Also available on PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch
After playing Mega Man X - a game I felt was virtually perfect - I had high hopes for Mega Man X2. X2, while still an excellent game and superior to Mega Man 7, unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the astronomical standards set by X1. Don’t get me wrong - it’s great - but when that’s what it’s got to follow, it’s not terribly surprising that it feels a little lacking.
As far as level design goes, X2 and X1 are about on equal footing generally speaking. X2 keeps its predecessor’s X-cellent controls (I had to make the joke at least once), and controlling the game is easy and responsive. The visuals are fantastic, and the bosses all look unique and creative. Where the game disappoints is with the boss battles. They just don’t feel quite as well-designed as they did in the previous game. You’ve basically got to have the weapon they’re weak to (or be significantly better at Mega Man than I am) to stun them enough and do enough damage to beat them whereas in X1, most of them were doable with just the X-blaster once you got a feel for their attack patterns. At least at my paltry skill level, these bosses just attacked too fast for that for the most part. That’s not necessarily a bad design, mind you, but it felt less about learning a boss’s movements and patterns and more about exploiting their weakness in this game, and it just didn’t feel as fun or rewarding for me.
All that said, if you do have the weapon to which the boss is weak, the battle becomes a walk in the park. With the first eight bosses, it was one of those two extremes - extremely difficult or extremely easy. The Sigma Fortress bosses, of course, were a different story; even with their weakness, every single one of those bosses kicked my tail up and down the screen. That juxtaposition, as well, felt a little haphazard to me. I know part of Mega Man’s formula is being able to tackle most bosses in any order, but the difference in difficulty between regular bosses and Sigma bosses just felt more pronounced here than in most Mega Man games.
I’ve dogged on the boss fights here a lot, but that really is my only major disappointment with X2. It’s an extraordinary Mega Man game, and I had an absolute blast playing it. It may not have lived up to X1 in my opinion, but damn if it didn’t come close. I can definitely call this one of the jewels in the SNES crown. With how accessible the X collection is on modern consoles, this is definitely a game to check out if you’re into action platformers and haven’t played it already.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Gamecube, PlayStation 2, Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Android, iOS, and Windows
Mega Man X was the series’s debut on the Super Nintendo as well as the start of the “X” sub-series of games. It’s also, however, probably the best game in the entire Mega Man franchise, at least of the ones that I’ve played. I know a lot of folks look at spin-off games as inherently inferior to the main series games - I know I’m guilty of that with Pokemon and Resident Evil - but in this case, those people would be wrong; Mega Man X is definitely a cut above even the best of the first seven main series entries.
The game takes place sometime in the 22nd Century about a hundred years after the events of the main series. Dr. Light created a successor android to Mega Man known as X that was supposed to be able to think, feel, and make his own decisions just like a human being. Obviously this presents the risk of making the Terminator movies real, and Light realized that. Because he estimated that it would take 30 years to test X fully to ensure that he wouldn’t violate the cardinal robot rule of “Never hurt humans,” and he knew he didn’t have 30 years of life left in him, he put X in a capsule that would do some kind of auto-test and instructed that the capsule not be opened until the tests were complete. Fast forward a bit, and Dr. Light’s fears have come true; Dr. Cain, who discovered X in the ruins of Light’s lab, creates a group of sapient robots called Reploids, and one of those Reploids, Sigma, has gone berserk and raised a Reploid army to try to wipe out humanity. X, along with his robot mentor, Zero, set out to stop Sigma and his Reploid army led by a group of robots called Mavericks. Basically, Sigma is the new Dr. Wily, and the Mavericks are the new Robot Masters.
Just like the core Mega Man series, you’re able to pick any Maverick to fight first, each drops a weapon, and each is weak against another Maverick’s specific weapon. For the most part, the gameplay is exactly what you’ve come to expect from Mega Man but polished to perfection and with a few key additions. You can grab hold of walls and perform wall jumps at will - something that makes parts of the platforming much more fun - and you can also perform a dash and a charged up shot from your X-buster. Those additions, however, kind of get overshadowed by how absolutely perfect the controls are. Everything feels tight, responsive, and finely tuned. If you die here, it’s almost always your fault; no blaming the controls on your own shortcomings here.
The 16-bit sprites are absolutely gorgeous, and the soundtrack manages to keep the classic sound and style while adding in some of the more advanced audio effects made possible by the SNES hardware. In every way, Mega Man X is the perfect 16-bit upgrade of the NES Mega Man games even more so than Mega Man 7 despite the fact that X came out a few years earlier. The levels are among some of the best designed in the series, and the same goes for the bosses. My only real complaint with the bosses is that there’s a huge difficulty gap between some of them. A couple of the Mavericks, I was able to beat without taking a hit, no problem whereas others took me several attempts before I could really get into the groove with them. That’s literally my only complaint with the entire game, though.
Mega Man X is the perfect action platformer. Honestly, excluding Metroidvanias since I think they’re kind of a separate sub-genre (like how you wouldn’t compare Xenosaga with Mass Effect even though they’re both RPGs), I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s the greatest action platformer ever made. It’s definitely the best one that I’ve played. I certainly underestimated this game expecting it to be really good but not jaw-dropping like Mega Man 7 was, but Mega Man X just blew me away. I’m now quite looking forward to jumping into some of the other Mega Man X games.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Mega Man 7 is a game that I never heard much about when I was growing up. It was a fairly late release in the SNES lifespan, it always seemed overshadowed by the Mega Man X series as far as 16-bit entries went. It didn’t make it into the first Mega Man Legacy Collection, but it did make it into Legacy Collection 2. Still, though, having played through the six NES games a few years ago, I figured it was worth playing through, and I gotta say, I’m glad I did.
Mega Man 7 is very much just the NES games but in 16-bits instead of 8-bit as far as gameplay goes. If you’ve played those games, just imagine it with SNES graphics, and you’ve pretty much got it. Like the NES games, the actual stages are the hard part of the game for the most part with the eight robot masters being pretty easy once you figure out their attack patterns. The exceptions to this are some of the bosses in Dr. Wily’s castle at the end. The last three bosses, specifically, were about to make me pull my hair out, especially the final Dr. Wily fight.
Frustrating bosses aside, the biggest issue I had with the game was slowdown. There typically wasn’t an enormous amount of slowdown, but it was definitely frequent and noticeable enough to stand out as worth mentioning. Truthfully, the game’s biggest flaw is that it’s just more of the same. Especially upon its release, the Mega Man series was suffering from the same problem that plagues Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed today - repetitive yearly releases that don’t really change that much. Mega Man 7 is a solidly good game, but it doesn’t really do anything to stand out from the previous mainline entries aside from being on more powerful hardware, and it just doesn’t manage to be as cool or addicting as the Mega Man X series.
Mega Man 7’s good. Honestly, it’s really good. It’s stale, though. The first few NES games felt fresh because Mega Man was new, and the Mega Man X games added enough in the way of mechanics and plot elements to feel exciting and distinct. Mega Man 7 doesn’t have either of those things going for it. There’s a lot to be said for “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but when you’ve already not only fixed but improved upon it, you really shouldn’t go back, and that’s what it feels like Mega Man 7 did. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just feels like a step back rather than forward or even to the side.
My Rating - 4 Neps
As the name suggests, Top Gun: The Second Mission is the sequel to the commercially successfully but definitely flawed Top Gun for NES. This, however, is an example of a sequel done right. Konami clearly listened to the criticism that the first game got as well as the praise it got and set about fixing the problems and expanding on the strengths.
The first thing that most will notice is that this game looks a lot nicer than the first one. It’s not a night and day transformation like Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros 3, but it’s a definite upgrade. The cut scenes look much better, and the enemy sprites got a nice touch-up, as well. Likewise, the combat feels much more refined. The dog fights truly do feel like dog fights here. I compared the first game to After Burner in first person, but this game feels much closer to a true arcade experience like that. In addition to the inverted vertical controls like you’d find with a joystick, they added the option for more traditional controls where pressing up on the D-pad moves your plane up.
The gameplay is also a lot faster. Like, a LOT faster. Truthfully, it feels a little too fast at times. Enemies flit off the side of the screen much faster than in the first game, and missiles reach you much more quickly, as well. The increased combat difficulty is matched, however, by a significantly simplified landing sequence. Whereas I had to try and try and try over a dozen times before I got my first successful land in the first game, I have never failed to land in this one. There are also only three missions as opposed to four, but I’d say the game is probably about just as long as these three missions are all much longer than the four missions from the first game.
The first Top Gun was a fun experience that was unfortunately marred by a brutally difficult landing sequence that honestly ruined the game for a lot of people. Fortunately, Konami remedied that problem in this sequel. The combat is way tougher than what you found in the previous game, so don’t expect the easy landing sequence to make for an easier playthrough, but it’s a ton of fun, and at least here, you’re going to die due to missiles and machine guns, not accidentally kamikazeing your own aircraft carrier.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Top Gun is a game made infamous by the early Angry Video Game Nerd videos, and I’m not ashamed to say that that’s where I first saw the game back when I was in middle school. Since then, it always kind of mystified me as this game that was fun to hate but never seemed as bad to me as the internet - myself included - made it out to be. When I started collecting for NES in earnest in my freshman year of high school, I picked this game up at the flea market down the road out of obligation as much as anything else. I felt like a game that seemingly universally reviled was one that I had to own.
Top Gun is a flight combat sim, and despite releasing fairly early in the NES’s lifespan - 1987 - it looks fantastic. The game is from a cockpit perspective, and while it’s definitely a product of 1980s gaming technology, it’s remarkable when you take the hardware into consideration. The combat is fast paced, and you’ve really got to be on your toes to shoot down enemies, dodge bullets, and either avoid or destroy incoming missiles all at the same time. It feels a lot like a first person After Burner to me, and considering that After Burner is one of my favorite Master System games, that’s definitely a good thing.
That’s the majority of the game, but that’s not what most people tend to criticize. Most folks seem to recognize the actual dog fighting as an incredibly fun and well-made experience. What most people criticize - rightfully so - is the landing sequence at the end of each level. It’s nearly impossible to land the plane without crashing and losing a life until you really get a good feel for it, and that’s where most of the hate comes into play. The game consists of four levels, and you have three lives. Even if you play each level perfectly and never get shot down, you’ll still get game over before you finish the last level if you can’t land the plane, and those missiles can be extremely difficult to avoid especially in the last two levels. Even if you follow all of the on-screen prompts immediately, you’ll crash. It just takes a ton of trial and error until you really get a feel for it, and that’s something a lot of people don’t have the patience to do.
Top Gun is honestly a really good game for the most part. The combat is incredibly fun, but that damn landing sequence ruins the game for a lot of folks. I definitely don’t think it’s fair to write off the entire game as garbage because of that part, but given that it’s unreasonably obnoxious, it’s a definite pox on an otherwise excellent NES. Don’t avoid the game just because of it, but definitely go in with the understanding that you’ll want to break your controller when you get to that part.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Epoch Super Cassette Vision
I’m a huge fan of scrolling shooters. I typically prefer vertically scrolling shooters, but I’m not one to turn my nose up at a horizontally scrolling shooter. Sky Kid is a home console port of a Namco horizontally scrolling arcade game, and while it’s nowhere near the level of shooters like Gradius in terms of speed or fun (in my opinion, anyway), it’s still a solid shooter.
Sky Kid feels a bit like Chopper Command on Atari 2600. You scroll from right to left shooting down enemy planes and strafing ground targets like tanks and trucks all while avoiding enemy fire and physical obstacles. What sets Sky Kid apart from most shooters is the pace. It’s a much slower game than Gradius or, at times, even Chopper Command. The screen scrolls at a steady pace, and while you can move to the left and the right on the screen, you can’t do anything to make the screen itself scroll faster or slower. This can make it tough to avoid some obstacles, but it also means that you won’t have to worry about rushing headlong into a massive group of enemies unless you’re constantly hugging one side of the screen.
While all you have to do in order to clear the level is reach the end and land on the landing strip, your objective is to bomb the target, usually either a large military building or a fortress. You’re not equipped with bombs, though. As you’re avoiding enemies and shooting them down, you also need to keep your eyes peeled for bombs on the ground and give yourself time and room to swoop down, grab the bomb, and regain your altitude. Normally you can use one of the buttons to do a roll in the air to avoid enemy attacks and give yourself a moment of invulnerability, but you lose that when you’re holding a bomb; when you have a bomb, that button drops the bomb. If you waste your bomb, too bad. It’s gone. You don’t have to bomb the target in order to complete the level (with the exception of the last level), but you do get a massive point bonus if you do destroy it.
The sprites in the game are fairly small and definitely have the look of an early NES game, but that doesn’t mean they look bad. Simple, definitely, but not bad. While there’s some slowdown towards the end, the game runs pretty smoothly for the most part, and the serious sprite flicker doesn’t start to really show up until the latter half of the game. It may not be my ideal style of shooter, but it’s undeniably a very competent arcade conversion for 1986, and it’s definitely fun to play. There are better shooters on the NES, but this is still a great piece to add to any collection.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and MS-DOS
Skull and Crossbones is another unlicensed Tengen game on NES, and that usually means that it’s either really good or really bad. Unfortunately, this qualifies as the latter. You would expect that a game about pirates would involve plundering treasure and fighting with cannons and swords. It does not. Well, it does involve fighting with swords, and it involves your getting shot with a cannon, but it’s far from the 8-bit rendition of Assassin’s Creed IV that I was hoping to play.
Instead of doing actual pirate things, this game is actually just “What if Mario dressed like a pirate?” You’re not actually doing much pirating; sure, you’re taking “booty,” but that booty is mostly rum and raspberries, and you only ever steal from skeletons and other pirates. There’s no ship to control or anything; honestly, LJN’s Jaws game felt more pirate-y than this in that regard. Each level - I think there are half a dozen or so - consists of wandering around a cramped platforming stage killing random pirates, rats, skeletons, demons, and zombies until you kill a certain amount and trigger the boss fight. Then you fight the boss, collect the alcohol and fruit they threw around the area, and then you’re off to the next level. This would be fine if the game controlled well, but it doesn’t. Your character is slow, clunky, and hard to control as he somehow falls like a brick when he jumps while also moving like he’s on ice.
When I described the game as “What if Mario dressed like pirate,” I wasn’t talking about the gameplay so much as the plot. Your wife/girlfriend/wench is a princess who was kidnapped by an evil wizard, and you’re going through these stages chasing the wizard to rescue the princess. If a real pirate were trying to rescue a princess from an evil wizard, it wouldn’t be to have a dance party on his ship (I’m not kidding, that’s the actual ending); it would be to ransom her for a massive cargo hold full of gold coins and then sail off into the sunset filthy rich.
Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on this game, but literally nothing outside of the use of a sword and pistol actually feels pirate-y. Change the costume and nothing else, and this could easily be a game about a time traveling space ninja. The game is playable once you get a feel for it, but it’s length is entirely down to difficulty, and its difficulty is entirely down to bad design. Your character is hard to control, the bosses can hit you before you’re able to attack them, and your weapons are limited and replaced by finding piles of bones that could contain weapons or could instantly kill you. Hope you’re feeling lucky. All in all, this game is just bad, but it didn’t have to be. The game’s premise was always going to be dumb, but the game itself could have been fun if it had been made by competent people.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Dynowarz: Destruction of Spondylus (which gets stuck in my head as “Destruction of Spinobifyda”) is an example of a phenomenon that plagued the Atari 2600 era and remained fairly common into the 8-bit and 16-bit eras - box art describing a game that is way cooler than the game it actually contains. For most NES games, it’s not usually that bad as what’s being shown is typically pretty close, at least in basic concept, to what you get. Dynowarz is 2600-tier, though. The box art makes it look like you’re going to be playing a game as fast paced and intense as Contra or Xenophobe, but it ends up feeling more like Dragon’s Lair.
The premise of Dynowarz is fairly similar to Mega Man except instead of robot masters, it’s robot dinosaurs in space. Part of the game even feels like a dollar store Mega Man, although that’s only half of the two play styles you’ll see in the game. You play part of the game as a random dude in a space suit with a peashooter gun, and this is the part that feels a little bit like a bad Mega Man clone. You progress through a short section horizontally with some light and extremely cumbersome platforming until you reach a bootleg Mother Brain. Shoot that until it dies, go back the way you came through the platforming part, and then hop into a giant dinosaur mech. This is where the gameplay style changes.
The second play style is where the game goes from disappointing to bad. This is also side scrolling, but in your giant dinosaur, you move at a snail’s pace and jump with all the effect of a paraplegic. Fortunately, the platforms here are few and far between, but there are some spike pits that you have to jump over, and the controls are even more awkward than with the space suit guy. To make matters worse, you don’t even have a gun. You have a fist. This dude had the technology to make a giant dinosaur mech, but he couldn’t be bothered to put a gun on it. You can, at least, pick up weapon power-ups if they drop from defeated dinosaur robots, but none of them really feel that great. You can get a punch throw - you literally throw your robot fist, and it comes back like a crappy boomerang - a fireball so small that you can barely see it, a bomb that launches in an arc over your head, or a laser that is about as satisfying to use as a slingshot.
Dynowarz is a tale of two failures. It’s like they played Blaster Master and said “What if we made this but terrible?” The on-foot stages are a little more fun to play (though it would be more accurate to say “slightly less awful”), but the dinosaur robot stages are a bit better to look at with more interesting sprites and detailed worlds; neither, however, are truly good in either the visual or gameplay departments (except the cut scenes of your robo-dino; those are cool). They both look drab, and they both handle like crap. The sprite flicker is also pretty intense at times to the point of being outright distracting, and while I understand that the limits of the NES’s PPU make sprite flicker a fact of life, there are so many games that run much better and play much better without nearly as much flicker. This is just not a great game. It’s passable, but it’s definitely not good. Unfortunately, it’s not even like Rollerblade Racer where it’s laughably bad; it’s just bad.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Astral Chain, like Bayonetta 2 and Wonderful 101 (until the remaster) before it, is a Nintendo-exclusive Platinum Games title, and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Like From Software, Platinum has a very distinct style, and you can usually tell that they made a game just based on the feel and flow of the combat, and Astral Chain is no exception to that.
Humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction by incursions from interdimensional creatures called Chimeras from the "Astral Plane." Our species now lives exclusively on an artificial floating megacity called the Ark. These Chimeras are typically invisible to the naked eye and tough as nails in a fight, so to combat them, a shady research institute with the UNION government developed a way to capture Chimeras and bind them with an "astral chain." These "Legions" would be paired with a highly trained cop in the Ark Police Department's Neuron division; these Legions give the officers in Neuron the ability to see and fight Chimeras effectively.
If you've played Bayonetta and Wonderful 101, this is kind of like a blend of the two though far closer to Bayonetta. You could also think of it as a modern action implementation of the core idea behind Knuckles Chaotix. You control one of the two characters on the game's cover depending on what sex you chose; they're twins, and whoever you didn't pick becomes a major supporting character. Your Legion is chained to you with the titular astral chain, and while you can control the Legion's movement while holding ZL, it will be AI controlled most of the time while you control the human character. Combat is fast-paced like most of Platinum's games and like most of their games can best be described as "acrobatic." It can take a little practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, it's extremely addicting and gives you a major sense of power as you're chaining up enemies, hopping and sliding across the battlefield, and pulling of brutal finishing moves.
Astral Chain isn't just a treat to play; it's also a treat for the eyes. With gorgeous colorful visuals and a bright art style, it definitely disproves the Internet trope of "Switch games have bad graphics." It's definitely no Nier Automata nor could it be with the hardware difference, but Astral Chain is a beautiful game nonetheless and definitely one of the best looking games on Switch. I played with the mClassic dongle plugged into my HDMI hub, and that gave some slight smoothing to some of the stair stepping, but the effect wasn't night and day or anything, and the game obviously still looks absolutely fantastic by itself.
Astral Chain, as a Switch exclusive, is definitely a feather in the console's cap. Having sold over a million copies in its first half-year, it may not be a "killer app" for the Switch, but it's definitely a huge success for the system and for Platinum; game director Takahisa Taura told Famitsu that the game had outperformed the company's sales expectations. The game may not sell consoles on its own, but it's definitely another bullet point on the list of reasons to own a Switch, and it's a game that Switch owners who enjoy action games definitely need to check out. It can get a little repetitive at times, but there are enough side missions to keep things varied, and as I've mentioned, the combat is just sublime.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, and Windows
I remember when The Falconeer popped up on Limited Run Games website as, if memory serves, their first Xbox game. Granted, it's part of their distributed line, not one of their numbered entries that they're publishing, but still. I thought it looked super good, but I was trying to cut down my spending, so I skipped it at the time. It came back on my radar when their website added physical releases of the "Warrior Edition" release on PS4, PS5, and Switch. Naturally, being a big Switch collector, I bit the bullet on that release, but having just signed up for Game Pass and seeing The Falconeer on there, I thought, "Why not go ahead and play through the game in 4K at 120 fps so I can better compare to how it plays on Switch?"
What's super impressive to me is that this game was made by one guy considering that it's a pretty decently sized open-world game, and while the world is mostly ocean, it's still impressive. There certainly isn't as much content and side quests and whatnot as most open-world games, but as far as the open world goes, it has a vibe similar to Wind Waker except that you're flying instead of sailing. The game is broken into a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue, and with the exception of the prologue (which is basically just a tutorial) and the epilogue, it's all open-world. Each of the chapters is from the perspective of a different faction, and as the larger narrative of a budding war unfolds, you start to see that, just like in real life wars, there is plenty of blame to go around, and no one is innocent.
The actual gameplay is aerial combat. Think Crimson Skies on Xbox, but instead of an airplane with machine guns, you're riding on the back of a giant bird with a magic lighting rifle. You other giant bird pilots, ships on the ocean, and big airships. The combat is definitely the highlight here; as I mentioned, the open world is a bit sparse, and the story is good but nothing mind blowing, but the combat is smoother than an android's bottom especially if you're playing on Series X and set the frame rate to 120 fps. Zero frame rate issues, zero screen tearing, a beautiful cell shaded world, and addicting combat mix to make this one of the finest aerial combat games I've ever played.
That said, the game isn't perfect. The voice acting is pretty bad. It's not 90s FMV game bad, but it's definitely not one of the better voice acted games out there. The story, as well, is good enough to keep me going, but it's nothing memorable, and I can guarantee I'll forget the majority of it by August. There are some side quests that can keep things interesting and give a break from the main quest, and there are random tasks you can complete for money, but with fairly limited means of buying upgrades, the incentive to do them was pretty low in my opinion. It's a great game, and there's apparently some DLC available that's going to be included with the PS4/PS5/Switch releases, but I pretty much stuck with the main story outside of hunting down the discoverable locations for achievements.
The Falconeer is an extremely fun and addicting flight combat game with a gorgeous world and a good enough story. That said, the world can feel a bit empty, and the story isn't going to set anyone's literary loins ablaze. Still, the gameplay is more than enough to warrant a strong recommendation. It's on Game Pass, so if you have that, give it a download, but even if you don't, it's definitely worth the $20 download.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, and Windows
I bought this game completely on impulse and purely off of the cover art. It looked like a gritty noire mystery but where every character has an animal head; as it turns out, that's exactly what it is. And it's a freaking masterpiece. I expected a stupid "lol meme" game, but this is a legitimately amazing mystery story.
The main character is soon-to-be-retired Clawville PD detective Sonny Featherland, one half of the titular "Chicken Police" duo along with his partner, Marty MacChicken. When a young impala somehow makes her way into Sonny's apartment and asks for his help on behalf of her employer, Natalia Catzenko, who has been receiving concerning threats, he approaches Marty to get the band back together, so to speak, for one last case. Little does he know that what seems at first to be a simple harassment issue will turn into a conspiracy large enough to turn the power structure in the city-state of Clawville on its head.
Aside from the fact that every character has the head of an animal on an otherwise human body and the subsequent animal puns, this is a completely serious and legitimately fantastically written noire mystery. The whole game is in black and white except for Natalia's green eyes (that's how you know she's at the center of the story) and red blood. There's also an option to turn on a film grain filter to give it that authentic 50s noire look. It's a lot like Ace Attorney in that it could principally be described as a visual novel but with a lot of interactive moments; you pick locations to investigate, who to talk to, specific questions to ask during interrogations that can determine how well the interrogation goes, and you have to put pieces of the puzzle together on a cork board at a few different points in the game. There are also some timed mini-game sort of segments. It's got enough variety to break up the potential monotony of a primarily text-driven game (although it is 100% fully voice acted).
The fact that this game got minimal marketing and, from what I can tell, is sold only at Gamestop physically, you'd think this is a fairly mid tier quality game, but literally every aspect surpassed my expectations by a mile. The art style is just astounding. They manage to nail that old noire look PERFECTLY with the monochromatic color, the film grain filter, the character's outfits, and dialogue all working in tandem. Speaking of the dialogue, the voice acting is fantastic. Some performances were naturally better than others - Kerry Shale's performance as Sonny Featherland is legitimately one of the best voice acting performances I've ever heard in a video game - but not a single character had a bad voice acting performance. The choices of music as well perfectly complemented the zeitgeist of the game. The world building also has to be complemented; despite being a game that only lasts maybe six or seven hours, they manage to drop enough details of the world into conversation that you get a feel for the culture in Clawville, the situation of the world in the game, and the political tensions within the city-state and the real-world situations of which they're allegories. I'm being completely serious when I saw that most AAA studios don't make games that impress me as much as this game that seemingly came out of nowhere did.
Chicken Police absolutely caught me off guard and swept me off my feet. I expected six hours of bland story-telling, so-so voice acting, and bad jokes, but what I got was six hours of brilliant mystery writing, deep characters, S-tier voice acting, fantastic writing, and an overall experience that I cannot recommend highly enough. It may not have enough interactivity to keep some more easily distracted gamers' attention, but for those who enjoy mystery stories and are into primarily narrative-driven games, but this is a true masterpiece in my opinion. There are optional side bits to discover and add to the codex that fill in some additional information about the world and characters, some collectibles to find, and different dialogue bits that play out depending on how you conduct your interrogations, so there's definitely some replay value to be had here. Overall, for a $20 asking price on the eShop, this game is a downright bargain when you take into consideration the quality. I really can't sing this game's praises enough, and I can guarantee that it will end up being one of those games with a cult following that not nearly enough people play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Windows
I am a huge fan of Battletoads. My friend, Brett, and I played through Battletoads and Battletoads/Double Dragon on my NES as well as Battletoads in Battlemaniacs on SNES when we were in high school, and I bought Rare Replay day one specifically for the inclusion of the Battletoads arcade game. Despite that, this release somehow managed to fly under my radar for nearly a year. When I saw it on Game Pass the night I signed up a few days ago, I immediately downloaded it.
Battletoads, for the uninitiated, is cult classic early 90s beat 'em up series from Rare that tried to capitalize on the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The three Battletoads, Rash, Pimple, and Zitz, battle their archnemesis, the Dark Queen. The early games are fun, brimming with 90s 'tude, and brutally difficult. An April Fool's joke in 2008 of a fake trailer for a Wii reboot of the series exploded into a meme, reviving interest in the series and eventually leading to (or at least I assume it was a factor) the inclusion of Battletoads as well as the first ever console port of the Battletoads arcade game in 2015's Rare Replay for Xbox One.
This reboot of Battletoads is as much a love letter to the series as it is a continuation. It's done in an animated art style which I was lukewarm on at first, but it grew on me. The premise is that the Battletoads find out that rather than being beloved heroes, they're totally unknown random toads who have spent 26 years locked up in a buried underground bunker; likewise, the Dark Queen has spent 26 years held prisoner in an abandoned theme park. The Dark Queen then teams up with the Battletoads to fight their common foe. It's cheesy and cliche, but it works.
The gameplay is what kept me playing. It spans multiple genres. Obviously you have the beat 'em up levels which I honestly felt weren't particularly well done; they're fun and totally functional, but they felt very generic and blah. You've got a few turbobike levels, call backs to the infamous stages in the original games. There are a handful of platforming levels, a handful of shmup levels, and even a few QTE-style levels. There are several boss battles spread throughout, and they're all unique with their own gimmicks and tricks. The level variety may be a turn off for some as it does, admittedly, keep the game from fitting into any one genre and excelling at that, but I found it to be great as it kept the game from feeling stale. I never got bored at any point because it never stuck with one playstyle long enough to feel monotonous.
This Battletoads reboot is going to be divisive among longtime fans, but I personally had a blast with it. It only took me I think two and a half hours to beat, but it was a fantastic time. The writing is stupid but hilarious and clever, and at no point does the game take itself seriously; it's aware that it's just a reboot of a TMNT rip-off. The varied gameplay styles keeps things interesting, the fact that each level has five collectables to find adds some replay value, and the inclusion of three different difficulties tailors the game for everyone from the longtime Battletoads veterans to the newcomers who just want to laugh at the dumb jokes. It's definitely not quite what Battletoads fans, myself included, probably wanted out of a reboot of the series, but it's definitely fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Oculus Quest, and Windows
Tetris is my all-time favorite puzzle game. It (along with my lack of self-discipline at 14 years old) is why my online Latin 1 class my first semester freshman year of high school remains the lowest grade of my life; I spent that whole semester playing Tetris Friends instead of actually learning Latin. It makes sense, then, that my first Game Pass game after finally signing up for the service was Tetris Effect: Connected.
Tetris Effect is home to a host of single player and multiplayer modes, but what I spent the most time on is Journey, the primary single player mode. This is set up like a campaign with each stage having its own unique theme. These themes are represented by different styled tetrominos, backgrounds, and music, and they really give the game a trippy New Age sort of feel. It's just Tetris, but the presentation makes it feel unlike any Tetris game I've ever played before. The game calls Journey mode an "emotional" experience, and while I'm not sure "emotional" is necessarily the best word, "zen" is definitely apt. The game's zeitgeist has a real Western-yoga-hippie-woman-style Buddhist vibe to it, and I absolutely adore it. It reminds me a LOT of my late aunt who passed away last year and how she was back before the Alzheimer's corrupted and changed her personality, so it made an especially major impact on me.
It's available on all non-Nintendo last gen consoles, but the only current gen system to get an optimized version is the Series X, the version I played. This has the game running in native 2160p at a flawless 60 fps, and it's an absolutely surreal experience. I only dabbled a little with the multiplayer because I was so engrossed with Journey, but the fact that it offers both cooperative and competitive multiplayer options is fantastic and gives the game a lot of replay value. Because I played on Xbox, I wasn't able to experience the game in VR, but my time with it has definitely inspired me to order a PS4 copy on Amazon so I can play it with PSVR.
I may be a bit biased because I'm such a big fan of Tetris in general, but honestly, the words "euphoric" and "spiritual" are the only the ways I can think of that really capture the feel of Tetris Effect. I was expecting another generic Tetris game, but this isn't that. It shows a real dedication and passion that most Tetris products haven't shows in years. The controls are smooth and responsive, the style of the game is second to none, and the multiplayer options ensure that this is a game that Tetris fans will keep coming back to for a long time yet. Most gamers have either a PS4, an Xbox One, or a PC, so this is a game that can be experienced by pretty much anyone, and since it's on Game Pass, that makes it especially accessible for Xbox and PC players. Make sure you don't sleep on this one; it's a truly surreal experience.
My Rating - 5 Neps
It's no secret that I'm a MASSIVE Hyperdimension Neptunia fan. It's also no secret that the games in this series are decent at best. Sometimes I even acknowledge that fact. To celebrate Nep's 10th anniversary, Idea Factory decided to release a PS5 remaster of the PS Vita remake of the PS3 original. What started as Hyperdimension Neptunia on the PS3 was remade as Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 on the PS Vita and then remastered as Neptunia ReVerse on the PS5. Personally, I would have preferred a fully remade game for the series's PS5 debut, but for a series that excels at mediocrity, this is exactly what one should expect.
The game takes place in Gameindustri, a world divided into four nations each ruled over by their goddess, a Console Patron Unit - Planeptune, ruled over by Lady Purple Heart (Neptune); Lastation, ruled over by Lady Black Heart (Noire); Leanbox, ruled over by Lady Green Heart (Vert); and Lowee, ruled over by Lady White Heart (Blanc). These four goddesses fight endlessly in the land of Celestia floating above the four nations the Console War over Shares, the power derived from the devotion of the people. At some point in the endless fighting, Neptune gets ganged up on by the other three goddesses and goes plummeting to the ground below, landing headfirst like a javelin in Planeptune and losing all of her memory. As she seeks to regain her memory, aided by her new friends Compa and IF, she stumbles on a sinister plan to destroy the four goddesses and all of Gameindustri with them.
As far as gameplay goes, Neptunia ReVerse is about as generic a JRPG as it gets in most ways. Your four CPUs (seven if you play Arrange Mode which I'll discuss in a bit) as well as the four CPU Candidates that you can unlock later in the game can activate HDD (Hard Drive Divinity) and transform into their true forms which gives them a pretty substantial stat boost. Other than, it's totally generic run-of-the-mill JRPG. Honestly, that doesn't bother me; the game exists to be fan service, not to push the envelope of JRPG mechanics. The story is also pretty generic, although having the entire thing be an allegory for the game industry (even if the names are bit on the nose) is pretty awesome in my opinion. So why do folks buy these games other than the obvious anime tiddies? The characters. The characters and their interactions are, while pretty trope-y, a lot of fun. That's why I keep coming back, at least; Neptune and Compa are two of my absolute favorite characters just kind of in general.
The Neptunia series has never pushed the limits of the hardware it's on, and that absolutely holds true here. The game looks amazing compared to the rest of the series, but truthfully, this is nothing that the base PS4 couldn't have pulled off. Don't get me wrong; I'm thrilled to have another PS5 exclusive. It's just a shame that the development team didn't take advantage of the hardware. It looks very nice with some reflections and visual effects we've never seen in the series before, and the frame rate is a consistent 60 fps, but the models and textures aren't going to impress anyone. The music is a similar story; it's great, but it's nothing that fans of the series haven't heard before, and outside of a few tunes here and there, it's nothing that's likely to get stuck in your head or make much of an impression.
The big change here from Re;Birth 1 are the trophy set and Arrange Mode. There are significantly fewer trophies in ReVerse than there were in Re;Birth 1, but that's largely because Re;Birth 1 had a trophy for getting each character to level 99 whereas ReVerse doesn't have any character-specific trophies. Arrange Mode is the big change; the core story doesn't change at all, but the balance is changed up. First off, you get every character right from the get-go including some like Plutia, Peashy, and Uzume who I don't recall being unlockable in Re;Birth 1 (I know Uzume wasn't because the game she's in hadn't been released yet). You also get most of their costumes unlocked from the start. It also changes the XP balance; enemies give less XP, but it takes much less XP to get your characters to levels beyond 100, so while it may feel tougher in the core game, if you're going for the high level stuff, it gets (somewhat) less tedious. I played in Arrange Mode having already played through Re;Birth 1 and wanting to see what they changed, and it was definitely nice having every character opened up to me at the start, but I ended up just using the same eight characters throughout the whole game. It's definitely not something you want you to do on your first playthrough - you want to get a feel for each character as they're unlocked - but it's perfect for replays.
Neptunia ReVerse is a solid remaster of the Vita's Re;Birth 1, but given that it's on a 9th gen console instead of an 8th gen handheld, it's disappointing that more wasn't added. The visual upgrades are definitely nice and a new high for the series, but even so, they're only impressive in the context of the rest of the series. It's definitely a tougher game than some of the other recent entries, but even so, as with most JRPGs, that's nothing a little grinding can't take care of. It's definitely a fun game, but if you don't care about anime waifus, you'll get bored quickly. It's a very competent JRPG, but it doesn't do anything truly unique or impressive, and it's not going to make much of an impression if you're not a mouth-breathing weeb like me.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Some things should not be made into video games. Other things would work okay as video games but only if done well. Where’s Waldo on NES is definitely an example of one of these two, probably the latter. I knew this would be a quick game and a stupidly short game, but I didn’t expect it to take me literally less than fifteen minutes.
As the name suggests, you have a handful of levels filled to the brim with people, and you have to find Waldo. The less-than-stellar graphics, however, make this difficult as there are several non-Waldo sprites who look a lot like Waldo at first. There are four difficulties - Practice which has no time limit, and then Easy, Medium, and Hard which are increasingly strict with time penalties for wrong guesses and change the size of the game screen to make it more difficult. The harder difficulties will sometimes have Waldo in different colors which honestly feels more like BS than honest difficulty; the red stripe shirt is kind of his thing.
There are some special levels that break up the monotony somewhat. There’s a cave level where you can’t see anything and have to wait until Waldo darts across the screen briefly. That one’s so easy that it’s honestly frustrating. Then there’s a subway level that’s like a maze that you have to navigate to get to Waldo and then get to the exit. Lastly, there’s final level is a slot machine that requires you land all three spinners on Waldo’s face. Do that before the end of your time limit, and you win.
That’s it. That’s the entirety of Where’s Waldo. It’s a terrible game with terrible design. Bad graphics aren’t always a deal breaker for NES games, but when the entire point is to find a specific character, that kind of depends on being able to see what character on screen, and that’s sometimes easier said than done here. Don’t bother with this game; it honestly isn’t even worth emulating.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on Wii U via Virtual Console
Metroid Fusion, also known as Metroid 4, is the furthest point in the Metroid timeline up until the release of Metroid Dread later in 2021 (allegedly). It was also the first Metroid game to appear on the Game Boy Advance. The game's story is told through dialogue cut scenes and sheds some light onto Samus's military background and her former CO, Adam.
The basic premise of Metroid Fusion is that Samus is acting as bodyguard for a research team researching SR388, the Metroid homeworld. While on the planet, she's attacked by an entity she'd never encountered previously. She later finds out that this entity, the parasite known as X, had infected her, integrating with her nervous systems, corrupting her Power Suit, and infesting her body. Parts of her suit had to be surgically removed, hence the change to her appearance. Unfortunately, an explosion occurred at the research station that had her infested suit, and her new computer CO has ordered her to investigate the incident.
Visually, Fusion and Zero Mission are about on par. They look fantastic, and the sprites are gorgeous. The lighting effects seen in parts of the game look extremely good, and I didn't notice any slowdown whatsoever during my playthrough. While the whole series has excellent music, I found Fusion's music to be especially good as it perfectly complements the foreboding and perilous tone of the game. The controls are about on par with Zero Missions, as well; space jump and wall jumping still feel a bit awkward, but they're perfectly serviceable a big step up from the older games.
The difficulty in Fusion is interesting. There is an Easy and a Normal mode (and a Hard mode in Japan that can be unlocked), but as far as just general difficulty, it's kind of mixed. On the one hand, I found navigation to be hands down the easiest of the series to this point. Your computer CO tells you pretty much exactly where you need to go most of the time, and the few times it doesn't, it's not too hard to find on your own. On the other hand, Samus takes more damage per hit than in previous Metroid games. This is balanced, however, with the fact that there are more total energy tanks thank in previous Metroid games, as well. All things considered, I found it much easier than Metroid, Metroid II or Super Metroid, but most difficult than Zero Mission.
Metroid Fusion is an excellent of example of why this series has such a strong following. With beautiful visuals, tight controls, addicting exploration, and varied and interesting bosses, this is peak Game Boy Advance action. It definitely feels a little like it holds your hand with the exploration by telling you where you need to go on the map, but with how frustratingly hidden some of the paths can be, I think that's a minor gripe at best, and I personally loved that feature. It's a shame that Game Boy Advance games never saw a 3DS release outside of the Ambassador program (of which Metroid Fusion was a part), but if you've got a Wii U, definitely check this game out before Metroid Dread comes out. It's apparently the cool thing to do as this game almost instantly shot to the top of the eShop sales charts after Dread was announced.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, Switch via NSO, and 3DS via Virtual Console
Super Metroid is the third game in the Metroid series both chronologically and in release order following Metroid on NES and Metroid II: Return of Samus on Game Boy. It’s widely considered to be one of if not the best games in the series, and I’ve got to agree with that assessment. It excels in pretty much everything, and you’ve got to look pretty hard to find any real flaws with the game.
After the events of Metroid II, Samus takes the baby Metroid - the last survivor of its species as far as we know - to a Federation research station. No sooner does Samus leave than Space Pirates attack the research station and steal the baby Metroid. Now Samus must return to Zebes to deal with the Space Pirates and either recapture or eliminate the Metroid. The narrative set-up, told through cut scenes at the beginning of the game, starts the game with some solid tension. Being back on Zebes, a lot of the game feels rather similar to the first game, but this is by no means a recreation of the original map. There are some major differences this time around in addition to some much needed quality of life improvements like an inventory screen, eight directional firing, and most importantly, an automap that you can reference at any time.
Literally everything about Super Metroid is an improvement over Metroid. The visuals are just beautiful. They’re colorful, they’re detailed, and some of the visual effects used are mind blowing when you consider that this didn’t use the Super FX chip. The soundtrack is downright masterful and perfectly sets the ambiance for the lonely, isolated, and perilous situation in which Samus once again finds herself. The controls as well have been tuned to near perfection. The space jump can still be a little finicky, but it’s SIGNIFICANTLY better than it was in Metroid II. Platforming feels a lot more responsive and natural, and the ability to shoot diagonally makes a world of difference especially in boss battles.
The game isn’t completely without flaws, but they’re extremely minor and few and far between. In fact, the only noteworthy flaw that I noticed during my playthrough was a bit of slow down when the screen gets busy, mainly when using a Super Bomb with a lot of enemies and/or destructible blocks on-screen. That’s the only situation where I noticed any slowdown, though, and in the handful of instances of it, the slowdown only lasted for a second or two. Beyond that, I saw no performance issues whatsoever with the game.
It’s clear why a lot of Best Video Game of All Time lists put Super Metroid near the top; it really is nearly perfect. The visuals are stunning, the soundtrack is stellar, the controls are tight and responsive, and the world, while sometimes frustrating, is a blast to explore. Fortunately, Nintendo knows how great and beloved this game is, so it’s pretty widely available to play. The Wii Virtual Console isn’t really an option anymore with the shutdown of the Shop Channel (RIP), but you can still download it on your Wii U or New 3DS, and it’s also available on the Super Nintendo Classic and the Nintendo Switch Online SNES app, so there are plenty of legitimate ways to play even without hunting down a SNES cartridge.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Metroid II: Return of Samus is the Game Boy sequel to the original Metroid on NES, and I have to admit that this one surprised me. Normally a game will feel like a definite downgrade when it starts on NES and gets a sequel on Game Boy - Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Land, for example. To my surprise, Metroid II didn't feel like much of a downgrade at all. On the contrary, for the most part, it just felt like more Metroid but in black and white.
Metroid II takes place immediately following the events of Metroid. Knowing that the Metroids pose an existential risk to other life in the galaxy, the Galactic Federation determines that the species must be exterminated. After her success in the previous game, Samus is sent to see to the extinction of the Metroids. That's the whole game here - you have to kill every single Metroid on their homeworld. In the bottom rights of the screen, there's a running tally of how many Metroids remain. You'll come into contact with a variety of different Metroids. There are, obviously, the regular Metroids that you encountered in the first game. There are also Alpha Metroids, the second stage in the Metroid development. They then turn to Gamma Metroids that gain the ability to shoot projectiles. Those turn into Zeta Metroids which can only be damaged from head on. Then finally you've got the Omega Metroids which are like Zeta Metroids on steroids. Finally, you have the final boss, the Metroid queen.
A handful of folks have said that they think that they think Metroid II is easier to navigate than the original, but I personally found this one to be at least as complicated to navigate as the first game. It definitely ended up feeling easier to navigate once I got a feel for the mazes, but at first, I was SO lost. The fact that you don't have a map is a major hinderance, but that's a pretty common thing with games this age especially for handhelds. Keep a map pulled up on your phone, and you're probably okay. Or maybe you just generally suck less than I do.
Metroid II is definitely rough around the edges, but it's a great follow-up from the first Metroid. I didn't notice any of the sprite flicker from the NES original, and there wasn't much noticeable slowdown, either. Still, though, the game is definitely as primitive as you would expect. That doesn't mean that it's not fun, though. On the contrary, while it's an imperfect experience, it's definitely a fun experience. I definitely recommend sticking to the 3DS remake, Samus Returns, if you want the Metroid story, but this is definitely a fun one to fire up and play a little of every now and then.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Wii U via Virtual Console
Having recently played through the original Metroid on NES, I decided I might as well play through its enhanced remake on GBA, Metroid: Zero Mission. Along with the other GBA Metroid, Metroid Fusion, this is one of the two 2D Metroid games that I’d never finished. With the release of Metroid Dread on the Switch looming on the horizon, I figured now was a pretty good time to go back through the 2D Metroid games.
Metroid: Zero Mission is, at its heart, a remake of the NES original, but “retelling” or “reimagining” would probably be more accurate as it’s not the NES game in GBA graphics. It tells the story of the original game - Samus’s battle with Kraid, Ridley, and Mother Brain on planet Zebes to prevent the Metroids from spreading across the galaxy - but it’s more than that. The map has been reworked, quality of life improvements have been made, and a whole section of game has been added following the defeat of Mother Brain. Instead of escaping after beating Mother Brain and the game ending, you end up going through a Space Pirate mothership and fighting more enemies and an additional boss. It not only makes this the definitive way to get the first story in the Metroid series, but it does so in a way that doesn’t invalidate the NES original; the 8-bit progenitor game is absolutely still worth playing even if you’ve played Zero Mission.
That said, the technical enhancements over the original on NES can’t be overstated. Obviously it looks leagues better, but it runs significantly better, too. The original had slow down and sprite flicker; you’re not going to encounter any of that here. The smoother and somewhat faster gameplay make it a delight to play and really show how fantastic an old school 2D Metroid game can be even in 2021 when we’ve become used to 3D games with 4K visuals. If I have any complaint about Zero Mission, it’s that there just isn’t enough of it. Even with the added content after you beat Mother Brain, the game leaves you wanting more. That’s not entirely a strike against it, though; a lot of that is because of the huge quality of life improvements that force you to spend less time wandering aimlessly, the save points that will have you wasting less time when you die, and the fact that it’s not as brutally difficult as the original.
On the topic of difficulty, some may argue that it’s a bit too easy as it’s definitely one of the less difficult entries in the series, but I would say that it’s perfect as it is. When you start the game, you can choose between an Easy and a Hard difficulty, and beyond that, I think that having this game be less difficult while retelling the story that started the Metroid series makes it a perfect entry point for prospective new fans who might otherwise be turned off by the difficulty and technical limitations of the NES original.
I really cannot overstate how much I enjoyed my time playing through Metroid: Zero Mission. While I’m openly not particularly good as most video games, I found it to have enough challenge where it needed to - the bosses - while not being frustrating in the bulk of the game. Most importantly, it’s just a blast to play. This is definitely a game I can see myself going back to just to spend a half hour playing when I get the itch regardless of whether or not I beat it again. The game itself is just a perfect 2D Metroid experience. It’s on the Wii U Virtual Console which is how I would recommend playing it if you don’t already have a GBA copy or a GBA Everdrive as prices have shot up in the lead-up to Metroid Dread’s release. However you play it, though, you’re in for a hell of a good time.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Game Boy Advance, Wii via Virutal Console, Wii U via Virtal Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, and Switch via Nintendo Switch Online
Metroid is one of Nintendo’s classic IPs from the NES days, and while the series hasn’t gotten the love it deserves in my opinion, its games still draw huge hype has evidenced by how incredibly well pre-order sales for the recently announced Metroid Dread are going. With that game on the horizon, I figured that I would replay some of the series' 2D games to get myself ready beginning with the one that started it all.
The game’s story is entirely told through the instruction manual. For most games, that means that I wouldn’t bother with it and would make up my own story instead as I did with Little Samson, but I’m not going to disrespect Metroid that way. The premise is that there’s a federation of planets from all over the galaxy that band together to trade and peace or whatever. Naturally, there are pirates that prey on ships. That would be manageable, but they attacked a research outpost that was researching an unknown organism believed to have wiped out an entire civilization as it was being moved to Earth for study. With the potential to replicate this organism and use it as a bio-weapon, the Federation understandably panics and hires the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter, Samus Aran, to infiltrate the Space Pirate base and destroy it. The instruction manual refers to Samus with masculine pronouns, but as we all know these days, the big reveal at the end of the game is that Samus is actually the galaxy’s most badass woman.
Metroid is about as not straightforward as it gets. The game consists of a MASSIVE maze, and you’re not afforded the modern luxury of an automap. This makes exploration the name of the game in Metroid, and there’s a lot to explore with a lot of seemingly dead ends. There are a lot of destructible walls and floors, but unlike in more recent games, it’s not apparent that you can destroy them. As such, you’ll spend a lot of time just shooting walls and ceilings or rolling around bombing the floor to see if there’s a hidden passage you can use to progress. Personally, I’m spoiled by modern conveniences, so I found that particular aspect more frustrating than anything else, but fortunately, I’m also a punk who looked up a map on his phone, so that’s always an option for us denizens of the 21st Century.
As you work your way through this maze, there are multiple power-ups that you’ll need to grab and two bosses that you’ll need to defeat before you’re able to get to the final boss, Mother Brain. All three of these bosses are TOUGH and show you zero mercy, and that’s not even touching on the titular Metroid enemies that will harass you once you finally overcome Kraid and Ridley, the two sub-bosses, and make your way through the final stretch of the game to Mother Brain. The game uses a password system to let you continue, but save states are definitely the way to go if you’re playing through the game in 2021. God bless the NES Classic.
All told, Metroid is a game that definitely shows its age but not to the extent that it’s not fun to play today. It exemplifies “NES hard,” and it’s obtuse as all get out, but it’s an incredibly fun experience, and it’s great to see where the series started especially since the upcoming Metroid Dread is going to be the first time we’ve seen Metroid in HD. There are a TON of ways to play Metroid these days, so don’t sleep on it. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have the patience to finish the game, but definitely at least experience it to some degree.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Master System, Genesis, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Gear, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, X68000, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, and Apple IIGS
During the COVID-19 pandemic, John Oliver did a bit in one of his shows on Jelle’s Marble Runs and the bizarre and beautiful world of marble racing. I was instantly hooked, and since I got hooked on JMR (go Mellow Yellow!),I’ve regained a bit of the interest in marbles in general that I had when I was a kid. On a bit of an NES kick lately, I thought I’d go ahead and give Marble Madness a spin.
Marble Madness is a somewhat physics-based game (emphasis on the “somewhat”) where you either race against an opponent or the clock across stages with a variety of obstacles and challenges. You’ve got hills, sharp 90 degree turns, drops that can break your marble more easily than the legs of a horse in Skyrim, weird living cans that eat your marble, puddles of acid that dissolve your marble, so on and so forth. It’s a really clever design to be honest. Unfortunately, the execution is much less impressive than the concept.
First off, the game is very short at only six stages that take between 45 and 90 seconds each to complete. Assuming you don’t fail to complete a course in the time allotted, that’s about ten minutes for a complete playthrough - not a lot of content there. Second, it’s trying to incorporate physics-based movement with the inclines and a couple of launching areas in an NES game from 1989; it just doesn’t work particularly well. The camera is also positioned at the bottom of the screen looking at the levels from a corner; think where home base is on a baseball diamond. This makes the controls just feel awkward with respect to the camera placement, at least in my opinion.
Marble Madness is a game with a wonderful concept but tragically poor execution. Had I played ports for the Genesis or Super Nintendo, it probably would have been fine, but on NES, it just falls woefully short of what it could have been. It’s worth a look for NES enthusiasts given how short it is, but unless you’re really into collecting for the NES, I can’t recommend running out and finding a copy of this. It’s just too short and too subpar to be worth going out of your way to play.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on MS-DOS
What are the most 90s things you can think of? If you said bright colors, vaporwave, and rollerblades, you'd be correct. This game is also one of the most 90s things ever at least on the surface. Even the game's slogan - "The most RADICAL race on WHEELS" - is one of the most gloriously horribly 90s things. Like the rest of the 90s, this game sounds a whole lot better than it is.
The premise of the game is to win a rollerblade race. Okay, that checks out so far. Unfortunately, the only racing you do is against time, and they found a way to make rollerblades as un-fun as possible. You basically have some Chad "training" you to be a rollerblade superstar by making you skate as fast as possible through a town with worse road maintenance than South Carolina as you avoid potholes, open manholes, barrels sitting inexplicably in the middle of the road, dogs, and babies. If you fall three times, you lose a life. If you lose three lives, it's game over. If you run out of time, it's game over. If (read: when) you get bored and turn off your NES, it's game over although that one's a good thing.
If you manage to make it through twenty minutes of the most unappealing race-esque gameplay on the console, you read the big competition. You have to avoid barrels, make it through a cone obstacle course, and go through a few halfpipes (and then repeat that cycle two or three times) before the time runs out to finish the game. That's it. That's the whole game. Unless you get game over and have to start over (which is entirely likely; the last level before the competition is stupidly hard), it's over and done in less than half an hour.
My Rating - 1 Nep
I've always been a big fan of Mario sports games, and that's especially true when it comes to tennis and golf. With the exception of the Wii, we've gotten a Mario Tennis game on every home console since the Nintendo 64, but while Mario Golf was well represented on Nintendo's handhelds, this is the first console Mario Golf game we've gotten in 18 years. With how good Mario Tennis Aces was on Switch, I went into Mario Golf: Super Rush with high hopes. I'm please to report that Nintendo and Camelot did not disappoint me.
If you read my review of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, you'll recall that one of my criticisms was that it had a story mode that felt rather pointless and didn't really add much to the game. Mario Tennis Aces, on the other hand, had a story mode that, while not an amazing story, was solid and added a unique experience to the game. That's exactly how the story mode in Mario Golf: Super Rush is; it's not an amazing story, but it adds something to the game and is definitely better being included than not. Your Mii is a rookie golfer working their way through the golf world. You work your way through various golf courses and play different types of golf to earn badges, the way the golf world ranks you. There are some actual bosses beyond just playing golf against other competitors, but I don't want to say enough to spoil it. The neat thing is that the story mode is in RPG format; each round of golf you play nets your Mii experience, and when you level up, you can put that stat point into a stronger swing, a more accurate swing, improved ability to curve your ball, faster movement speed, or more stamina for dashing (the last two are useful for speed golf).
The story mode also serves as an in-depth tutorial to teach you the game's mechanics and the different types of golf that you can play. The first area in the story mode is just your standard golf. The second area is cross-country (XC) golf which was a really cool take on golf but hands down the most frustrating part of the game. It's a very non-linear golf where you can do the holes in any order in a sort of pseudo-open world golf course. The elevation varies wildly, and you have to hit your golf balls into tornadoes at the right angle to launch it to a higher cliff to reach certain holes. You also have to clear however many holes you're playing (it starts at three and goes all the way to nine holes) within a certain number of strokes, and given how difficult it can be to get the angle right with the tornadoes, that lead to a lot of cursing on my part. After you clear that and proceed to the third area, you're introduced to speed golf where you have to clear the course in a certain time limit. Each stroke subtracts 30 seconds in addition to however long it takes you to chase after your ball following each swing. Completing the story mode unlocks your Mii as a usable character for Battle Golf where there are nine holes surrounded by obstacles, and the first person to get three flags wins.
I played through the entire story mode, and I'd reckon it took me about 10 hours or so, although if you're good at video game golf and don't spent two hours raging at XC golf, you can do it quicker than that. I also got a chance to play online with my friends Sherri and Davy, and it was an extremely smooth experience. I encountered no lag, had no connection issues, and was even able to send them direct invites to the match. I had only talked to Davy about playing; I just happened to see that Sherri was online and sent an invite for the hell of it, and she was able to accept the invite and connect no problem. You can set it either to have all players take their swings at the same time - that's how story mode does it - or to have the players take turns, and I chose taking turns because I thought it sounded more fun to watch each swing, but from what I could tell, there was no lag whatsoever. This is about as close as I've seen Nintendo come to having a truly competent online experience with invitations and whatnot. Still no in-app voice chat, but hey, at least their totally-not-a-piece-of-crap smartphone app supports voice chat for Mario Golf.
The music and sound effects are great, and the game looks gorgeous. If this is what Nintendo and Camelot can do with Switch hardware, I can only imagine how gorgeous a Mario sports game would look on a stronger platform. I can't say how hard this is pushing the Switch, but they definitely made a beautiful looking game even on a 65" screen. As far as control goes, there are traditional button controls as well as motion controls. As much as I love motion controls, I opted for the standard button controls, and it all felt very fluid and natural. Honestly, the only thing I think the game needed was a few more characters - I'm upset that my beloved Koopa Troopa was excluded from the game's roster - and amiibo support. Unlocking some costumes with amiibo like in Mario Kart 8 would have been a great addition. There is supposed to be DLC coming in the way of new characters and courses, so hopefully my shelly boy will get added with DLC.
Mario Golf: Super Rush is an exceptional Mario sports game. I personally detest golf in real life, and that loathing usually extends to golf video games, but this one makes the sport approachable enough to get folks like me interested while keeping enough the core sport to feel like more than just an arcade imitation. The single player is robust enough to keep you entertained for a weekend, and the multiplayer is exceptionally good. Like with Mario Kart, you can have two people play online from the same system, so it's a great way to mix local and online multiplayer together. All things considered, I wouldn't call the game perfect - the difficulty in story mode isn't too consistent, and the character roster feels a little light to me - but it's an excellent game nonetheless and the best of the Mario Golf series thus far in my opinion.
My Rating - 4 Neps
After my fairly disappointing playthrough of Tiger-Heli, I went looking for an NES shooter that would be a bit more fun to play. I had heard of Gun-Nac, but I hadn’t played it before. Still, I kept seeing it pop up on lists of the best shooters on NES, so I figured I’d give it a go. I now see why it made all of those lists; this is a truly fantastic game.
Gun-Nac was developed by Compile, a now-defunct studio known primarily for making the Puyo Puyo games before Sega bought the IP and for making fantastic shooters. Gun-Nac has a goofy premise not totally unlike Parodius; stuff from factories across this seven-planet nation has started coming to life and attacking people, so you have to command a ship that fights the sentient merchandise. As a result, you end up fighting clay vases, logs, piles of gold bricks, etc. It’s silly, it’s light-hearted, but the shooter gameplay is legit, and it’s wildly entertaining.
The first thing that stood out to me about Gun-Nac was that it’s a lot easier than I was expecting. That’s not to say that the game is devoid of challenge - that’s certainly not the case - but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d gone in expecting it to be. I managed to get to the end of stage four (out of a total of eight) before I lost a life. It’s definitely a lot busier than Tiger-Heli had been, but despite that, it didn’t suffer from a lot of performance issues. There were some sprite flickering and some occasional slow down in the latter half of the game when there were a lot of enemies on screen, but all things considered, it ran really smoothly.
Gun-Nac is also a pretty good looking game. The stages were all unique and fairly colorful, and the sprites were well done and a lot more detailed than what some earlier NES games had showcased. You’ve got five different weapons you can use depending on which type you pick up and four types of bombs. It’s definitely worth playing around with each weapon type and each bomb type because they all handle very differently, so it takes some trial and error to figure out which gun and which bomb feels right and best fits your playstyle.
When I think of retro consoles with great shooters, the systems that first come to mind tend to be TurboGrafx-16, Genesis, and SNES, but Gun-Nac was an important reminder to me that there were some really solid shooters on the NES. It sounds good, looks great, and is an absolute blast to play. I don’t often come back and revisit games once I’ve finished them, but I’ll definitely come back to Gun-Nac the next time I get the itch for an 8-bit vertical shooter. If you’re a fan of the NES, this is definitely a game to check out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console, Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, and Switch via Nintendo Switch Online
Blaster Master is a series that, despite having a couple of spin-off games after this NES hit, kind of flew under the radar for like thirty years. That is, until, Blaster Master Zero hit the Switch and 3DS and blew up in popularity. How does the NES game hold up, though? To put it simply, a lot better than I expected.
Blaster Master basically plays like part Xenophobe under a microscope and part Metroid but in a tank. The majority - I'd guess around 65% - of the game consists of exploring a side-scrolling overworld in your tank. A tank named Sophia III. There's a lot of platforming to do as you blast your way through this overworld giving it a feel extremely similar Metroid on NES. Your tank can jump, hover, point its cannon straight up, and even turn into a submarine. Clearly this is where the United States defense budget is going. Once you find the right part of the overworld, you have to exit your tank (which is super dangerous in the overworld because your on-foot gun is basically a peashooter) and enter the boss area. These areas are overhead rather than side-scrolling and feels a bit like if Xenophobe were zoomed in. These areas aren't too difficult for the most part, but your goal in these areas is to reach the boss room. The bosses are where the real difficulty here lay. The first few aren't too bad, but they get downright brutal and unforgiving.
One of the other things that makes it similar to Metroid is that this isn't a strictly linear game. There's a lot of backtracking involved here; as you get an item from a boss, that gives you the ability to get to a different part of a previous area. In all, there are eight areas, but you'll be visiting the first few several times as you progress, backtrack, and progress again. This can be a little stressful as it's pretty easy to get lost, but it never feels truly tedious; the gameplay is a lot of fun, and each of the eight areas feel really unique, so the world never feels bland.
It's easy to see why Blaster Master has come to be so beloved. What I don't understand is why it spent so long in relative obscurity. I mean, ten years ago, only the dedicated 8-bit gamers probably knew what Blaster Master was. Today, most Switch gamers have at least heard of it through Blaster Master Zero, and given the similarity of gameplay, they'd probably enjoy playing it if they enjoyed that game. Blaster Master certainly isn't perfect; the controls felt a little clunky to me at times, and there's some pretty serious flicker and MAJOR slowdown. It is, however, an extremely fun game once you get into it, definitely fun enough to make up for those performance issues. If you've got a Switch, definitely check this one out on the NSO NES app.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.