Clint Eastwood once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations” – and I know mine (at least when it comes to Batman). This is certainly not the most difficult game in the NES library, but it is almost certainly one I will never be able to finish. And that’s OK – there is still a lot here I like, so let’s get started with that.
For one thing, this game has a wonderful soundtrack – among the best on the system. The opening level’s background music is fast paced and amps me up every time I hear it. Sunsoft became well known for their music during the NES generation, and it shows here.
Gameplay is certainly difficult, but it also fits the game and license perfectly. I have never been Batman, but I imagine that it would be a difficult job – practically impossible even. And perhaps to its detriment, the game follows suit. The controls here are precise to a degree I rarely experience in platformers; the closest comparison I can make is Super Meat Boy. When you die (and you will) it is because your reaction times or fingers were just not fast enough or you made a lapse in judgement. Like all games of the era, enemies follow set patterns and learning their weaknesses is part of the fun.
The game is not without fault of course. First in my mind, and definitely the most petty is that Batman is purple. I suspect it has to do with the NES color pallet and the developers not wanting constant sprite flickering, but it’s a distraction. And just as I suspected in my previous entry, there is no save or password system. In a game that is this difficult, that’s inexcusable. To add insult to injury, lose all your lives and back to the main menu with you – no continues.
Overall, I didn’t hate my time with this, but the difficulty makes me reluctant to return. Perhaps I’ll play through it in an emulator where I can do save states and scum my way through it.
Image courtesy of Giant Bomb.
Batman is the next title up for long play. I never played this as a kid – in fact, this will be my first go at this game ever. I know that it is famously difficult and supposedly has a great soundtrack, Sunsoft did some great soundtracks in the NES days so I’m excited to hear what they do with Danny Elfman’s famous Batman theme. The difficulty does intimidate me a bit I’ll admit – especially since this era has a lot of games with no save or password system and punishing diffuculty. I’m a huge Batman fan in general, so I’m hoping I’m in for a treat here. I expect to play this over the month of October and move on to something else in November.
Image courtesy of Giant Bomb.
Goldeneye 007 is a time capsule of sorts, much like the movie it ties into. The controls are clunky, performance is significantly lower than what would be considered acceptable today, and all around the edges you see things that are held back by the technology of the day. Underneath it all is a game that is still charming, and despite all of the above issues, still incredibly fun. There are flaws here – a lot of them – but overall this is still very fun and I think it’s worthy of being in every N64 owner’s collection.
Let’s start by talking about the two main issues with this game – controls and frame rate. The N64 controller only has 1 analog stick which is a large problem in a 3D first person shooter. The developers worked around this the best they could, and I think the result is actually quite good given the limitations. Generous auto aim combined with a toggle for precision aiming really resolved a lot of the primary issues caused by the controller layout. I did see that there is an option for dual analog control using 2 N64 controllers simultaneously, but I don’t have a second controller to test it out so I’m not sure how well it works. The game also supports the rumble pak, which is a plus for me but that is largely personal preference. Now the larger issue is frame rate. I do not have any special tools or capture gear but Digital Foundry does and they did a retro episode on Goldeneye and found single digit frame rates – which is not a surprise when playing the game. The jungle level in particular is really, really bad. The single digit frame rates, fuzzy N64 graphics (that built in antialiasing filter is rarely a benefit to games), and environmental color palette matching enemy uniforms makes this particular level ugly, difficult, and just plain not fun to play. Performance is easily my second biggest complaint with the game and it’s really unfortunate that this doesn’t run better.
Single player in Goldeneye is split up into 20 missions – each of which is relatively short. The story roughly follows the movie (full disclosure, I haven’t watched the movie in at least a decade) and is largely disposable. Most missions are varied enough and short enough that they are entertaining without being repetitive. The missions also have secret goals (such as ‘complete under 2 minutes on 00 agent difficulty’) that unlock additional multiplayer modes. This is a great incentive to run these missions over and over and earn these extras for the multiplayer mode. One negative I ran into is that mission objectives aren’t always clear and I ended up replaying some missions multiple times because I misunderstood what the game wanted from me. It’s a minor annoyance, and nothing compared to my main issue with the missions, and the game really: escort missions. The term ‘escort mission’ should strike fear into the heart of anyone that played games in the 90s and it’s just as awful here as you remember it. You end up escorting Natalya through several missions that have an added objective that she cannot be killed. If she does, you need to restart – the mission will continue and allow you to complete the other objectives but you will still get a mission failed screen when you’re done. Natalya has terrible pathfinding and will get killed often without you being able to do anything about it. She will get stuck in corners and be unable to get herself out of them forcing you to restart the mission. She will block doorways and refuse to move. She is the reason I didn’t finish the game – I played the Control Center mission at least a half a dozen times, each time getting to the end until she inevitably gets killed by the guards. These types of missions have largely disappeared from modern games for good reason.
Natalya is maybe the worst part of this game.
So how was my time with the title overall? I had a blast. Not only do I have a history with this one, but the game itself holds up very well in my opinion. Sure, it has issues that would be unacceptable today, but that doesn’t mean it’s unplayable or unfun. The missions themselves are usually pretty quick even on the first playthrough so it’s easy to knock a mission or two out in a short period. I played 2 months of this one and didn’t finish, but I had a blast and did play through over 80% of the single player – I’m considering this a success. Maybe one day I’ll go back and finish those handful of final missions. Or not. I hate you Natalya.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb.
Where to begin? I guess 1998 or 1999 is the first time I played GoldenEye. I never personally owned an N64 when it was current (in fact, this was part of a gap where I didn’t have any current consoles – I went right from Genesis to PS2) as I was mostly playing on PC at the time. My friends however, all had N64s and every one of them had a copy of GoldenEye. At the time, it felt like a must own for the system – if you had an N64 you needed a copy of GoldenEye no if, ands, or buts. The main draw – for us at least – was the multiplayer mode. Get 4 friends together and you have hours of fun. The one thing that sticks out to me is that we were so into the built in cheats (paintball mode, DK mode, etc.) that we would make sure we had someone’s cartridge with a save that unlocked everything – in a strange way, the single player mode was important to us only in that it unlocked more options for multiplayer. I do remember at least one of my friends had every mission done in 00 Agent difficulty – something that was not achieved easily or without tons of level memorization and experimentation.
Some of my recollection of the game is that controls are a bit strange, as there is only 1 analog stick, and that the frame rate is awful on occasion. I also seem to recall people hating the difficulty in some later levels, but that may just be due to playing them in 00 Agent difficulty to unlock stuff for multiplayer. I do have a rumble pak, and since this is one of the few games in my collection that supports it, I’m excited to give it a workout.
I started playing on 7/19 and hope to be done in roughly a month – we’ll see!
P.S. No Oddjob allowed!
Image courtesy of Giant Bomb
Hey everyone, it’s been a while (7 months actually). I haven’t abandoned the blog, even though it may look like it. I’ve taken some time to think about what I want to do with it now that the initial goal has been met – 52 weeks of random games from my shelves was an interesting experiment for me. Here are the changes I’m doing or at least considering:
- Rename the blog – this should be pretty obvious, but “52 Week Backlog Challenge” was a hasty name I put in to get me rolling, and I never changed it. I’m still not certain what the new name will be (I’ve got some ideas), but I will be renaming it sometime soon.
- Label content better – I’ve been using tags, but really I should be noting the type of content in the title as well. Here are the preliminary types:
- Review – self explanatory, game or hardware reviews. I don’t feel that I need to finish a game to review it, but at this time I don’t see me reviewing something that isn’t done yet. I only did one review last year and it took me a while to write it, so don’t expect a ton of these.
- Quick Play – this was the bread and butter of the blog last year – a few hours of something and some first impressions. I’ll still be doing these from time to time but they are no longer the focus of the blog.
- Long Play – a new feature which I will go into below.
- Long Plays – I’ve had this idea kicking around for some time. Inspired by the ‘Together Retro’ feature on Racket Boy I will select a game randomly from a list and play it for a month or two. Because of my real life responsibilities I will probably only be able to play a few hours a week, but most of the games I’ve selected should be able to be finished in that time. I’m setting up just a few rules for myself… if I’m hating the game I can stop, if I’m loving it and I’m out of time (2 months are up) I can keep going, anything from the PS2/GC/Xbox era and older is up for grabs, and I should do my level best to finish the game before time is up. If I finish a game early, I will immediately pick another to play. I’ve created a list mainly using items from last year’s backlog challenge so I know before hand that I’ll like most of the games that can be selected. Before I start, I will write about my history with the game up to this point and my preconceived notions before I start. After I’m done, I’ll write about the game (not necessarily a review, but possible) and my experience with it – how does it hold up, was I right or wrong with my thoughts before hand, etc.
What all this means is that this blog will be updated less frequently, but with longer, meatier entries that are hopefully better composed than last year.
Thanks for reading the wall of text and hope to see you around!
Due to the holidays, this is running a bit late – sorry for that!
Home Alone (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a platformer released for most common platforms of the time to tie into the film of the same name. From my limited research, it seems that most versions were the same game ported to different platforms with the exception of the NES version which was totally different. Gameplay is fairly simple: you can jump and move side to side, you can attack using your water pistol (which only stuns enemies for a brief period of time), and your goal is to gather as many family valuables as possible and shove them down the laundry chute. Once the right amount of valuables are in the basement, you’re given a key and can go into the basement for a boss fight and end the level. This sounds like a fine idea for a game, but unfortunately the execution is not what you’d hope for. For starters, controls are not tight enough for a platformer – running is always a crap shoot on when you will stop and start relative to pressing the button, so doing it precisely is almost impossible. Kevin is also very fragile – take 3 hits and you’re dead. And while you can temporarily disable enemies, they can still damage you if you touch them in their stunned state. Lose all of your lives and you’re booted back to the beginning of the first level – this game is ruthless. All this adds up to an experience that is frustrating and unpleasant. Full disclosure: I played the SNES version of this game extensively as a kid, and only made it past the first level once.
Visually, this looks fine on the Game Boy – certainly nothing to write home about, but it looks good enough. The opening and game over screens have some large detailed sprites of Harry and Marv, but otherwise there isn’t anything graphically that stands out as interesting.
Sound effects are fitting and I dare say good for the Game Boy – I don’t know if it’s the work of the developers or the sound chip but either way the effects are good. Music on the other hand is a fairly good rendition of the Home Alone theme, but that’s all there is – 30 seconds of the theme. Repeating constantly. Repetitive doesn’t begin to describe the monotony. If I had been a kid in 1991 who got this and a Game Boy for Christmas, I think I’d end up playing it with the sound off.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. Not great gameplay combined with frustrating childhood memories means this is done as far as I’m concerned.
Images courtesy of Game FAQs and Giant Bomb
Up this week is a Christmas themed title (well, there are Christmas trees in the first level at least) – Batman Returns (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) on the Super Nintendo. Developed by Konami, it’s a side scrolling beat em up much like Turtles in Time. Only playable by one player at a time, you control Batman and beat up seemingly endless waves of the Penguin’s men. You have a basic punch and kick, as well as combos like slam and grab. There are also gadgets that you have access to, such as batarangs (which just stun enemies) and a grappling hook that can move you above the action. Rounding this out is a move that spins Batman in a 360 degrees and damages all enemies around him, but takes some of Batman’s life. Let’s talk about these kinds of life stealing super moves for a bit – they were very popular in the 90s, and I can understand from an academic perspective why a designer would want to do this (makes the player debate when to activate it because they will take a hit) but its never been a good mechanic. I accidentally activated it at least half a dozen times in my time with this game, and it was always not what I intended to do at all. I’m glad that this has disappeared in modern games, but it rears it’s ugly head here. Other than that, the gameplay here is great – controls are super responsive and Batman feels agile. Difficulty seems a bit higher than average unfortunately, but I’m sure a dedicated player could get through it.
Visually, the game looks great – scrolling backgrounds, well animated enemies, and cool effects – you can slam enemies into reactive background items like street signs and shop windows. It really looks great.
Sound is also quite good overall. Music is the arranged type, and it sounds great. The music makes you feel like you’re in the film (I believe many of the tracks were either lifted directly from the movie or are modified versions). Sound effects were also great, with punches and kicks having the right amount of bass, and environmental effects like windows breaking and motorcycles revving sounding just as you’d expect.
Verdict: Play again! I love this genre and this is a solid entry. If you’re a collector, it’s fairly cheap and available – go for it if you like brawlers or Batman.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb
Sesame Street A-B-C (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an educational game released for the NES and contains two ‘games’, each with several modes that change the game play a bit. Designed for children, and to cash in on the success of the NES I’m sure, it is really basic and contains little replayability. I don’t say this to knock the game – it delivers on what it aims to do without a doubt – but an educational NES game isn’t where I would typically spend my time.
Gameplay consists of first selecting which game you’d like to play of the two included (Letter Go Round and Ernie’s Big Splash). Letter Go Round has you select one of six modes, which are all minor variations of the same basic game. A merry go round rotates with six letters – hit A when the matching letter hits the bottom of the rotation. That’s it – pretty basic. Ernie’s Big Splash is a little more complex, but only a little. You have a starting point indicated by a faucet and rubber duck, and your goal is to place tiles to route the duck to Ernie. There are ten or so different tiles and you rotate through them using the d-pad and select by hitting A. Once you’ve successfully routed the duck to Ernie some music plays as the duck traverses the course you’ve laid out. There are only three modes in this one, and the other two only differ from the basic by placing a tile randomly on the board containing another sesame street character. Because these games are so basic, I played each one in about 20 minutes – I guess I could say at this point that I beat the game since there isn’t anything else for me to do in it.
Visually, there isn’t a ton going on here. While there are some impressively large sprites used in Letter Go Round when you finish a stage, there is no scrolling or parallax and both games exist on static backgrounds. This is not a great looking game – I’d put it near the bottom of the range of acceptable for an educational title.
Sound effects were acceptable, and music was shockingly good. That’s not to say that it was good enough to hang with the greats on NES, but for an educational game of that era it was definitely above average.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. I can see breaking this out for my daughter when she’s a little older, but I have no more interest in it.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb
Gauntlet II (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an early arcade game ported to the NES featuring 4 player support via a multitap. Like its arcade ancestor, it is a top down dungeon crawler where your goal is to gather food and loot and make it to the end of the level. Food increases your health which slowly ticks down, and money simply adds to your score. Most levels have some sort of gimmick – the exit may move, the walls may be invisible, or there may be hidden tiles that stun you. This certainly adds some variety to what is a simple game. You can move using the d-pad and attack using the B button, but that’s it. Enemies are not very bright and simply swarm towards you. To be honest, playing this by myself was a bit of a bore – I imagine when it was new it was fairly fun, but the gameplay is very simplistic, repetitive, and not very interesting.
Visuals were fair, with sprites relatively small and lacking detail but enough to identify them at a glance. The system did seem to manage to keep lots of enemies, even of different types, on screen at the same time without issue. I will also say this – I did not see any sprite flicker at all when I played, which is a rarity on NES titles.
Sound was sub par here. Stages did not have any music – in fact, the only music I heard in the game was at the title screen and between stages. Sound effects ranged from acceptable to screechingly loud and obnoxious.There was also some digitized voice work that was quite good. Overall though, sound is pretty bad here.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. Not very fun with just one player, and the simplistic gameplay and sometimes jarring sound effects mean I probably won’t go back.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb
Panzer Dragoon Orta (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a rail shooter exclusive to the original Xbox. The last Panzer Dragoon game released to date (and likely ever) it acts as a swan song of the series – a great entry to go out on.
You play as Orta, who rides a bio-mechanical dragon that shoots the hell out of everything. The story is, well, a little complicated, really strange, and has a dash of weirdness only Japanese games can provide. Like most rail shooters, your focus is placed on lining up shots and so you do not have much control over the dragon’s flight path – that isn’t to say you can’t steer slightly but it’s not the focus here. You have two main attacks – tap A for a stream of individual shots or press and hold A to fire lock on shots. Both attacks feel good and are appropriate in different scenarios although I will admit that I used lock on way more than the individual shots. Enemies can and will come at you from any direction, and you can snap the camera 90 degrees in either direction by pulling the left or right triggers – this is extremely intuitive and keeps you on your toes. At the end of each stage, there is a boss battle and (if you finish that without dying) you are treated to a scoring screen where you see statistics on accuracy, enemies killed, time taken, etc. and you are then given a letter grade. This is perfect for going back and trying to best your previous score. I have to finally mention here that the difficulty level here is a bit high – a lot of reviewers criticized it on release for punishing difficulty, and I was already having issues on the second level on easy. This is a challenging game for sure, so be prepared to die a lot when you start.
Visually, the game looks wonderful. Bright colors, open levels, and a rock solid frame rate. Are there better looking games on Xbox? Sure, but not many, and much fewer if you restrict it to games that have such a solid framerate. Water effects are especially nice here, and I really appreciated the way they used water in the levels I played.
Sound effects are really terrific – laser blasts crackle, explosions boom, and warning bells give you a sense of urgency. Music is also quite good, with the soundtrack upbeat and electronic – it makes you feel like you’re in an arcade. Voice work was the original Japanese, which I thought was a nice touch even if it makes it a bit harder to judge if it was good or not.
Verdict: Play again! This is definitely challenging, but the bright graphics and the arcade like stage nature of the game will keep me coming back.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb