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LJN/Acclaim Licensed Video Game Travesties (11 items)
Game list by Axel Night
Published 6 years, 1 month ago 1 comment
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Painfully Priced Wishlist (9 items)
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Last updated 6 years, 1 month ago
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8 Sega Genesis Games You Might Have Missed (8 items)
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Published 6 years, 1 month ago



Recent reviews

RoadBlasters review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 11 October 2011 09:10 (A review of RoadBlasters)

A personal favorite that survived the leap from the arcades.

Background
RoadBlasters was a car combat arcade cabinet of moderate-to-high success by Atari in 1987. Enough people loved sitting down in that cockpit and blowing away cars by the dozens that it made the jump from arcade game to home port on more than half a dozen home consoles and computers. Even the ill-fated Atari Lynx got in on the action. But for this review, I'll be using the NES version as my point of reference.

Beam Software (a developer for which I've always had very polarized feelings, though they've done me more good than harm) handled the port of the NES version for publisher Mindscape, who released it in early 1990. This was a time when Nintendo's MMC3 chipset was becoming common place and allowing developers to make more complex games with ease. Simplistic arcade games were on the way out and RoadBlasters went somewhat unnoticed because of it.

Presentation (Visual/Audio Aesthetic, Enjoyment and Effectiveness)
Within their hardware limitations, Beam Software put up an okay showing in the graphical department. Objects are detailed in a mostly consistent manner with shading and highlights. Obviously, it doesn't match up to the original arcade or newer consoles like the Sega Genesis, but it works well with what it has. Objects are easy enough to differentiate, which matters when you need to decide in a split second whether to shoot or dodge an obstacle based on its type. It would be nice if enemy bullets were slightly more visible, but since they only come from the turrets on the side of the road, the threat is still recognizable. Environments are otherwise repetitive, sparsely populated outside of items and enemies, and often yawn-inducingly monochromatic.

The audio is probably the largest flaw in the presentation. The original arcade game was no symphony, but a copied flaw is still a flaw. The basic sound effects are passable and do their jobs. There is no background music to speak of during the stages. Instead, you're only treated to the dulled hum of your engine. It does have some action to it, adjusting pitch as if revving up and switching gears, but doesn't quite have the peppy feeling of the sound in games like [Link removed - login to see]">Rad Racer. I wouldn't normally pick on something so trivial, but without music, something has to set the mood, and it just doesn't.

Audio-mood aside, the game does give a sense of speed and action in its presentation. Stationary objects and things on the side of the road whip by pretty quickly at top speed and the vehicle feels like it accelerates up to an appreciable speed rather quickly. Explosions look good and contribute to the action. I am not a fan of the use of horizontal lines on the terrain used here and in many, many other games of the time. It is effective at its goal of providing a sense of 3D space, but accomplishes nothing that a well populated environment can't do with better aesthetics and less eye strain. It's just too busy.

Interaction (Controls, Menus, Intuitiveness and Responsiveness)
Now that I'm done bashing on RoadBlasters for its big weaknesses, I can move on to the things that make it great. While the home experience can never match the joy of sitting in the arcade cockpit with the wheel, pedals and triggers; it remains as responsive and easy to maneuver as the original. The car steers quickly and comfortably. It doesn't demand excessive speed management to navigate turns, allowing more focus to be spent on navigating obstacles and combating enemies.

One turn-off to some players is the necessity to use all four directional inputs to maneuver your vehicle. Because both fire buttons are busy handling weapons, up and down manage your gas and break. It isn't ideal and has been the birth of many thumb blisters. What are you going to do, though? The NES controller only has so many buttons.

The display panel at the bottom of the screen is large and easy to read at a glance, but not an imposing screen-hog. It has everything you need to know in a logical layout. The most vital information, your fuel gauge, is top-center, right below your vehicle. Less important information, like your score, gravitates towards the outer edges of the screen, away from the action. Subtle details like this are the nuances of great game feedback. Take notes, developers.

User Narrative (How design and challenges shape the experience)
Being a port of a late '80s arcade game, it shouldn't be a surprise that it has a late '80s arcade game feel. The gameplay has a repetitive, minimalist style to it that does little to reach outside of its narrow world. The beauty of these types of games is that these narrow worlds give the developers the ability to perfect that tiny world and explore challenges within those limiting rules in a way that is unquestionably addicting. At its surface, RoadBlasters is about a car shooting other cars as he tries to reach the end before he runs out of fuel. Simple? Yes. Mundane? We've seen car combat before. But it's in the refined details that this formula becomes something special.

At its core, RoadBlasters is about fuel conservation, in a very calculating, beautifully-violent sort of way. You have two fuel gauges, your main fuel and your reserve fuel. Main fuel is the fuel given to you for that specific track and is reset with each new one. Reserve fuel follows you from track to track and is only used when your main fuel runs dry. Fuel is vital. If you run out and can't manage to coast the last few meters to the finish line, the game is over.

Each track is littered with fuel orbs and enemies. Green fuel orbs refill your main fuel. They are not worth particularly much individually, but they add up and will most certainly dictate your path back and forth on the road. You can also get red fuel orbs that are sometimes dropped from destroyed enemies, though these will continue moving quickly and will zip off into the distance if you don't chase them at full speed.

Enemies come in a variety of forms and point values. Destroying enemies rewards you with points that are cashed in at the end of the level in exchange for more reserve fuel. Therefore, wrecking carnage on earlier tracks will help you in later, harder tracks. You also have a score multiplier, which starts at 1x and goes as high as 10x. Each enemy you destroy with your main gun increases it by one and each shot of your main gun that doesn't hit an enemy reduces it by one. Your multiplier at the end of the track will greatly influence the amount of fuel you receive, so accuracy is key.

Don't think for a moment that means the game is devoid of mindless carnage. Periodically, a plane will come overhead and offer up a special weapon. This will be either a fully automatic machine gun, screen-clearing cruise missiles, an invincibility shield or speed boosting nitros. If you are hit or find a new power-up before the limited reserve is spent, the left over is gone. Use it or lose it. Go nuts! Special weapons do not raise or lower your multiplier (so missing is not a concern), but they do earn you points, which translates to sweet, vital fuel reserves.

Enemies are capable of killing you in one hit, however that does little more than slow you down. You have unlimited lives and just pop right back in place of your pulverized predecessor. But since fuel works more like a timer than how fuel might logically work (i.e., going up in a fiery ball along with your car), you do lose precious seconds.

What this all amounts to is a game that is as stunningly beautiful example of a well refined risk/reward game mechanic as I can think of. Everything you do is in the name of your precious fuel. You drive fast to shave off seconds of fuel or to chase down a red fuel orb. You'll swerve between two bullet-proof cars to reach a row of fuel orbs. You'll run right up on the bumper of an enemy before firing your gun to maintain your multiplier, because it amounts to more bonus reserve fuel. Every move is a risk that, if it pays off, amounts to the fuel needed to go further through the 50 stages. If it doesn't, it costs you fuel, and brings the inevitability of a game over screen ever closer. Yes, the game is simple and repetitive, but it is challenging and absolutely amazing at what it does.

Summary
Under the unimpressive, simple looking exterior of RoadBlasters is an absolutely fun and addicting arcade game experience that has earned its place as one of my favorite games of all time. It possesses an element that today's games often miss. We've all experienced that moment, when the situation demands we make that split-second decision of whether to take a risk. Is the reward worth it? What will it cost me to fail? The window is closing and we have only the span of an impulse to decide if we're going to jump. It's inherent in all games, but do the mechanics promote those moments? They should. As I said before, developers, take notes. You can learn a lot from games like this.


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Mega Man 2 review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 10 October 2011 09:18 (A review of Mega Man 2)

A true classic.

Mega Man 2 is considered, by and large, to still be the best game in the series, with Mega Man 3 filling a very close second. If you have never played a Mega Man game, you cannot go wrong with the second installment. So much of what the series became was perfected here. Future installments enhanced the formula, but at the expense of the refinement that comes with taking a simple, effective concept and polishing it to a brilliant luster. None of the original series was bad, but there's a reason Capcom turned to this game over all of the others when reviving the franchise with Mega Man 9.

Presentation (Visual/Audio Aesthetic, Enjoyment and Effectiveness)
Obviously, being an NES game of the late 80s, Mega Man 2 isn't going to win any graphical awards, even when placed against other games on the console. It does, however, have a very beautiful aesthetic. Capcom isn't afraid to work the whole color palette over the course of the game. Enemies and even terrain come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Creativity is allowed to run rampant, but stages manage to keep coherent themes throughout.

Metal Man's stage fits the feel of an industrial factory with cogs, drills, heavy mashers and conveyor belts throughout a tone of copper and steel. Heat Man's stage is a sewer with red-hot magma flowing through it, and has the appropriate red glow on the stone walls. Air Man's stage takes place in the clouds with enemies such as birds and robots with fans in their bellies trying to blow you off into the abyss while clouds occasionally block your field of vision. None of the early Mega Man games are slouches when it comes to level design and presentation, but these are some of the best.

Little needs to be said about the soundtrack other than these are some of the best tracks ever to come out of Capcom or video games in general. They're some of the most remixed songs on the Internet. Their melodies are strong, memorable and invoke humming long after the game is shut off.

Interaction (Controls, Menus, Intuitiveness and Responsiveness)
The controls are smooth and completely unobtrusive. This was before Mega Man would learn to slide or charge his blaster, so it's a purely jump and shoot affair. The game demands almost pixel-perfect jumping at times, so it's nice that Mega Man is so responsive to your commands.

If I had to complain about something, it would be that the weapon select screen had a lot of growing to do this early in the franchise. Rather than bringing up a list of all of your weapons upon hitting Start, you're presented with a list of half of your weapons. To see the other half, you have to choose "Next" from the menu. Mobility items like the hovering platforms, which you'll only use in brief spurts, are not in the same half of the menu as your default buster cannon. This can result in a lot of unnecessary button presses, just to switch back and forth. Each item is also only identified with a single letter or number. You eventually remember what everything is, but it is by no means user friendly. Mega Man 4 did a much better job in this respect, using the whole screen to show all of the weapons and much better feedback on what those weapons were with both names and pictures.

User Narrative (How design and challenges shape the experience)
Mega Man games are not the most challenging titles of the NES era, but they do require the time and effort to learn the stages and bosses. However, they remained accessible to even the most unskilled of players via a level select screen.

You have 8 robot masters which you must defeat in order to progress on to the last set of levels, but you can tackle them in any order. Since each master rewards you with a special weapon that will be highly effective against one or more other robot masters, the order you take them on can eventually be an element of your strategy. But for players who cannot defeat even one robot master, all 8 stages are still at their disposal. This is huge in an age of gaming where some games were so hard that you may have never seen the second stage, depriving you of that content. We often cheated, just to see the games we paid for.

This isn't a formula without flaw. The difficulty curve gets a little bent. The first robot master will typically be the most difficult, because you don't have any special weapons to exploit his weaknesses.

Within the independent levels, stage and enemy design is top-notch. Games of this nature require you learn the stage and boss patterns to a degree. Luckily, the content is so diverse yet consistent in execution that this comes pretty naturally over time. Stages are chunked nicely into areas with deliberate moments to catch your breath between challenges. This game is textbook perfect in terms of pacing. It may have even contributed to that textbook.

I felt some of the final stages contributed to the frustration factor due to some unintuitive moments, but this wasn't common-place. Infamous from this game, however, is Quick Man's stage. Most of the stage consists of beams capable of vanquishing you in a single blow, which you must avoid by controlling your fall through the level. There isn't much room for error, and you will die a lot at first. Thankfully, Mega Man is very friendly to the persistent gamer. If you run out of lives, you simply return to the stage select screen to try again or blow off steam on another stage. You have unlimited continues with which to learn the ropes.

Summary
I find myself reluctant to call Mega Man 2 a perfect game. It is, however, a mark to aim for when attempting to create one. For the vast majority, I am preaching to the choir. To those of you, I suggest you look a little deeper the next time you give it a play through. Notice the little things that make this a great game, rather than a good one. Analyze the level design and the kinds of variations that keep them interesting. Look for consistencies where ideas, concepts and content were intentionally reused. Look at the chunking of the challenges, whether they be single encounters or a gauntlet of jumps and enemies, and how the game segments them off from the rest of the level. Note how different enemies evoke different responses, or similar ones, and how they are placed in relation to their terrain. Nothing in this game is placed without a purpose. It's this careful design intended to produce a rainbow of sensation that we should expect from our gaming greats.

For the rest of you who haven't played it, you should get on that.


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Top Gun: The Second Mission review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 10 October 2011 09:01 (A review of Top Gun: The Second Mission)

Nothing like the first game. That's a good thing!

Top Gun: The Second Mission is the sequel to the abysmal Top Gun by Konami. This game seems to exist almost as an apology for the prequel, and changes up almost everything about it.

Presentation (Visual/Audio Aesthetic, Enjoyment and Effectiveness)
In terms of static graphics and sound, the original presentation is mostly retained here. Things like the instrument panel are more colorful. The more subtle changes are what greatly improve on the previous game. Everything is a little more animated. The quiet hiss of your engines is now accompanied by fast paced background music that better sets the mood of heart-pounding air combat. You can hear as enemies zip past you. There's an all around deeper sense of speed and action in everything.

Some may be put off by the addition of two-toned stripes used for the ground coloring. It's pretty standard practice in games of this era to give a sense of 3D space and speed. I don't deduct points for them, but it can give some people headaches over time.

The soundtrack still doesn't bring anything recognizable from the movie, which is always a mark off when working with a licensed product with as memorable a soundtrack as Top Gun. What is there, however, jams appropriately hard with a distinctive Konami sound that sets the mood extremely well.

Interaction (Controls, Menus, Intuitiveness and Responsiveness)
Second Mission mixes up the playstyle quite a bit from the original. Play takes place in a 3D space now, as opposed flying down a linear path with enemies flying in front of you. Enemies can get behind you and will often do so, forcing you to spin around and deal with them. Ground targets are especially deadly in this respect, and will fill your underside with missiles very quickly if not dealt with. The game is kind enough to provide a radar and warning sound, so be ready for death from any angle.

Control inputs have changed too. Your machine gun and missiles now share the B button (worth noting, since most NES flight sticks used A as the fire trigger). Hold B to unload your gun, or double tap B to loose a missile. It's different, but not too hard to adjust to. The A button now engages your afterburners for a burst of speed. Managing your speed is vital to your strategy and survival, especially in one-on-one dogfights. Plus, who doesn't love going fast? You also have a barrel roll, by double-tapping left or right, that can evade some missiles that you may have failed to shoot down.

Landing on the carrier is no longer an issue. It is still a task that must be done after a mission, but is no longer the exercise in frustration it once was. Just line up with the runway and bring her in. Refueling is, thankfully, done away with entirely.

User Narrative (How design and challenges shape the experience)
Second Mission is very much an arcade experience, a design choice in which I find no fault. There are only three reasonably lengthy missions, played through in order with a quick but smooth increase in difficulty. The challenges within those missions keep the experience mixed between them. You'll encounter waves of air targets, ground targets with air support, environmental hazards, one-on-one dogfights with significantly tougher opponents, and each mission ends with a large boss fight. The bosses are presented well, but are not overly challenging compared to the levels. They're not so easy that they'll ruin the climactic feeling, but they don't escalate the challenge any. They're mostly just a nice change of pace.

Overall, you're looking at a reasonably difficult game, if only because you have very few lives to work with. It only takes a single slip up or a stray shot to cost you a life, so the tension is always high. Despite that, the frustration factor is relatively low. The rare environmental hazards found in the late game can be a headache until you figure out a method for taking them on. It's a game of skill more than luck.

Once you have the skill and practice to complete the game, it's a short experience, completable in maybe 20 minutes. The first game had a tendency to overstay its welcome and grow redundant fast, so I prefer the change.

There is also a 2 player versus dogfight mode and a 1 player versus the CPU dogfight mode in which you take on single opponents in escalating difficulty.

Summary
Top Gun: The Second Mission is a good, fun, arcade experience with a steep but fair challenge. It doesn't actually offer anything to brand itself distinctly Top Gun, but all I could really ask of it is to be a great air combat experience. I am honestly satisfied at the absence of a volley ball minigame. Given that it was 1990, it didn't do anything new that either flight sims or arcade shooters hadn't already done, but it did mesh the two together very nicely. If only this game could've somehow eliminated the first Top Gun game from space and time, it might even be remembered for these merits, instead of being avoided for looking too much like its reject older brother.


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