was slow and kinda clumsy. The team really seems to have tried, and a lot of the ideas made it into later games (especially a certain other Namco-developed, weapons-based 3D fighter), but all the innovation in the world doesn’t excuse the fact that some moves simply don’t seem to work because I’m entering the commands too fast. Unless the game was a psychological experiment created to make even the most slothlike gamers feel like the goddamn Flash, a fighting game engine that’s incapable of receving commands entered quickly simply doesn’t work.
It also doesn’t help that the developers took the classic lazy route to innovation: they turned the special move command system backwards. Instead of entering a directional sequence then pressing a button, you press a button then enter a directional sequence. Like most similar attempts at being innovative in this fashion, it’s different than anything that came before it, but still isn’t creative and offers no advantage over the traditional way of using special moves. Many games have attempted this (just look at how many Tetris and Breakout clones where the action happens on the opposite end of the play area), but few seem to realize that sometimes the basics of a game are what make it fun, and that changing them kind of ruins the game. But hey, if it’s that easy, I can do it too! Check this out: a racing game where the car drives the driver. Oh, sorry, what’s that? I didn’t hear what you said. There was too much noise from the sound of your fucking mind being blown.
Poorly thought out special move system aside, the game isn’t too bad. It kind of reminds me of being a kid, playing Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat with a reliance on regular attacks because I didn’t know how to do special moves. As far as Genesis fighters go, it’s not nearly as clunky as some others are. It’s not exactly smooth, but it’s forgivably slow, as opposed to some other games on this list. Also, the whole game, character design, plot, music and all, are totally fucking metal. It’s like playing a Dragonforce album. Seriously! Look at this motherfucker!
Tell me that son of a bitch didn’t kill his way off a Dio album. In fact, wait a minute:
There the fuck he is.
Eternal Champions (Genesis/Sega CD, Sega, 1993)
I’ll cut right to it. This game simply isn’t very good. The hit detection doesn’t feel right, the AI is unbalanced, and the special move system is fucked up beyond redemption. That said, Eternal Champions succeeds where Weaponlord failed: it makes up for mediocre gameplay with sheer creativity.
Unlike other American-made fighting games in the early-to-mid 90′s, Sega made up their own original characters instead of just ripping them off from other sources (in most cases, comic books, pulp fantasy, and Street Fighter). This resulted in some surprisingly cool characters and settings. They’re all well-designed, well-animated, and have very detailed and, dare I say it, original histories.
Speaking of histories, Eternal Champions has a sort of odd one. It wouldn’t have been considered odd at the time, but looking back on it with what we know now, Eternal Champions presaged several concepts to come in video games, and, hilariously, didn’t presage at least one major one.
You see, Sega really expected this game to be huge. As such, they threw the full force of their advertising at it. Unlike Sega today, this actually meant something in 1993. Just look at this commercial:
Oh shit! Eternal Champions is so badass it’ll eat my copy of Crappy Fighter (released in America as Ultimate Mortal Kombat III)!
Not just limited to a couple of commercials, Sega continued the campaign with a comic strip in Sonic the Comic, a standalone magazine-sized comic, a sticker album (hopefully as gruesome as the game itself), a couple of choose-your-own-adventure books, and even it’s own Slurpee flavor, creatively titled “Sega Eternal Champions Cherry” (presumably after the first suggested name, “That New Fighting Game We’re Working On, Infernal Champions Or Whatever… Cherry” was shot down). A pre-release version of the game was included in an EGM travelling tournament, and a cartoon was even in the works before Sega of Japan shot it down in favor of Virtua Fighter. The fucking thing was even a pack-in game for America’s sweetheart, the Sega Activator! How did this game not get elected President?
As I mentioned above, one thing about the game is, in hindsight, absolutely hilarious. According to Wikipedia, in order to create the game’s character roster, Sega gathered a group of children of all ages to help design all the characters. Sega handed them a selection of archetypes, and asked them to whittle the list down to their favorites. In true 90′s fashion, among the chosen archetypes were “pirate”, “robot”, “ninja”, and “caveman”, which means we were probably a couple of characters away from playing as “fireman” or “BMX bike”. The children narrowed the group down to about 50 characters. After showing them projected designs for the characters, the kids chose their 10 favorites, and the character roster was born.
So why is this funny, you ask? Watch this video:
Jesus shit! Did you see the one on the train? How about the giant blade pit? That is just fucking clownshit. If you didn’t watch the video, you may be thinking I’m just exaggerating for humor’s sake. Not the case. I’ve not seen a game since that can top the level of violence in this game. It’s crazy.
Now, after watching that, can you imagine this game being shown to some 7-year-old kids nowadays? Fuck no. You’d be in jail within the hour. The funniest part, however, is that the kids just helped design these characters because they thought they were cool, and now here they are being ripped apart by a giant fan. I know it’s a fighting game, but how do you think the kids reacted? “So, Timmy, the gangster was your favorite, right? Well, here’s an animation of him being fucked to death by the Devil in Hell. Is he still your favorite or do you prefer the merman? Open your eyes, Timmy. Stop crying. This is important marketing research.”
Eternal Champions is great, it really is, but it’s just not very fun to play. It’s a damn shame, because if it had been, it might have been the game to beat Mortal Kombat. It had some memorable characters, an original storyline, and some creative features (including a Danger Room-esque battle arena with customizable environmental hazards!), but at the end of the day, it gets tiring to play more than 3 or 4 matches.
One of the game’s biggest flaws is that your special moves are limited by a small “special meter” that only allowed you to crack off two or three projectiles before you had to wait on a cooldown. The computer-controlled opponent, on the other hand, wasn’t affected at all by this cooldown, meaning they could be obliterating your shit with flaming magic tridents while you’re unable to throw a shuriken due to, I don’t know, your chi being exhausted or some shit. This is a large part of the game’s other big problem: the unbalanced AI.
Picture this: you’re playing basketball, 1-on-1, with your friend Chuck. Chuck is 5’6″, 140 pounds, severly myopic, and has asthma. You’re playing against Chuck, and you’re 20 points ahead of him. All of a sudden, Chuck starts shooting three pointer after three pointer, stealing the ball before you even know you had it, and, as a final fuck you to your preconcieved notions, lifts off from half court NBA-Jam style and soars through the air for what seems like an eternity before crashing down and wresting the goal from its moorings, thus ending the basketball game and getting Chuck noticed by an NBA scout. Chuck becomes a worldwide sensation, and uses his newfound fame to fuck your girlfriend, get you fired from your job, and make an ass of you on television. He continues his assault on you until you can’t take it anymore, and finally end it by your own hand. The last thing you see is Chuck laughing and driving off in a Ferrari full of supermodels and cash as blood trickles down your face and everything goes black.
This is the problem with Eternal Champions AI. You end up beating the living shit out of your opponent until, suddenly, he comes back from behind and becomes goddamn Steven Seagal, somehow decimating you before you even know what’s happening. This happens every time, no matter what opponent you’re playing against. Coupled with only being able to use a special attack roughly every 20 minutes, this doesn’t add up to a very satisfying game experience.
To be perfectly honest, even though I didn’t like the game itself, I’d love to see a resurgence in its popularity. The game had enough style to make up for its lack of substance (to some extent, anyway), and a remake could be amazing, as long as the current Sega didn’t handle it. It still hurts every time I read the last part of that sentence. Sigh… youth lives on hope, old age on rememberance, I suppose.
Deadly Moves (Genesis/SNES (as Power Moves), Kaneko, 1993)
Before saying anything about Deadly Moves, I feel there’s something we need to discuss.
Do you see this shit? Specifically, you need to see this:
Since you’re wondering, no, the game doesn’t look like that. In fact, it looks like this:
It’s not exactly Donkey Kong Country, but it doesn’t look bad. So why did they do that? Why would they give a 6-year-old a box of crayons, poke his eyes out, and ask him to draw whatever he thought Hulk Hogan did in his spare time? These are questions we’ll never know the answer to, because everyone involved with this ad is probably working in lawnmower sales or something. Some of the captions are also mysterious if you’ve played the game. Specifically, the top right caption. This isn’t an advertising slogan, it’s a description of a screenshot, that isn’t really a screenshot, that depicts something that doesn’t even closely resemble something that happens in the game. Why is this here? It might as well have been a picture of a train with a caption that says “The train to Intercourse, PA runs at 8:15, 12:00, 4:30, and 9:00.” It would have made exactly as much sense.
Aside from the terrible faux-screenshots, there are a number of other things going on in this ad. Let’s look at the large picture at the top, which coincidentally is also the cover of the box:
I understand why this guy is getting punched, as he apparently had a glowing jar of marmalade on the side of his face. Alternatively, the glowing, liquidy explosion could have been the result of world’s largest firefly on his cheek, smashed . The only other thing I could think of as an explanation is that this horrible karate man with a Julie Roberts mouth punched a man with a bizarre haircut so hard that it caused a luminescent explosion of blood. Speaking of the blond man’s haircut, what the fuck is that on the back of his head? Is that a handle? Some kind of burrowing worm? It’s not a ponytail, because ponytails don’t grow out of one end of your head and into the other.
Now that we’ve got this… thing… out of the way, we can move on to the game itself.
Deadly Moves is by far the worst game in this list. It’s more awkward and clumsy than a 13-year-old with a boner in gym class. The hit detection is way off, and the special moves don’t really serve any purpose, because the fireball (which seems to use the exact same sound sample as Ryu’s Hadoken in SFII: Special Champion Edition) is so easily blocked, and the only other move, a vertical kick, is at such a sharp angle that it can’t hit anything. Addiing to all this is the fact that the game’s difficulty was so unbalanced. Not only does the difficulty vary by character, it even varies by round. It’s like a being in a tag team match against Betty White and Andre the Giant.
Again, like every other game on this list, the game has a bizarre, almost prophetic element to it. In specific, Deadly Moves predicted the inevitable melding of RPG elements with everything, and especially (of course) with fighting games. There haven’t been a whole lot of them yet (the biggest one so far is Soul Calibur 4), but as far as I can tell, this was the first one ever. It isn’t a large part of the game, but you choose what order you fight opponents in, and depending on the strengths of the character you’re fighting, you gain points in one of 6 different stats. This has the side effect of essentially forcing you to fight the characters in a certain order, since you won’t be strong enough to actually defeat any character outside of the next one in line, just like in Mega Man, except I don’t want to compare it to Mega Man, because fuck this game.
Deadly Moves also implemented a multi-plane fighting environment, kind of like the one from Fatal Fury, but without the need to press a button to jump between them. You just move up and down, Final Fight-style. I would say that this presaged 3D fighters with a greater degree of movement, but shit, I don’t even believe that.
Deadly Moves fucking sucks. It could have been worse, but not much worse. It’s not completely without merit, it can be fun for about 5 minutes, if only out of awe at how fucked up the difficulty is, and out of attempts to spite the game for being so hard, but anything past that and you’ll being praying for Eternal Champions’s comparitively serene mediocrity.
As one final note, I’d like to note something about the characters here. Most of them are generic ripoffs of other fighting game characters, but there are two in specifc that deserve note:
Say hello to Baraki and Vagnad.
They appear to be a regular set of characters, Baraki a blatant ripoff of Blanka, and Vagnad a Russian strongman like Zangief (who, curiously, later became gray himself). This is true, but it’s more than that. They are the most racist cariactures this side of Punch-Out!!. Unlike Blanka, who’s just a mutated monster, Baraki is represented as just a regular Kenyan. You know, green hair, bull ring through the nose, skull necklace, loincloth. Vagnad was even worse. Vagnad was indeed Russian, but he got his gray skin from…
The fucking Holocaust.
One thing I love about games from the early 90s is that they weren’t afraid to be honest. If you wanted to know what was really going on in the world, there was no need to bother with a newspaper or TV. Unlike today’s games, considered realistic just because they take place in “Unnamed Middle Eastern Country” (way to halfassedly try to make your games culturally relevant in the future, guys! If you don’t specify a name, no one will know WHAT Middle Eastern country America was supposed to be at war with in 2008!), games from the early 90s told the stone cold TRUTH about what was going on in the world. I’ve rounded up some examples of this, as well as reviews of the games in question…
Vendetta (Arcade, 1991, Konami)
Vendetta tells the classic story of June 21st, 1991, a day that will live in infamy. A little history lesson for our younger readers: in the late 80s and early 90s, the streets of every major city in America were overrun with garishly dressed, neon-haired criminals and many signs written in Japanese, which, if I remember correctly, was common at the time. It was up to America’s muscled strongmen and agile ninja to defeat them. Metro City was cleaned up by the legendary mayor Mike Haggar, Washington, D.C. by the Bad Dudes, and 64th Street by Mike Haggar’s gay detective brother Rick and his life partner Allen.
On June 21st, 1991, however, an event more exceptional and more important than any of these crime busts occurred, an event more rare, more beautiful, and certainly more important than the alignment of all the planets occurred: on that day, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Jean Claude van Damme, and Mike Tyson (collectively, the Cobras) teamed up to RAPE CRIME.
Vendetta tells this story.
You may notice that the game doesn’t use their real names. To this I say, “of course not!” As is necessitated by the game’s mechanics, the characters can be killed. Of course, it is impossible for any of these chosen four to die in real life, and to suggest otherwise could bring physical harm or even death upon the programmers, so the name change was necessary.
Again drawing inspiration from real life, the game replicates the same impetus for this city-wide criminal hunt. The Cobras received this photograph with an attached note, as seen in the game:
Of course, the Cobras could not let some chick they didn’t know be kidnapped, so they leapt into action. However, despite what the note says, the Cobras didn’t “know where to go.” So, instead, they merely walked down the street beating everyone in sight until they inevitably found someone who was either twice the size as the rest of the criminals or who was carrying a giant weapon. These were, of course, the “boss” criminals. After beating them to near-death, they would extract a tidbit of information from the criminals, then move on to their next projected location. This continued until nearly everyone in the town was dead. However, they found that chick they were looking for, took turns railing her, and walked into the sunset. And the chick? You may know her better as Heather Locklear.
This really is a great game. Besides being one of the better beat-em-ups of the early 90s, Vendetta actually tackles its subject matter with an element of humor. Intentional humor, I should note. My favorite thing to do is cram enemies heads inside of buckets then watch them wander around nonchalantly instead of just, you know, taking off the fucking bucket. The game was also incredibly brutal, even for a beat-em-up. Highlights include hitting people with bats so hard it smears them into the background wall and the look of sick pleasure Mike Tyson gets from firing a shotgun into someone’s stomach at point blank range, and I ‘d like to note here that I’m upping this game’s score to 11/10 for allowing me to type that sentence. Overall, though, I must say that a lot of this game’s charm for me comes from getting to kill people as Hulk Hogan, which is something I think most wresting games from the era lacked.
Earth Defense Force (Super NES, 1992, Jaleco)
Thanks to the liberal and/or conservative media, one of the things you never saw in the news of the time was the great job our international fighting men and women were doing in space. Yes, this game tells the true story of the EDF, the elite spacewar army formed by the nations of the world to fight various threats coming from other galaxies. Although it is common knowledge today, at the time, Earth’s frequent wars with the armies of space were top secret. Among others, the Bydo Empire, the Bacterians, and the Cranassians waged war against us mercilessly, and it was up to the EDF to stop them. Unfortunately, due to the strategic nightmares involved with a multinational army, they typically could only get 1 or 2 ships off the ground at one time. Thankfully, that’s all they really needed. Most alien empires, for whatever reason, always seemed to underestimate Earth’s technology, and used a strategy of sending wave after wave of mindless drones that could be shot down in a single press of a button. It was a strategy similar to that of Maryland’s army in the American Revolution, who sent 200,000 untrained children to London to kill King George III.
In any case, Earth Defense Force tells the story of the EDF’s finest hour. When threatened by yet another alien empire, the EDF jumped into action, this time heading to the dark side of the Moon to destroy the alien base, or, if you go by the arcade game’s story, to Earth’s atmosphere to destroy a rogue satellite bent on destroying humanity. (You’d be surprised at how similar those two environments are.) They of course eventually emerged victorious, and Earth’s atmosphere was filled with hundreds of thousands of alien bioship corpses, thus staving off global warming for several years.
Earth Defense Force is a game I always felt didn’t get the credit it deserved. It was one of the first Super NES games I owned, which obviously will earn it at least a little nostalgia value to me, but even ignoring that, it’s still a rock-solid horizontal shooter. It’s neither too easy nor too hard, which is rare for shooters, so while it may not be ludicrously difficult enough for hardcore shoot-em-up fans, it was accessible to just about everybody else. The best part of the game, however, lies in the weapon system. Like a few other contemporary shooters, the game gives you the option of choosing a weapon before starting. However, EDF has a much wider variety of weapons than most other games I’ve seen, and also allows you to alter the way the weapons work by allowing you to switch between a more powerful shot with a lower firing rate to a weaker, but much wider and faster shot with 2 revolving bits.
The weapons are pretty fucking diverse by themselves, though. Whereas most shooters give you a choice between the powerful straight shot, weak homing shot, and some kind of weirdass choice (I.E. a vertical or backwards shot), EDF has pretty much every kind of weapon you could think of, with the added bonus of not having any that are worthless (I.E. a vertical or backwards shot). The weapon you choose can make you change the way you play the game significantly, and it adds a ton of replay value. Also adding replay value is the leveling system, whereby your ship’s weapon system would level up into a more powerful form after killing a certain number of enemies.
Just for the record, this game has nothing to do with Earth Defense Force 2017, a recent 3rd-person shooter that, while awesome, doesn’t quite match the quality of its similarly titled predecessor.
NBA Jam (Arcade, 1993, Midway)
Way back in 1993, the sport now known as Endorsement Hunting was called “Basket-ball”, or “Basket-B” for short. At the time, rather than just being a means of getting free Nikes and sweet, sweet Gatorade money, the ritual competition that takes place before the doling out of endorsements was the primary feature of the sport. These men were capable of great feats, such as slam dunking so hard that the goal would be ripped off it’s moorings, catching on fire in order to run faster, and showing up to award ceremonies in suits instead of stabbing people. NBA Jam chronicles this early era of the sport, while managing to also be fucking awesome.
The act pictured above was called the “slam dunk”. This method of scoring was often performed from mid-court. This particular dunk was called “the Windmill”, and involves spinning quickly at about 20 feet about the goal before slamming the ball into the goal so hard that the goal was often destroyed, which fortunately would suddenly reappear before the ball was put back into play.
Also notable was the presence of a defined “main team”, the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are the primary team in the game, and all other teams in the game existed only as opponents for them. It is unknown if the actual “basket-ball” game was like this, but it is believed that this is the case, judging from advertising from the era, and as they are very similar to the Harlem Globetrotters, a team from an analogue sport which still exists today.
Sadly, all vestiges of the non-endorsement-related sides of this sport have been lost, but “basket-b” still lives on through games like this, and to some extent, games like NBA Live (which showcases a similar sport that appears to be less true-to-life and less rooted in showmanship).
For the longest time, NBA Jam was my favorite sports game. This is due in no small part to the fact that other sports game in this era tended to be targeted toward people I didn’t like, people who poured over statistics and owned a Sega Genesis solely for Madden. These people later sold all of their games, thus ensuring that all used game stores had a separate $0.99 section for Genesis sports games, and therefore, I hate them even more now.
Sadly, the series more orless died off, partially thanks to the NBA, who for some reason didn’t want people coming to basketball games expecting to see players performing spinning backflips to the goal from half-court while on fire. I sure as hell know that’s the only thing that would have brought me to a basketball game at that time (other than Michael Jordan, of course). There was a sequel that was more realistic, and as such, it was utter shit. I think there was a more recent sequel that was more true to the original game’s spirit, but I didn’t hear great things about it, and I’ve been up for well over 24 hours now, so I really don’t give enough of a fuck to look. You know how to get to Google. Figure it out for your fucking self.
Man, I’m hostile. I better get some sleep. See you fuckers next time.