Top Gun


Ahhh, the 80’s. Great action flicks and short, but difficult video games.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site in various reviews, Nintendo games usually had a tough learning curve. Sometimes the games were outright bugged and unbeatable, while other times the developers made increasingly hard to beat.

I think Top Gun is a mix of both worlds.

The first level seems like cake. The objective is simple: fly missions loosely based on the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, shooting down enemies before they shoot you.

The premise is simple. The presentation, flying first-person in a cockpit, is actually top notch for 1987.

The rest of the game is a frustrating mess!

As you may have guessed, once you beat the first level, the second one increases in difficulty. I remember there are bosses and whatnot, but geez if this game doesn’t get under your skin: including a necessary refueling in mid-air and a landing on an aircraft carrier – both of which can be stupidly frustrating to execute…

Especially since you only have three lives for the entire game.

Of course, there’s only four levels, but finding that out can be a challenge in and of itself. Top Gun harkens back to a time where you parted with your hard-earned money and expected to be challenged much in the same way arcade games did.

This day and age, if you blew through four levels of a game, you’d feel cheated.

Back in 1987? Top Gun became one of the highest selling games of its time – and even garnered a sequel!

The game is fun for nostalgic purposes and a fun challenge. Just be forewarned that you may feel compelled to hurl a controller at your TV screen!

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble


The Game Gear was Sega’s attempt to compete with Nintendo’s wildly popular Game Boy handheld console. As such, it produced some interesting results throughout the years.

The hardware, which unlike Nintendo’s offering, had a color screen, was based on the 8-bit Sega Master System. Because of that, many games shared similarities if not the exact same software between the two consoles.

Sonic The Hedgehog is one of those titles, which was the exact same on both 8-bit platforms. Subsequent sequels, however, were exclusive to Game Gear as the Master System was retired in various territories, including North America.

Five Sonic games were eventually published for the Game Gear, with Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble being the fourth: and worst.

I had previously praised some of these 8-bit Sonic games as clever platformers, original in ways to work around hardware limitations – such as there being no loops in “Sonic 1”, for example. However, Triple Trouble falls incredibly flat on its face as one of the more gimmicky and difficult Sonic games ever created.

All of the same premises exist: collect rings, stop Dr. Robotnik, and do so by moving rapidly through non-linear stages. You can play as Sonic or Tails in this game, as Knuckles makes an appearance after the recently released Sonic 3 on the Sega Genesis.

So, why didn’t I care for this game, you may ask?

To be honest, it starts strongly. Everything feels at home as a Sonic title. There’s even some added power-ups such as rockets and snowboards that appear to fit in the Sonic spectrum.

Then you get to the first boss battle and realize this game is stupid difficult due to cheap cheating mechanics.

Should you play beyond this the issues become worse.

After playing two acts of any given zone, the third act is a mini stage before encountering the boss. I assume this is designed this way due to load time and RAM limitation on the hardware.

No big deal, except the developers tend to hide rings on these stages. No rings? Then you die!

Yeah, it’s kind of like that, except then the acts get bogus too.

Clear paths are hard to decipher, and some of the boosted jumping mechanics become hard to pull off as well. By the time you get to the snowboarding level, you’re already fed up with falling into death traps, and hopefully you haven’t lost too many lives where you have to start all over.

A water level is just as frustrating, with the usual underwater air issue: Sonic drowns to death without air, but bubbles don’t automatically populate and the timer seems to be really fast too.

By the time you get through all of this you’d just as rather toss the Game Gear across the room than actually finish this game. In fact, I’m wondering if kids of yesteryear even had enough battery life to make it all the way through?!

It’s a shame, because graphically the game is impressive. The audio is also superb for its time and limitations. The controls, aside from the added quirks mentioned, are the usual Sonic fare.

But the “new” concepts brought in with the idiotic level and boss designs make this one of the more challenging Sonic games to beat. And that’s saying it lightly if this game could be beat with the way it was intentionally handicapped for a challenge, rather than making it a challenge.

You’ve been warned!

New Super Luigi U


During the “Year of Luigi” marketing campaign by Nintendo, Mario’s brother became the protagonist in a number of Luigi-inspired games.

These games were far from being simple palette swaps however, as the long-neglected plumber got some serious attention. One of those games is an expansion on New Super Mario Bros. U titled New Super Luigi U.

At first glance, you’d dismiss this as being a swap. The game is near identical in audiovisual presentation and mechanics as its source material. The genius of Nintendo shines once again, as NSLU plays like a speed run alternate to NSMBU.

While the story is identical, sans Mario being included, and all of the same power-ups exist in NSLU. However, each level is considerably shortened, with paths cut, enemies placed in other areas, and 100 seconds to complete each stage.

This creates a fast-paced, frantic version of the Super Mario Bros. formula, much like those YouTube videos we’ve all seen and tried – or the Super Mario Maker created speed run levels. This time though, the game play is forced instead of done for fun, and it’s a clever gimmick that I feel Nintendo must revisit again in the future when the opportunity presents itself.

Four-player multiplayer still exists, as does the select screen with four characters: Luigi, two different colored Toads, and Nabbit, who was previously an NPC you had to race to catch in the original version of the game. (Nabbit cannot be hurt, but balances out by not being able to use power-ups.)

I imagine this is what the original Super Mario Bros. 2 (i.e. “Lost Levels”) could’ve been like. (Rather than the incredibly stupid difficult game that skipped the United States.) While Super Luigi U ramped up the difficulty over Mario U, it did so in such a way that it’s not cheap and is beatable.

The end result is a really fun game that presents a challenge but is far from impossible to conquer.

I would recommend playing this even over the source material. The game was so solid, it even received a physical release and was eventually packaged together with NSMBU too.

It’s a hidden gem from the short-lived Wii U that deserves its time in the spotlight, especially if you’re a Mario fan.

Cruis’n USA


Anyone who grew up as arcades were all the rage can attest to the buzz surrounding the jump from Nintendo’s 16-bit SNES to the next generation.

The promotional hype began in those very arcades as Nintendo worked with Midway to release a few titles under the “Ultra 64” name, which was the operating codename for the company’s Super Nintendo successor.

Of those games, a racing game named Cruis’n USA was born.

The arcade version was incredible at the time. You could race through loosely-based “real life” locations with a number of other generic versions of vehicles also rooted in reality. According to Wikipedia:

The four vehicles featured in the game are generic vehicles based on their real life counter parts which consists of a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette labeled as a 1963 Muscle Car, a 1991 Ferrari Testarossa labeled as the Italia P69, a 1940 Ford V-8 De Luxe labeled as “La Bomba”, and a Hyundai HCD-Epoch II labeled as “Devastator IV”. Bonus cars consist of a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice police car, a school bus, and a Jeep Wrangler labeled as an All Terrain Vehicle.

The graphics and sound were ahead of its time, competing mostly with Sega’s racing games of the era, complete with a booth that had a racing wheel, gears and pedals.

Unfortunately, the hardware that Cruis’n USA was based on did not become the hardware that transitioned to the N64. (That would actually be the case with another Ultra 64 arcade game, Killer Instinct, however.) Therefore, the N64 port, which arrived over two years later from the arcade release, would appear dated and was also pared down in areas.

I still found the game to be fun, and it was financially successful too.

You’d have to play it in order to see the faults, but it was a brave new world playing a racing game with the “trident” N64 controller’s analog stick. The digitized models who raise the checkered flag were cutting edge – believe it or not – and the graphics were great, though jerky at times depending on what all was on the screen at once.

In summation, Cruis’n USA was Nintendo’s next-gen answer to Sega’s OutRun. While you may have been compelled to avoid it for $60-70 way back when, its something worth revisiting for at least a historical perspective.

Mario Paint


This one took me wayyyyyy back! How many of you cool kids had the SNES Mouse back in the day? No? Well, I was one of them.

As I write this in 2022, I imagine most kids would look at this and think, what’s the big deal? Back in 1992, however, we didn’t have access to home computers in the same way we do with electronics today, such as PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Therefore, Mario Paint was a HUGE deal!

I remember always going to stores, some that were even electronics specialty stores too, and just perusing the devices on display. Back then we’re talking the days of Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1, which I believe had the “Paint” program on it. (Or at least something crude like it.)

I could sit there for hours, if my mom would’ve let me, and played on it, as art was a big deal for me in my formative years. However, having a multi-thousand-dollar machine at home wasn’t in the budget – we’re talking the era of having maybe a single color TV in the entire house!

But one day, Mario Paint came home. I don’t recall if it was a gift or an expenditure from my lawnmowing side hustle, but boy was this thing the best ever.

For those looking at the in-game shots below, you’ll likely recognize several precursors to Super Mario Maker, which would release over 20 years later on the Wii U. The “Undo Dog”, the rocket ship which wipes the board – there are so many things here where the foundation was laid for the later creator-style games, that I had forgotten about.

The endless amount of time I blew playing Mario Paint was likely in the hundreds if not thousands of hours. It wasn’t truly a “game”, as you can see, it allowed for drawing within a canvas. You could, however, save your work – and continue later.

That was crucial because Mario Paint was super detailed for its time. A plethora of colors, patterns, and stamps – many featuring Mario-specific pieces – were available. But the title really shines with the ability to create animations, custom stamps, and even soundtracks.

Yes, this truly was a precursor to creating your own Mario games, although they were simply animated clips and not a “game” you could play. I recall having Mario, and Yoshi, stomp on Goombas and also adding some other custom 16-bit pixel art.

The icing on the cake was a time-killing minigame packaged under the “coffee break” icon, where the SNES Mouse piloted a flyswatter as you killed gnats, hornets, flies, and yes, there’s even boss levels. The game helped kids at my age get more adept at using a mouse peripheral, that’s for sure!

And who could forget the title screen? Each letter in the word “Mario Paint” created a different effect, from inverting colors, to a bomb which blew everything up, to making Mario small or even clicking on “N” to see the Nintendo dev staff credits.

Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting to have this much fun playing Mario Paint in 2022. I was instantly lost in nostalgia, and oftentimes revisiting those memories don’t age well. Yet, Mario Paint is still a tremendously fun walk down memory lane that I highly recommend to anyone who owned the game, or anyone else who has had a curiosity in the past.

Mortal Kombat: Deception


I’ve long vented my frustrations and disappointment with the Mortal Kombat series’ move from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat: Deception doesn’t move the needle much for me in the advancement of the series department, as it continued to make MK feel more like an annual update in the vein of John Madden Football or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (of course, after they milked the cow too many times!)

Deception really feels like an MK 5.1 and not MK 6 in the lineage of things. Sure, there’s new characters, new arenas, and a new boss (a pretty cool one too, Onaga). But it also features all of the old characters, arenas, and bosses as well.

There’s only so much you can rehash here and I still never got into the weapons-based combat, which has a larger spotlight here and is the “update” to the previously used arenas.

Yes, there’s Konquest Mode, and some other add-ons, but I’ve always felt those were secondary – not even – to the main meat of a fighting game. I suppose the pressure was on after the fall of the arcades and the rise of consoles to make these games more “worthwhile” for a $50-60 purchase, tacking on replay gimmicks. I seldom count them in my own reviews, as single player is where it’s at most of the time.

That would include Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. Say what you will, but I never cared about these features.

No, I cared about some pure fighting and fatalities. MK has always delivered on the violence and usually created unique characters we care about, but aside from the main boss Onaga, this game has no one truly memorable that debuted in this title.

Instead, that came with redesigns of existing characters, many of whom anchored the series since its beginning such as Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang.

While this game sold like hotcakes back in 2004, some reviewers were harsh on it like I was. Actually, some more than others.

I understand the love, especially for the legacy of the MK series, but personally I still feel as if Deadly Alliance and Deception still hadn’t delivered from the game’s transition to three planes.

Halo 4


I was pretty hard on Halo 3, which was Bungie’s swan song developing the series, Halo 4 would see a new in-house developer, 343 Industries, take over. They would have big shoes to fill, as the Halo series was and is super popular.

I must say, they hit one out of the park.

Halo 4 found a way to innovate while continuing what seemed like a dead-end story with the Master Chief. Many of my original complaints with the third edition are totally redeemed by the new studio’s additions, as the game retains a lot of familiar ground while exploring new territory.

Covenant enemies, weapons and vehicles are back alongside the UNSC fare, but Halo 4 also adds a new group of villains called Prometheans, who are cybernetic creatures that truly feel futuristic.

With their introduction comes a new slate of gizmos for the chief to wield, but the UNSC has some tricks up its sleeve too. 343 took the time to remodel all of the existing weaponry and vehicles with Halo 4, balancing the game to where driving a tank felt like you could mow over everything. Turret weapons can be dismounted and carried, new shield abilities are introduced, and vehicles such as the Avatar-like Mantis fit in perfectly with the kick-ass blockbuster style of game this is.

Some areas of the game feel incredibly massive in scope, something Halo has always done well with from iteration to iteration. However, this game’s Mammoth area, which is a giant UNSC convoy vehicle, still features a crazy bug that’s impossible to pass – even to this date with the Master Chief Collection! (How this wasn’t fixed is beyond me and was a huge area of disappointment back when this game was released in 2012.)

In fact, the release date is important to note, as the five years between Halo 3 and Halo 4 makes it hard to believe both games are on the same console: Halo 4 is that vastly superior in every area, including graphics, audio, and gameplay.

Of course, there’s far more to this game than I can contain here, along with not giving away any spoilers. My recommendation is that the entire Halo series is not only worth visiting, but highly replayable – and the continuation with 343 Industries proves that the title was left in great hands going forward.

Wild Guns


There’s a fascination with this game that probably exists with nostalgia: because I’m having none of it.

Let’s talk about Wild Guns, a shooter game that’s a bit different than your usual run-of-the-mill variety. If you can think of the Contra levels in which you face the backs of the main characters, shooting into the enemies, then that’s the crux of Wild Guns, a difficult game in its own right that has gathered a cult following.

Graphically, there’s no complaints about this game whatsoever. The Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 abilities are on full display, as sprites move around in ways you couldn’t fathom prior to seeing this title.

There’s enough variety to make the game not so repetitive, although it is a button masher at best.

My frustration lies with how easy it is to die – as well as some of the control aspects.

To start, you control either of two characters, Annie or Clint. Then the fun begins.

With the D-pad – yeah, that’s part of the issue here – you move a target cursor around the screen to aim and shoot at enemies all over the place. You must also dodge gunfire and the occasional opponent that shows up in the foreground trying to stab you. (A real PITA if I must say so.)

Like other shooters, there are different guns you obtain which increase rate of fire or the power/effectiveness of each shot. There’s also a bomb which nukes the entire screen of enemies.

Hitting enemies charges a Vulcan gun meter, which is the “God mode” gun of sorts and makes you invincible for a short period of time before the meter depletes.

This probably all sounds cool, and the game looks and sounds great. However, moving and shooting at the same time isn’t possible – and almost feels foreign until you get the hang of it.

The problem is, the game is so fast-paced, you may never get an opportunity to get the hang of it!

And that is my main frustration with Wild Guns.

I threw on some cheats to see how the game plays out, and today’s kids would be hella bored with it. However, for those who like to spot patterns and achieve repetition, this is definitely your thing.

I just wish they also would’ve ditched the damn timer – which somehow brings back painful memories of Ninja Gaiden.

I suppose without the ability to suck quarters, as this game rightfully would’ve slayed as an arcade cabinet with light guns, they had to add the darn clock anyway.

Regardless, don’t let me spoil your fun. While Wild Guns isn’t my current cup of tea, it’s a personal distaste that drops it from a thumb up – and it’s nowhere near deserving of a thumbs down either. Check it out!

Black


Recently perusing the offerings from Xbox Game Pass and the added EA Play selection, I came across a game I had personally forgotten about: Black.

At a time when games like Rainbox Six or Soldier of Fortune were more of the Modern Warfare experience (as that series of Call of Duty games hadn’t dropped yet) Black represents a great first-person shooter experience within the black ops military operation genre.

It’s funny, because I can clearly recall owning this game on the original Microsoft Xbox. As mentioned, it was a bit of an under the radar title, especially with Halo dominating all of the headlines on the console (while the PS2 also received this game and had plenty of other competition on it’s box!)

I remember this being a whoa reaction first playing it, so I had to ask myself if Black still holds up. After downloading it free on my Xbox One, I was off to the land of 2006 to see how well this game stood the test of time.

Let me say, it’s still a blast to play. (I had to go back and find out why it never received a sequel, that’s how fun it is.)

Now, some of the more uppity gamers apparently complained about the length of the game or lack of multiplayer – those things have never been a major concern to me. I actually loathe online multiplayer (checkout my review of Halo 3 for more on that) and I don’t mind playing games in short bursts, because I’m a grown ass adult with other adulting to do.

However, Black is far from brief.

There aren’t many missions, but I found myself taking in upwards of an hour to defeat a single level on even the lowest difficulty setting. Oftentimes, even on easy, you will die and have to start over, which is about the only frustration I find with Black.

Cranking up the difficulty can make these stages go on longer, as harder settings increase the number of objectives necessary to complete each mission. Also, you can’t simply run and gun your way Doom-style through each board either, as some elements require stealth or cover as you take out enemies.

Now, the AI isn’t the brightest and can be predictable, but let’s not forget this game is older too! Where Black shines is the polish in the graphics, audio, controls, and most importantly, the experience.

The main gimmick of Black is explosions – and we’re talking Michael Bay blockbuster movie explosions, as your on-screen reticle changes to black (get it) when you can blow something up. (It turns red for enemies and green for friendly NPCs too, which is helpful.)

Your hands will actually feel the amount of controller vibration after each sitting of playing, as you cycle through a nice assortment of weapons, each bigger than the next, making you feel like Rambo taking out entire contingents of Eastern Bloc inspired bad guys. (“Grenada!” is something you’ll hear often while tossing grenades.)

As in some other shooters, you can only carry two weapons at a time. Even on easy, the game isn’t littered with health packs or ammo, making every move a calculated one. Reloading also blurs the screen and takes you out of the action momentarily, adding to the strategy of when to start going Leroy Jenkins on a level or remaining in the shadows.

Among the guns are pistols, semi or fully automatics, heavy machine guns, and even RPGs.

Play wise, because RPGs are often scarce and usually necessary to clear certain areas (such as long hallways with machine guns).

Overall, the satisfaction you get from cleverly designed missions that have you blowing up entire compounds is second-to-none. To this day, I feel the premise was ahead of its time, and so long as you’re not a snob turning your nose up at a shorter game play experience, or the 2006 era graphics (which still look fairly nice) you’ll definitely want to add this to your FPS bucket list of games to play.

Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2


It takes a lot for me to be disappointed in a Super Mario game. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why it took me so long to play this one, since I had (mostly) enjoyed the other Super Mario Advance GBA ports.

Well, it looks like I’ve finally been letdown, this time by the Super Nintendo just being that darn good.

The Game Boy Advance’s take on Super Mario World isn’t inferior, but it does struggle with a lot of items that are hard to turn away from if you’re a fan of the SNES original – which I consider to be one of the greatest games ever made.

For starters, the colors are washed out due to the lack of color depth on the GBA hardware. The Mode 7 scrolling backgrounds are also changed in most scenes, giving the game a very dry and unappealing aesthetic. Tinny audio changes that downplay the classic soundtrack, along with the lack of the extra X and Y buttons on the console, really underscore what is a tremendous game otherwise.

Yes, Nintendo went ahead and played around with this, as they did the other Advance Mario games too. However, the changes aren’t to the same level as what they did for Super Mario Bros. 2 or 3, with no new levels and nothing much of substance here, other than changing sprites to align with the other games…

That is, unless, you actually want to play with Luigi, who has been 100% altered to be his high-jumping, slow and slippery-footed self. (It’s the change that no one really asked for – does anyone play with Luigi?)

There are a few extra cut scenes at the beginning and end, and the message boxes, I’ve been told, have been increased. Oh, and a list of levels on the map screen, because, well, I don’t know why that’s needed!

I know this game so well, that the only thing I noticed that was different, and somewhat neat, was that the Top Secret Area (above the Ghost House in World 2) is now a hill instead of just a dot on the map.

Is this game really that bad though?

No.

It just suffers from the same lack of screen real estate you may have with other TV to handheld translations. Otherwise, it’s still the great game play and depth as the original.

I’m just that much of a purist when it comes to SMW that I would prefer playing the original over the squeezed down version with very little changed for the better. You may find it’s the same way should you feel compelled to play it.