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

The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

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The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was a video game tie in released in 1992 at the start of peak Simpsons. At the time, the show was approaching the height of its popularity (mid-90s would be where I would place that) and all the tie ins began. The toys. The games. The butterfinger commercials. You couldn’t go very far without being greeted by a Simpsons character by 1994, but in 1992 this was just starting. Unfortunately, other than the wonderful arcade beat ’em up, I’ve never played a good Simpsons game and this is no different.

The game starts with Bart working on his homework and falling asleep. Soon he’s transported to a dream world where he has to collect the scattered pieces of paper in order to assemble his homework. The game starts with you walking down a street full of obstacles and enemies. Lisa is a flying angel that will turn you into a frog, Otto is driving the bus so fast that you’ll get killed if you’re caught in the street, and severed heads of Jebediah Springfield bounce up and down toward you. Getting hit by any of these causes you damage, take enough and it’s game over. Your goal is to find bits of paper from the homework, and when you do you’re ‘treated’ to a mini game. I say treated lightly – the only one I got to was an exercise in frustration. That’s it. Complete all the mini games, and you win. The street level is always the same, and the single bonus stage I played had me fighting enemies that consistently hit me from off screen (unavoidable damage). When you die in the mini game, it’s game over and you have to start from scratch. Besides not being fun, controls were floaty and hit boxes were wildly inconsistent.

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The game looks.. fine. It’s not spectacular in any way, and it’s just so mediocre that I have almost nothing to say about it. It serves it’s purpose, it’s not terrible, but it does not standout in any way. It’s fine.

Music in this is pretty bad. They even screwed up the Simpsons theme by having it so compressed and low quality that it’s barely recognizable. The digitized voices are muffled and hard to make out. The best thing I can say about the sound is that the sound effects are simply acceptable. Poor quality in general.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This game is not as bad as Bart Vs. the Space Mutants, but that’s like saying that being puked on is better than eating a shit sandwich: technically true, but both are very unpleasant.

Drakkhen

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Drakkhen (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) has the honor of being the first RPG released for the SNES – a machine that would be well known for having a deep and varied RPG library. Originally developed for the Atari ST and later ported to various platforms it is a game that is very obtuse and takes quite a bit of trial and error. The story here is very generic and not very compelling – I don’t think anyone should play this for the narrative.

Gameplay has you controlling a party of 4 adventurers. You are given 2 different modes – a first person mode that allows you to explore the world map in 3D an a third person view for dungeon exploration and combat. All you can really do in first person is travel the map, so I’ll be focusing on the third person mode. In third person mode, you can directly control one character and move them about the screen and you can switch characters on the fly. You can interact with the environment by taking items, interacting with objects, or just looking around which will highlight points of interest. Combat also takes place in third person view, but you have no control over it. Your characters will automatically attack enemies on the screen until they are all dead or your party is wiped out. This makes combat very boring and you might as well go get a snack when it’s happening. In the first person mode, you can explore the map and are beset by random encounters which will throw you automatically into third person view with the auto combat I mentioned above.

Starting the game, it suggests where you should go to start, but I was very surprised to see that it was essentially open world – you can ignore the suggestion and move around the map as you see fit. I imagine this was a very new thing back on release day and would have seemed revolutionary. The game itself is very cryptic, and doesn’t hold the players hand at all when it comes to figuring out what to do. This was developed in Europe and you can see, for lack of a better term, the strangeness of European RPGs in full effect here. Here is a great example: while wandering the world map, I came across a tombstone sticking out of the ground. I ran into it and when I did a giant black panther head came out of the ground and started attacking my party by shooting lasers out of it’s eyes. I wiped out and got a game over – and I have no idea what the significance of that creature was. In a second play through I ran into the exact scenario in a different part of the map, so these laser wielding panthers exist in multiple places. I’ve included a picture below to show the weirdness of it all.

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Visuals were a bit of a sore spot – the pseudo 3D over world was impressive, but sprites in general were low quality and didn’t animate well at all.   There also weren’t many effects that took advantage of the SNES hardware such as scaling and rotation. Graphics were serviceable but that’s the nicest thing I can say about them.

Sound was a mixed bag. The music was quite good, eerie, moody, and fit the game well. Sound effects were just terrible though – the samples sounded like they were recorded in someones garage on cassette tape and copied about 50 times before being digitized.

Overall, Drakkhen is a relic, a call back to when RPGs (especially European RPGs) were inscrutable and decidedly not beginner friendly. With the boring combat and unrelenting difficulty, I doubt I play this one again for more than a few minutes.

Verdict: Back on the shelf.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

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Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a bad game. Released for various systems around the time of the movie, it is a classic example of a bad licensed game. You play as Kevin McAllister and the first level takes place in a New York City hotel. You have to immediately escape the concierge or it’s game over – of course the game doesn’t tell you this so my first playthrough ended with a “Game Over” screen about 10 seconds in. Not a good sign. After I got the hang of it, I discovered that everything in the hotel is out to get you – the workers at the news stand, the bellboys, the maids, hell even the vacuum cleaners and mops are dangerous. You do find some weapons, but these usually just stun enemies and don’t remove them. I guess the goal of the game is to reach the end of the level, but this is never explained and I never finished the first stage, so I can’t say for sure. According to Giant Bomb’s wiki there are 4 stages – to make it through all of them must require tons of patience and luck.

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Controls are, well, not good. Hit detection is poor, and certain platforms (mainly the trash cans) require some precision to land on, of which there is none. When you do get hit, you have some brief invulnerability and you flash – but it only lasts a few seconds which in my experience is not enough time to get out of the way of whatever hit you in the first place. Graphics are pretty bad for a SNES game – the first home alone isn’t much better but it had the excuse of coming out near the system’s launch. Music and sound are also pretty poor – I would believe it if someone told me this was a NES game (there was a NES port of the game, I haven’t played it).

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This is pretty terrible and I can’t see going back. I paid less than $2 for my copy – I’m thankful for that.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb