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.
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!
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.
NFL Quarterback Club
I’m sure that everyone who say the NFL Quarterback Challenge back in the 90’s thought it was a cool, friendly concept. Many of the league’s top stars dueled it out, throwing footballs as moving targets and aiming for bullseyes in a number of events.
When NFL Quarterback Club dropped the Super Nintendo, many of us were already starting to get our feet wet with John Madden Football. Marrying the two concepts would make too much sense at a time when football video games were lacking all of the necessary licensing as it was.
NFL Quarterback Club actually had a few things going for it.
Most of the league’s top passers leant their name to the title, along with the NFL licensing having real team names, logos, and likenesses, we were almost there when it came to a fully licensed pro football game.
However, QB Club ultimately feels like a cheap Madden imitation, right down to the play-calling, controls, and even the visual presentation. If you can get past the slow pace of the games (even slower than Madden of that era) and the ridiculous AI, then maybe you’d enjoy this – or you may have only had this to play by default.
And you would’ve gotten by.
The shining gem for this game should’ve been the QB Challenge aspect, which pits your chosen quarterback against four others in a variety of skills tests.
I surmise these tests are better suited for not breaking a controller – or worse, your TV – because trying to figure out how the controls work are half of the battle in a frustratingly clunky game.
Don’t get me wrong, for this era, there’s a lot of cool stuff here. But coming back to this game decades later shows how wrong this one got it out the gate. I may have to attempt the sequels, all made by the same team who brought you the NBA Jam home conversions as well as Turok.
I’ll give this a middle of the road grade and assume that the sequels sold on something other than name value alone. However, this game? A strong pass for me to ever look at let alone waste another moment playing ever again!
Madden NFL 97
Well, this is a disappointing entry into the annals of football video games. What sucks about typing this is, the 1997 edition of the John Madden Football series would’ve been dandy, if you didn’t know anything else.
By this point in time, the Madden series showed us what was possible with next generation hardware, first a year earlier on the 3DO, and then appearing on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn for this first time with Madden 97.
The PSX version is so breathtaking, that going back to the SNES edition feels inferior.
While the CD-based PlayStation version has same load time waiting, the cartridge-based Super Nintendo edition, which dropped two months later, makes you suffer with slow loading menus, prior to the game and within it. Even going between plays, selecting them and watching the players break the huddle, feels like an eternity – it’s something I loathed about the 16-bit era Madden games, but it feels like 97 is the worst.
There’s also very little in terms of upgrading from 96 to 97. I’d say 90% of the game is identical to the previous year’s, other than rosters and a few dabs of fresh paint on some menus. Yes, there’s a still of Pat Summerall, John Madden’s broadcasting partner, and I guess that makes it “better” in a sense – but it’s not as if there’s any real voiceover stuff that’s earthshattering when compared to its predecessors.
In fact, 97 just feels like more of the same – except for the computer opponents, with AI that is still universally panned to this day (no matter the difficulty setting).
Madden 97 reeks of squeezing a buck out of a rebadged Madden 96, perhaps for the sake of EA not wanting to waste too many resources on the aging 16-bit market. But what 97 does instead, is warns the consumer that the yearly franchise upgrade may be anything but that: an upgrade.
Tecmo Super Bowl
The sequel to the immensely popular Tecmo Bowl on the NES followed through with flying colors as Tecmo Super Bowl dropped on the Super Nintendo in 1991, complete with not only real players, but now with real teams.
According to Wikipedia:
…it is the first sports video game that was licensed by both the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association, thus allowing the game to use both the names and attributes of real NFL teams and real NFL players. Prior games use either the real teams, the real players, or fictional substitutes, but not real teams and real players together.
Yet, that wasn’t the only excitement surrounding a game which is still competitively played to this day.
Starting up a copy of this title showed you that Tecmo meant business immediately. As with almost all “Super” upgrades on the 16-bit Nintendo console, TSB boasted superior graphics, sound, and controls to its 8-bit counterpart.
Being able to play with more teams, and almost all of the real players (several were still not part of the NFLPA’s marketing deal, including Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, and Bernie Kosar) was just the icing on the cake.
The traditional side-scrolling, arcade style football action was as good as ever. Several modes showcased a quick exhibition (preseason) game to play with friends, or a full season mode was also available. Additionally, the NFL’s all-stars were available on the two conference Pro Bowl teams, and you could even set the season mode to play out as a coach (limiting you to play calls and no on-field action) or the CPU, totally played out by the computer.
Some elements of the roster and playbook could be edited, but unlike the forthcoming Madden series, those had to be setup prior to kickoff: there’s no in-game modes to speak of here.
Still, TSB is one of the greatest football games created. It captures an innocence and magic of playing sports games before realistic simulations were all the rage. Anyone could pick up the controls and play a quick game, and the classic animated cut scenes still give chills as to whether a catch would be completed, or not – or intercepted by the opposing team!
While TSB spawned sequels with more features, this is the title that really encapsulates a sequel which superseded its predecessor. It is a must play for any true football fan.
Bill Walsh College Football
Piggybacking on the success of the John Madden Football franchise, EA Sports went in the next logical direction by marrying the same concept with college football.
What would follow would eventually lead down the path to the NCAA Football series, however, it all began with another famous coach headlining the title.
Bill Walsh gained fame as the head coach of University of Stanford before launching into football immortality as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, whom he transformed into a dynasty, winning three Super Bowl trophies before the coach would enter retirement following the 1988 NFL season.
In 1992, he made headlines by returning to coach college football, returning to Stanford.
That buzz is what translated to using Walsh’s name in place of Madden’s for a college football version of EA’s NFL product. Some other obvious hurdles were necessary to make the transition, some of which would be shunned in the modern day.
First, there was no NCAA license. Of the 24 teams available (as well as 24 additional classic teams) EA opted to use the city or state of which that institution was located. Ohio State becomes “Columbus” but Michigan remained the same, and so forth. (See the full list at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Walsh_College_Football.)
Game play is similar, though I prefer the Walsh route taken with play calling. Rather than choose a formation with a 3x row of plays, a highlighted 3x row box can be moved up/down/left/right over a 2×4 row of plays. This makes selecting plays less obvious in two-player action as well.
The remaining graphics, audio, and controls all layout similar to Madden. The pregame show features Walsh and a “play by play” announcer, but there are no audio quips in this edition of the game. The previews are generic, as are the stadiums, which are all “neutral” sites with each endzone labeled with the home or visiting team – no authentic remakes of The Big House, Ohio Stadium, Los Angeles Coliseum, etc. here.
The other obvious difference is that college rules are different than the pros. If you accidentally press the dive button untouched by a defender? Too bad, you’re ruled down!
The play clock, hashmarks, and other college rule variations are all present. The soundtrack subs some marching band inspired music, which is actually catchy, and a Bill Walsh “seal” replaces any references to what may have been the NCAA one instead.
The package itself is sharp, the gameplay doesn’t stutter, and the Mode 7 “field flip” on punts and tracking the ball on kickoffs are all present here as well.
There’s just enough here to separate it from simply being Madden with a different coat of paint. Unfortunately, the lack of licensing detracts from this game when viewed through a present lens – and the same then, though it was less expected. However, for a fun retro college football romp, this is an excellent entry into the genre.
This might be hard to believe for modern gamers, but once upon a time the arcades were the golden standard for gaming. Often, a coin-op title would test its mettle there first, before being released to home consoles – which were also vastly underpowered compared their cabinet counterparts.
I liken those days to how we see blockbuster movies in theaters before watching at home – with 4K media and TVs, along with home sound systems closing the gap between going out to see a movie versus watching one at home, some think theaters will become obsolete someday.
That’s the way it was with consoles. 8-bit systems like the NES or Master System couldn’t accurately translate the more intense games of the mid-80’s to early 90’s.
The onset of the 16-bit wars saw better ports to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, though there were still limitations with the hardware – and Nintendo’s family-friendly policies often neutered games which came to the console.
Capcom, the publisher of Final Fight, was at one time a Nintendo-exclusive partner. As such, it appeared on the SNES and not the Genesis. A Sega CD version was eventually ported two years later but still suffered many of the same limitations noted by Wikipedia:
The SNES port removed the two-player co-op option, the Industrial Area level and playable character Guy. Most of the scene transitions were also edited out.
Due to hardware limitations the SNES version could only display two or three enemies on-screen, in contrast to the CPS arcade version, which could display up to nine or ten enemies on-screen; to make up for this difference, the SNES version features more stopping points than the arcade version and the enemy placement is vastly different.
The English localization of the SNES port was censored for its content and features several differences from its Japanese Super Famicom counterpart…
Regardless, the SNES version was the one to have, and nearest to the arcade counterpart at its time. Final Fight, in my opinion, is a forgotten series – much in the vein of Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, it was a brawling beat’em up, but had its uniqueness.
The plot is the usual: some vigilantes up against a gang syndicate looking to do harm to someone.
As noted, Nintendo’s version has two playable characters: Cody and Haggar. The characters were much larger on-screen than the competition and bared an artistic resemblance to those of the Street Fighter series. (Including when you incidentally catch on fire, which was a straight copy of the same sprites.)
I always liked Haggar for his pro wrestling inspired moves (including a power bomb type slam) and thus I played through the game with him exclusively.
The home version replaced pumping quarters into a machine by giving you a set amount of continues in addition to the standard life bar. One thing I found neat with Final Fight is that you see the enemy’s name and life bar on-screen when near them too.
As with other brawlers, you can smash through and/or pickup objects, including weapons enemies drop. Bigger, badder bosses are at the end of each stage, and they too wield weapons, sometimes picking them back up before you get a chance to!
While you can adjust the difficulty of the game, it has the usual cheapness found in coin-op ports, where the bosses can become annoyingly ridiculous to land a hit on. One in particular shoots a gun and backs away from you as soon as you move in any direction – with the bullets landing hits full screen!
Aside from this, the only other noticeable annoyance is the limitation of three enemies on-screen, as with other ports you end up fighting opponents who are “off-screen” and not in view.
Oh, and the timer. Did I mention this game carries the worst brawler idea known to man? I hated it in Ninja Gaiden, and the cheapness of bosses as well as off-screen enemies makes some of the time limits stupid too.
However, the variety of the usual palette swap characters is better than most games of this era. The combo moves and the “hold” feature were also attractive versus the competition.
Final Fight would spark several sequels and was a commercial success across several platforms. It may feel a bit dated but its still a fun button masher if you enjoy this genre of gaming.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (All-Stars Version)
Super Nintendo’s Super Mario All-Stars compilation is one of my favorite cartridges and/or game compilations ever. For the uninitiated, All-Stars is a re-publication of four NES Mario titles: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros 3., and the previously unreleased (in North America) Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels, which was Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan.
The latter was the entire basis for the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2, which I previously reviewed – and is one of my favorite games of all-time.
SMB2 is such a departure from anything in the series before or since. (If you’re not familiar with the back story on this game, search for it: it wasn’t a Mario game at all originally.)
Regardless, this title, and each game in All-Stars, was given a new coat of paint, with upgraded or totally revamped graphics and sound. Paired with the SNES controller, they were as crisp as ever.
Ideally, I should review them all together, but practically, each game really stands out on its own. (Interestingly enough, Electronics Gaming Monthly, per the All-Stars Wiki entry, handled these titles the same way.)
The All-Stars edition of SMB2 serves as the basis for any of the remakes or offshoots since – and is thus, such a standard-bearer it deserves its own review. Unfortunately, there’s not much that’s different from the original, other than the graphics or sound, to speak of!
And that’s not a bad thing!
As far as platformers are concerned, SMB2 is one of the greatest games ever made. As such, its why Mario is embedded as one my favorite series ever, and one of my most-reviewed – you can go back and play it over and over, almost never tiring of it while also reliving great memories.
Wikipedia notes the following changes in this edition, namely continues and game saves being the big additions that helped this young gamer finally conquer “Mario 2”.
It is possible to change the character after losing a single life, while the original version allows changing it only after completing a level or when the player loses all their lives and chooses “Continue”, making the game more forgiving when choosing a character not adept at some specific level.
The player begins with five lives instead of three, and the slot game gains an additional bonus: if the player obtains three sevens, the player wins 10 lives which is something that was not featured in the original NES version of the game. However, the game has a 99-life limit.
Mega Man X2
Someone must’ve taken a cue from the original Mega Man 2 on this one…
Mega Man X2 is the sequel to the Super Nintendo’s “X” series of Mega Man games which spun off of the originals, which only saw one true dedicated 16-bit sequel with Mega Man 7.
The reason I say that X2 took a cue from the NES sequel is the difficulty: this freaking game is insane at certain points. It also has some of the more “interesting” and utter useless weapon upgrades in any MM game.
Granted, they still look cool and are at least creative, but in the end? They suck!
The story and mechanics are all familiar here. Beat bosses, obtain their special powerup, go fight the main boss…
Many of the “Maverick Hunters” (bosses) are incredibly cheap to fight against. One is a gator which you can’t see, then it grabs you and doesn’t let go. Another boss board has spikes – which means instant death!
Outside of the “norm” for these titles, the graphics are incredible for an SNES game. I had to see if it had a special chip in the cartridge and apparently it did. The “C4” chip improved the game’s graphics to where this title looks as good as Mega Man 8 on the original PlayStation (minus FMV cutscenes, of course).
There are also some vector 3-D graphics which look about as cutting edge as watching the Lawnmower Man on DVD these days but were likely state of the art at the time. They feel both revolutionary and out of place at the same time, as if to just show off that there was some special tech that could be accomplished.
Regardless, it’s a feat and an unexpected one at that.
In all, I actually liked this title a bit more than the first MMX. The story was cool, but it didn’t build much on original otherwise. However, the menus, sound, and graphics were all better and part two still feels like a step forward in the series as a must-play for any Mega Man fan.