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!)
Sony’s PlayStation took the world by storm and in 1995, it’s best-selling game was one that got the jump on EA’s Madden franchise.
NFL GameDay launched on the PSX heralding a new era of what could be done with CD-based games. While John Madden Football struck first on EA’s 3DO platform a year earlier, the expensive console had difficulty penetrating the market whereas Sony’s first foray into video games came in at half of the price, with game titles often selling for nearly half of what kids and parents paid for cartridges with the previous generation.
With EA scrapping their first Madden game for the PlayStation, NFL GameDay had free reign for a year. While it did a lot of the same things that Madden for 3DO got right, it also had its success and shortcomings.
Loading time… loading… loading…
Ah yes, everyone’s biggest complaint with disc-based games actually wasn’t too bad here. The initial startup menus are preceded by animated full-motion video (FMV) of NFL logos and helmets, along with a catchy tune that would play interspersed throughout the game, along with a riff ripped off of Queen’s We Will Rock You in-game. (Which, actually gets a little annoying, but can also be turned off in the options menu!)
Oh yes… the options menu.
Whoever designed this menu likely designed prisons for a living at some time. Rather than logically scroll throughout the options with the D-pad and use the X button to confirm, as has become standard, nearly every freaking button on the controller is used just to get the game set the way you want.
You choose a visiting team with the L1 and L2 buttons, home team with R1/R2, and the D-Pad scrolls up/down the main menu.
But beware: it’s almost indecipherable to attempt to change your default in-game controls. Ditto for setting up time for quarters and weather situations as well. (For example, you need to use the left arrow of the D-pad to get over to the menu to change quarter length.)
Once the NFL stopwatch let’s you know the game has stopped loading, you’re treated to a team-themed screen that changes to a primary color of your selected squad once you move the player left or right. This jumps right into the coin toss as to not waste anymore loading time – another nicely optimized and well thought out decision by the developers.
You then move into the kickoff mode, which moves a bit faster than Madden players may be accustomed to. It’s at this time you realize the stadiums don’t bare any resemblance to their real-life counterparts, other than teams who played in dome stadiums getting a generic indoors building immune from the four weather conditions you can set: sunshine, rain, snow, and windy.
The outdoor stadiums all look the same as well, with an NFL logo in the center of the field.
The differential of the home team’s stadium places team logos around the 30-yard line on each side, and of course, custom endzones. Some fan banners also hang around the place, but unlike Madden’s sidelines, these ones are absent of detailed touches such as referees with yard markers, teammates on the bench or even referees.
Instant Replay exists, as does an option lifted from Sega’s Sports Talk series where you can change the view from a slightly overhead, behind the quarterback look we’re all used to, to one that zooms in closer behind the action. You can also swap in an isometric look from the days of Play Action Football on the NES or go completely sidelines in style with a Tecmo Bowl look as well. Play also zooms in on an active runner with the ball, which is a nice touch.
Most of these are rather distracting, especially with the cool addition of the highlighted blocks beneath your selected player, which states their last name – as the game has a full NFL license in addition to the NFL Player’s Association.
However, the NFLPA addition is a bit misused with the lack of menu options in-game. You will get a notice of names and short stats, such as “so and so ran for X yards”. The presentation here gets closer and closer to watching a real game on TV, but playing the game can be a struggle.
The playbook lacks any real diversity. There are a few basic formations which offer around 6-8 plays, if that, for each. You also have no clue as to what the computer is sending into the huddle, so you may pick a 3-4 defense up against a three wide receiver set – a mess to defend against, if the game wasn’t so awful at passing the ball!
This is likely one of the worst games to get used to throwing the ball and its anyone’s guess as to when and where it might go. The learning curve is so much I nearly broke a controller. (I’d much rather play Play Action Football on the GameBoy for what it’s worth.) It’s so bad, the computer rarely completes passes either.
Running the ball is effortless but you often run into your own blockers and defenders always pancake your back, on his back, with every tackle.
You can “feel” the tackles in this way, but it gets to be an old trick quick.
Another big gripe is not seeing down and distance on the screen’s HUD, unless you’re choosing plays. You can’t get a feel for how far you need to go to get a first down, because only the game and play clocks are displayed. A really shortsighted idea for a game that otherwise has strong features for its time.
Overall, the game is leaps and bounds above its competitors of this era in the graphics and audio departments, sans the 3DO Madden – of which it still holds up in several areas too.
For those who bought this game, they likely didn’t see the same flaws I’m seeing playing it years later. It was likely understood this was an entry into football games sort of title and as such, it was still state-of-the-art for its time.
As for nostalgia, a lack of any play-by-play or any audio bytes, lack of any B-roll or still photography to support the menus or in-game experience, and the looping Queen riff, added to the frustrating passing mechanics and paltry playbook make this a game to revisit if you owned it, but one to pass until later iterations catchup with the promise of the 32-bit generation.
Madden NFL ’96
Firing up this game gave me goosebumps with memories of yesteryear.
What a great game Madden NFL ’96 was. The last bastion of 16-bit Madden football titles came to us in 1995, as the era of 32-bit and beyond gaming was dawning. CD audio on the PlayStation would set everything apart, and a game for Sony’s new console was in the works, but scrapped, leaving gamers to contend with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions for at least one more season.
This NFL season was intriguing as it featured a few changes. In real life, the Cleveland Browns were heading to Baltimore, so this was their last year as a real team in the game while the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars were expansion teams with made-up rosters – one of which including “free agents” from the new create-a-player mode, freshly introduced in this iteration.
The create-a-player mode was a fun gimmick and not as truly refined as we’d get in later editions, but being able to make your own guy, complete with position and jersey number, was hella cool. The way to level them up, however, was pretty nasty and required some quick button pressing from your fingers!
Each of the NFL teams has their own “stadium” in this one, with painted endzones to match their locale. The audio has the usual boom’s and pow’s you’d come to expect, and it was the last year to include the FOX Sports NFL theme song within the game – as well as an instrumental riff lifted from Queen’s We Will Rock You to open up the game.
Pat Summerall, John Madden’s long-time broadcast partner, also makes an appearance in this game – his first.
While the FOX themes, world/league records, ditching the windows for passing and a few other tidbits made their way into the 1995 edition of Madden, ’96 really upped the ante with improved graphics and touches. ’95 had made some progress, but aside from the already aforementioned, ’96 is where it was at.
We finally got player’s names attributed in the popup windows after each play, rather than calling them out by jersey numbers – and in fact, star players had their portrait shown as well.
The playbooks aren’t all too expanded, but an often-overlooked feature sneaked its way into 1996 and that is the “Madden” portion of the playbook which would eventually grow into a suggested play category to simplify football play calling for people new to the game – real or virtual.
Overall, the game just feels crisper than the previous 16-bit entries. It plays A LOT faster, even between menu loading and placing players on the field.
For some NFL nostalgia, including the Houston Oilers, and the Rams and Raiders residing in Los Angeles, this is an old entry football fanatics should definitely checkout.
What a difference a couple of years make…
In the Fall of 1993, Mortal Kombat, widely considered one of the most violent video games of its time, was released on the Super Nintendo. However, it was a stripped-down port of the arcade which replaced blood for sweat and neutered the violent “finishing moves” that had caused controversy.
Mortal Kombat had also caused a legal stir, forcing the video games industry to adopt a ratings system similar to what was the standard for motion pictures.
In 1994, the sequel to Mortal Kombat arrived untouched to the SNES, hinting at a change of heart when the competing Sega Genesis’ first game in the series outsold Nintendo’s. With blood and gore intact this time, Nintendo shocked arcade audiences roughly six weeks later with a game no one would’ve seen coming a year earlier: Killer Instinct.
The name of the game itself was a big change for Nintendo, which always stood for family entertainment in video games much like Disney did the same for TV and movies. With a hot console war on their hands against Sega, which marketed their Genesis console toward teenagers and adults, it was time for the company which brought us Mario to mix things up and get dirty.
Killer Instinct first landed in arcades on my birthday, October 28th, 1994. Developed by Rare and published by Midway, the game provided a sneak peek into Nintendo’s upcoming next-gen console dubbed the “Ultra 64”. It was one of two games (along with Cruisin’ USA) to use a specialized version of the hardware, intended to plant the seeds for what would become the Nintendo 64 in due time.
The arcade game was a marvel to look at and play – and fans were waiting for KI as an N64 launch title. However, delays set the console launch back, and thus, Nintendo surprised everyone by released Killer Instinct on the SNES.
Of course, the 16-bit hardware was a far cry from the looming “64-bit” era of the Ultra 64. Marketing made it seem as if Nintendo was bypassing “bits” from 32 to 64 for their next gen – so how could KI, which on paper requires 4x the hardware horsepower, run on the aging Super Nintendo?
A number of special concessions were made, of course, as gamers were used to back in these days. While the next generation Ultra 64 and competing Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation began to promote “arcade perfect” ports to the home consoles, fans knew from other arcade classics such as Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and Street Fighter II, that there would be alterations to the game.
The end result was Rare flexing their muscle, reducing colors and sprites, removing full-motion video clips and large audio files, and utilizing tricks involving the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics.
While it wasn’t as impressive as the arcade, the game retained a great deal of the gameplay features along with some stunning imagery and sound considering what it was being played on.
By this time too, fighting games were watering down the market – but Nintendo finally jumped into the foray with their own game and as far as exclusive titles are concerned, Killer Instinct holds up on its own. While the plot (like others in the genre) is practically non-existent, the ability to pick up and play was easy – mastering the game could be a challenge, but the Street Fighter six-button (three for punches, three for kicks) scheme fit the game well.
Differing from other fighting games, KI did not use a round system, rather two life bars that would be drained until the screen flashes red and the announcer states “danger” – permitting the victor to pull of a quick button press series for one of two finishing moves (violent and brutal, the same as MK) or a humiliation (also pretty much borrowed from MK).
A neat combo system was instituted, including a groundbreaking automatic combo, or combo breaker, provided the right button sequence was pressed.
Overall, I feel Killer Instinct was fairly average, particularly on the SNES. It’s still amazing at how well it runs and the achievements made porting such a big title down to the small screen. Yet, it wasn’t too groundbreaking in anyway other than Nintendo allowing something with the name “Killer” on their console.
Unfortunately, I feel KI would’ve been far better remembered had the N64 launched on time with it as a catalyst to show off the new system. Instead, it was tacked on in August of 1995 to the tail end of the SNES’ lifespan.
While the console would be produced into the 2000’s, the N64 would launch in North America a little over a year after this fighting game first graced home consoles – and late to the party as Sony introduced the PlayStation a mere two weeks after KI released on the SNES.
WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game
What do you get when you take Midway’s trend of digitizing Mortal Kombat actors and NBA Jam players with the sports entertainment goliath then known as the WWF?
You get Vince McMahon saying “boomshakalaka”!
And no, that isn’t a joke!
Back in the 90’s it was still a somewhat guarded secret that the WWF’s head announcer was also the owner of the company. So naturally, when Midway created a WWF arcade game, Vince’s voice was added to it.
As was the case with several series around this time, the Sega 32X ports were among the best of the bunch, as Midway fully supported the add-on to the Genesis. The added hardware power allowed for the full roster, much of the voice details and more to be fully ported from the arcade version, making for a more definitive port than what was a stripped-down Super Nintendo sibling.
The gameplay itself could be a love/hate relationship.
Make no mistake, this was an arcade game. It’s also pro wrestling, which can be called a rehearsed male soap opera at times, but this title took it over the top.
For example, when Bret “The Hitman” Hart got slammed to the canvas, cartoonish hearts spill out of his body.
The Undertaker goes full “dead man” gimmick with ghoulish apparitions and overtones.
Bam Bam Bigelow has flames as part of his repertoire and so on.
It makes for an appealing visual style but also takes away from what could’ve been a more serious wrestling game in the vein of the excellent WWF WrestleFest (or it’s lesser known cousin, WWF Superstars).
Instead we get a more “arcade” style button masher complete with cheap AI tactics.
And while I’m on my rant, why isn’t there entrance music with the wrestlers until after you win a match? That seems a bit backwards and is one small detail that really derails from this being higher on my list of favorite wrestling games.
In fact, there was no sequel made to this game to my knowledge either – maybe it wasn’t the commercial success they had hoped? Maybe it was just too wacky? Or maybe wrestling was entering a down period in the early 90’s and people lost interest?
Either way, if you’re a wrestling fan who also loved the Midway style of games during this same era, you will likely enjoy this game. If you’re a wrestling purist looking for strategy, this isn’t it.
If compared with an NFL game, WWF WrestleMania is more like NFL Blitz than John Madden Football.
NBA Jam: Tournament Edition
You’re not seeing double, I swear!
Following the review of the Sega 32X version of this very title, I had forgotten that it was also ported to the original PlayStation in 1995 for its launch as well.
Like other CD-based games of its time, NBA Jam T.E. was an arcade-accurate translation of its source material.
Unlike other CD-based games, this one doesn’t suffer from long load times, something highlighted in the book Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room by David L. Craddock with an interview with game developer Chris Kirby:
PlayStation’s CD-based storage medium forced Kirby to carefully consider how to read and write data. As the game ran, data was unpacked from the disc and sent to VRAM. To minimize load times, a natural consequence of disc-based media, he arranged the data linearly so the PlayStation’s laser eye that read contents from the disc wouldn’t need to jump around to gather assets and code.
I had also noted many of the updates and changes from the original NBA Jam to Tournament Edition in my 32X review, and still consider the 32X version the definitive one among consoles despite the strong PlayStation showing. That’s due to the many notes in the article above, which any hardcore NBA Jam player would notice between the two versions.
However, the PSX port is so strong of a title on its own, it deserved a separate entry due to the technical achievements of the hardware it ran on and the way the development team handled the translation to the home screen. Unlike its Mortal Kombat cousins on the same system, NBA Jam T.E. is almost always a pleasure to play and really sold how strong the PlayStation hardware was upon its arrival.
Check it out and let me know what you think of the various console ports and their differences! (Note: don’t forget NBA Jam T.E. also released for the Atari Jaguar – I may cover that as well, since its one of the most mainstream titles in a limited library of an obscure console!)
Some people probably aren’t aware that Doom made it to the Super Nintendo. In fact, it should’ve been technically impossible to do, if not for the addition of the Super FX 2 chip.
I, for one, forgot this game existed until recently and revisited it based on having rented it numerous times during my childhood. The premise, of course, is a first-person shooter where the protagonist fights through invading demons from Hell.
Yes, this game was on practically every platform ever, however it wasn’t only the technical limitations of the SNES which made this a surprise, but the content: Doom is all about shooting, killing, horror and gore! Its generally recognized as THE title to popularize the FPS genre and is best known for run-and-gun gameplay where you fly through levels and try your best to not die.
That last aspect, speed, is well-translated to the SNES version. I often felt a heart-pounding intensity to finish each level, set to revised audio tracks which still thump to this day and made this game playable… because the graphics, an obvious setback, made it a struggle to do otherwise. Enemies were often difficult to see in the distance and were pixelated, as you might imagine on 16-bit hardware, even when they were up close.
Truth be told, even with cheats enabled in spots, this game was rough to play through the first episode, where I left off. (In total there are three episodes, a total of 22 levels lifted from the PC games.) The visuals were rough enough on the eyes and almost made it feel like the game had an unfair advantage on the player. (The game ran on a bordered window within a window in order to have a respectable resolution and framerate!)
Ditto for the controls, which were also tough. I mean, come on, it is a D-pad on the SNES controller!
Yet, for its shortcomings this game didn’t age terribly bad. You already expect the worst and it’s totally playable for the time, if not an enjoyable experience overall. I couldn’t justify spending time to complete it due to the few shortfalls, but, I’d still recommend it to any Doom/FPS/retro gaming fan just for the technical achievement of being playable on the Super Nintendo back in 1995!
Mega Man 7
I often say I’m surprised by games at the least likely of moments.
Thus, is the case with Mega Man 7, the first true sequel of the Mega Man series of games on the Super Nintendo.
While it’s true that the Mega Man X games came out first on the SNES, “7” is a true successor of the NES line of games of which there were six, and five other Game Boy titles which shared similarities with their bigger brother.
The X series took the Mega Man stories in a different direction whereas “7” brought us back to the formula we were used too… or, yeah, it’s almost the same. The difference I believe is just being tied to the same ol’ Dr. Wily, who may as well be called Dr. Wile E., after the Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote, as neither can ever defeat their nemesis in the end.
The major wow factor of this game, especially when compared with the early SNES “X” titles, is that the graphics and sound would lead you to believe that this was not an SNES title: in this era of retro gaming remakes, you could’ve sworn this was a reboot of the series made in the present day.
That’s how good MM7 is, in my opinion.
It doesn’t really add much to the previous formula otherwise and that’s a good thing. The gameplay is what you expect, the bosses are just the right difficulty, and the controls are tight instead of cheap.
Alas, it’s still more of the same. I liken MM7 to the “Super” upgrades of every other game which came to the SNES, except it didn’t add a whole lot. Still, why fix something that isn’t broken?
That’s how I felt with MM7 and think any fan would enjoy the trip down memory lane as I did.
Mega Man (Game Gear)
Well, well. This was a quirky little find.
For those unaware, Mega Man’s developer, Capcom, had been an exclusive partner of Nintendo’s from way back when the NES launched. Following Sega’s successful market penetration with their Genesis, Capcom broke that exclusivity by releasing games for both, the Genesis, and Sega’s handheld “Game Gear”.
But that’s not the only reason this game is “quirky”. As the only Mega Man game on the Game Gear it mixes elements of it’s NES siblings. Due to hardware limitations, only two of Mega Man’s “buster” shots are on screen at any time (rather than three in other games) but the charged shot does more damage. The game also feels faster, with not only MM but the robot master bosses and even jumping or climbing ladders.
Now the frustrating parts.
Like the Game Boy game, the small screen makes it impossible to find platforms below you, so you often fall to your death. Unlike the Game Boy, the color graphics really pop. (I may even prefer this to the NES games honestly.)
The game’s difficulty is about what you’d expect, with Capcom pulling cheapshots all over. Overall, the main concepts are pulled from the NES MM4 and MM5 so it’s a blend of both games, yet an original title.
However, the campaign is short. As a handheld title, there is only four main robot masters (rather than the usual eight) plus another two in Wily’s Castle (which is also an abbreviated tour).
Regardless, this title holds up as one of the more solid Mega Man titles of the 15 I’ve played so far!
Street Fighter: The Movie
Oh yeah… this is the video game version of the flaming pile of monkey poo known as “Street Fighter the Movie”!
Now, let me be fair about this game: it may have worked if the source material (the movie) wasn’t so horrible. Capcom, in an attempt to mimic the digitized actor style of Mortal Kombat, mixed actors and game footage from the movie release of Street Fighter… into a game… based on the movie.
That’s where the downfall of this title rests. The movie is, in a word, bad. Jean Claude Van Damme is a legitimate bad ass martial artist but gets cast in the wrong role. Instead of being cast as Ryu or Ken, the French man is instead cast as American military brawler Guile.
It all goes south from there, with poor casting and more.
The failure of the film is what brings the game down to a thumb “in the middle” for me. I actually like this game. The result may be as corny as the film itself, but it’s a unique “what if” scenario for the Street Fighter series, and one of few games to lift source material from a feature film into a game.
There’s also a great amount of “fun facts” between this game and its arcade counterpart: namely that this game isn’t a port and was developed by Capcom to be a lot closer to that of Street Fighter II Turbo. That move, along with a few interesting additions/alterations to the roster and game play (which you can read more about here) salvage this title from the usual movie-based game trying to make a buck into something worth playing.
Honestly, this isn’t that bad of a game. Sure, it has its faults (the cut scenes are just, well look haha) but I’d definitely say it’s worth checking out if you’re a Street Fighter fan.