Monday, 23 April 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #23: Final Fight

I try to keep games like this that everyone will know to a bear minimum or at least thin them out as much as I can, but I kind of felt that I needed to get Final Fight out of the way – and not in a bad way.

 

My Final Fight YouTube Review 

 

The game was important for a lot of reasons. The fact that it was on the SNES but not the Mega Drive was one of them, as this was part of the reasoning behind Sega coming up with the Streets of Rage franchise. The game touched and affected the whole of the market. I am going to try to talk about it but do my best not to retread the exact same ground everyone does (this will be hard with how much the game has been talked about).


Final Fight is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up produced by Capcom. Originally it was released as an arcade game in 1989. Final Fight was the seventh title Capcom made to work with its CPS-1 arcade system board. The CPS-1 worked a bit like the Neo Geo, you had a system board and other smaller boards could be mounted on top of this, and the large board was the guts of the arcade unit and the small board held the actual game. I actually own a CPS-1 board but the only game board I own for it is Pang! 3.



The game is set within the fictional Metro City. In the arcade game you get to pick one of three characters: Former pro wrestler-turned-mayor Mike Haggar, his daughter’s boyfriend Cody, and Cody’s friend Guy. The whole idea of the game is to take down the Mad Gear gang and rescue Haggar’s daughter Jessica.

The game originally began development as a sequel to the first Street Fighter arcade game but the genre was switched from a one-on-one fighting game to a scrolling beat ’em up and the title was changed following the success of Double Dragon. This is probably one of the main reasons that Final Fight characters have popped up in Street Fighter games.

When the SNES version was released it was in some ways limited. There was only Haggar and Cody – Guy had been dropped (although there was a version released in some territories called Final Fight Guy which removed Cody from the game and replaced him with Guy). There was also a level stripped out of the game and then there were some minor changes in connection to policies Nintendo had for games released on their machines. Female members of Mad Gear were altered to appear male as Nintendo had objections in regards to the ability to violently beat up women, even if they were busy trying to knife you to death. None of this broke the game or made a huge difference to how it played. I do think that with some effort they could have squeezed Guy in. I have seen games cheat to free up room by using the same legs or arms for characters before sometimes just colour swapped and I am sure there would have been a way to do something like this to free up a little room. The main thing that people tend to talk about is the fact that the game has no two-player mode, which I have to admit is a shame as this was one of the things that made the arcade machine so popular, the fact that you could go through the whole game with a buddy. It is not a game breaking deal though as long as you know about it in advance. The graphics are big, bright and impactful, the music is just as good. The only negatives there are can’t really be termed negatives with the game and more deficits from the arcade machine.



The game is a great scrolling beat em up to play on your own and even bearing this in mind I would have to give it eight out of 10. However I fully recognise that if you want to play with a buddy or have a friend around you would be better looking at one of its competitors or even one of its sequels (they are usually expensive though).

I have had my copy since I was a kid. I bought it before I even owned a SNES. It was September and I knew I was getting my SNES for Christmas, I already had a cheap converter and Final Fight came up for sale NTSC in my local games shop a place called Games World for £10. I used to get £5 a week pocket money and £2 a day lunch money. So I did what I think most game crazy school kids would do. I took an apple and a bottle of water to school everyday without my parents knowing and ate these for dinner while pocketing the money waiting for Saturday to come so I could buy Final Fight. Following this kind of logic I had a nice little collection by the time Christmas rolled around.

If you want to buy Final Fight PAL versions exist but whenever I see them they are crazy money. US NTSC versions crop up for around £15 for a cart. To be honest if you have a Wii U you can download Final Fight for £5.50 (the SNES version). Or if you have a PS3 or Xbox 360 you can get a perfect emulation of the arcade machine for about £6.50. It can be found under the title Final Fight: Double Impact, and for your cash you get both Final Fight and another Capcom game called Magic Sword (which was also ported to the SNES).

Friday, 20 April 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #22: Super Strike Gunner (aka Strike Gunner S.T.G.)


Super Strike Gunner (or Strike Gunner S.T.G. as it was known in the US) is a vertical scrolling shoot ’em up game originally developed by Athena it was released in the arcades by Tecmo (in 1991) it was then ported to the SNES, and this version was published/distributed in the UK by Activision.
There was quite a wide supply of shooters back in the 16-bit days and although the Mega Drive seemed to end up with more of them the SNES wasn’t exactly left short. It has to be admitted though the Mega Drive was better known for them, the SNES might have been superior in  a lot of areas but it definitely had a slower processor and this usually meant more slowdown in this particular type of game when there were a lot of small, fast moving objects on screen.



There were a few big, famous shooter titles on the SNES but this game seems to have been forgotten by a lot of people. When people talk about shooters on the SNES they tend to talk about Axelay, Gradius III, Super R-Type, or U.N. Squadron, very rarely will people mention Super Strike Gunner.

In Super Strike Gunner you take control of a high-tech jet called the Strike Gunner (hence the game’s name), and like most games of this type you face wave after wave of enemies. In this case they range from helicopters, to jets and tanks and so on. In this case you fly up the screen vertically with stuff generally coming down at you (some things will come from the side of the screen or the bottom corners but most stuff tends to fly down towards you). When you start each level though you have a large choice of special weapons, but there is a catch. You can only choose one weapon to use and you can only use it for one level. Among the choices are heat seeking missiles, super stronger lasers and there is even a mega-beam cannon, which seems to just blow the living hell out of anything in more or less one shot. This does add a bit of tactics to the game, because obviously if you use the strongest weapons or the ones you find yourself best suited to first then you wont have them available to you for the later stages. I would suggest starting with a strong weapon until you get a good feel for the level and then once you feel you know a level like the back of your hand taking it on with a weapon your less attached to.

You have a special power bar, which decreases when you use your special weapon. Some of the less powerful special weapons will drain the bar very slowly but then there are others which will just make the bar disappear in seconds. Heck, one weapon depletes the bar in one. There is however a friendly aircraft which comes to you usually several times a level and drops things to help you. It can drop power ups which speed you up, increase the power of your ship’s main weapon, or fill up your special weapons bar.

Over the years I have seen this game receive all kinds of reviews and scores. Back in the day I think it got score generally around the 65% mark. Some called it a mediocre shooter complaining that it was slow-paced and repetitive, with levels that felt too long and had predictable enemy waves. Yet others seemed to love the boss fights and the super weapons. I will say that the backdrops are very basic but I found the game rather enjoyable. In a world which has seemed to want all shooters to turn in to full on bullet-hell ballets I found this game rather refreshing. I am going to go so far as to say I think people have been a little harsh to it over the years and have slightly underrated it. The game is not an all-time classic but its a decent game so I would have to give it a seven out of 10.

If you want to try it you tend to see copies of it come up now and again for around £10. If anything it seems to be a game which is much cheaper and easier to pick up in PAL. My copy was got from a market five years ago for around £3, but the days of walking back from markets with three or four SNES games seem to be long gone.

I do recognise there were better shooters on the SNES but this game is not bad at all. It is also a game which is basically selling for what I would consider to be a fair cash-to-playability ratio unlike some good games which seem to go for a small fortune.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

150 Mega Drive. Genesis games reviewed #4: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday


I have been reviewing games, writing blogs and making YouTube videos for quite a long time now, and there are a few games which I have found myself repeatedly returning to. One of these is Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday.

 

I made a YouTube video about it many years ago and I have talked about it several times on my blog. I guess there is some reason that I keep returning to it. Even before all of this I have had a long history with this game it was one of only a handful of games that I ever actually rented for one. In fact, Mega Drive-wise I think I only ever rented about four games. All of these were before I owned an actual Mega Drive and were rented along with a rental console.


The main thing that drew me to Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday was the name. I grew up watching the old Buck Rogers show when it was rerun on Saturday afternoons, as well as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Lost in Space, Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. Watching science fiction shows and movies was the main way I spent time with my dad. Usually he would get home from working long, hard hours and he wouldn’t have the energy left to play ball or do something like that so we would watch science fiction. Heck, watching sci-fi stuff pretty much is still our main way of hanging out with each other.

So basically I was in the know about just how cool a certain Buck Rogers was and how awesome his universe was and that made me want a piece of that – I wanted to shoot bad guys and go to space. I still think Buck is cool to this day even though I later learned that he didn’t swear on TV during a space dogfight like I believed he had when I was a kid. (During an episode of the show he asked a pilot if there was something wrong with his ‘Funk & Wagnalls’ which I heard as ‘there is something wrong with your fucking wagnalls’. No idea what a wagnall would be, but I basically believed he was cussing the guy out and he was so cool he could get away with it during daytime TV. For those wondering what Funk & Wagnalls means its basically an US brand of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, so it’s a way of him saying ‘hey, do you know what you’re on about?’.)

OK, that’s enough about me and the TV show lets move on to the game. Well the game was an RPG set in the Buck Rogers universe. It was developed by Strategic Simulations and published by Electronic Arts and it came out in 1991. During the Mega Drive’s glory years EA was responsible for porting a large number of games across to the Mega Drive from the PC and Amiga. Personally I think this was a great thing as it opened up console players to a world of games which had previously been merely the domain of home computer users.

Buck Rogers was made on a very famous game engine called Gold Box which was used for the classic Dungeons & Dragons series of games from the 80s and 90s. If you’ve played any of the Forgotten Realms games then you will have played something which uses this engine. I have to admit that when I hired it I didn’t know that it was a RPG in all honesty, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into I think I just expected some action type of game a bit of shooting and well something a lot simpler than this.

What I was met with was the ability to make my own team of individuals and to then enter a conflict which was taking place in the world from one of my favourite TV shows. From this point on though the game was just this gift that kept on giving. To go back to the beginning you start the game by making a party of six characters. It’s all based on dice rolls really. You make the characters one at a time and you do it by choosing the character’s races, genders and classes, and then you basically do a digital dice roll for HP, attack power, defence, etc. You can do this again and again though until you get the result you want. Then you name your creation, choose an on-screen sprite to represent them and finally use some assigned points to train them in the skills of your choices, including things such as tactics, perception, stealth, demolition, etc. If you’re anything like me then you will probably rip names off from other games or TV shows. I frequently used names like Kirk and Spock when growing up as well as the names of various Transformers. Still it helps the game in the long run because you get really attached to the little guys and cant stand the thought of them dying. Very few games have made me feel this close to my characters and this concerned for their welfare and those games would be games from the X-COM and Fire Emblem lines.

At first after having made my squad of six I was walking around an isometric game environment getting into random battles which are handled in a turn-based way. First you move and attack and then the enemy does the same and this repeats until someone has won the battle. After each battle you have the chance to root through your enemies remains in the hopes of finding something good in the spoils of war or just grabbing absolutely everything so you can sell it later.

When I had finished a couple of missions and I was given the ability to pilot my own ship around the universe well that’s when the game really began to open up. It really stopped feeling like just a game and became a sort of second life in the way that only the best games do. The story grabbed a hold of me and pulled me in to the universe itself. The funny thing was I had an Amiga in the house and as I have learned since this game was actually available on the Amiga but at the time I didn’t realise this was the case and so Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday became one of the reasons I wanted a Mega Drive even more than before. (I originally wanted a Mega Drive because my brother’s friend brought a Japanese imported one to the house with a handful of games.)

I think I need to talk at least a little about the game’s sound and graphics, so let’s start with the sound. The music is rather basic. In fact most of it is made up of very short repeating tunes which a lot of people would probably find repetitive. In all honesty though I kind of like the music. Yes, it’s basic. Yes, it’s repetitive but it also fits the tone of the game. It’s action packed and dramatic when it needs to be. There are a lot of different sound effects. Each and every weapon has its own crack, buzz or sizzle noise – a rocket pistol sounds different to a laser pistol, for instance. There is even a tiny bit of digitised speech here and there in the game which for its time and a game of this scope on a cart has to be admired. The graphics are about as basic as you can get, but they work. They are basic but highly functional and full of little nice touches. There are some great still frame comic-style scenes shown at certain points to tell the game’s story.

With this game being a strategy game I didn’t really notice any difference when trying this game at 50hz and then 60hz.  I guess the speed difference is more of a deal when playing games which have a fast pace to them.

It is time to score the game. I am going to give this game 10 out of 10. Yes the graphics could have been better and the music could have been better, but the game itself is so good that once you get into it none of this matters. This game is one of a kind on the system, there is nothing else quite like it and I recommend this to everyone. I kind of see this game as a sort of Mass Effect for the Mega Drive as the games although differing in style are in fact kind of similar in feel.

I would have loved this game to either get a sequel or a updated remake on a later console. Actually while talking about sequels there was a PC only sequel which I have heard mixed things about. It’s actually considered abandoned ware now so you can download it and play it on your PC using DOS Box. I do wish though that some enterprising individuals would try to use the engine behind Countdown to Doomsday to construct a Mega Drive rom based on its PC sequel. I know someone will say why don’t you do it if you’re so into the game but that is something far beyond both my time and skill. As much as I love games I have never understood a thing when it comes to how they are made, to the degree that as far as my brain understands they might as well be made by fairies clapping or wizards waving there wands.

If you fancy giving the game a bash yourself then you can expect to pay around £10 for a loose cart, with boxed copies usually starting at about £15. If you keep your eyes open. I really feel this game is worth the cash and worth your time.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

150 Mega Drive games reviewed #3: Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!


My first memory of Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude! was seeing it at the house of one of my friends when we were young. He was an amazing guy who would pretty much perfect anything he put his mind to.

 My Greendog YouTube Review Video

The first thing I really saw him perfect was Greendog, then later it was Ridge Racer and finally it was the electric guitar. He made the game look like a work of art. He hadn’t owned it long but he seemed to totally understand everything about how it worked and he made it look darn easy to play.


I didn’t actually own it till years and years later. I think I got a boxed copy complete for £5 from an indy game shop and in all honesty the second I saw the game it made me think of my friend. Simply put, for me that game will forever be linked to him because not only is it the first time I saw it being played, I have also never seen it being played so well anywhere else.

OK so lets start with the story. Well, the main character is called Greendog which you could probably guess from the game’s name, and he has an issue. This issue is the fact that he was surfing and then he wiped out finding himself on a beach with no surfboard in site and a strange necklace around his neck. He soon finds out that the necklace can not be removed when a ‘beach babe’ appears before his eyes and informs him that the necklace is cursed and that he will be stuck wearing it until he finds the lost parts of an ancient Aztec treasure. Without the treasure he will be stuck with the necklace unable to remove it, unable to surf and – worse than that – every single living thing in the world will attack him. OK, so in a world where so many games involve random creatures trying to kill you for no apparent reason its actually pretty interesting to have a reason given here for why your character is homicidally pursued by birds, crabs, starfish and all manner of other creatures.

OK so I want to start by talking about the game play. Greendog is a platform game. You go from left to right jumping, swinging and traversing the levels, you have a Frisbee that you can throw at enemies. The real issue with this though is not in what Greendog can do, it’s in the way Greendog controls which can best be described as sluggish. Your button presses never quiet seem to work quite how you want, or quite as fast as you want. At its worst this game can be extremely frustrating. The Greendog sprite feels like a pretty large one really and the hit detection box around him feels like it is even bigger. Add to this his bad slow-motion feeling jumps which often end in either you taking damage that you feel is unjust and can cause people to seethe with rage or even worse instant death on occasion. If you think Greendog is hard to control on land then just you wait until you get him to go underwater.

I do have to give the game some praise though for trying to break things up a bit. There are skating levels, in which Greendog either jumps on a red skateboard or puts on pink rollerblades. And then you have levels with Greendog’s pedal copter, which he uses to travel from one island to the next. In these pedal copter levels you bash the C button repeatedly to remain airborne while using the B button to use the copter’s spring-loaded boxing glove weapon to attack enemies. The game is playable and it is completable despite feeling tough, because eventually you seem to get on board with its janky controls and learn to work around them. If you just watch someone play it and don’t feel what it’s like then you’d be forgiven for thinking that its a great game as there was certainly a lot of effort put into it.

Yes, you could say that Greendog is yet another platformer on the Mega Drive – a console that certainly is not short of 2D platformers, but to its credit I think it does enough to have its own flavour and therefore stand out as its own thing. The game has its Caribbean sort of style you find yourself traversing through jungles, across beaches, exploring an aquarium, visiting a native village and other places. It’s nicely varied while also managing to keep everything connected to a central theme and I think it does this very well. Along the way you will collect items, these are usually foods such as French fries, burgers and doughnuts, but you also get power-ups which upgrade your Frisbee or give you more protection from damage.

Lastly I want to talk about Greendog’s music. In all honesty I think it is simply excellent. Much like the graphics it sticks to this Caribbean style but it also offers a wide variety of tunes. Most importantly I think what is on offer really fits the games general theme, it works well with the graphics and gives the whole package a certain degree of charm. It’s just a shame that these good things about the game are not really backed up by the gameplay.

OK so I tried this game at 50hz UK and 60Hz US and I have to say that the game is more fun at 60hz as moving that little bit faster helps the way the game feels, and the music also sounds a lot better. I did think it was a little bit easier when it was slower though I guess that’s just because it allows for you to be a bit slower in your reaction to enemies, etc.

It is kind of hard to rate this game, I mean on the one hand it is really broken in some departments, but then its full of character and it does make a big effort to break up the action. There is a lot about it I really like and also a lot I dislike. I feel that what it really deserves is a six out of 10. It’s slightly above average and there was certainly all of the stuff here that could have taken it up to classic status but there was also far to much dragging the game back down.

If you really want to play it then complete copies seem to be around the £15 mark, with loose carts being about half this much. While not exactly bad prices there are much better games you could spend your money on.

Friday, 13 April 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #21: Exhaust Heat (aka F1 ROC: Race of Champions)

Exhaust Heat (released in North America as F1 ROC: Race of Champions) was a racing game developed by Seta for the SNES. It was released in 1992.

My Exhaust Heat SNES review 

 

The game had to work against the odds to get noticed having come after Nintendo’s own F-Zero. F-Zero had pulled out all of the Mode 7 graphical tricks that it could and had an excellent sound track and even more importantly a great sense of speed. At first, in comparison to this, Exhaust Heat seemed to be seen by most people as something of a let-down.

Initially you will notice the graphics are not up to the standards of F-Zero and the game doesn’t feel anywhere near as fast. Once you’ve progressed and completed a few races in the career mode though things start to change. You earn cash, and this gives you access to more powerful engines, better tyres, etc. You soon learn that with the right modifications and settings your car can move like greased lightning.

The career mode in this game is excellent. It’s less of a flash and bang racer which you will feel happy to spend five minutes on now and then, and more of an all-out consuming racer. This is its big strength. This is not to say that the game is boring because it is far from it. To compare this to a game I previously reviewed ESPN Speed World, in Speed World the minimum number of laps you can do is 10, and quite frankly after a race or two, 10 laps begins to feel like an eternity in some kind of realm of complete boredom. Here in Exhaust Heat my first proper race was three laps – three laps which actually felt exciting. In the first race I managed to come fourth despite the fact I thought I had put in a really good effort. For a second this was annoying as I didn’t really see how I could have done much better but then I remembered another game I had played not long ago and that was MotoGP 13 on the PlayStation Vita. In that game it had taken a fair amount of time for me to get into the game and some effort before getting a first place. This is the kind of game Exhaust Heat is, you need to put in the effort but sometimes you have to slog along a little, working till you can afford the upgrades, and till you can learn every curve of the track. It’s not an easy game ,but it is a very rewarding one.

If I was going to take a quick look at this game’s negative points I would have to say that it looks very plain. There is  little variety in the backgrounds and the cars themselves are small and lacking in detail. Add to this the fact there is no in-game music , which is a shame as the music featured in the game in other places is brilliant. The Grand Prix mode does not just last for one season, you seem to be able to carry on as long as you want.

One thing to bear in mind is that the game hasn’t aged particularly well. It’s still playable but it now looks very much like a dog. I would advise you not to let this get to you though, if you can get past the surface layer to the real depth of the game I think you’re in for a treat.

I would give this game a nice, solid seven out of 10. There are copies of this game cartridge only online for as little as £5 including postage. You can get fully boxed copies for under £15 if you want to go full on. At £5 anyone who has a SNES should seriously consider giving this game a bash.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #20: Cannon Fodder


Cannon Fodder can best be described as an action-strategy shooting game. It was developed by Sensible Software and originally published by Virgin Interactive for the Amiga in 1993. 



It got rave reviews across the board from pretty much every Amiga magazine at the time despite also causing controversy with its humorous take on war. Virgin soon ported the game to other home computer systems as well as to the Jaguar, Mega Drive, SNES and 3DO.


With my complaints about some other games being ported to the SNES people could expect me to get a bug in my butt about this game. After all, the controls pretty much show themselves to be mouse controls pushed on to a pad (play if for just one minute and you will see what I mean, you move a crosshair on the screen and then press a button to move to that point or another button to shoot in that direction).

The player directs troops through numerous missions, battling enemy infantry, vehicles and installations. The game is incredibly playable – sure, the controls might be a little strange, it might also seem a little basic and maybe in some ways it is, but it just works. What the graphics lack in quality they make up for by having an amusing cuteness to them.

Cannon Fodder doesn’t feature much music. There is no music during the missions themselves. Instead these are accompanied by sounds such as bird cries, and of course gunfire, explosions and the screams of the dying. There are a few tunes that play during the briefing and debriefing screens though and these really help to set the scene.

 

Cannon Fodder’s greatest strength is its dark humorous tone. This is what made some people originally love it but also caused a lot of controversy. Its creators always talked about how they intended it to convey an anti-war message, which some reviewers and fans at the time recognised and which seems obvious to me now. The problem is that certain newspapers and solider-related charities had real issues with it. They thought it was making war into too light a subject and taking the piss out of those who had suffered and died in war.
Cannon Fodder is definitely a game that I would refer to as a classic, and unlike some other games from this time period it is still very playable. That is in part down to its simplicity but you also need to thank its dark sense of humour. This was a rare treat of a game in the fact there was a message hidden behind the action, back when other games just wanted to sell themselves to you as mindless action, this game had a point.

Every time a gravestone appears on the hill, every time you have lost a man you cant help but mourn for his death. The soldiers are not just a group of faceless numbers, by giving them names, by allowing them to rank up and by a cross being added to the hill for every loss, you start to view them as people. You have favourites, not many other games achieve this with the exception of Fire Emblem and X-COM. I am going to have to give my first decimal score here. I can’t decide between seven and eight, so 7.5 out of 10 it is.

I was incredibly lucky with this game. I went to a retro store – one which is usually stupidly expensive (they charge £15 for the old NES Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt cart despite having three copies in stock for one) – and all they wanted for this was £4. Having looked online you can get the PAL cart of this game for about £13 or if you want to spend a little more you could get a boxed copy for around £25. Important things to note though are that this game was available on everything so you might be able to get a cheaper version on another format some of them such as the Amiga version have little things which are missing from the SNES version (the title song has amusing lyrics).