Now here's a weird one. Back in the 90's, before he was a spokeslizard for Geico, Gex was launched as the ever necessary animal-with-tude mascot for the 3DO. And when that didn't work out, his game was ported over to Playstation and Saturn as well. Still, Gex wasn't a hit. But for some reason, two more games were made in the series.
Gex 2 was released under the title Enter The Gecko, and since 3DO's were now $700 paperweights, this sequel was released on Playstation, Nintendo 64, and oddly enough... Game Boy Color. The home console game was a 3D platformer, while this GBC version was an entirely unique 2D game. And while I'd certainly label it an INTERESTING release, I can't by any means tell you that it's good.
I say it's interesting because it actually reminds me a lot of some Apogee DOS platformers of the day - both graphically, and in how it plays. Rather than linear levels, there are sprawling, branching levels with different paths to play. However, the goals are unique to the levels. Mostly it's "collect these things," which... I kind of hate. I also find the level layouts rather confusing.
The biggest downfall is in how the game plays. First of all - strike one - the jump and attack buttons are inverted. Is it really possible that the unspoken rule of two-buttons wasn't firmly in place by 1998? I mean, c'mon. Thanks to the GBC's slightly updated hardware, the framerate is fine and Gex can jump around nicely. However, his attack (whipping his tail) is meh and has a really small hit diameter. And what's worse is that he starts running automatically after several steps of walking. This can really screw up platforming as you'll run off of one when you think you're about to jump. Gex can also do a higher pogo-style jump, but only after jumping once from running, which means you need to find ample space and plan out these higher jumps. It's quite cumbersome.
So I mean, not to judge a book by the cover but look at that cover. We all knew this game was going to be bad, right? I guess I did. But like I said - it's interesting. Just not good.
There's a long running misconception that all licensed games are shovelware. I've never subscribed to this. There are some truly wonderful licensed games out there - many of which are hidden gems. Unfortunately, I don't count Toy Story as one of them.
This sucker was released on Game Boy in 1996, which might seem late in the system's life except we all know that it just kept on ticking until the GBC rolled around in 1998 almost a full decade after the GB launched. Crazy!
At any rate, this monochrome port had to compete graphically with its SNES big brother and while it tries admirably, it fails. Don't get me wrong, the sprite work is impressive. When I knocked over a tub of tiny toy soldiers, I was shocked to see that these minuscule sprites had their own little personalities. However, all the work that went into animating this game is to its own detriment as the frame rate is like molasses.
Yup, your boy Woody jumps like he's in space. So maybe it should have been Buzz Lightyear as the star, haha! When you press the B button in hopes of making him whip is lasso go ahead and take a sip of something. You've got time.
But I tried to play it. I did. The first level is a little confusing. At the start of each level you're given a mission briefing with multiple steps. I felt like I should write them down or something. So first you need to find the toy soldiers and free them, then you need to find them a baby monitor, then you need to meet up at another baby monitor to finish the level. I found the baby monitor and stood in front of it. Nothing happened. So I thought maybe it's the wrong one? I went looking for another. No dice. Ultimately I checked a walkthrough and found that standing IN FRONT of the baby monitor was no good, I had to get on the table it's on even though it's a low enough table that it looks like you're supposed to just stand in front of it since you're touching the monitor. Annoying.
However, it was the second level that had me pulling my hair out. It's basically just a puzzle where you need to find several toys around the room and open up their paths so they can get put away before Andy comes into the room. This would be fine - and fun even - if it weren't for the strict 150 second time limit. I tried and failed multiple times before finally rage quitting. Sorry, this game just isn't fun for me.
I've never been a big fan of the Killer Instinct games. I remember back when the first one was released on SNES, I thought it was impressive looking given the hardware. Though, we'd already seen some of these tricks with Donky Kong Country. And besides, the whole focus on combos was just not my thing in a fighting game.
Over the years I've dabbled a little in the series, but I've never gotten sucked in. And going back and revisiting this Game Boy port of the first game is doing the series no favors for me.
I guess it looks OKAY on Game Boy. It's missing a couple of characters, but the ones available are at least recognizable - if not exactly detailed. Backgrounds are also extremely sparse.
Of course the most important thing here is HOW DOES IT PLAY? Well... It's not bad. But let's be straight up: nobody is purposefully choosing to play this version over the console big brother. Nobody other than me anyway. I'll be honest, I don't know the arcade original enough to remember what the button layout was, but I'm sure it was more than two buttons. That's all you've got here: "kick" and "punch."
My experience playing this game again on GB was reminiscent of most of my attempts to play any Killer Instinct game. That is, I just mashed the buttons a lot and hoped for the best. Which worked fine for like three fights and then I started getting wrecked. I don't know any of the special moves. And with the rather sluggish performance of this port, I don't care to spend any time learning them.
Look, I think it's cool (and FASCINATING) that so many ambitious games were ported to the low powered hardware of the Game Boy over the years. But that doesn't mean they're all going to be fun.
It's 1990 and I'm nine years old. I'm sitting in a friend's kitchen after we get back from seeing the movie The Wizard. His dad made some weird soup that I'm nervous to eat. I think it has venison in it. It smells weird. Our group of friends takes turns passing around a couple of Game Boys to play this Tetris game, which I don't really understand how to play. They explain the rules to me and I get it now. I'm not good at it, but I get it.
It's 1993 and I'm twelve years old. I have to go into the hospital for some minor surgery. To comfort me beforehand, my mom brings our Game Boys and we play Tetris against each other while I'm in the hospital bed. Remember when you had to physically link video game systems together via a cable? As whatever is in the IV seeps into my bloodstream, I start to get drowsy. This day lives on in infamy as the only time my mom was ever able to beat me at Tetris.
It's 2003 and I'm twenty-three years old. I'm dating this girl who has several roommates, one of which is a guy who loved playing Tetris against me as he insisted I was the only player to ever give him a challenge. He owns a SNES and when he smokes he likes to play Tetris. I think it's the only game he owns. We have many Tetris marathon sessions that go on for hours. I think we'd bet money on them. I'd have too much to drink those nights.
It's 2012 and I'm thirty-one years old. After watching a documentary called The Ecstasy Of Order, my wife becomes infatuated with Tetris for the first time since she was a kid. We bond over Tetris World on Gamecube. I get too competitive, though. I can't help it. Tetris brings out this side of me.
It's 2017 and I'm thirty-six years old. I finally decide to put away Breath Of The Wild, and the Switch turns into a defacto Puyo Puyo Tetris machine. It becomes my go-to game to play while listening to reruns of The Office and Parks And Rec. It's total comfort food.
I recount all of these little anecdotes to illustrate just how ubiquitous Tetris is with my gaming life. It seems like even if Tetris is pushed aside for other things, there's always a version of Tetris that I need to have around for any phase I go through. The same way my mom bought Beatles albums on vinyl, then cassette, then CD, then... a Spotify subscription, you sometimes end up buying your favorite games over and over again just to continue to have convenient access to them.
It's 2019 and I'm (almost) thirty-eight. We're watching the Nintendo Direct when Tetris 99 is announced. There was something truly awesome about Nintendo announcing this game we knew nothing about. They were just like, "hey, this exists. And it's out right now. And it's free." So I went and downloaded it with glee. Two matches in, I had ranked #4 and felt like an absolute boss.
Tetris 99 is brilliant. It's a game that I didn't know I needed until it existed. It's such a perfect concept: Play Tetris against 98 people and the last player standing wins. There's strategy to be found. Like do you target the best player? The one closest to losing? The one(s) attacking you? There's a drama that comes with seeing that only fifty players remain. Or that ten remain! All the while the game speeds up as more players go out. It is such a blissful chaos.
I can't say that I'm GOOD at Tetris. I've watched videos of Tetris Masters playing, and I'm not one of them. There's a whole world of stuff I don't understand. T-Spins and all that? Yeah, I don't know. I just play. But I can at least say that I'm not BAD at Tetris. And the next night I got a 3rd place. Then next night a 2nd. I became hooked - compelled to constantly keep trying the same way I felt as a kid playing the original Game Boy cart. I wasn't so much playing against 98 other people as I was competing with myself to top my last attempt.
And that next night... I came in first. It was an amazing feeling. I took a screenshot and ran into the bedroom and whispered "are you asleep?" My wife rolled over and I showed her the screen. She was proud, haha.
I love that Nintendo is making plays like this - these weird surprise games that are totally leftfield. And for everyone who shrugs off the Switch Online service, this is proof that Nintendo does want to make some clear strides to make the service worth your money. I'm just thrilled that this weird game is even a thing, and I can see myself playing it a hell of a lot for years to come.
Seven months later, Tetris 99 remains my most played game of the year. It's crazy. This update of a thirty year old game that Nintendo gave away for free to Switch Online subscribers, and I just can't stop playing it.
What's amazing is the support that Nintendo has put into this game. Y'know the whole "games as service" thing? Yeah. They know what they're doing. The 7th Maximus Cup tournament has been announced for this month. And I've taken part in every one of them so far. I've unlocked all those tournament skins, baby.
And in the past month we've seen the big 2.0 update, which is the reason I'm writing about the game again now. I mean really I could write about it on a weekly basis, given how often I fire it up to play a couple rounds before bed. But the update added so much new content.
First of all, daily challenges are perfect for this game. Now that they're here, I'm not sure why they weren't from day one. Daily challenges are the kind of thing that kept me logging in to Dead Cells or other games of the ilk. And they earn you tokens that can unlock even more rando skins. Good stuff. Fun stuff.
The other huge thing is Invictus which is a special mode that plays just like the normal Tetris 99 mode, except it's only available if you've come in first place before. Since I've done this a bunch of times, I felt like I was part of an exclusive club. Not so much. Where I normally finish in the Top 5 or so in a vanilla Tetris 99 game, Invictus is the big time and these folks don't mess around. So now I'm struggling to finish in the sixties. It's crazy. But it's also rewarding. It feels like Nintendo was able to introduce a new challenge here, basically creating a paradigm where you can choose to play casual or competitive.
So far, I'd call Tetris 99 my game of 2019. There's still a few months left to dethrone it. But we'll see.
I don't know why I never played Yoshi's Island back in the day. I mean, Super Mario World is probably my favorite 2D platformer of all time. Probably? No. It must be! But for some reason, the sequel didn't interest me in 1995. I must have moved on to more 'mature' games by then, and the crayon colors and baby Mario must have scared me off.
But I did finally play it sometime in the late 2000's when I picked up the GBA port of the game. I remember being pleasantly surprised. But for some reason I didn't stick with it all that long. And I really haven't thought about the game since.
Luckily, Yoshi's Island found its way back to me via the Switch Online service. My daughter is three months now, and she seems to really like watching bright and colorful visuals. So as an alternative to cartoons, I fired up Yoshi's Island and put her little chair next to mine in the game room.
Well, the bright colors really did seem to comfort her. And me? I had a lot of fun playing the game as well. Visually, the game holds up incredibly. I mean, I'd much rather look at graphics like this in 2019 than say Donkey Kong Country or Mortal Kombat.
It also plays well. Yoshi feels like Yoshi, and the levels are interesting. But with that said, I feel like the game would have benefited from NOT having the Super Mario World 2 title. It should have just been called Yoshi's Island and considered a spin-off, because this doesn't feel like SMW2. It feels like its own thing. And having that comparison in my head kind of hurts it.
Let's be real - we've never gotten a follow up that can compete with Super Mario World. I suppose the closest is that you could call the New Super Mario Bros games spiritual successors. And while I LIKE all of those games to varying degrees, none of them are as perfect as Super Mario World.
But I digress. This is a super fun game. Although one that I need to turn the volume down on. As a new dad, there's a certain level of unneeded stress that comes from hearing a baby crying in a game. C'mon.
I'm currently kicking around in the second world, and having a solid time. Certainly I'd consider this BETTER than any of the NSMB games anyway. And I'll definitely say that Nintendo has done a great job with the SNES games on Switch Online. I feel like even in their first initial batch of games they've out shined the NES offerings.
I've never been a fan of Sonic & Knuckles. Which is kind of weird, because I am a fan of the other early 2D Sonic games. The first game was why I wanted a Genesis at all as a kid. And the second game was huge - I wore my Sonic Tuesday pre-order shirt proudly back then. And then there was Sonic CD which may actually be my favorite. I know I'm in the minority there. But man, EVERYONE seems to think that Sonic & Knuckles is like the best in the series. And I just can't seem to enjoy it.
But y'know, tastes change, so I decided to give it another try this past weekend. Now oddly, Sonic & Knuckles is not included on the Genesis collection on Switch. Luckily, it IS on the Sonic Mega Collection on Gamecube, so that's how I played it. I'll tell you this - I miss my Wavebird controller. That thing was amazing, but in a move of stupidity, I got rid of it a while back in a purge.
But that's neither here nor there. Sonic & Knuckles is... just not a game I'm into. If I play as Sonic then it just feels like ANOTHER Sonic game except I don't really care for the level design. I don't know. They feel too long and just don't flow well for me. And if I play as Knuckles - which I think is kind of the point, right? - then I have even less fun because I find him totally clunky to play with. I know people like his climbing ability and all, but I just feel like I never really get comfortable with how he moves or floats or whatever.
So I don't know. I got up to the third boss and saw a Game Over and just had no motivation to start again. I'm all set. I guess I'll never really care for this game.
It's hard to articulate just how big NBA Jam was back in the day. It was one of those 90's games that was an arcade staple. And EVERYONE had some version of it at home. The big thing was finding all of the hidden players in both the original and TE versions of the game. Even crazier was that this was a SPORTS game. And even non-sports fans seemed to enjoy it thanks to its crazy over-the-top arcade style gameplay.
Back then SNES was my preferred way to play NBA Jam. But I also had it in portable form. Truth be told, there were several games like this (Mortal Kombat II comes to mind) where I actually had it for SNES, but also Game Boy because I liked the ability of taking some version of the game with me between my mom and dad's houses.
These ports were serviceable at the time. But man, trying to play the GB port of NBA Jam is rough. I will say that it looks good for what it is. It's a pretty close approximation of the console game. But that being said, there's one thing that completely destroys this version: the controls.
Let me remind you that NBA Jam is a three-button game. You have shoot, pass, and turbo. But what's that? The Game Boy only has two face buttons? True. Which means the third function is set to the Start button. Uh oh. By default, this is turbo, and it's awful. There's no physically comfortable way to make this game work.
I tried for a while to play using my index finger on Start and my middle finger on the face buttons but this was super uncomfortable and honestly confusing. Eventually, I resorted to just not using turbo at all. Which completely ruins the game by the way. I mean turbo is pretty much how you "jam," right?
There might be a way to reassign the buttons. I think there is. I guess I could change passing to Start and just try to dominate the game without my teammate's help as much as I can. But I don't know. It definitely strips something from the flow of the game. It's too bad. This could be a solid portable title. And I guess it sufficed when I was a kid. But I just can't squeeze the same enjoyment out of it this way now.
Here's a game I probably wouldn't have played had it not been 'free' on Switch Online. Stunt Race FX was somewhat hyped back in the day because of the FX chip a la Star Fox. And I mean, from a technical standpoint - yeah it's impressive. You've got a polygonal racer on SNES! And it's at least playable. But comparing the two games - Star Fox is absolutely amazing and Stunt Race FX is... merely playable.
For one thing, it seems like part of the way that pulled off this feat is by making the screen much smaller and throwing black borders around it. You remember that old trick they'd use for early CD-ROM games that had video clips, right? But for a SNES game it just looks weird.
The other thing is that the frame rate absolutely chugs. This is a racing game, and the sense of speed just isn't there. Likewise, the controls feel janky and I'm constantly either over-turning or under-turning. Compare this to another SNES racer like Mario Kart that had impeccable controls and it's easy to be disappointed.
It also feels like a rather slight game. There's only three cars to choose from at the start. Apparently you can unlock a fourth, but I'm not going to bother. Oh, and there's a big rig bonus mode that's pure torture.
I appreciate what Stunt Race FX pulled off in 1994. And as a piece of gaming history, I'm glad to have given a try. But I can't see myself coming back to this one anytime soon.
So I've been trying to game on the cheap lately. Y'know what's cheap? Old sports games are cheap! But it is fun to check out these random series from various sports and see how they progressed over the years. And here's an interesting example: Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball is a 1997 Game Boy port of a 1994 SNES game. It took three years for them to bring the game over to GB. I mean, were fans of the SNES game really clamoring for a GB port in all that time? I don't know. I really don't remember anything about this game. I'm not even sure I was aware of it at the time.
But y'know what? It's not bad. I mean it's not great. But it's better than I expected. The sprites are rather large, and though kind of goofy looking are still pretty impressive on the hardware. Pitching is... alright. Batting feels good. Fielding can be a little cumbersome, but it's manageable. I've definitely played far worse baseball games. This one at least feels solid enough for the time.
What's really cool is how in depth the options are in this thing. You can play an exhibition game, an all-star game, playoffs, a full season (or half, or short). There's also all kinds of sim stuff in there like editing rosters that I didn't bother with myself, but I appreciate the inclusion.
I THINK that a big fan of baseball (and Game Boy) would probably find a fair amount to keep them busy in this one. For me, I'll just say that it's a decent baseball game. And one I'll actually hang on to. I mean, a single exhibition game is enough to keep me content for a night. But yeah. It's not bad.
Earthworm Jim seems like a pretty weird launch title for the GBA in 2001, given that it's a port of a SNES game from 1994. And given that I think it's a fairly awful game. I can't really remember - did people like this game in 1994? Did they like it in 2001?
I always associated Earthworm Jim with the sort of post-Ren & Stimpy era of games like Boogerman and the like. I mean, Jim himself is a pretty absurd creation. And the art style of his world is ran through a sort of sickly looking filter. Not that it's exactly gross-out humor or anything, but the color pallet alone just has a gross look to me. And stuff like catapulting cows has a definite juvenile feel for sure.
I could overlook all of this if the game was fun to play, but I honestly find it a total slog. The hit detection is wonky, and the movements feel off. Part of this is - I think - due to the desire to make the animations look really good. And they do. I'll give them that. But waiting for Jim to stop his shooting animation so he can actually dodge a projection is maddening. Dear Game Developers, please do give me function over form!
The levels do have some variety to them. For instance there are some sections where you fly on your little jet thing that SORT OF remind me of Tempest. But those are pretty boring. It's basically collecting blue bubble things while dodging some rocks. There are some sections that are just big boss battles... again, fairly boring. And again, it seems like the developers were trying to show off cool animations while sacrificing fun.
The real meat and potato levels are pure platforming with some running and gunning, but I HATE those levels because they're like stupid mazes that are made harder by the fact that the level design is so overly busy that it's hard to figure out what you can walk/jump on and what's just background. Eventually I found myself going in circles in the fourth or fifth level over and over again with no idea how to get out of there and just shut the game off. I'm all set.