No joke, the day after I picked up a copy of Aladdin on Game Boy it was announced that the 16-bit version would be getting a re-release on Switch along with The Lion King. But hey, I got this for five bucks which is much cheaper than the Switch compilation will be. But... in my memory the SNES version of Aladdin was way better. And in fairness, I think Switch is only getting the Genesis version anyway, right?
The OTHER thing I remember about Aladdin is that it was crotch-punchingly difficult. It and The Lion King both seemed to be way more challenging than seemed normal given that they were probably at least partially targetted it kids. But what can you do?
Aladdin on Game Boy is... interesting. I will say that it looks pretty good actually. It does a decent job of emulating the LOOK of the SNES version on a monochrome display. That's no small feat. So hey, props to NMS Software who I just Googled and apparently were only around for a few more years after this and mostly had done Game Boy ports of licensed properties. Huh.
This port of Aladdin is kind of fun. But not exactly engrossing. The stages feel rather confusing, the jumping and combat both feel kind of wonky. Y'know what it reminds me of a bit is Prince Of Persia where the animation is really good but also a bit of a detriment to the gameplay at times. It's just that kind of everything is OFF a bit. Hit boxes are weird. I don't know. It's not something I feel like sticking with for long.
But MAYBE that's exactly how the SNES version is too? I mean I haven't played it in years. And maybe I'd feel the same way about that game too now. On the upside, I didn't spend fourty bucks on the Switch remaster in order to find out!
It's almost September, and that means time for me to play some football. Now, normally I gravitate towards Madden, but I thought I'd give an oldie a try. Play Action Football came to my attention via an old Nintendo Power issue, and since I found a copy for a mere two dollars on Game Boy, I figured why the heck not?
I remember the NES version of this game was kind of a big deal since it supported four-player co-op. The Game Boy version does not - at least not that I can tell from the menu. But that's sort of moot since I don't know four friends who own Game Boys and live close enough to try out such a thing. Even if I did, it would still be moot because this is one of the more boring football games I've ever played.
Now, I will give it credit for what it pulls off on the hardware. It's neat seeing full teams and all. Of course, the players are absolutely tiny to achieve such a feat. And that makes it hard to sometimes see what's going on. But the major thing is that this game just drags. The action feels so so slow. Maybe back in the day it felt like a really good simulation. I'm not sure. A friend of mine swears the NES version was great.
But ugh. I played a full game that ended in a 0-0 score. It seems like even the CPU has trouble completing passes, at least on the default difficulty. It was like the most tedious tug-o-war game I've ever played. Oh well. I guess I'll probably be digging back into a Madden again soon. I do have Madden 13 on Wii U that I haven't spent much time with so...
I feel like whenever I see a blog announce the new games being added to the Switch Online service, there's a whole bunch of negative comments. Sure, it's been a slow drip. But over the past year we've gotten some fairly interesting games. Obviously stuff like your Marios and Zeldas and Metroids are going to be the most 'exciting' announcements. But Nintendo's given us some interesting surprises such as a few imports along with those various SP versions of games. But for me, it's been the weird and more overlooked titles that have made me happiest. Look, I thought Startropics was pretty bad when I finally got to play it, but the fact remains I got to play it BECAUSE it was part of this service that I had already paid a subscription for.
This brings me to Vice: Project Doom, a game I had never even heard out of outside the fact that it was featured on the cover of a 1991 issue of Nintendo Power. But sometimes going into a game with no preconceptions is the best way to do it. And in this case, yup. That's true.
Vice: Project Doom is a pleasantly interesting game. It's got some kind of crazy story played out in cut scenes that feel super early-90's. The bulk of the gameplay is that of a sort of Ninja Gaiden style platformer, except you can switch from using a sword, gun and bombs (the two latter have limited ammo that you can refill). This makes how you approach each level more interesting depending on which weapon you choose. The boss battles are surprisingly cool with some very big and unique bosses. And pattern recognition is the name of the game.
But what's really neat is that there are OTHER kinds of levels that mix things up. There are some driving levels that play out in the overhead sort of like Spy Hunter, and then culminate in boss battles reminiscent of a shmup. There's also some on-rails shooting levels that reminded me of playing Virtua Cop with a controller instead of lightgun. Actually, y'know what? The changes in gameplay actually sort of remind me of the variety of Snatcher.
Anyway, this is what I enjoy so much about the Switch Online library. It's very cool to dig into some forgotten NES game for a night or two. These kinds of experiences make for great pallet cleansers between bigger games. Now hopefully those rumors are true about SNES games coming in time for the first anniversary of the service...
I feel like I remember the NES version of this game being really good. There was this kid who lived down the street from my mom's house who had it and some of the neighborhood kids would hang out in his basement playing this along with other random games like Dick Tracy and some Eggbert game that his mom bought from the Home Shopping Network.
But playing the Game Boy version now, it seems pretty mediocre. Now I should start by saying that the music and cut scenes are actually damn cool. I mean, do you remember how awesome Batman was in 1990? My goodness. I remember gushing over that Nintendo Power issue. I think I cut it up and made a weird collage to beg my mom to let me see the movie. At the time, she thought it was too dark for a nine year old. Well, I was probably ten by the time the movie hit VHS. But whatever. The collage worked and she let me see the movie and I ended up watching it over and over again for years. Fun fact: The first album I ever bought on CD was Prince's soundtrack. Though, I think I also bought the "Lithium" single by Nirvana the same day.
But I digress.
Platforming 101 is physics. As basic as Super Mario Bros is today, there's a reason that game still holds up: the platforming is sound. But in Batman, not so much. Bats' jumps are way too floaty making it difficult to land on small platforms or shoot blocks at desired heights. The levels also feel rather bland. And mostly it's shooting dudes with a gun. You remember that Batman shot a lot of dudes with guns, right? Oh wait.
It was interesting to see some very Sunsofty stuff pop up, though. There's a weird swirly gun powerup that reminded me a lot of Fester's Quest. But I don't know. The game just doesn't hold up for me. I also found it kind of annoying that there's no checkpoints in levels, so dying right before the end of a level sends you back to the beginning. And dying at a boss sends you back to the beginning of the group of levels which is three or four stages back. Ugh. I also saw no way to save progress, so this is definitely not a pick-up-and-play sorta game unless you want to just keep playing the stupid chemical plant every time. Meh.
Today I was playing Minecraft and my wife asked me, "is it fun?" The weird thing was, I had no idea how to even answer that question. Is Minecraft fun? I don't know. If hard pressed, I guess I'd say no. I guess I don't think that Minecraft is a fun game. But I don't think I play ift to have fun. It serves a different kind of purpose.
I had a rough week at work. It was one of those weeks where I felt sort of worn down and needed a little time to dust myself off. I mean nothing life-altering or anything. Just a tough week with some setbacks. I'll be fine. Totally fine actually. But y'know how sometimes you just need to take a night and have no responsibility? Maybe you order Chinese food and have a glass of Scotch afterwards and just sit and sort of sulk? That's where Minecraft came in.
I had some Best Buy rewards certificates and was able to pick up the Nintendo Switch port of Minecraft for $14, so I figured why not. And so I spent a few nights on the couch sitting next to my wife while she watched TV and I built myself a little world. I called it Pandora - the first name that came to mind as a James Cameron fan. I mean, I also thought of LV-426, but I wanted a peaceful Xenomorph-free world.
Firing it up, I was immediately impressed with how this game handled on the Switch. There's some moments when the world first generates where the draw distance seems weak, but otherwise the hardware performs admirably. Plus, I kind of love this weird little quasi-partnership between Microsoft and Nintendo right now. It sort of reinforces how well the Switch and Xbox One work as complimentary platforms. It actually kind of blew my mind to sign into my Xbox account on a Nintendo device and see my Microsoft avatar show up. Even weirder to see achievements pop on Xbox for a Nintendo game. And I mean, there's now a game that exists that features both a Super Mario Bros. world template, and Halo skins. Who would have ever imagined?
There's really only one way that I play Minecraft: peacefully. I set it to Survival, as I don't want unlimited resources nor do I want to fly. But I don't want to deal with the bullshit like remembering to eat, or finding shelter from Creepers. Nope. I just want to peacefully build stuff. I want a game that's the digital equivalent of a zen garden. I just want to push stuff around until I make sense of the pieces.
And so that's what I've been doing this week... pushing stuff around. Tearing things apart to build something new. Turning nothing into something. I don't know if I've been having fun, but it's been a good way to unwind I guess.
It's not the first time I've spent time with Minecraft, though. I mean I've never been super into it. I've always just done what I'm doing now - find some time when I could use a mindless distraction and just build whatever. First I played it on PC since I got a free code for the Windows 10 version. Then again I played it on Xbox One because - again - I got a free code for that version. At one point I even tried it on Oculus Rift. I'm not really "into" Minecraft, but gosh, I just keep finding reasons to mess around with it. Heck, I even have a copy of the Minecraft Essentials book in my library. So I guess that means something. Or does it? I don't even know if I LIKE Minecraft. I just kind of... need it sometimes?
So what have I been doing this week then? Well, I spent some time scouting a place to start. I had a few meh spots until I finally settled on this one area right off of a little beach. So I built a crafting table, then the stuff I needed to make a stove. And then I started working on building myself a two level house out of dirt. It took me a couple of nights. I finished it off by putting in a front and back door, and then some windows - including a nice bay window in the front facing the ocean. Sweet view.
Next I collected a bunch of sand and built a super high tower that I topped off with a bunch of torches to help me find my way home when I venture off. And then I ventured off. I went and killed a few sheep so I could make myself a bed.
After that I decided to dig down. Luckily my new home was built right atop some easily accessible mines. So I made several trips down there just attempting to deeper and deeper with no real goal in mind. It turned into a loop: enter the mines, try to go deeper than before. When my tools broke, I'd take some time to backtrack and find my way back up to the surface.
It was right around this point that my wife asked if I was having fun. And I couldn't actually answer affirmatively. I'm so used to playing games that involved a goal. Sure achievements were popping but so what? I play on Peaceful mode so there's no dragons to kill or anything. Instead, I was doing the zen garden thing. Nothing I did mattered. How fucking zen was that?
But maybe Minecraft served its purpose this week. It helped distract me. It took my mind off whatever minor defeat had gotten to me. Even if the game amounted to nothing more than busy work, at least it did that well. I can't say that I'll ever be a huge Minecraft fan, but I find the history of the game fascinating. Likewise, I think it's incredible that this game is so ubiquitous with 'gaming' as it is with the kids of today. And that's really why I ever even delved in to begin with.
Maybe Minecraft isn't supposed to be fun, though. Maybe it's supposed to be something that works out your mind. Or takes your mind away from life. I don't know. Even if I don't have fun with Minecraft, I do feel like it has its place in my gaming life. And I appreciate that.
Ten months later, here I am playing Minecraft again. It seems like it's become a sort of annual thing for me now. I just get the bug, and I spend some time just kind of doing nothing. It's... pretty great.
Over the years, I've had this habit of restarting a new world whenever I start playing again. Mostly, because it was different platforms that made me decide to try the game again. However THIS TIME I was revisiting that same world (Pandora) that I started last year.
The reason I was in the mood to delve back in lately is an interesting one. Because I've had a lot less time to actually play games lately, I've found myself spending more time WATCHING games recently. Outside of some competitive stuff, I was never really one to watch a lot game streams. But I've found myself turning on the IGN channel on Pluto TV a lot lately with my daughter sleeping on me. It doesn't really matter what game is on, it's just something DIFFERENT to watch and make me feel like I'm sort of participating in my hobby.
Games we've watched lately include Kingdom Hearts III (indifferent), Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (meh), Battlefield V (indifferent), and lots of Breath Of The Wild. But for some reason I decided to check out the Minecraft channel instead one night and found that it made for a super soothing experience. Again, I'm a guy who doesn't really care for game streams normally, but I've been enjoying this. I watched a dude called Think Noodles (?) work on a huge pirate ship one night and it made me think, "wait a minute... I don't have a boat in Minecraft."
So I did a quick Google search and found out that a basic boat can be assembled with some wood and a shovel. I fired up the game on Switch a few nights ago, and was back in Pandora. It was a cool experience. I was familiar with the little house I had started and the area surrounding it. I crafted a quick boat and shoved off and found a bunch of local islands. I decided to put a tower with some torches atop one mountain so I'd recognize it for future exploration and then went back home.
Then I decided to build a little makeshift spot for my boat to dock near my house. And then I started clearing off the beach outside my door. Then I was sort of hooked on the busywork loop again. Granted, I'm playing in these short twenty minute chunks before bed. But it's been fun.
I spent one chunk carving out rooms on the second floor of my house; another I built a tunnel from my house into the caves below. It's certainly not the most compelling video game experience out there. But it is relaxing and a good way to unwind.
While Dragon (Warrior) Quest was my first RPG, it was Final Fantasy that really made me a fan of the genre. The two games obviously had some similarities, but Final Fantasy allowed me to build a party. I spent so many evenings creating new parties named after my friends. And over the years, I came back to that original FF game many times. Even after having played most of the mainline games - and many spinoffs - I still consider the original game to be in that top tier for me. Admittedly, much of this has to do with how special it was to me as a kid.
The last time I played it was around 2012 or so via the PSP port. And I beat it... finally. I don't know why I had never gotten around to doing so before. Perhaps because I was always so keen on restarting the game with a different party. I'm not sure. But I do know that last time I went with a pretty traditional composition of warrior, thief, white mage, and black mage.
Anyway, I was itching to give the game another go so I picked up the GBA version which is (unfortunately) compiled along with Final Fantasy II. I payed a bit more than I wanted to, but hey, got the manual along with the second game. Which I hate. But whatever. I'm just glad to fire this one up again.
I really didn't have time to get started last night, but I'm rolling with a warrior, and red/white/black mages this time around.
Made a bit of FF1 progress over the weekend. Obviously it's a bit easier to do so on an RPG like this one that I've played so many times before. And so I started up by just grinding for a while until everyone was up to around level 5. And honestly, an old JRPG like this is so perfect for playing on GBA. It makes for the kind of grinding I can handle: listening to the TV in spare 20 minute chunks.
The Garland battle was over before it started; the bridge was built; the four warriors of light went on their way.
Went on to the next town, picked up some new gear and spells, and then grinded to level 10 before taking out the pirates in town.
Hopped on the boat and headed south. Did you know about the hidden boat puzzle game? Somehow I didn't until now. It's one of those old tile-sliding puzzles and I'm not good at them. Apparently completing it can net you a bunch of gil. Maybe I'll see if my wife can do it for me - she's way better at these kinds of puzzles than I am.
Anyway, on to the elf village where we paid respect to Link's grave. Did some more grinding around there to get even newer gear and some level 4 spells. My white mage has Cure, Cura, and Heal along with um... Dias I think? The one that inflicts damage on all undead enemies. The black mage is rocking Thunder, Fire, Thundera, Fira, and Blizzard. I can't even remember what I bought for the red mage - a couple spells, but honestly, she's been mostly played like a second warrior class.
We then headed west to a cave in search of some treasure to wake up the comatose elf prince.
A bit more progress last night... went off to explore the cave that netted me the elf crown. And then brought it to that evil elf king dude and wrecked him. He opened with a one-hit kill on my red mage, but a couple rounds later he was gone without a sweat. Took his crystal to that witch who lost her eye and she gave me a potion to wake up the elf prince. He in turn gave me the key to the kingdom so I went around looting and found a bunch of good equipment. I was swimming in gil at this point so bought some extra spells and then took a boat ride to that town that's been burned to the ground. Unfortunately my mages aren't leveled up enough to handle level 5 spells, so I couldn't do much in that town yet. I tell ya, Final Fantasy is like riding a bike for me. And it's so perfectly suited for playing in short spurts on GBA between bottle feeds and so on.
I had minimal time to make progress before bed last night. Mostly, I just walked around to grind a bit until I got up to level 19 so that my mages could utilize the lvl5 spells. Grabbed some useful ones - namely, Life for my white mage. Walked over to the cave in the south-west ("Terra...something," I'm bad with names) and STARTED to do some exploring but I took a path where every step resulted in a 'random' encounter, and that started to get tedious and I was just too exhausted for the night.
Alright so I beat Lich and then went off exploring trying to remember where to go next. After 20 mins or so... my GBA battery died. What!? So yeah. I was pretty furious. My gaming time is valuable right now, so lost progress is just super discouraging. This might cause me to take a break from Final Fantasy for now. Maybe play something a little lighter. Ugh.
I didn't play Tecmo Bowl when I was a kid. I remember sometime in 1988 getting that Nintendo Player's Guide that had pro tips for a bunch of games and the title "Tecmo Bowl" led me to believe that it was a bowling game. Because I was a stupid kid. Of course by the time I actually started to understand the sport of football, it was the early 90's and I was on to beefier hardware. My favorite football game back then was actually Cyberball on the Genesis. If you haven't played Cyberball, it's the most accurate simulation of exploding robot football out there.
Anyway, I didn't actually play Tecmo Bowl until 2009 or so. By then, the game had a huge cult following with people going so far as to update the rosters each year and everything. So I thought that was interesting and picked up a Game Boy cart of the game. And I thought it was fine. It was basic, but fun. And in my mind I was like "oh yeah, I like Tecmo Bowl," but I don't think I've actually played it in the decade since.
What I HAVE played in those years is lots of other and newer football games. Look, it's no secret that I'm a fan of the Madden franchise. So here's the thing: when most people play Tecmo Bowl now, I feel like they're appreciating it as a game that they grew up with. When I play it, it's just another retro football game. It's not special to me.
I realize that what I'm saying here is pretty unpopular. And I'm by no means crapping on the game. But, playing Tecmo Bowl in 2019 isn't great for me. Instead it just makes me want to play a different and more polished football game. I know I'm a terrible person.
Admittedly part of it is probably that I'm not good at Tecmo Bowl. There's no New England game to choose from, so I go with San Francisco mostly because Joe Montana was awesome when I was a kid. All I know is this - passing seems pointless. I'm picked off constantly. And how many times can I do the same running play before this game gets boring? Answer: Not long. I'm also not a big fan of the horizontal representation of the field. I think over the years I've gotten really used to a vertical video game football field. So there's that, too. But yeah. I'm sorry. I'm not having a blast with this game.
My first exposure to the NES was at a babysitters house one summer. I'm trying to do some internet sleuthing to pinpoint the exact summer, and I think it would have been 1987. There's a very specific short list of early NES games that I can remember being exposed to at the time: Super Mario Bros, Excitebike, and Ice Hockey. So that being said, Ice Hockey has always had a certain level of nostalgic importance to me. After playing those three games I remember going home and pleading my case that I needed a NES. Dear Parents, this 2600 just isn't gonna cut it anymore.
Of course we all know the problem with nostalgia. It's the problem that creeps into being a fan of retro games. More often than not, going back and replaying these old games that have high levels of nostalgia attached to them tends to highlight that our memories aren't quite accurate. As much as I still appreciate Super Mario Bros, I'd much rather play 2 or 3 on NES for instance. And Excitebike? I'm really not a fan in my older years. So I had to wonder if Ice Hockey would still hold up. The answer is, "kinda."
What's interesting about the game is that you can tweak your team. They are three player types: a skinny weak dude that's fast, a big giant slow dude that's strong, and a totally average dude. And what's fascinating is that Nintendo has sort of stuck with this Goldie Locks philosophy ever since. I mean, some of us like to play as Toad in Mario Kart - a little weak fast dude. And some of us like Bowser who's a big slow strong dude. Others might just pick Mario who happens to be totally average. And so our picks can cater to our style of play. It's pretty neat to see this in such an early game.
The visual representation of hockey works fine here. The horizontal view of the rink; the fights; the Zamboni. It's good stuff. The controls are certainly serviceable as well. I never really had a tough time figuring out what was going on or anything. So in the big picture, I'd say sure, Ice Hockey still feels good to play today. But taking the game out of its original context... I don't feel like I have much reason to keep playing it. It's fun for a single game, but given that there's no season mode or anything, it's really kind of meant for a quick game. I guess it'd probably be a lot more fun against a friend rather than the computer, though.
What it ultimately comes down to is while it's simple and fun, there's been better hockey games since. And I'm not even talking about this year's entry. The truth is that if I'm in the mood for a hockey game (as rare as that might be) I'm thinking that I'd EA's 90's games would be something I'm far more likely to think of than this game. So hey, Ice Hockey was fun for a sitting but I'm in no rush to get back to it.
Last night I fired up Punch-Out on the Switch Online service. Or rather, Punch-Out featuring Mr. Dream. Of course, as a kid we knew this game as Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. But y'know. Licensing and all that. Whatever. This game was HUGE when I was a kid. Like, I remember even my uncle who wasn't a 'gamer' bought a NES and this was one of his only games for it. And I'll be honest, I've played the SNES and Wii sequels over the years, and didn't think either one was nearly as good. Come at me if you wish.
Nostalgia hit me last night playing this. It occurred to me that the last time I had played it was almost exactly ten years ago. My wife and I had just moved into a cute one bedroom apartment. I didn't want to hog the TV with video games, so I had found some weird third party accessory to hook up my Gamecube to my computer monitor - which was a bulky second-hand CRT at the time. And I remember getting an Action Replay just to unlock all the NES games in Animal Crossing. And I played the hell out of Punch-Out this way. Weird times.
One thing I've gotta say playing this game in 2019 is damn, those BIG sprites look amazing on NES. I mean, really, I think I had forgotten just how impressively animated those characters are. Good stuff. "Puzzle"-wise, I was impressed with myself. For a game I hadn't played in ten years I was surprised how many of the tells and moves that I remembered. I got up to the first Bald Bull fight without a knockdown.
I'll be honest, I used save states between rounds for continues. Whatever. This is a game I've played plenty in the past, so I'm not too serious about playing it "right," as much as just re-experiencing. But I was able to pretty briskly move along up to Mr. Sandman who totally wrecked me. I THINK that in my younger days I was able to beat him and get up to Super Macho Man. But my memory is fuzzy. I know the only time I fought Tyson was via the code that brings you straight there. And he destroyed me. Anyway, this is still a great great game. Totally holds up today.