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.
Continuing to relive my youth via the new SNES games added to Switch Online, I was almost nervous to fire up Star Fox. As a kid, that game was mind-blowing. I mean, there were polygons... on SNES! It was like looking into the future. So my apprehension was that there was little chance that this game could hold up in 2019. Maybe it would be best to just keep Star Fox as an awesome memory?
But no! It turns out that in 2019 the original Star Fox is still AWESOME. I was really really pleased to find that even with those early polygons, the game runs great and still feels tight. Honestly, it's just a joy to play.
One thing that was sort of weird was that for whatever reason my brain wants an inverted vertical control when playing a flying game. That's weird because I can't do inverted controls in a FPS game. I can't really explain why, but luckily Star Fox gives you the option to do either which is beyond welcome in such an early console title. Oh, and I absolutely NEED to play with the camera behind the Arwing. I can't do the first person perspective in this one. Hmm.
Anyway, the music is great. The bosses are cool. The effects like flying through ships to blow them up still look fantastic. I also forgot that there were so many paths to play through, which is neat for replayability. For now, I just wanted a night of catching back up with this old friend, so I stuck to the main path and got fairly far before hitting a game over. But I'm pleased to find that the game is just as awesome as I remember. It means I'll probably come back to it again even sooner again.
Okay, here's a story more so about Nintendo 64 than about Turok 2. Sorry in advance. But it goes like this: Back when the N64 was released, I wasn't into it. I had gotten a Playstation myself, and it took me a long time to save up for one. So I had to justify the purchase by proclaiming to my one N64-owning friend that his new Nintendo console was for kids. And my new Sony console was for cool dudes.
My buddy (bless his heart) loved his N64. And he'd try to push it on me every chance he got. That said, I only really remember him having three games for it. The first was Mario 64 and that one did nothing for me. I mean it looked pretty cool. But I didn't enjoy the 3D platforming. And besides, Playstation had Tomb Raider. Hello! He also had Goldeneye, which I thought was pretty fun as far as death match went. I never even touched the campaign, though.
The game he had that MATTERED was Mario Kart 64. There was nothing on Playstation that came CLOSE to competing with Mario Kart 64, so for a long time I'd beg him to bring his N64 over so we could play Mario Kart. That game ruled. And the point of this story is that for years I had thought of N64 as basically a system I enjoyed one game on. And once Double Dash came out, that game felt obsolete to me anyway.
So I never did buy a N64 of my own. I had very little nostalgia for it. I just never really thought about it. And then my brother texted me late one night to say he had found a beat up N64 and asked if I wanted it. I figured this was the only way I'd get an N64: for free. It was the perfect price. And besides, it was the only Nintendo console I was missing (besides Virtual Boy). So sure. I'll take it.
He wasn't joking about it being beat up by the way. Physically, this console is hurting. The little flap doors over the cartridge slot are gone. The little vents are cracked in. The previous owner clearly decided to make it region free by brute force, so much of the body is damaged. On the plus side, the green controller was in good condition and there was even a memory card included.
I had no carts to test it with, so I had to wait until I could get my hands on something cheap. As it happened, Turok 2 found its way to me. This was a series I was sort of familiar with from the comic books, but not sure I ever played one of the games. Looked like standard mid-90's FPS trash to me. With dinosaurs! So why not?
On the plus side, the N64 powered up on the first try with no problems. It rose from its yard sale "free" box of trash like phoenix. So that made me happy. Heck, even the memory card worked. Though sadly, Turok 2 would still be unplayable for me in spite of all this.
Unfortunately, Turok 2 is a casualty of early 3D games. There are certain growing pains associated with the era. And one of them is control schemes. Apparently, it wasn't a given that you'd have an option for inverted controls on a FPS back then. Sort of odd seeing that Star Fox gave me this option on SNES. But here we are. Turok 2 has forced inverted controls for the y-axis, leaving the game in a state that makes no sense to me. It's really hard to play and enjoy a game when your brain can't remember how to properly even move the protagonist. Ugh.
I wish I could say more about Turok 2, but sadly I'm left with motion sickness.
If I had to make a list that defined the SNES for me, Super Mario Kart would be right up there at the top of the list. So much so that even after I had gotten a Playstation, my SNES stayed hooked up almost exclusively for Mario Kart. I can vividly remember still having crazy two player battles against friends in 1997 or so. And this was after getting the game right when it came out in 92.
Since those days there have been a lot of other Mario Kart games, and I've played and loved most of them. And my favorites (Double Dash, MK8) have totally eclipsed the original for me. But this week Nintendo 'surprised' us all by dropping twenty SNES games on the Switch Online service, so I figured what better time to go back to the beginning?
It's possible that I haven't played Super Mario Kart in twenty years now. Maybe I'm wrong. But I can't remember playing it in that time since I was checking out sequels instead. And yet, it's amazing to me how well I remember each track. And I mean, no wasting time on 55cc mode, I was coming in first on everything. These tracks are just so iconic to me that it was like a time-warp straight back to the 90's in my bedroom after school.
I didn't have a lot of time to play last night, but I got gold in the Mushroom and Flower cups and did a save state in the middle of the Star one. The game still looks fantastic. Who knew that Mode 7 would still hold up so well? And the controls are tight and concise, which is really the most important thing in a game like this.
Again, given the existence of newer and better Mario Kart games, I can't see a whole lot of reason to come back to the first game often. But it's nice to revisit an old favorite and see that it's still as good as you remember.
Finishing up my brief kart-ride down memory lane, I opened up the Special circuit, which was a bit trickier than I remembered. Unfortunately, I came in second on that one. I think a first place would have opened up 150cc mode? It's been a while, so my memory is straining. But oh well. I got my Mario Kart fix for now. There's still nineteen other SNES games that Nintendo tossed me to dig through - some of which I'm far less familiar with. But again, I'm glad I had an excuse to come back to this one for a couple of sittings. By the way, Koopa Trooper rules.
In the realm of comfort food, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is pretty up there for me. I'm a pretty huge fan of the THPS series, and the second game was my introduction to the games. It was my roommate in college who brought THPS2 to my attention on his newfangled Dreamcast. We'd both have class during the day, work at night, and then come back to our apartment and play Tony Hawk all night while listening to Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse (before they were cool). Looking back, I'm not quite sure why we listened to music besides the in-game soundtrack, but y'know. We were young and dumb.
That was my buddy TJ, and to this day it's really hard for me to play this game and not think of him and our college experience. So do realize that there's nostalgia on top of nostalgia attached to this game for me. At any rate, in the years since I've played and replayed multiple version of THPS2. Mostly on Dreamcast and Playstation. But I had also played the GBA port about a decade ago and I remember thinking it was damn impressive given the hardware.
What makes the GBA version so cool is that it's a complete demake built from the ground up. You get the full levels and everything, but it's recreated as an isometric game which is really interesting. The controls are a bit simplified given you have just a d-pad and four buttons. And obviously the music is no longer the full CD quality licensed tracks. But all of this adds a bit to the charm of this version. At least for me.
I will say that the game feels markedly more difficult here, in part because of the control scheme but also because of the lower resolution meaning that you just can't see as much of the map at once. Everything just feels more condensed.
Because this is a comfort food game I've played a billion times, my goal right now is not to 100% everything (which I've done in the past on all four THPS games, so whatevs), but rather just get through to credits for now. Luckily, the two minute runs make this a perfect game for playing on GBA as you can easily do a few runs in spare minutes here and there.
So far I've cleared out the majority of goals on the first map, and have unlocked the school.
The school level is a pretty good example of what makes the GBA port so unique. It has all of the major elements of the console original level, and yet they've been remixed to better suit the isometric view. In some ways this totally throws me off because I'm expecting the level to be laid out the way I know it well. But it's still a testament to out thought out this port is. The developers definitely took their time in figuring out how to translate the FEEL of the level into what will actually work on the system.
One obvious omission is the dude riding around on the golf cart. He didn't make the jump to GBA. And I'm guessing it's just a matter of system resources dealing with a second moving thing rather than just static levels. But the level still feels familiar even when it's clearly different.
I'm still wrapping my head around the controls. Years of muscle memory are shot because the button configuration is so different. But I'm starting to get some solid combos going. I need to put some points into upping my manual and rail balance, though. Then I'll really be golden.