Batman Returns

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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