Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

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Who doesn’t love beat ’em ups? Simple to get into, oddly satisfying, and a great way to play cooperatively – it’s one of my favorite genres to go back to and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an early example on the NES.

Believe it or not, I never played this game until the writing of this article. I had played the original TMNT NES game back when it was new, but the sequel eluded me. Never owning an NES growing up, I never had the chance to try it, until  a friend recently traded me a copy (thanks Mark!). Compared to some 16-bit and arcade beat ’em ups, TMNT 2 is definitely… more primitive. You start by selecting one of the four turtles and jump right in. You can use the d-pad to move the character up and down on the screen and advance to the right once all enemies are defeated – this is standard fare for the genre and it made me feel right at home. Since the NES controller only has 2 buttons outside of the d-pad and start/select, you have limited options – B attacks and A jumps. You can do a jumping attack as well, but as far as I could see that was pretty much it. I understand it’s a hardware limitation, but it makes the gameplay a little less interesting than it could be.

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Graphics are quite good for an NES title – sprites are very large for the system and well detailed. I didn’t notice any slowdown at all and colors were good. I did notice that only one enemy type will ever be on screen at once – again, this is a hardware limitation but a bit disappointing. Scrolling was smooth which is something you don’t always see in NES titles. Overall, I would rate the graphics excellent for the time and platform.

Sound is also quite good – there are some 8-bit renditions of the classic TMNT theme, and the sound effects are fitting. There was some attempt at digitized voice work, but it was pretty bad – something I see a lot in older games, specifically on the Genesis.

Overall, this is a great example of the genre on the NES and a must own for any TMNT fan. I think the real value for me personally here is the 2-player coop option, but it was definitely fun as a single player as well.

Verdict: Play again! I think this would be great with a friend.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

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Freedom Fighters

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Up this week is an overlooked gem that takes its story beats from Red DawnFreedom Fighters (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia). Freedom Fighters is a third person shooter focused on squad based combat, with you taking control of a plumber after the Russian Army invades the US. While this is hardly an original premise, this game is well regarded in the years since its release, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The game starts with the main character on his way to a plumbing job for a local news anchor – his brother is working with him and can’t stop talking about all the womanizing he’s been doing. You both arrive at the apartment, but no one is home – just then, the Russian Army barges in and takes your brother hostage. It’s up to you to join the resistance and get your brother back. Like I said before, not an exactly original story, but it’s not a bad premise either – it gives you motivation to fight back, and it’s fun being the underdog. I can’t say where the story goes, but I imagine it’s fairly predictable. Not every game needs to have a deep and involved story, and if that’s what you’re looking for I think you’d be better served elsewhere. As far as gameplay is concerned, the controls are responsive and fairly intuitive (except for jump being mapped to L1 – who thought that was a good idea?) and the weapons sound and feel good. I will say that between loading the different locations through the sewers and performing auto saves, you will be waiting a lot to get to the action. Overall, the minute to minute gameplay is very fun and it’s quite rewarding blowing up some Russians.

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Sound is something that I had some issue with here, not that it’s bad overall – it’s not – but that if some parts of it had been better it would have elevated it that much more. For example, sound effects are quite good, and surprisingly the voice acting is excellent. This is all let down by the really mediocre soundtrack. Some of the tracks fit well but others are so bland that they color my memory of the entire music selection.

Graphics are quite good and hold up really well – I was surprised at how good this game still looks. The frame rate is mostly solid and the special effects (explosions, fire) look great for a PS2 title.

Verdict: Play again! I can see why this is so well regarded – it’s incredibly polished and it’s fun as hell. I’ll definitely be playing this again.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Fur Fighters: Viggo’s Revenge

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Fur Fighters: Viggo’s Revenge (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a game that I had never heard of until recently. Originally released for the Dreamcast as Fur Fighters, this game is a souped up port designed for the Playstation 2. This is a third person shooter with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, which I did not get a chance to try. The developer was Bizarre Creations, makers of the Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars series.

In Fur Fighters you play as one of 6 anthropomorphic stuffed animals. The villain of the  game has gone to your island home and stolen your families to be used as collateral while he takes over the world. Your goal is to rescue your family and stop him. This is pretty basic, and even though it’s a T rated game, it seems very Saturday-morning-cartoonish. Throughout each level there are floating bubbles where you can switch to a different character – each has their own set of special abilities and health meters as well as weapons. Pick up a shotgun with the cat, and the kangaroo won’t have it available until you find one with him. In order to rescue the children you must use their parent – the kangaroo can’t rescue the cat’s kids and vice versa – thankfully it seems that there are convenient switching orbs near the kids I found. While this is definitely a mechanic, I’m not sure it’s a good or interesting one.

Graphics are actually quite nice and have held up well – I think this is mainly due to the cel shaded styling used. Performance was good, and I only encountered one momentary slowdown of the frame rate. I didn’t see many effects other than water (which looked really good for a PS2 title) so I can’t comment on any of that.

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Sound was fitting for the mood and there was one or two songs that got stuck in my head for a few hours. The characters do have voice acting behind them, and it was pretty good across the board – up to Saturday morning cartoon standards at least.

My major complaint with the game, and this is a big one, is the control scheme. I rarely have come across one that frustrated me more consistently than the default in Fur Fighters. The left analog stick, traditionally used for movement, is used for camera control – and on top of that it’s inverted. The right analog stick, traditionally used for camera control, is used for character movement. During game play there is an options sub menu in the pause menu that contains a section for controls – but inside the game, all you can do is change whether vibration is on or off. That’s it. According to the manual, there are different layouts, but I’m guessing you need to change them before the game starts. Even though this was released in 2001 when camera controls hadn’t been quite figured out yet, this is completely inexcusable.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. The controls in this game make it incredibly frustrating to play. Disappointing.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

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Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a little slow to start. You are given a lengthy briefing (styled like a powerpoint presentation) and then thrown right into the game world with only a vague message about where you are supposed to go. I’m not sure if it was dumb luck or great game design, but either way I figured out what to do and where to go pretty quickly once I figured out the controls. Despite the slow start, I found a lot to like about this game in my time with it.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Mercenaries, for those unfamiliar, is a third person action game set in a fictitious North Korea. You play as one of three mercenaries, each with some slightly different strengths and weaknesses.  I only played as one of them, and because my time with the game was short, I’m not sure how different they really play. Basic flow of the game seems to be gun down some enemies and blow some shit up in the course of performing some arbitrary mission such as defend a base or capture an enemy leader. You are given some fun tools and let loose. It reminds me a lot of Just Cause – in a good way. You receive money for blowing up enemy vehicles and completing missions, but I didn’t see a way to spend it on anything – perhaps that comes a bit later. The core of this game is the destruction you can cause with the various weapons available, and I think the payoff is pretty good, even in the very beginning. You also can drive around in vehicles and I saw several that would feed well into this destruction focused gameplay, including tanks and APCs.

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Visuals are more than adequate – while the game wasn’t the best looking PS2 game I’ve ever played, it looked at least as good as Psi-Ops and ran at a very solid frame rate. In fact, the only time I noticed a frame rate drop was when there were a ton of explosions happening at the same time, and even then it was negligible. Overall, I was pretty impressed with this one.

Sound was good – the music was a little catchy and sound effects were fitting. There were a few effects that really didn’t fit all that well, but it wasn’t distracting.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Mercenaries – I have a feeling the game is going to get better the longer you play when more weapons and vehicles open up.

Verdict: Play again! I had a blast.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

 

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

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This week is a first for the blog – our first portable title. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was released in late 1992 for the Game Boy. The first Mario Land was a bit disappointing – it released early in the consoles life cycle and feels like the developers attempted to port the home console Mario experience directly to the Game Boy. Unfortunately, it didn’t work well at all. Sprites were very small, jumping physics were floaty and didn’t feel right, and even the music was bad. All of these issues were thankfully fixed for Mario Land 2.

The game begins with you selecting a save game, and if you start a new save you are plopped right into the first set of stages titled “Mario Zone”. According to Giant Bomb’s wiki each zone, of which there are six total, has around four or five stages. I played the entire Mario Zone and the first level of Tree Zone. The levels themselves are fairly large, but only take a couple of minutes to finish, which is one of the main reasons I love Mario platformers in general. The game saves automatically for you when you complete a stage, perfect for a portable. Gameplay is typical for Mario – you run and jump, collect coins and powerups, and reach the end of the stage to finish it.Outside of each zone is a world map where you can freely move to different zones and tackle the levels in any order. I think this is a great touch and something that is sorely missing in Super Mario 3. There are some bonus stages on the open world map that you can go to in between regular stages.

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This is a great looking Game Boy game – period. The sprites are large and detailed for the resolution it’s running at and for the most part it runs well. I say for the most part because I did run into several instances of slowdown when multiple moving objects were on screen at the same time – not unexpected but a bit disappointing none the less. This is a Game Boy title, so it’s only got four shades of grey to work with, but I think the artists did a great job with the tools they had.

Sound was great – I expected no less from a Nintendo developed Game Boy title. Music was, well, fantastic and fit the game perfectly. Sound effects were also excellent and never annoyed me or stood out as an poor fit.

The epitome of what makes Mario great is on full display here – the controls are tight and feel perfect; the powerups are simple, intuitive, and meaningful; stages have a theme and are different enough from each other to be interesting; and it’s all wrapped in a package that looks and sounds great.

Verdict: Play again! This was a big surprise after playing the original, and since it seems that it won’t take too long to beat I may play all the way through later this year.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb