I will preface this review by saying, if I’m in the present day and age when this game was released, and a proud owner of a Sega Genesis, I’m likely a happy camper.
However, that’s not the case judging this game many years later.
Sega jumped aboard the fighting game craze in 1993 with their own original title, releasing Eternal Champions directly to the Genesis with no arcade presence prior.
This gives the game some exclusivity but also walls it off from many of its more mainstream competitors like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II. The latter of those games played well in arcades and translated well to consoles, but I feel as if Eternal Champions is missing that “it” factor which truly makes games standout.
EC has some really good things going for it. It borrows the six-button layout from Street Fighter II, with weak, medium, and strong kicks and punches: however, this is also its demise, as a six-button controller is required to play it, and pulling off some of the moves (like pressing A+C or X+Y+Z simultaneously) are difficult in the heat of battle.
The way this is balanced is by using a special moves meter, which depletes depending on the severity of each move. New players will come into EC not knowing these moves, so their competition is can’t cheaply beat them by being that more experienced.
Blocks, jumps, everything else works similarly to other fighting games, so it’s a welcome portion of the game, but you’re still not likely to win many matches without mastering the characters.
And in the 2020’s I have no patience to do so for such a redundant title.
Don’t get me wrong, the available characters are diverse. They each have styles that may fit specific players, with the females moving/jumping faster than some of the larger male counterparts who plod along with heavier hitting strikes. The back stories on each of them is unique, and the plot overall is missing a “big bad” altogether, opting for different branching endings.
The stories are so front and center they can be accessed directly from the game’s main menu too.
Each character has their own stage, own moves, and yes, even a knockoff on MK’s fatalities otherwise called overkills.
Overall, the visuals are impressive for the lesser powered Genesis too. Characters are large and in charge, but unlike knowing that a game like Mortal Kombat had better visuals in the arcade, that were then pared down for consoles, what you see in EC here is what you get. Nothing more.
I feel like this game would be far better played with an arcade stick too – and yes, Sega’s little-used Activator add-on was also supported – but in the end, if you have to play with a gamepad, especially the 3-button (which used “start” to toggle the kicks/punches) then you are pretty much sunk.
For retro gamers who grew up with EC, the trip down memory lane may be better than approaching this for the first time. I feel this game is good enough for its era, but not something you’re going to want to sink a lot of time into playing when better fighters, even others developed by Sega, exist.
Okay, I’m not sure where to begin with Gunstar Heroes. It’s widely considered one of the best games of the 16-bit era and one of the best on the Sega Genesis. It’s also one of the most critically acclaimed games of all-time period.
To get to the nuts and bolts of this game, let me just say it’s Contra on crack. However, it was the first title developed by Treasure, which was a group of devs who splintered off from Konami after the latter wanted to shutter the project.
I took pieces of the Gunstar Heroes Wikipedia entry to explain best how the game plays:
Gunstar Heroes is a run and gun game played from a side-scrolling perspective similar to Contra. The game can be played in single-player, or cooperatively with a partner. The players take on the role of Gunstar Red and Gunstar Blue as they battle with an evil empire for control over a set of powerful gems.
The game features seven stages, of which the first four can be tackled in any order. The stage formats vary; while some feature a typical left-to-right format, others have the player riding in a mine cart along walls, fighting enemies on a helicopter, or playing a board game. Completing a level grants the player an extension to their maximum health.
When starting a game, the player can choose either a free or fixed firing stance; the fixed stance immobilizes the character when shooting, while the free stance has the player move in the direction they are firing.
The player also has a choice of starting weapon. There are four shot types in the game: a homing shot, lightning blaster, flamethrower, and machine gun. Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses, and can be swapped with others from item drops in each stage. The weapons can be combined with each other to produce unique shot types. For example, the homing shot can be combined with the machine gun to add a homing effect to the latter, or two lightning shots can be combined to create a more powerful lightning gun.
In addition to firing their weapon, the player characters can pull off a series of acrobatic maneuvers including jumping, sliding, and grabbing and throwing enemies.
If that seems like a mouthful, it is!
If you were ever a Contra fan, and I have high praise for Hard Corps on the Genesis (which appeared one year after, maybe as an answer?) then you will love this game.
However, the difficulty is, well, it’s a tough game! Your character and enemies have “vitality points” which makes it easy to see how much damage is being taken or inflicted, but at the end of the day, the boss battles can drone on, lasting forever as you chip away at cheapshot artists and bait-and-switch tactics where you believe you’ve won, only to be taken for another battle!
Gunstar Heroes feels a lot like Mega Man in ways too, with a stage selection screen for the first four levels – which can be played in any order. The final three are played in sequence.
When you get beyond the onslaught of enemies and explosions, you can appreciate the attention to detail in then cutting edge graphics, with many elements moving three-dimensionally despite the game being set on a 2D plane. It never once suffers from slowdown or stutter, and the pace is a breakneck speed in line with Sega’s “blast processor” marketing.
The only thing I didn’t much care for in this title was the departure from the side-scrolling platform shooting, as seen later in the game with a spaceship shooting segment that’s more on par with Defender than it is the Contra-inspired game play.
If you’re looking for an authentic arcade-style shooter challenge, Gunstar Heroes doesn’t disappoint. Even after all of these years it’s easy to see how Treasure’s first game was a huge hit.
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.
Madden NFL ’94
For how groundbreaking John Madden Football ’93 was, it’s amazing how much of a leap this series takes when jumping one year and also between platforms (from the Sega Genesis to the Super Nintendo).
It starts right as the game loads with the famous EA Sports “It’s In The Game” audio tagline and animation. Seeing this over 25 years later just sent chills down my spine as to what I’m about to review…
Obviously the SNES graphics are leaps and bounds over the Genesis just based on hardware, but it’s the included audio, mainly speech elements, that start sending you into a tizzy. This game has such refined menus and elements it’s pretty crazy.
Just choosing teams beyond the start menu shows you a huge upgrade in visuals. John Madden gives you a briefing over a panning stadium shot with moving fans. It’s text-based but still light years beyond what any sports simulation was doing at the time.
Even the referee coin toss moves to dedicated animations rather than just showing players on the field.
The “regular season” mode still relies on a password system in this edition. There are the usual modes such as sudden death or recreating the 1993 playoffs (or pitting former Super Bowl championship rosters against one another).
It’s also cool to flip through and see how each position group matches up against one another. Madden was always stat-based, but this is when I first truly remember seeing it as a player and taking it into consideration when deciding plays and more.
Speaking of plays, “flip play” is introduced in ’94 with one particular pass play allowing for a wide-open receiver 100% of the time – the bug was exploited to death by me playing with then perennial Super Bowl champions the Dallas Cowboys and their “flipped receiver” being Alvin Harper (although due to lack of an NFLPA license, only player’s numbers were shown and not their names.)
The screen also flips, or shall I say rotates, during kicking plays and turnovers, in a way that the team with the ball is always at the bottom of the screen playing toward the endzone at the top.
Instant replays also allowed you to rotate the screen 360 degrees, which was breathtaking in itself – but you could also highlight a dedicated player and watch the entire play, in slow motion or full speed, and see where the play breaks down (as it does with my Steelers safety blitz below in the screencaps!)
Fans cheer. Fans boo. Heck, you can even turn “Maddenisms” off if you choose to.
But go get buried in the pause screen (or halftime – complete with a “halftime show”) and you can relive all of your stats, which goes well beyond what was in the previous iterations of the game, even breaking down pass completion percentages and some other advanced statistics.
In other words, this wasn’t your usual Tecmo Bowl arcade-style game, but turning into a full-fledged simulation where throwing into double coverage often resulted in interceptions and relying on higher-rated players in order to make, or break, a victory.
It gets even better with subsequent years, but its easy to see how Madden started to establish itself as a yearly update and must-have game each season due to the amount of upgrades packed into ’94. In fact, this game is so much fun to relive, I highly recommend retro gamers check it out.
Following a flurry of reviewing fighting games for an entire month I had unearthed one forgotten game of my childhood amongst a sea of potential games to review. With Halloween around the corner, I felt it fitting to still keep ClayFighter on the schedule, because it better represents the current season than an actual fighting game.
Unsurprisingly Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat sparked a fighting game craze in the 90’s, with many competitors looking to clone the success of those two games for themselves. Every software developer, including Sega and Nintendo themselves, got in on the act.
Then there was Visual Concepts, who have a reputation of making some great games, but instead when the parody and comedy route with ClayFighter. The main reason this game doesn’t get a fat thumbs down from me is basically due to VC’s input with audiovisual content for the title. The fighters are all 3-D generated from actual clay models (hence the name of the game) and look superb for a 16-bit Super Nintendo title.
The sound, including an announcer, are crisp and ahead of their time too.
But it’s the gameplay that is lacking… that’s putting it kindly.
Once the humor wears off, which is quickly after scrolling through the unique characters on the main menu, you are deluged with combat that takes after the Street Fighter button scheme, but not the pace or cohesiveness of being a fighting game. Computer opponents tend to block and jump all too often, with special moves often being to difficult to pull off or slow in animation to make an impact.
The traditional two-round win format is there, with a cutesy bomb as your timer, with the wick burning down to “zero”. I’m not sure if the rounds are actually 90-ish seconds like the rest, but it sure does feel like an eternity to play through just one sitting.
The levels are inspired and tied to each character as well – another annoyance as you play through the “world map” and discover you have to face some of them a second time; which is mundane as it gets.
The final boss is a “ring” and outside of that, you really get no sense of purpose for the fighters, what they’re doing there, what they’re fighting for, or even one still end-screen that tells you squat about the character you just completed the game with. It simply shows the long scrolling credits of everyone who created this mess and a neat “thanks for playing” when that’s through.
Also, the menus and even portions of the game screens (like the health bars) come off as generic – almost 8-bit generic. Whether intentional or not, it cheapens the game. Combined with frustrating controls, cheap computer opponents, and no real plot, it’s difficult for me to recommend this game at all.
Worse, if you grew up playing the Blockbuster Video Game Championships, as I did, you were likely duped into renting the store exclusive “Tournament Edition” to practice with. Hopefully a rental is all the more money you escaped spending on this game way back when, because it would’ve been a good waste of $60-70 for a cartridge that will quickly collect dust.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
I always knew about the true Super Mario Bros. sequel (i.e. “Lost Levels”) having owned it as a kid as part of the Mario All-Stars collection… but I’ll admit, there are a few more surprises that I wasn’t knowledgeable on.
I was going to bypass the All-Stars remakes since the Game Boy Advance series used the same graphical upgrades.
However, the original SMB style wasn’t represented in those, and after having played the Japanese (original graphics) version, I found out that you couldn’t access Worlds A, B, C, and D unless you beat the game something like 8 times and then held down a few buttons at the start screen after! (Yeah, screw that!)
So, I came about playing the revamped version of SMB2 “Japan”, aka the “Lost Levels” as known here in the U.S. I was geared toward playing only the letter worlds, but also found out that after you beat World 8, you bypass World 9. (A “fantasy” world I posted in a previous review for the original Japanese version).
That’s a bummer because it was actually fun… and so are the letter worlds!
The letter worlds, believe it or not, are actually less frustrating (and more fun) than the regular levels – which have some tweaks, but a lot of the same headaches as the original version did.
These letter boards are definitely worth checking out, and along with the revamped graphics, made for a nice trip down memory lane. Even with the ramped-up difficulty, there was a better balance with gameplay in this version of the real Super Mario Bros. 2.
Again, this is a title I highly recommend for any Mario or retro gaming fan.
Mega Man X
Continuing on my quest to conquer every Mega Man game, the offshoot series of Mega Man X is next. It’s basically Mega Man but not in the same timeline/storyline. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily have been replaced with similar characters Dr. Cain and Sigma. Mega Man has been swapped with “X” and has a new pal named Zero and the robot masters are now known as “Maverick Hunters”.
Otherwise, it’s all the same stuff with a fresh coat of upgraded 16-bit SNES graphics and a few more goodies, such as the ability to charge the mega buster, a dash feature, and the ability to scale or slide down walls.
Those latter features made the game incredibly enjoyable, but man does Capcom return to their roots of making these games HARD. This wasn’t the worst difficulty, but it was up there in the series.
Luckily the weapon upgrades are actually worth a flip (more on that as I post sequels!) The music is a joy and the controls are tight, which adds to part of the difficulty, but what’s new, right? We are talking Mega Man.
Overall this is a game I highly recommend, maybe more than most in the series. While it follows the same proven formula, the fresh coat of paint and the upgrade into the 16-bit world, are more than enough to lend this game “cult classic” credibility.
PS – I still contend that Sega and Capcom were in a battle of one-upmanship between Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man. There are far too many similarities between the two series to disregard! (This game features a level not much unlike the Wing Fortress Zone in Sonic 2!)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue
With my recent luck in finding good to decent TMNT games, I continued my quest to play through all of the titles based on the series: which led me to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue for Game Boy.
Let me tell you, I really struggled with how to review this game.
Rather than the beat’em up style I’ve become accustomed with in all of the other TMNT games released for this console, as well as the arcade, NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis, Konami went another direction and created a Metroidvania game.
That sounds really cool, right? I love the Turtles and I love Metroidvania games.
But somewhere along the line this game falls way short of the mark by reverting back to the stupidity that we found in the original TMNT 1 on NES. That is, horrible controls, bad collision detection, an endless slew of respawning enemies, near-impossible jumps, and deliberate traps that make me believe no one has ever beaten this game cleanly. (That is, without cheats.)
Much like the original NES game, retracing any steps within a board respawn enemies. That’s not so terrible when you go to the next screen within a level, but once you beat a “cleverly” placed enemy set as a trap, only to nudge the control a hair to the left/right and have it reappear, it becomes frustrating.
Otherwise the premise of the game is simple: you start as Michealangelo and have to save your other three turtle brothers before moving on to save Splinter and April. As you save a new turtle, each has a special ability to help you access other areas on the map you otherwise can’t get to.
All is well until you trek through much of the world map (which is just about useless) to find a dead end or realize that a key you need is all the way back where you came from: complete with respawning death traps.
Should you make it past the 4-5 bosses and rescue everyone save April, you are then taken through a horrible end of the game corridor of doom with shifting platforms, spikes, and enemies which are unavoidable.
Get past that and then you have to reface all of the previous bosses in succession before taking on the main boss, Shredder… who, after being defeated, respawns back to full health for a second round.
And if you get past all of that?
You have to make it through yet another death corridor before you can unlock the door April is held prisoner behind.
All of this leads me to believe I would’ve smashed this Game Boy cartridge to bits as a kid. Luckily, cheats and save states (highly necessary even with cheats enabled) allowed me to see just how stinky of a game this is. Unless you have a morbid curiosity for completion like I do, I’d avoid this game.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
With a newly reimagined remake for the Nintendo Switch recently released, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the first “reimagining” of a classic Legend of Zelda game: Link’s Awakening.
Originally released in 1993 for the Nintendo Game Boy, Link’s Awakening was the first handheld game in the series and an odd one at that as it didn’t take place in Hyrule, nor did it feature Princess Zelda.
In fact, the game makes a number of references to other Nintendo franchises, notably Super Mario Bros. in a dream-state Koholint Island. This adds to the uniqueness of this title, which originally began as a port of the critically acclaimed Link To The Past on the Super Nintendo.
Having been an owner of the original Game Boy cartridge who put countless hours into defeating this title multiple times, I never latched onto the “DX” remake of the game which came out in 1998. However, playing this game in modern times, the monochrome Game Boy colors are harsh on the eyes and the preferable color palette, as well as a few other additions, make the DX version of this game a more than worthy playthrough.
In fact, the DX version has an additional dungeon added that was not in the original game, which plays off of the Game Boy Color’s ability to, um, show colors. (The dungeon used color tiles as part of the puzzle solving scheme with a reward of a red or blue tunic.)
Link’s Awakening DX also makes numerous references to a long-forgotten Game Boy Printer add-on, of which it’s pretty much the only title that ever made much use of it!
Overall you cannot go wrong with this game. It’s one of the all-time classics which, until it’s Switch remake, has been locked in the Nintendo vault, only to be seen on old hardware with small screens. Alas, if you have the means to play the DX version, it’s more than worth its salt as a full-fledged Zelda title, one that you’ll likely want to compare to the newer version, if only for nostalgia’s sake.
My entry into the Kirby series was ages ago as a youth playing Kirby’s Dreamland on my Game Boy. That game was fairly simple to beat way back when, and I guess that level of practically doing nothing but wasting time entering and exiting stages was carried over and expanded in the NES version.
Sadly, I got bored with this game. There’s technically nothing wrong with it.
Yes, it’s easy. Yes, there are more features. And yes, it’s a gorgeous game for playing on the original Nintendo. However, it’s so repetitive that I just can’t forge forward to complete it.
That doesn’t mean I’m done with the Kirby series, but just hope the next entries aren’t as much of a chore to play.
With that said, if you want to see how hard the Nintendo hardware could be pushed, this game (as well as the final NES installment of Mega Man, Mega Man 6) take the console to its limits. As one of the final titles released for the aging hardware, developers truly found incredible ways to push the game graphically as well as with sound.
The result is a pleasure for the eyes and ears, and a game that doesn’t look like it fits the 8-bit mold whatsoever.
For that reason, I can’t give it a thumbs down – but boy, is the game play monotonous!