Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Non-Adventure Review: Sonic Adventure

This Dreamcast launch title was the first released three-dimensional Sonic platform game. For the most part, it maintains the speed of his 16-bit adventures, but it hits a few snags along the way.
Sonic Adventure starts out in a city setting, which represents the “adventure” part of the game. There are several buildings that you can choose to go into. This does get a bit tedious, as the stages are contained within the buildings, and are accessed by entering doors within those buildings.
It takes a while to get used to the layout of the entrances, as the camera often pans around you and gives you a different perspective. This can make finding the right entrance difficult at first, as all the doors look alike. Once you get the hang of it, however, it becomes second nature.
You have separate stories that unfold within the main story. Each of these stories is seen through the eyes of characters that you meet within the game. You start out as Sonic, and once you meet another character in the storyline, you can play that character’s story. This is quite a neat concept, even if it’s not a particularly original one. It’s interesting to see the storyline in someone else’s eyes besides Sonic’s for a change. The music is fitting for this game and is the rock-style music as started with the American release of Sonic CD. The voices are fitting for the characters, but the words do not match the mouths of the characters at times. The voice acting is not the best, but it’s acceptable. As for the game mechanics, Sonic’s and Tail’s games are by far the most fun. This is where you’ll find the trademark Sonic speed you’d expect from the series, with Sonic racing to the end, and Tails flying over certain paths that Sonic can’t reach to beat Sonic to the finish. The speed stays fast throughout the game, but it does come with a few drawbacks.
You can’t fix the camera to stay at a certain angle, so it will often wrap around your character at the most opportune times, meaning you might be rushing around a loop and the camera will pan backward. causing the movement to reverse, and Sonic to plummet to his doom.
This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen enough to become bothersome. While playing I also found certain areas where the collision detection was not properly tested, and you’ll find yourself falling through the floor at times if you’re unlucky. These problems are very minute and happen infrequently.
It’s possible that you might be able to play the game through without encountering any problems at all. The Amy portion has you avoiding Robotnik’s robots, and using a hammer to destroy enemies in your way. The speed isn’t as fast as Sonic’s or Tails, but as a result, the camera and collision detection problems are virtually non-existent, making for a pleasant gaming experience. The E102 portion (Dr. Robotnik’s robot) consists of blasting at enemies with a laser and rolling through to the end in time. These missions are fairly fun, and E102’s story is interesting enough to keep you going. Knuckles’ game consists of digging for emerald shards, over and over again. This can become quite tedious, and unless you’re an avid Sonic series fan, you might find yourself giving up before completing Knuckles’ storyline. As tedious as Knuckles’ portion of the game is, it’s nothing when compared to Big the Cat’s.
Big’s portion consists of fishing for a frog in water pools throughout the stages in the game. One can only assume that Sega was testing it’s fishing game ideas later seen in Sega Bass Fishing and Sega Marine Fishing when they came up with Big’s storyline. It’s fun in those games, as it’s expected.
In this game, it’s so out of place it’s almost annoying. Only the truly diehard fans will complete Big’s storyline, as once you complete it you are given the chance to play as Metal Sonic. Everyone else will find solace in the Sonic, Tails, Amy, and possibly Knuckles missions, as those are the meat of the game.
Summary: The music is excellent, and the voices are tolerable. The Sonic and Tails storylines are a blast, but the camera and collision detection problems detract from the enjoyment. The other storylines are more of a filler, as they aren’t nearly as fun as Sonic’s or Tails’. Big’s storyline is a big letdown. Fishing does not work in a Sonic The Hedgehog game. The game is worth the purchase for the Sonic and Tails portions. Only diehard fans will complete the rest of the game.
Final Verdict:
7 out of 10

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Non-Adventure Review: Commander Keen - Marooned on Mars

Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons - Marooned on Mars is a shareware platformer created by Apogee Software (now known as 3D Realms). It is the reason I bought a Super VGA monitor for my DOS computer in the 1990s, and there’s a good reason for it.  Commander Keen is one of the best classic platformers, and my number one pick for the game I’d love to see get a re-release on modern consoles.
Marooned on Mars was the first part of Invasion of the Vorticons, a three-part trilogy was a shareware game by iD Software and published by Apogee.  The idea of shareware was that the first episode was free to download and upload (from dial-up text-only BBS systems before the internet), copy, and share with all of your friends.  If you enjoyed the game, the rest of the episodes could be purchased by phone or by mail from Apogee, who would mail you the episodes on disk.
The trilogy starred the 8-year-old genius Billy Blaze, who built a spaceship out of household parts.  He dons his brother’s football helmet and defends Earth from the forces of evil in the galaxy as Commander Keen.  Part one finds Keen marooned on Mars, where he must find various parts for his spaceship so he can make his way back home.  In part two, the Vorticons have a cannon aimed at Earth, and Keen must go to the Vorticon mothership in order to stop the destruction of his planet.  Episode three concludes Commander Keen’s fight with the Vorticons, as he explores the caves of the Vorticon planet, does battle with the top Vorticon ninja fighters, and discover the secret of the Grand Intellect.
At first, Keen can only jump over creatures or jump on top of the weaker ones.  If he tries to hop on a strong creature, Keen loses a life.  The weaker creatures are only stunned, and snap out of it momentarily.  These weaker creatures just push Keen forward, while the stronger ones kill him on contact.  There are hazards on the levels, such as pits, fire, and spikes, which also cause Keen to lose a life upon contact.  Once Keen finds a laser gun, he can shoot laser shots until he runs out of ammunition or finds another gun.  Located throughout each level are candy treats and soda, as well as things like teddy bears.  Collecting these adds to Keens points, and at certain score levels, Keen receives more lives.
Later on, Keen also finds a Pogo stick, which lets him jump higher when the pogo button is pressed, which can get Keen to higher platforms and collect more treats.  Some levels require exploration, as there are doors that can only be opened by finding the correct colored key (a gameplay concept that iD will later incorporate into its popular first-person shooting games).
The stages in the game become tougher as they go on, with more hazards and stronger and higher concentrations of enemies.  The game sported great graphics at the time for DOS, which was on par with the graphics on the Nintendo Entertainment System.  The music, however, is non-existent. The game was made at a time when most PCs did not have sound cards, and sounds came from the PC speaker, which produced pretty terrible sounds.  So, there are only bloops and bleeps in here for the jumping and shooting sound effects.  These sound effects are not bad though, and the game is engrossing enough that even playing through the game again recently, I didn’t notice the lack of music.
There is a fan developed interpreter, however, titled Commander Genius, which uses the original data files and adds optional music. This is my favorite way to play, as the music adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game.
Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons - Marooned on Mars is a definite classic.  The storyline is interesting, the graphics are nice, and the gameplay is superb.
Final verdict:
4½ out of 5 

Monday, October 7, 2019

System Review: SNES Classic Edition/Super Famicom Mini

Nintendo followed up on their popular NES Classic Edition with a system that is arguably even better than the former: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition.
The system runs on the same Allwinner R16 “system on a chip” as the NES Classic Edition, with a 1.2 gigahertz quad-core Cortex-A7 central processing unit, a 500 megahertz dual-core Mali-400 ARM graphics processing unit, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 512 megabytes of Flash storage.
This time, however, the system comes with two controllers (although the cables are still quite short). The North American and European/Oceania versions also come with twenty of what are arguably the most classic games for the system, including Contra III: The Alien Wars, Donkey Kong Country, Earthbound, Final Fantasy III (known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan), F-Zero, Kirby’s Dream Course, Kirby Super Star, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, Star Fox, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out!!, and Star Fox 2. The latter was completed and canceled in the 1990s, and is available for the first time on the Super NES Classic Edition.
The Super Famicom Mini also contains two controllers and most of the same games, but the game list is a little different. This version contains Contra III: The Alien Wars, Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy VI (known as Final Fantasy III outside of Japan), F-Zero, Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, Kirby Super Star, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X, Panel de Pon (released as Tetris Attack outside of Japan), Secret of Mana, Star Fox, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, and Star Fox 2 (the latter of which, like above, is available for the first time here).
Suffice to say, this retro micro-console is a bargain, especially considering how much some of these cartridges go for on eBay.
Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Sunday, October 6, 2019

System Review: NES Classic Edition/Famicom Mini

Nintendo didn’t start the idea of the mini-console revival of classic systems. Atari and AtGames have been releasing their own mini-consoles for years. Nintendo did manage to turn the practice around, as these were once seen as niche novelties, but they are now big business, with Sony and Konami also entering the trend.

I'll look at each of the mini-consoles available from Nintendo, Sony, and Konami, but first, let's look at Nintendo’s first Classic Edition offering, the miniaturized version of its classic 80s console, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The system runs on an Allwinner R16 “system on a chip”. It has a 1.2 gigahertz quad-core Cortex-A7 central processing unit, a 500 megahertz dual-core Mali-400 ARM graphics processing unit, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 512 megabytes of Flash storage.

This is obviously more powerful than the 1.79 MHz CPU on the original NES, so the games, powered by an emulator created in-house by Nintendo European Research & Development, run silky smooth. They are also much crisper than the original, as they are output at full high definition, but there is a cathode ray tube filter available in the options for purists.

The menu is easy to navigate, and looks clean and professional, as expected with a Nintendo product. Unlike the later Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition, the NES Classic Edition only includes one controller, a faithful remake of the original blocky NES controller. The controller has a Nintendo Classic Controller port, so this controller can also be used with a SNES Classic Edition, or a Wii or Wii U. The controller cable included is also really short, but extension cables and additional controllers are also available to purchase.

Both the North American and European/Oceania versions contain the same 30 built-in games. They include a great variety of genres and include classics spanning the entirety of the original lifespan of the NES. The games include Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Donkey Kong (strangely the 1983 original that lacked the factory level instead of the 2012 release, “Donkey Kong: Original Edition”, which included this level as well as the animation of Donkey Kong carrying Pauline between stages), Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream, StarTropics, Solomon’s Key, Super C, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Tecmo Bowl, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.

There are two Japanese versions, the regular Famicom Mini and the Shonen Jump 50th Anniversary version. The Weekly  Shonen Jump version is gold, and both contain built-in controllers as did the original Famicom. Otherwise, the hardware specifications on both of these are the same as the NES versions, but the games differ significantly.

The regular Famicom mini contains include Balloon Fight, Bumping Sumo, Castlevania, Donkey Kong (again the 1983 original that lacked the factory level instead of the 2012 release, “Donkey Kong: Original Edition”, which included this level as well as the animation of Donkey Kong carrying Pauline between stages), Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Downtown Nekketsu March: Let's Go to the Great Athletic Meet (later remade in English as "River City Super Sports Challenge ~All Stars Special~"), Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy III, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kirby’s Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, The Mystery of Atlantis, NES Tournament Golf, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Super C, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2 (released as Super Mario USA in Japan), Super Mario Bros. 3, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.

The Weekly Shonen Jump Famicom Mini version contains games based on manga that appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump, with the exception of Dragon Quest. The games included Captain Tsubasa (released as Tecmo Cup Soccer Game in North America and Tecmo Cup Football Game in Europe), Captain Tsubasa Vol. II: Super Striker, Dark Myth: The Legend of Takeru Yamato, Tenchi wo Kurau (released as Destiny of an Emperor in North America), Dragon Ball: Shenlong's Riddle (released in North America as Dragon Power and in France as Dragon Ball: Le Secret du Dragon), Dragon Ball 3: Goku's Story, Dragon Ball Z: Assault of the Saiyans, Dragon Quest (released in North America as Dragon Warrior), Famicom Jump: Heroes History, Famicom Jump II: The Strongest Seven, Fist of the North Star, Fist of the North Star 3 - The Creator of the New Century: History of the Dreaded Fist, Kinnikuman: Muscle Tag Match (released in North America as Tag Team Match: MUSCLE), Kinnikuman: Struggle for the Throne, Magical Taluluto: Fantastic World!!, Red Dragon King, Rokudenashi Blues, Saint Saya: Golden Legend (released in France as Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque: La Legende d'Or, The Knights of the Zodiac: The Golden Legend), Saint Saya: Golden Legend - Final Chapter, and Sakigake!! Men's Private School: Game No. 1.

The regular versions contain the best selection of games, but the Weekly Famicom Jump version may be worth the price if you can read Japanese and enjoy the selection of games based on manga that are included, or simply for the collector's value as the gold system does look nice. However, suffice it to say, whatever you choose it is well worth spending if you or someone you love is a fan of retro games.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Non-Adventure Review: Pac-Man


Pac-Man is a true classic.  Pac-Man’s pizza-bodied visage is often used as an icon for gaming itself.  Everyone has probably played Pac-Man at some point in their life, but just in case you haven’t, the premise is simple.  You control a round yellow dot with no eyes and a mouth that is constantly opening and closing.  You have to navigate a maze and eat all of the round dots on the board while avoiding the four ghosts who are constantly roaming the board looking for a Pac Person to eat.  You can turn the tables on the ghosts by eating one of the four large dots. This causes the ghosts to temporarily turn blue.  Now, the ghosts run away from you and you are able to eat them before the large dot’s effects wear off.
In the original Pac-Man, many of the enhancements that Ms. Pac-Man brought to the table are not present.  The layout of the mazes never change, and the food items that you can eat in each stage after collecting a certain amount of points always remain at the center of the maze. 
The next sections relate to the Xbox 360 version, so if you’re not interested in that, skip to the final verdict at the end of this review.
All of Pac-Man’s addictiveness is in the Xbox 360 version.  Arcade purists will be happy to know that this is the true arcade version of Pac-Man. All of the tricks that can be pulled off in the arcade version can be pulled off here. For people who love Pac-Man but aren’t too good at it, you’ll be happy to know that the game allows you to start from any stage in the game after you complete it once. Arcade purists may not like the fact that this version has unlimited continues, but there were versions of Pac-Man in the arcades that had unlimited continues as well. In the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of 1981 arcade game, Pac-Man can be unlocked by entering up, up ,up, down, down, down, left, right, left, right, left at the game selection screen and then choosing Ms. Pac-Man after hearing a series of dings letting the player know the code was inserted correctly. This version allows unlimited continues as well, the only difference is you have to enter a quarter every time you wish to continue. 
On the subject of achievements, Pac-Man has plenty. Each fruit (or item in the later mazes) gives you another achievement. If you go for all of them, you will be able to see each of the game’s cutscenes, which were one of the main draws of the game in the arcades when it first came out. The cutscene music is so catchy, it’s sure to stay in your head for quite some time. There are only three cutscenes in the original Pac-Man, and they all show the come-uppance of the ghosts in various humorous ways. There are three achievements that are a little more challenging. One requires you to eat all four ghosts in the stage, while the other, harder, achievement requires you to eat all four ghosts all four times in one stage. The latter is quite hard, and all but the most diehard Pac-Man fan should find this one a challenge. The other difficult challenge requires you to get to level 21. After you get to a certain point in the game, the large dots no longer turn the ghosts blue, and the ghosts merely turn around when you eat it. Thankfully the continue feature is there for those of us without super pac-prowess, so it’s not an impossible task.
In the end, the decision of whether to buy Pac-Man rests on how much you like the arcade game. Though, if that purchase is around roughly $5 US, I’d say it’s worth the purchase even if you are a casual fan of the game.
Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Friday, October 4, 2019

Detective Pikachu Review

Detective Pikachu is a spin-off from the very popular Pokémon series.  A shorter, download-only version of the game, titled Great Detective Pikachu: Birth of a New Duo, was released in 2016 only in Japan. The full game was released worldwide in 2018.

The game stars a boy named Tim Goodman, who is looking for his father Harry, the latter of whom was in a car accident two months prior and vanished mysteriously. He meets his father's pikachu, who is confused. The same incident that caused Harry to mysteriously disappear also changed Harry's pikachu. Now, he has the ability to be a capable detective at the cost of his ability to conduct electricity. He also no longer acts like a normal pikachu, as he has developed quirks such as eating sweets and drinking coffee.

Tim discovers that he can communicate with Harry's pikachu, who talks to him in a gruff voice. Since both of them want to find out what happened to Harry, Harry's pikachu, using the deerstalker cap Harry gave him as inspiration, declares that he will help Tim out as the "Great Detective Pikachu". Interestingly, the duo discovers that Harry's pikachu cannot talk to other humans, and Tim cannot talk to other pokémon, including other pikachus.

However, Harry's pikachu can talk to other pokémon, which is helpful since pokémon sometimes see things that humans do not. Tim and Pikachu have to talk to everyone they meet, gaining useful information. They have to use that information to gain new lines of questioning and to collect evidence.

Overall, it's a straightforward game that's aimed at children, but the mystery surrounding Tim's father's disappearance and the sudden change in Detective Pikachu's behavior help keeps players motivated throughout. Plus, the deep-voiced voice actor of Detective Pikachu, as well as the contrasting cute animations, keeps it entertaining. After the movie, people will probably be expecting Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu, but it's still worth checking out to see from where the ideas for the film were generated.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Non-Adventure Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog brought speed to a genre that was previously all about exploration. The levels are laid out well enough so that exploration is still possible, but the game is built with the intention to run through courses at breakneck speed. Going into a roll by pressing down while running causes Sonic to go faster through loops and down hills. Sonic’s speed can be magnified by obtaining a shoe powerup, which increases Sonic’s moving speed exponentially. Sonic attacks enemies by rolling into them or jumping on top of them while in a roll. He will lose rings whenever he touches an enemy. However, there is no health meter in this game. Sonic’s health is gauged by the rings he carries. As long as Sonic holds at least one ring. As with the Super Mario Bros. series, 100 rings gives you a bonus life. There are also invincible power-ups, much like Mario’s stars that make Sonic impervious to attack for a short period of time.

The lack of the spin dash that was introduced in Sonic 2 is definitely noticed here, but Sonic 1 still has my favorite levels of any Sonic game I’ve played. The layout of the levels is very important in a platformer, and the level design of Sonic 1 is top-notch. There are several zones in the game, and most zones have 3 levels, with the third level being a boss battle against Sonic’s enemy Dr. Robotnik in one of his robotic contraptions. The bonus stages in this game are a little weird compared to later games in the series. Here, Sonic enters a bonus stage through a large ring whenever he has at least 50 rings when he reaches the end of the stage. In the bonus stage, Sonic is in a constant spin, and so is the bonus stage board. You have to guide Sonic to the chaos emerald each stage, which is surrounded by breakable crystals. You also must avoid red exit markers that will end the bonus round immediately. When all 6 chaos emeralds are collected, the player will get the “good ending” upon completing the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog was released on a lot of systems. The game is just about equal on each system (other than control issues due to the limitations of some systems). The newer releases have savestates (or in some cases save points, where the game is saved at the start of each level). This ability to save is a feature that is greatly appreciated for this game. In the original, you had to restart the game completely if you ran out of lives and continues. The game also had to be restarted if somehow the power on the Sega Genesis game console was turned off. It’s nice to not worry about leaving the console on to take a break from the game for a while. The Xbox 360 release has many features, which I will go into detail below. If you aren’t interested in the Xbox Live Arcade version, you can skip down to the final verdict below.

Sonic on the Xbox 360 is presented well. The sound emulation is well done. The music is faithful to the original, and the sound effects sound good as well except for a few that sound a little off. It’s nothing too major and doesn’t happen too often, so it doesn’t take away from the pleasure of playing the game in the slightest. There are many options for the graphics display. The default setup has the screen at the original aspect ratio with blue borders around the screen where the television screen size surpasses the game’s resolution. The blue borders really stand out and made me sick while playing. Thankfully, these blue borders (called wallpaper by the game) can be turned off, and the borders will be a plain black. Even better, in my opinion, is the option to stretch the screen to match the size of your television. There is also an option to smooth the graphics. The smoothing and screen stretching is my favorite combination. This makes Sonic look wonderful on my HDTV.

The achievements in Sonic the Hedgehog are quite evenly paced. There are quite a few easy achievements, which are given for completing the game’s zones. There are also a few harder accomplishments, such as completing a level (as well as one for the entire game) in a certain amount of time. Other accomplishments seem hard, but with the save state system, even the achievement to complete the game without dying can be completed easily. There is nothing stopping Sonic fans from trying these accomplishments without saving and loading, however.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the best pure platformers. If you are a Sonic fan or a platformer fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5