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.

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.

Star Wars: Dark Forces


Star Wars: Dark Forces has been called a Doom clone by those who don’t know any better.

The honest to God’s truth is, if you like Doom, you’d love Dark Forces even more: especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.

It’s hard to imagine this, but back in 1995 Sony’s PlayStation was just released in the United States and one of its first titles, is a port of what would become a cult video game.

Also in 1995, Star Wars didn’t have new content. Aside from the main trilogy, it would still be several years until the series was expanded in cinema with The Phantom Menace. Therefore, Dark Forces enters what was referred to the “Expanded Universe”, creating a new storyline and characters aside from the original movies – which content-starved Star Wars fans were clamoring for at the time. (The Power of the Force action figure line re-released around this same time, which pushed the rebirth of Star Wars in general.)

The game’s story bookends being before and after A New Hope, following Kyle Katarn who is a mercenary working for the Rebel Alliance. Katarn stumbles upon the Empire’s Dark Trooper Project, which are overpowered Stormtroopers.

The game itself is a first-person shooter (FPS), borrowing common elements from the mega popular Doom series. The comparisons might end there, as Dark Forces is much more than a Doom clone with Star Wars painted over top of it.

For starters, its one of, if not the first FPS to include jumping and crouching, which creates some platforming elements that were missing in Doom, such as crawling through ventilation ducts years before it became cool in the N64 classic Goldeneye 007.

It’s also possible to look up and down, helping to aim and shoot those enemies that are on higher platforms. Again, this seems trivial, but back in 1995 it was groundbreaking.

Looking back, the graphics obviously do not age well, but the game play is outstanding save for getting lost in levels (usually due to the graphics and not being able to see what it is you need to do next!)

When adding Star Wars to the mix, you now get some FMV cutscenes and voice work, including famous one-liners from Imperial officers and Stormtroopers. Guns have the familiar shooting and blasting sounds from the movies, and overall, anyone who is a Star Wars fan should have this on their must-play list. In fact, it’s one of the best FPS titles ever made, if you’re capable of dealing with the dated graphics and the PlayStation’s D-Pad controls.

(I do not wish to share anymore, because there’s a few really cool spots in the story that will make any fan smile! Enjoy!)

Gears of War 2


It’s really hard to not see how the Halo and Gears of War games cross paths at times, and while there are similarities here with Gears of War 2, the one that stands out the most is that Gears 2 is an incredible follow-up to the original, just as Halo 2 was to Halo.

Built on the Unreal engine, Gears 2 retains everything that made the first game fun, as you duck in-and-out of cover in new, clever ways while also engaging with melee attacks, such as the Lancer’s chainsaw instant-kill. (Which can now result in a “chainsaw battle” with enemies also wielding the same weapon.)

Among the new weapons added are a chainsaw, flamethrower and mortar cannon. Grenades can be used like proximity mines as well. Using downed enemies as a body shield is also fun, while new vehicles were added to the mix too.

Several of areas of the game feature more “on rails” campaigns, such as riding on larger vehicle or boat.

While all of my descriptions don’t lend to sounding like an upgrade or more fun, you have to trust me when I tell you it is. The storyline and plot for this game is among the best I’ve had the pleasure of playing – and it would likely play out as well on a big screen Hollywood movie as it did interactively.

Somehow the game crosses boundaries that are parts Halo (but in third-person), part Aliens, and even a hint of The Predator. All of the gore, violence and over-the-top language continues, though it can be turned off if you have small ears nearby.

As you continue playing, you may be compelled to think you’ve seen the best this game has to offer, but somehow it keeps one-upping itself until the very end.

I’ve left some key details out as to not spoil for anyone playing through a backlog. If Gears 2 is one of those games you have yet to complete, I compel you to do so soon!

It’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played and certainly one of the best gaming sequels of all-time (in my humble opinion, of course!)

Top Gear


Here’s a fun game that flew under my radar for many years.

The SNES really blew up the racing genre with its Mode 7 graphics capabilities. Top Gear (unrelated to the TV series of the same name) takes advantage of this, but in a strange presentation if you weren’t aware of the reasonings for it.

The game splits screens between Player 1 and the CPU in single player mode, but the game was thought of with two-player gaming in mind at first, and by the time the devs considered the single player modes, creating full screen versions of the sprites and more, would’ve delayed the release of the game, as well as increased the costs behind the scenes as well as production for a larger cartridge.

That’s what makes Top Gear unique, as you can glance at your opposition while zooming through the deep number of levels set-in real-world locations. I would equate this to playing Goldeneye 007 split-screen years later on the N64… but this was 1992 and the concept here works well.

Because of the split screens, Top Gear was able to graphically do things other games couldn’t. Other than F-Zero, the game appears to fly as your speeds reach 200mph.

The game is highly influential as well, spawning sequels and imitators. It may be one of the earliest games to use “nitro boosts” which instantly increases your car’s speed.

Speaking of, this could be one of the earlier games to offer so many customized options too. While there are four cars to choose from, each with their own array of handling attributes, you can also opt for automatic or manual transmissions.

The coolest aspect of Top Gear, however, are the controller options – including one where you hold the SNES controller upside-down! (I’ve never seen that before!)

Now, I’m not the biggest racing game fan, nor am I very good at them – so Top Gear also represents a pretty large challenge for gamers, with a high level of replay-ability. Each country features a number of tracks to race through, and you must finish near or at the top to unlock the next set. It won’t always be that simple, however, because you need to strategize pit stops to make sure you don’t run out of fuel as well.

Tucked within all of this is a kickass soundtrack lifted from the Lotus series of racing games on the Amiga, which were also produced by Barry Leitch. According to Wikipedia:

For example, the title music of Top Gear is taken from the ending of Lotus Turbo Challenge 2, and the third race of each country uses a remixed version of the Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge title theme.

Another neat addition are some of the speech bubbles in-game, which usually appear after boosting your speed with a nitro or when you bump into other cars.

The game is simple to pickup but tough to master, making it one of those rare titles where plunking down $60-70 back in the 90’s would’ve been a huge value for gamers in that era.

As far as nostalgia is concerned, I’d put Top Gear a tier below something like Sega’s Outrun, but among the better racing games of its time and one retro gamers would be happy revisiting.

Halo 3


I complain about a lot of games on my blog, and there are others I rave about. Whereas Halo and Halo 2 felt like progressions in the series, my opinion of Halo 3 is that the story was a bit harder to follow. Despite the natural upgrades moving to the newer generation Xbox 360, some of the gameplay feels monotonous and otherwise not much of an evolution over Halo 2.

I think I feel this way because in the jump from Halo to Halo 2, we learn there’s multiple halo installations while being able to play as the Arbiter, wield dual weapons, and of course, the energy sword. The plot still revolves around the Covenant and the Flood, and for me, Halo 3 still does a lot of the same things good but I’m not sure the leap was great.

Part of that blame likely goes to Halo 2 for being such a leap from the original in so many ways. The other part of that blame is the Xbox Live mode that originally threw me off of this game years ago. Included as a beta with Crackdown, we all got a taste of how great Halo 3 could be online.

When we finally got Halo 3 in our hands, however, the little preteen voices in my headset still haunt me to this day.

Sure, I can get “gud”, but no, you really can’t when you’re up against players who stayed up for release and played without sleep for 72 hours, while you’re just removing the shrink wrap from your copy days later! In fact, this game pretty much killed my wanting of ever going online to play video games.

There’s a certain appeal to sitting in a room with friends playing split-screen Goldeneye 007 that cannot be replicated over the internet with total strangers.

Sorry not sorry… now back to the singe player campaign.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with Halo 3. I’m even giving it a thumbs up, because compared to everything else, it’s a really solid title still. The plot, as mentioned, seems to jump around a lot. Sometimes you want to just get right to the action only to have interruptions.

For that reason, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gravemind and the final levels where he’s rebuilding himself on a halo installation. It was different, but at the same time felt out of place.

And of course, Halo can’t possibly end without a driving gimmick as the final final part of the game. (At least this time there wasn’t as many mindless timed jumps or maneuvers necessary, and even if you do miss a section, the checkpoints are more plentiful.)

There appeared to be a lot more focus on vehicles too, but the combat was more evenly balanced. Bigger vehicles can take out smaller ones with better balance, and collisions seem to be on point too. Yet, it still seems like an extension of Halo 2 to me in many ways. Even the epic scarab battles feel a little recycled, though the first appearance of one in Halo 3 will still make you pop when it comes onscreen.

While it seems as if I’m dumping on this game, I still enjoyed it. I believe it lives on so highly rated due to other features, mainly multiplayer, which is what I soured on while others liked it.

The campaign and plot portions, however, were a mixed bag according to some reviews sourced on Wikipedia.

Reception of the single-player aspect varied. Yin-Poole wrote that while the cliffhanger ending of Halo 2 was disappointing, the campaign of Halo 3 was much more satisfying. Gerstmann, GameSpy’s Gabe Graziani, and Goldstein maintained that the campaign was too short, especially on easier difficulty levels or with three additional players in co-op. Goldstein was highly critical of the eighth level, stating “the penultimate chapter is so bad, just thinking about it puts a rotten taste in my mouth.” The New York Times’ Charles Herold said the game had a “throwaway” plot and Total Video Games judged the single-player aspect ultimately disappointing. Goldstein and Steve West of Cinema Blend thought a part of the game’s story was lost by not having the Arbiter featuring as prominently as the character was in Halo 2.

This made me feel better about my initial thought of revisiting Halo 3. I really can’t say it’s bad, but it still doesn’t feel groundbreaking – now or then.

While I leave it in the present day with a better appreciation for the total package, I feel it could be the weakest single-player campaign in the entire series.