As a kid I had almost zero interest in RPGs. My brother loved them but I had the ignorant opinion that they were slow and boring. Now opinions are opinions and I would never call someone who dislikes the genre “ignorant.” However, I say ignorant for myself only because I judged an entire genre without giving it a chance. Ironically, I now love RPGs as much as any other gaming genre. My first foray into the RPG realm came courtesy of Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (December 2007). Although certainly a flawed game, I had one hell of a good time. Naturally, it made too much sense to have my second RPG experience be Final Fantasy II. In some ways you could say that Final Fantasy II marked my first “real” RPG (if you don’t count Mystic Quest as a legit RPG which some folks do not). Final Fantasy II was a sweeping and grand adventure; what follows below will be some thoughts and memories. Fair warning: some spoilers lie ahead so play it first before you continue on! Besides, if you haven’t already played it, you probably should.
THE STORY GOES…
Crew: Captain Cecil! We’re about to land.
Cecil: At long last!
Crew Guy 1: Pray tell, Cap, why are we stealing the crystals from innocent folk?
Crew Guy 2: That’s what we’ve been summoned to do. And that’s that.
Crew Guy 1: Do we really have to keep doing this? Captain?
Crew Guy 3: Prepare for landing!
Elder: Take the crystal if you must.
Cecil: Could have saved yourself the trouble by saying that earlier.
Elder: But consider this. Why would the King of Baron do this? Why do you pursue the crystals so eagerly?
Crew Guy 2: SHUT UP old man, or I’ll shut you up myself!
Crew Guy 1: Captain, I don’t know if we can keep doing this.
Cecil: Possessing the crystal is essential to our prosperity. More importantly, His Majesty has deemed that the Mysidians know too much about the crystal’s secrets. We are the Red Wings, the air force of the Kingdom Baron! The Royal Command is absolute.
Crew Guy 3: You sure?
Baigan: About time, Cecil! I see you have the Crystal of Water. Well done.
Cecil: Indeed. But… the Mysidians were so helpless.
Baigan: What are you trying to say?
Cecil: Well… it’s just…
Baigan: Don’t get soft on me now. You did what you had to do. Don’t overthink it, for your own sake.
Baigan: Follow me…
Baigan: Your Majesty, I’m afraid Cecil has developed a conscience and a rebellious air. I don’t think we can trust him going forward.
King: I have no room for backstabbers. I’ll take care of him swiftly.
Cecil: You called, Sir?
King: Yes! Good job, Cecil. Hand me the crystal.
Cecil: Sir, are we doing the right thing?
King: You dare question me, YOUR KING?!?
Cecil: I just want to know what’s going on.
King: Let’s cut the bullshit. I know of your discontent, Cecil. Since you no longer trust me, you cannot be commander of the Red Wings. You are dismissed from your post!
King: Take this package, and venture to Village Mist. Just remember this one thing. A man digs his own grave. Guards, get this maggot outta my sight!
Rosa: Cecil! What’s wrong? You haven’t been yourself lately.
Cecil: We had to rob the innocent folks in Mysidia.
Rosa: Oh dear…
Cecil: I’m just a Dark Knight with no courage to disobey His Majesty.
Rosa: Hmph! The real Cecil I know would never whimper like this!
Cecil: Rosa, about tomorrow…
Rosa: I know. I know. Get some rest, for tomorrow is a big day… for all of us…
In typical RPG fashion, you trek through the land in an overhead view. It’s simplistic but therein lies the beauty.
Enemies randomly crop up, taking you to this battle screen. Growing up I thought RPGs were lame and boring, but now I can’t get enough of it. Go figure!
Early on in the game, Cecil fulfills a life long dream when he legally changes his name to Steve. Hey, can you blame him? [Shush you -Ed.]
The twins, Palom and Porom, are comic relief characters to the nth degree.
This part cracks me up because we all know a nostalgic person like this in our lives who can’t shut up about their old war stories or the “good old days” [Pot, kettle, black -Ed.]
Final Fantasy II featured an intricate plot full of twists and turns that will tug at your heartstrings. You latched onto the characters; you connected with them and believed in them. There’s a certain synergy about this game that makes playing it akin to reading a really good book.
JACKPOT! Finding a bevy of treasure chests just lying around is always exciting. Your eyes just light up as you make your way around each box. Classic RPG gaming at its best.
An epic battle wages between Golbez and Tellah. Tellah has a devastating magic spell up his sleeve known simply as Meteo. It inflicts a shit ton of damage — 9,999 HP reduction to be precise. But at what cost?
In life sometimes we have to learn how to forgive those who have harmed us. We’re only hurting ourselves if we don’t. It’s more about what it does for you than it does to the person you’re forgiving. A good lesson I’ve learned over the years!
One of the many things I love about RPGs is the relationship dynamic between the group members. I particularly like it when there’s some degree of inner turmoil among the party members. It just makes things more interesting when there’s little moments of in-house bickering. They add charm to the game and are always a hoot to read. Nothing like a little good old fashioned tension among the ranks to break up the monotony of the trip.
In the end, a grand celebration is held and many old faces rejoin the fray for one big reunion bash.
I love how stupid high the numbers get in this game. HP of 5611? Why not! My final stats:
Steve L55 3699 HP 222 MP Rydia L51 1704 HP 449 MP Edge L52 2614 HP 168 MP Rosa L53 2654 HP 440 MP Kain L54 3373 HP
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Final Fantasy II was very well received by the critics. EGM gave it the Game of the Month honors, earning scores of 7, 8, 8 and 9. Super Play Magazine rated it 90%. You can’t go wrong with this game, and there’s even a small spattering of fans who prefer it to the almighty Final Fantasy III. Final Fantasy II is a well paced, story driven RPG no SNES fan can afford to miss. If you’ve somehow missed it all these years, be sure to bump it up to the top of your queue.
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest eased me into the genre, which I blindly disliked as a kid, but it was Final Fantasy II that cemented me as an RPG fan for life. I discovered, in my mid 20s, just how satisfying RPGs can be. The action may not come at you fast and furious, but the great storytelling and character dynamics make for a hell of a ride no other genre can provide. From romantic subplots to betrayal to even death, Final Fantasy II is a breathing and organic piece of art that sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the very last magic spell. You can’t ask for much more from a video game than that.
The effectiveness of its characters can often times either make or break an RPG. Thankfully, Final Fantasy II is graced from top to bottom with plenty of memorable characters. Yang, the wacky twins, Cid and Edge — just to name some — are the sort you’ll grow attached to as you go about the journey. Although Cecil is the main star here, it’s more akin to an assemble cast. Sure, the formula’s a bit simple and basic, but that’s also part of its charm. You traverse from town to town, talking with the locals, picking up clues, buying supplies, leveling up in the nearby forests and caves, and then battle a boss before moving onto the next region. It’s the storytelling aspect of these games that I admire so much. When an RPG is done right, like this one is, it sweeps you away to a far away land full of wonder and danger. It’s video game escapism at its best. Long day at work? Long holiday weekend? Nothing like popping in a quality RPG to get away from it all for a few moments. Although Final Fantasy II may be linear, doesn’t have many side quests and may even seem rather basic to more seasoned veterans of the genre, there’s an undeniable charm to the game. The story moves along at a brisk pace, the characters are endearing and it’s backed by a stellar soundtrack. If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re missing out on one of the best SNES RPGs.
In April of 1994 — 25 years ago in fact — Takara released the SNES port of Fatal Fury 2. Being one of the Neo Geo’s most popular fighting games, the original version made its debut in the arcade in 1992 and weighed in at a hefty 106 megs. The Super Nintendo conversion clocked in at 20 robust megs, arriving (arguably) right around the peak of the golden age of both fighting games and 16-bit gaming. Fatal Fury 2 proved to be a prime example of how to nail down a sequel properly, featuring more playable fighters, more special moves and enhancing virtually everything that the first Fatal Fury had to offer.
FATAL FURY ORIGINS
March 1991. A one on one fighting game revolutionized the gaming world. STREET FIGHTER II became nothing short of a phenomenon and a household name. At the time I was only 7 years old, but I can still remember it so vividly. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the Street Fighter II arcade cab. Whether it was 7-11, video rental stores, Pizza Huts or trading card shops, people lined up in droves to play it. Fatal Fury came out roughly 8 months later in November of 1991. I remember encountering Fatal Fury for the first time on a Neo Geo MVS cab. These powerhouse machines could hold up to four games, giving players the ultimate choice. The cab stood out in a crowd with its bright red exterior and four mini game posters up top. It immediately caught your eye and it was always fun to look up and see which four games were featured. Occasionally, old games got filtered out and were replaced by newer ones. There was always an element of Russian Roulette with Neo Geo MVS cabs that I loved. If you were in the arcade scene back in the early ’90s, then I know you know damn full well what I mean.
In retrospect, that time period was truly special. There was a certain magic to it. Just standing in front of an MVS cab gazing up at the four titles and watching the game demos switch on the screen before you, each game making a convincing bid for your precious quarter, was epic beyond words. Maybe part of it had to do with being young… but I really believe in my heart of hearts that that was simply a magical time in gaming that will never be duplicated ever again, period.
Fatal Fury was often wrongly accused of being a Street Fighter II clone as it came out 8 months later. Back in the day it was easy to claim that. But years later I discovered a shocking fact. The sort that debunks the gaming theories of one’s youth. The creator of Fatal Fury, Takashi Nishiyama, also created the very first Street Fighter (1987). After gaining recognition for his talents following Street Fighter, he was sought out by SNK. Nishiyama, along with many members of the development crew for the first Street Fighter, made the jump to SNK. Fatal Fury was the follow-up title in November 1991. In an interview conducted by 1UP, Nishiyama was quoted, “Fatal Fury was my Street Fighter II.” Wow. As it turns out, Fatal Fury was never a Street Fighter II wannabe. In Nishiyama’s mind, Fatal FuryWASStreet Fighter II. My bad, Mr. Nishiyama. Forgive me for the sins of my youth.
So much for Fatal Fury being a Street Fighter II clone, eh? Fatal Fury was actually in development at the same time as Street Fighter II. Fatal Fury has a special place in my gaming heart. I fondly remember it best for its 2 player co-op mode, where you and a friend can team up to fight the thugs at the same time. This gave it a unique atmosphere, almost as if it were an old kung fu flick. I have so many memories of my brother and me battling South Town’s most corrupt and dangerous villains. From the ageless Tung Fu Rue, who could morph into a muscular monster, to the enigmatic dancing Duck King. With incredibly lush and vibrant visuals, it made for a damn fine alternative whenever the Street Fighter II line went past the entrance. In some ways I even liked Fatal Fury more than Street Fighter II as a kid.
It was so cool how the levels you fought on would change from round to round. At first it’s sunny but then evening would befall the battle tested warriors. Tung Fu Rue’s stage haunts me to this day, even nearly 30 years later. The second my brother and I saw those heavy raindrops falling from the sky, complete with ominous thunder and lightning, we didn’t know whether to wind our watches or crap our pants. I remember standing there at Safeway completely frozen in awe. To this day it remains one of my fondest gaming memories. Another night I recall fondly occurred either in late ’91 or early ’92. Fatal Fury just came out and my uncle took us to a mom and pop rental shop. We rented WWF Survivor Series 1991. My brother and I were so hyped to see the championship match pitting the Immortal Hulk Hogan against the impervious Undertaker. But instead of rushing home as we normally would following a WWF tape rental, we found ourselves fixated on tag teaming against Tung Fu Rue as the arcade screen rained cats and dogs.
Our uncle, being the awesome uncle that he was, stood by the arcade cab cheering us on. Not many games could put Hulkamania on hold, but there was something special about Fatal Fury that resonated with me. Those colorful backgrounds and their wondrous transitions haunt me to this very day!
While flawed, Fatal Fury was a fun game in its own right. While Street Fighter II featured smoother gameplay and placed an emphasis on combos, Fatal Fury (from Nishiyama’s own words) “focused more on storytelling and special moves.” Although Fatal Fury lacked a combo system, it did feature some amazing special moves. Since there were no combos, you had to rely on pulling off your special moves at just the right time in order to gain the upper hand. Special moves are the lifeblood of Fatal Fury. Fatal Fury also had a pretty good story. You play as one of the Bogard brothers (Terry and Andy) or Joe Higashi. Your goal: avenge your father’s death. The man responsible: South Town’s crime lord, Geese Howard! Sure it sounds simple, but there is much beauty in simplicity.
As was the case back in those days, one could only dream of owning the mega expensive Neo Geo system. Therefore, most of us mere mortals had to rely on sized down 16-bit conversions that were either hit or miss (often times seemingly more miss than hit). Sadly, Fatal Fury was a massive miss. My brother and I were ecstatic seeing it previewed in the vaunted pages of EGM in early 1993, but a small part of our childhood died when we finally played it months later. I won’t even bother to review it. It’s a super disappointing conversion, eliminating the 2-on-1 game mode that made the original so damn fun and appealing.
At first glance, it looks promising. Although obviously scaled down visually, it looks pretty damn good for a 1993 Super Nintendo game. It captures the lush and vibrant colors of the arcade. F’rinstance, Andy’s massive energy wave looks fairly on point. But beyond excluding the 2-on-1 mode, the gameplay suffered due to its terrible control. The sound quality was poor as well. It was a far cry from the arcade original and that made me very sad as a kid.
ROUND 2… FIGHT!!
Following the “death” of Geese Howard at the end of the first tournament, a new leader stepped in. And not just any Average Joe [Higashi -Ed.], it was actually Geese’s half-brother, the vile Wolfgang Krauser! Talk about keeping it in the family…
HIDING IN PLANE SIGHT
The first Fatal Fury didn’t allow you to manually switch planes. But here you can, and it’s much better this way. It added in a wrinkle and made battles more strategic.
The six buttons on the SNES controller was fully utilized. Instead of pressing two buttons to switch planes like in the arcade, all you had to do here was push R. Nice! So while the arcade original is obviously superior, little tweaks like this made the SNES port easier to play in some ways.
Projectiles are much easier to avoid, and thus a bit devalued as a result.
A few stages have their own unique gimmick. On one stage you can shatter paper screens or “hide” behind them, making you feel like you’re in a Bruce Lee film. There are other stages where you can even send your rival into various hazards in the background, causing extra harm. More on that later…
Everyone can jump back to avoid attacks. Also, anyone can crouch while moving forward at the same time. Not just for the more agile fighters but everyone, including Big Bear. There are also counterattacks. All of this made Fatal Fury 2 a much deeper game than its predecessor.
Although home ports could never match the faithfulness of its arcade original, home bonuses such as the Elimination Mode was always a welcome sight.
LET THE TOURNAMENT BEGIN
THE KING OF FIGHTERS
It’s nowhere near as iconic as Ryu’s dojo rooftop but it’s memorable in its own right. Battling on a roaring railroad train, the passing scenery is majestic but the action is brutal and barbaric. Few landmarks scream AMERICANA more than Mount Rushmore, which you can catch a glimpse of in all its sweet glory.
Overlooking the exquisite sights of Italy, combatants wage war on a boat that’s anything but the Love Boat. As stated earlier, Andy’s always been my guy [Who are you, Woody? -Ed.] when it comes to the Fatal Fury franchise. He’s got the coolest special moves in (South) town…
Set in a quaint Thailand village, the hardworking women look on as they cheer their local champ who is anything but an ordinary Joe [You just had to, didn’t you? -Ed.]
Japan is well known for its bustling night life but Mai prefers to whup your ass on this private wooden raft. Gorgeous waterfalls and exotic statues grace the background.
Proud of his Korean roots, Kim shows off his skills in a busy part of town that showcases Korea’s rich sense of culture and tradition while also embracing modern sensibilities. Best of all, this stage is home to a hilarious sight gag. Timed precisely, you can knock the elderly off their bikes! Talk about some dark humor…
I love how Jubei kicks off his wooden clogs right before each fight, and how big they appear as they fly into the screen. Speaking of screen, his stage is one of my favorites because of all the paper screens. They’re irresistibly fun to mess around with, whether you’re “hiding” behind one or busting through one!
Hong Kong makes for a gorgeous backdrop. The skyline is absolutely breathtaking, and it’s awesome to see it transition from early evening to late evening between rounds.
The big Aussie, proud of his digs, wrestles all foolish challengers in the Australian outback. Having earned a large following, a small legion of his most fervent fans cheer on the big man as he attempts to rip apart his latest victim. All about branding, Big Bear even has his own personal big rig on full display. Raiden who?
DESPERATION SUPER SPECIAL MOVES
Fatal Fury 2 introduced desperation moves. These super moves, often featuring a complicated command, can only be performed once your energy bar is low and flashing. They are powerful and hard to pull off.
“YOU AIN’T THE BOSS OF ME!” [OH YES I AM, ACTUALLY -ED.]
For fighting games back in the early to mid ’90s, the inherent thrill of a home port was undoubtedly the strong possibility of a boss code. The very idea of playing as the boss characters at home — you know, the same ones that kicked your ass in the arcade — was titillating. Sure, home ports back then could never dream to approach the lofty standards set by their arcade original, but the really good ports were able to capture the spirit of the arcade while providing you with some awesome home bonuses. Look no further than Fatal Fury 2 which has a handy code allowing players to use any of the 4 bosses, expanding the roster from 8 to 12. Talk about a fantastic Easter egg!
An ominous fog permeates in the background. Watch out for those massive cogwheels — Billy Kane can smack you into them causing extra damage. Of course, this means you can do the same to him…
Balrog, you say? Never! At any rate, Axel Hawk (what a name) is a mean sucker who uses his environment to his advantage. He can pound you into the electric ropes, zapping you of whatever will remains in your bruised and battered body. But similar to Billy Kane, you can do the same…
Those stampeding bulls don’t discriminate. In the words of Richard Vernon (played by Paul Gleason), “Don’t mess with the bull — you’ll get the horns.”
Wolfgang’s elegance and refined taste is on full display here. This is the only boss stage without a background hazard. It’s actually quite fitting and symbolic. Just like Heisenberg, Wolfgang Krauseris the danger and the one who knocks.
When you finally dethrone the bastard, he goes out in dramatic fashion á la The Nature Boy, Ric Flair!
ADDING INSULT TO INJURY
Besides the boss code, what was a guaranteed staple of fighting games from the early ’90s? If you said the obligatory bonus stage, bingo! Fatal Fury 2 has two. The first appears after Round 4 and the second after Round 8.
GHOST STORIES, DEBAUCHERY AND MORE
I love a good ghost story. When I was a kid my uncle would regale us with his tales of terror and all things that go bump in the night. He spoke in a way that evoked haunting images in my soul, sending a wave of shivers up and down my spine. You’ve probably heard various stories about the Boogeyman or the Wendigo, but have you ever heard the story of The Lady With No Feet?
In Korea there is an infamous legend of a ghost woman and her two young ghost children wandering the streets in desperate search of the woman’s husband. Thousands of eye witnesses over the years have claimed to see them passing by on dark cold nights. The legend goes, the mom has walked so much that her feet fell off!
One anonymous man had this to say, “One night I was walking home per usual. Suddenly I felt a blast of cold air devouring me. I gazed up and there she was. I asked if she needed help but then I looked down and saw she had no feet. Frozen in terror, I watched in horror as she proceeded to float right through me. As she passed by I heard the awful wailing of “WHERE ARE YOU, MY LOVE?” Her two children skipped around me singing a lullaby, emotionless. By the time I turned around they were all gone. Vanished. Without a trace. And ever since that night I have never walked that path again… the Lady With No Feet is still out there… somewhere in the darkness. She’s watching… waiting… right behind you…”
Instead of your standard gaming advertisement to promote Fatal Fury 2, Takara ran a rather clever promo. They offered free miniature one inch Fatal Fury 2 action figures. It was a brilliant piece of business. Or maybe it was just Takara’s little way of saying sorry for the first Fatal Fury port. At any rate, I absolutely ate this up as a 10 year old kid at the time. I waited 2-4 weeks for my random action figure to arrive. In the meantime I was even more hyped for the pending arrival of Fatal Fury 2. So it worked like gangbusters. Genius marketing by Takara!
You didn’t know which of the 12 fighters you were going to get so that added to the excitement. To this day I wonder how many of these little bastards were made and how many are in homes today — relics kept from one’s childhood. I’m curious to see what the rest of the figures look like. From the four I’ve seen, the detail on these small figures were actually quite phenomenal especially considering they were free (more or less, not counting the two 29 cent stamps required).
I wanted Andy Bogard of course. My brother said if I got Terry that it would be his to keep. What a punk. It turned out to be a moot point in the end as a blue Wolfgang Krauser greeted me in my mailbox roughly a month later. I had the little guy for the next 7 years until I traded him away in a package deal along with Golden Axe: The Duel for the rights to Street Fighter Collection (Sega Saturn) via GameTZ on December 31, 2001. Damn, that was eons ago. I kind of wish now that I had kept the little blue guy. Oh well.
GREAT JOB WIL OVERTON!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Fatal Fury 2 did well with the critics. It earned EGM’s Game of the Month honor in issue #58 (May 1994). EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 8 and 8. Super Play rated it a respectable 79%. It was arguably the first Neo Geo port on the SNES that garnered praise and recognition for being a faithful and solid translation.
After seeing Fatal Fury 2 earn EGM Game of the Month honors, my brother gave me the go ahead to rent it as soon as possible. As my brother and I booted it up, I could feel a certain unspoken level of trepidation between the both of us. I think part of us, despite the rave review from EGM, still expected the worst. That’s how bad the first Fatal Fury port was — we were scarred. But I’m very happy to say the sequel passed with flying colors. SNES owners finally had a Fatal Fury worth playing on their Super Nintendo.
25 years ago I viewed Fatal Fury 2 highly. 25 years later I still think it holds its own quite well. Graphically it captured the essence of its arcade brethren. Visuals are lush, vibrant and colorful. Some desperation moves, such as Joe Higashi’s towering tornado which goes from top to bottom, are a sight to behold. Control wise, while it doesn’t have the perfect control of Street Fighter II, it’s fairly precise. Sure, the music and sound could be a bit better but it plays well, thus making combat easy and fun to play. The boss code is the icing on an already well made cake. Adding 4 new fighters to the fray made Fatal Fury 2 a serious contender and one that fighting game fans could truly sink their teeth into.
With 12 fighters to pick from, a unique two plane battle system, memorable backgrounds, and plenty of cool special moves and devastating super specials, Fatal Fury 2 is quite the package. I liked it a lot back then and I still like it now. Although long gone are the days where one had to rely on the Super Nintendo for their Neo Geo fix, it doesn’t change the fact that this was a very competent port for its time. Fatal Fury 2 proved that not all hope was lost when these arcade monsters were ported over to the SNES, and that the possibility of capturing the essence and spirit of the arcade original was feasible.
I still throw Fatal Fury 2 in my SNES for a few rounds every now and again. The SNES controller’s six button layout allows me to experience the game in a way different from the arcade, which earns the SNES port major cookie points with me. You also had some awesome home bonuses like the Elimination Mode, handicap levels and of course the boss code, which made it feel more like Fatal Fury 2½. It’s just a great effort all around, and one that made me forgive TAKARA for the atrocity that was the first Fatal Fury port. And that’s saying a lot!
Over the years you might have noticed that I always list the meg count of every SNES game I review. There’s a good reason for that. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by MEG count. The Neo Geo had some ridiculous 100+ meg games, and as a kid it was always fun to see how big a certain SNES game was. The meg count varied on the Super Nintendo from 2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 24, 32 and 48. For sure, the size of a game does NOT indicate how good it is. Some of the best SNES games are only 4 megs. Some still look great for their lack of megs while others boast a much higher meg count but look far worse. It was just part of the fun back in those days.
20 megs was my favorite of the lot. 20 is a nice round number, and there weren’t many SNES games that were 20 megs. Less than 10. Speaking of 10, 10 MEG games are a close second favorite. There were only a small handful of them. I remember when Final Fight 2 first came out, my friends and I wondered to ourselves, “How many megs? 8 or 16?” Then you read in EGM or GameFan only to find out it was neither. Instead it was 10 MEGS. You couldn’t help but chuckle as 10 was a very uncommon meg count. In homage of those good old days, I make it a point to cite the meg count of each game off the bat! It’s just something I love to do, and I feel it’s all part of preserving the history of the Super Nintendo.
This month Claymates celebrates 25 years. Sadly, it never turned into the big hit that the people behind it a quarter of a century ago were hoping for. And even to this day, for the most part, it flies under the SNES radar. But the question is, does it deserve to? In this gamer’s humble estimation, the answer is a resounding NO. Claymates is quite a fun and unique game that rises above the average SNES platformer. Right off the bat you can’t help but notice its claymation look. But most notable of all is the ability to morph into one of five different animals — all with varying abilities — and levels brilliantly crafted with those creatures in mind. By the way, I interviewed the programmer of Claymates, Brian Greenstone, and that Q&A can be found toward the end of this review. Many thanks, Brian! Happy 25th anniversary
CLAY… HERE TO STAY?
THE STORY GOES…
Mudville, USA. Clayton is zapped into a blue clay ball by the vicious Jobo. The witch doctor then kidnaps Clayton’s father Professor Putty. Clayton’s day just went from bad to worse, and it’s up to him to save his dad, himself and Mudville by gaining back possession of the magical serum.
Citizen Kane this ain’t, but this is a 25 year old Super Nintendo video game we’re talking about here
PLAYING WITH CLAY
Finding yourself in Clayton’s yard, the game thankfully doesn’t look like that for long. It’s more or less an overhead map screen with some puzzles thrown in, but more on that in a bit. By the way, does Clayton live by an amusement park or something? O_o
Starting out as Clayton, your life is brittle and bleak. Your only form of offense is a giant fist. Luckily, there’s a gray ball nearby that turns you into Oozy the frenetic mouse. Leap through random tree holes collecting red gems, complete with a lovely mini explosion of sparks once procured, and jump on bouncers to send our plucky field mouse sky high.
Sandwiched between two bouncers, the poor rodent’s fragile body is deflected back and forth like a scorching pinball. You can almost feel his bones rattling, his tiny teeth chattering as he is flung from one bouncer to the next. When you come across a new animal form, it’s a hint that you should probably take the bait as the next section is sure to have terrain most suitable to your latest transformation.
Muckster climbs trees to reach otherwise unreachable goodies. Later on, you can switch back to the mouse if you wish. His bark is actually stronger than his bite.
Successfully bounce off all the squares one at a time to win. Sounds easy, right? Until you factor in that with each bounce it gets faster and faster.
Following the conclusion of each stage, there’s a brief puzzle that must be solved before you can enter the next level. A pair of mindless robots wander around aimlessly. You’re tasked with manipulating the environment in order to steer them toward the weapons required to clear the path. I have mixed feelings about this gimmick. I liked it initially, but it grew a bit old after a while and I just wanted to jump into the action. Still, I give them credit for trying something slightly different.
Sunday morning strolls are the best… that is until two weasels crash the party.
Smiling clouds abound as though it were a Nintendo game. Throughout the history of civilization, cats and dogs have struggled to get along. Claymates doesn’t attempt to change that.
Continue markers and collapsing bridges… hey, you can’t always be original.
Overhead power lines are a dangerous place for an itty bitty mouse to be. Unless of course, that mouse happens to be Oozy and his powerful bark.
Electrical charges zipping along the exposed wires will keep Muckster on his toes, er, paws. After traveling high above ground, make your way underground.
Muckster’s casual stroll, complete with his head held high, captures your typical feline attitude to a tee. You revert back to Clayton (the blue bouncing ball) if damaged in animal form, where you’re then just one hit away from death. I love the pinball effect that those bouncers induce. So damn satisfying.
Enemies ramp up, so be sure to grab that second Muckster power-up. Since you’re already Muckster, you don’t transform. Instead, you can now throw a clay ball a short distance that boomerangs back. It also gives you an extra hit to play with. Good stuff.
Linger around these shady underground tunnels long enough and you just might run into doppelgängers decked out in red carrying scissors. Shout out to Jordan Peele! Multiple passageways await as you ricochet off the bouncers to make your way back up to the surface.
*shakes fist* “These here tunnels be big enough for only one of US!“ A waterspout sends you to your first boss encounter…
Thankfully you can morph into Globmeister before the battle with Big Ben, a floppy-eared clay hound of hulking proportions! The chipmunk hurls acorns aplenty, making short work of the colossal canine.
Following the victory over Big Ben, Clayton clambers into a cannon and is shot across the globe where he lands in the great Pacific. Hmm, I smell salty water…
Although it looks like you can, Muckster sadly took ducking lessons from Mega Man…
Ricocheting off bouncers like a pinball never gets old. The Pacific introduces us to a new animal friend, Goopy. He spits air bubbles and can stay on dry land for only 10 seconds.
Surrounded by deadly piranhas and razor sharp spikes, you best better catch that ride and catch it fast!
Whew… just made it! Piranhas aren’t shy to jump so keep an eye out. Later on, you find yourself swinging precariously over a bed of spikes.
Clayton is slow moving and offers very little defense in his clay ball form. Find the next animal morph ASAP. Good news: you’ve found Goopy. Bad news: just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…
Claymates has two different bonus stages. This is the second type. Is it just me or does the first shot there remind anyone else of Uniracers? (Although Uniracers came out about six months later). I much prefer the first bonus stage shown earlier. This one can go on for too long, wearing out its welcome, and the physics feel slightly off.
Mallards are cranky and testy. Punch them out of their misery.
Where’s Martin Brody when you need him, eh? Enter those small wooden doors for a nice little surprise.
Leader of the Pacific, Corky the Clam is a tough customer to crack. Keep your distance and shoot from afar whenever possible.
Corky’s giant eyes are taken out one at a time. I’m a huge sucker for video games that feature deterioration damage on its bosses, which not nearly enough games do.
Clayton never once imagined in his wildest dreams that he would ever end up in the Land of the Rising Sun, yet here he is. Adventure beckons!
Samurais litter the Ooze Garden. [I wonder if one of them is Oroku Saki -Ed.]. They’re fast suckers and the katana’s long reach makes them a lethal foe. You can morph into Doh-Doh, a bird that can fly for a brief bit provided you get a running start.
Mighty winds give life to paper lanterns, allowing you just enough time to use them to reach the top. Morph into Mucky and get ready for a ride so wet and wild that even Schlitterbahn would envy.
Muckster shows off his great leaping ability, but haste makes waste. Having the clay ball power-up is huge, especially in areas of play where there’s very little room for error.
Temporary invincibility is always appreciated. A bevy of irascible samurais guard the stage exit. If your clay ball doesn’t get the job done, just keep swiping. It’s a numbers game and sooner or later you’ll get a hit [Are we still talking about Claymates, or online dating here? -Ed.]
Globmeister is the only one who can dig, which allows you to explore new playing areas below the surface.
Platformer Rule #72: The collectibles in your game MUST, at some point, be placed in the form of an arrow. Rule #89: Falling objects must be present. In this case, lanterns filled with explosives apparently, since they explode upon impact.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE! We’ve got fun and games. We got everything you want honey. We know the names! We are the people that can find whatever you may need. If you got the money, honey we got your disease!
Clayton finds himself in Africa. That giant rotating coin there evokes memories of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Things get a lot tougher in Africa. Obstacles and projectiles come flying at you from every which direction.
Globmeister’s life must be flashing before his very eyes. Muckster too, for that matter. Jobo is the boss of Africa, but the game isn’t over after defeating him. There’s one more place you must traverse…
Claymates turns into a horizontal space shooter!
INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN GREENSTONE
The programmer of Claymates, Brian Greenstone, was nice enough to participate in an extensive Q&A. The following interview was conducted on August 4, 2015. Enjoy.
Me: How did Claymates come to be?
BG: This was my very first Super Nintendo game that I was hired to do straight out of college. I had already made a lot of games for the Apple II and Apple IIGS, but this was a whole different ball game for me, so I had a lot to learn from day one. The idea was originally my boss’, and he wanted to do a claymation game. I forget how he got hooked up with this claymation firm, but the people we hired were really good, and they helped a lot in the design.
Me: How long was development?
BG: I believe this was a 9 or 10 month project. That was fairly typical of SNES games at the time.
Me: What were some pros and cons working on a game that relied purely on claymation?
BG: The main issue was memory space and color palettes. Both were very limited on the SNES. The company that did the actual claymation for us supplied us with each frame of animation, and then it was up to our artists to reduce those frames to something usable with the 256 color palette that we had available. One other issue was that if anything went wrong it was very hard to fix, and adding new animations required going back to the claymation company and waiting for them to do it. In a normal game the artist would simply sit down and draw a few new frames of animation by lunchtime, but not so for claymation.
Me: There’s some confusion online about the North American release date. Wikipedia has it listed as April 1993 and some folks swear by that. [Note: As of March 2019, it’s since been changed to April 26, 1994]. Others claim first quarter of 1994. GameFAQs has it as March 1994. Please clear the air: when exactly did Claymates first hit store shelves in the US?
BG: My memory is a little foggy on the exact date, but what happened was that the game was shown at CES and was a big hit. The game was supposed to be released shortly thereafter, but around the same time Visual Concepts began work on Clay Fighter, another claymation game. At the time fighting games were huge, so Interplay, the publisher, wanted to hold off releasing Claymates and wait for Clay Fighter to be completed instead. This took a very long time — in the meantime Claymates sat on the shelf. Additionally, the original name of the game was “Animal Exchange” — at least that was the working title. Interplay wanted to call it Claymates, and we objected strongly. That name was absolutely horrible, so when it finally did get released (probably in 1993) it didn’t do well. Interplay gave all the attention to Clay Fighter even though Animal Exchange had won awards at various trade shows, and the name change to Claymates scared off any self-respecting kid over 8 years old.
Me: How many copies were sold?
BG: I’m not sure. I know the game was a bit of a disappointment due to Interplay’s mismanaging of the marketing.
Me: You mentioned in our Harley’s Humongous Adventure interview that you wanted Claymates to have a different name. What was that name, and was there a reason given about why EA changed it to Claymates? And, how did EA (Electronic Arts) get involved? There is no mention of EA being attached to Claymates anywhere that I know of. Did you mean to say Interplay instead?
BG: For some reason I thought it was EA, but actually the publisher was Interplay. As mentioned above, the game’s working title was Animal Exchange, and we never really thought that would be the shipping title. But then we never thought Claymates would be either. We had a whole bunch of other titles that we suggested to Interplay and they were all better than Claymates, but for some unknown reason Interplay insisted on that name, and it destroyed the game’s chances of success.
Me: The box was incredibly unique. As a kid back in the ’90s it totally stood out in a crowd! How did you feel about the box?
BG: Yeah, the box was really cool! We thought that was going to make up for the horrible title, but it didn’t. It definitely got people’s attention but it was also a very expensive thing to do for the manufacturing. The lenticular lens — the original faux 3D technology — made the box look very neat.
Me: Speaking of the box, it proudly touted BLAZE PROCESSING (obviously inspired by Sega’s Blast Processing campaign years prior). Is there a story behind this?
BG: I vaguely remember that. If I remember correctly it was all marketing BS. It didn’t actually mean anything, and I’m sure it was another Interplay marketing idea since it made no sense [Ouch -Ed.].
Me:Claymates is pretty long by genre standards. Why wasn’t there a password (or save) option? Thankfully, the three warps included throughout the game do help somewhat to mitigate that.
BG: Could you save games on SNES? Wow, it’s been so long I can’t even remember. I guess there were passwords, right? Seems we should have had that.
Me: Do you recall the ads and if so, what’s your opinion of how the game was advertised? I remember they had the fish Goopy doing a Playboy-esque spread! Clever with the “Claymate of the Month” tagline too!
BG: Despite the horrible title, the ads looked pretty good. Very colorful, and well designed. Probably the only bit of marketing that Interplay did correctly with this game.
Me: There are five animals that Clayton can morph into. Which one is your favorite and was there a rhyme or reason for the five that were chosen?
BG: The fish was my favorite simply because the actual clay model for him looked so cool! I don’t remember if there was really much rhyme or reason to the different animals other than we needed variety. The claymation guys did a bunch for us and we picked the ones we liked the most.
Me: After each stage there’s a puzzle to solve before advancing to the next stage. You had to move carts and other objects in order to manipulate the mindless robots to reach the exit. I didn’t really like it personally just because I feel it disrupts the flow of the game. What’s your opinion of those gimmick puzzles?
BG: Yeah, I don’t think I was a fan of those either. They were probably put in there to try and differentiate the game and give it some sort of bonus round type feel. From what I remember we struggled a bit with them because they used up valuable memory space that we needed for the main game.
Me: The Milky Way, the last level of the game, transforms Claymates (I suppose that is rather ironic / poetic if you think about it…) from a platformer to a space shooter. Talk about that.
BG: I think that’s the level that used the infamous “Mode 7″ on the SNES. That was the primitive pseudo-3D mode, and there wasn’t much you could do with it. Making it a space shooter was probably the only thing we could come up with that worked with the very limited resources we had. Plus, we thought it looked cool.
Me: Do you have a favorite stage or world?
BG: I’m sure I did, but after 22 years I couldn’t remember it enough to say. I just know that I enjoyed making that game, and since it was my first “professional” game out of college I was proud of every bit of it.
Me: Was a sequel ever planned?
BG: Oh, yes. We thought the game was going to be a big hit since it played so well at CES, but when Interplay destroyed it with poor marketing decisions, it ruined any chance of that sequel ever happening. They just wanted to do Clay Fighter sequels instead.
Me: It seemed like Visual Concepts and Interplay enjoyed a successful relationship with titles such as Claymates, Clay Fighter and Clay Fighter 2 AKA C2: Judgment Clay. What was working with Interplay like?
BG: It was actually very good other than the fact they ruined the game by holding off on its release, giving it a horrible title, and then completely ignoring it over Clay Fighter. They gave us everything we needed to develop the game, and they were a good company. I later worked with their Mac subsidiary MacPlay on Power Pete.
Me: Looking back on Claymates, what are you most proud of? What disappointed you? If you could magically go back to tweak some aspect of it, what might that be?
BG: Hehe, well, I’d change the horrible title. Other than that, I think for my first console game it was really good, and considering we had 128K of memory to work with we got a lot in there.
Me: In closing, any funny or memorable stories you’d like to share?
BG: I wish I could remember the name of the claymation company that did all that work [instruction manual states A-OK Animation, Angie Glocka and Owen Klatte -Ed.]. They were really great guys to work with, and it sure would be fun to do a claymation game like that nowadays. It would be such a nice break from the CG world we live in now.
Thank you Brian Greenstone for answering my questions and thanks for programming this underrated SNES platformer
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Claymates received solid reviews from the gaming magazines of its day. EGM gave it scores of 6, 7, 7, 7 and 8. EGM’s sister publication, Super NES Buyer’s Guide, rated it 80, 81 and 84%. Super Play, typically more difficult to impress, gave Claymates a very respectable 79%.
Sadly, despite pretty good reviews and a robust advertising campaign full of ’90s charm and cheese, Claymates more or less got lost in the SNES shuffle. Even to this day it doesn’t get as much recognition as it probably deserves. It has way more substance than Clay Fighter, that’s for damn sure!
Claymates, though far from perfect, has quite a bit going for it. The levels are long enough to sink your teeth into and the level design is fairly well crafted. The gimmick of morphing into five different animals all with varying abilities makes it a blast to play, even if the control isn’t super crisp. The claymation look definitely sets it apart from the rest of the pack. Although it may lack intricate details, there is a certain charm to the visuals that can’t be understated. Each animal, including Clayton himself in blue putty ball form, has its own unique attack. It’s just more satisfying to peck critters to death — or viciously hurl acorns at them until they’re vanquished — than the standard hop ‘n bop formula that so many of these games employ. So any slight deviation earns extra points in my book, especially when you essentially have six different playable characters. Variety is the spice of life!
The music in the first world sounds a bit annoying but it gets better as the game progresses. Some of the later melodies are rather catchy; there were times where I found myself humming! There is a lively and whimsical beat to the soundtrack that makes playing Claymates even more enjoyable (once you get past that first world at least). I really dig how the levels are designed around the different animals. When a new color clay ball appears, you can bet that the next stretch of that level will be based around the abilities of the new animal. This helps tremendously to keep the long levels feeling fresh and your gameplay style switches on a dime depending on the animal you are using.
Above all else, Claymates has heart. You can tell that the people involved had a lot of fun making it and weren’t afraid to take risks. Look no further than the last level which all of a sudden boldly morphs into a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up! There’s something charming about Clayton’s adventure — he goes from his small hometown of Mudville, USA, to the Pacific, Africa and even the Land of the Rising Sun. Along with his animal friends, you’ll have to guide him even to the far reaches of outer space to save the world from certain doom. It’s not the best platformer ever made but it’s fun and delightfully eccentric. I recommend Claymates if you’re looking for something quirky and under the radar!
Graphics: 8 Sound: 7 Gameplay: 7.5 Longevity: 6
Overall: 7.5 Bronze Award
SAD BUT TRUE: July 11, 2015. Saturday night. At 6:40 PM I fired up Claymates. When I finally beat the game straight through (due to a sad lack of a password or save option), I looked at the clock and it was 1:40 AM. I sat and played through Claymates for 7 long hours. Wow. That goes down in history as my single longest game playing session, beating my previous high by probably a good 3 hours or so. Insane. Of all games, Claymates! For some wacky reason, on that particular night, I was locked in. I managed to beat it although the last level took me several dozen tries it felt. I’ll probably never do that again but man was it a crazy fun night
2017 was a hell of a first year for the Nintendo Switch. Launching in early March of 2017, it arrived alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The Switch was off to a hot start as many were dazzled by the ingenuity and freedom of Breath of the Wild. Some 7 months later, Nintendo released Super Mario Odyssey. It was considered by many as yet another home run smash. And since today is March 10, or MAR10 Day, I can’t think of a better time to look back on what made Super Mario Odyssey such a terrific entry in the longstanding Mario series.
A GAMING GENERATION DEFINED
For many kids back in the 1980s, Super Mario Bros. left a lasting imprint on those lucky enough to have grown up with it. Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered one of the best NES video games of all time. When the Super Nintendo launched in North America in the late summer of 1991, Super Mario World carried on the tradition, living up to the lofty standards set by Shigeru Miyamoto and friends. Super Mario 64 brought Mario and company into the 3D realm. Mario 64 is a nostalgic and highly memorable adventure for many who played it back in the summer of 1996 when it first came out. There have been many more Mario entries since but none of them have captured our attention and gaming hearts quite like Super Mario Odyssey.
THE ODYSSEY BEGINS
Bowser has captured Princess Peach once again, and intends to marry her against her own will. Mario meets his newest ally, Cappy, and the two are off to all sorts of Kingdoms to procure enough moons to power their airship.
Whether you play it docked or in handheld mode, Super Mario Odyssey is a beautiful looking game. With plenty of diverse locales, each Kingdom is unique and a world of its own. Cascade Kingdom lives up to its name — you can almost feel the raw power of the water!
Who could forget seeing this for the first time? It was an incredible moment that blended the real world with Mario’s world. Even better? Taking temporary control of the T-Rex by firing Cappy at it, which is the brilliant gimmick of Super Mario Odyssey.
Speaking of blending, there are special old school 2D sections spread throughout the Kingdoms. They’re bite-sized but incredibly fun, evoking warm fuzzy nostalgic memories of yesteryear.
The Sand Kingdom is such a fun little place to explore. It has been said that the director of Super Mario Odyssey, Kenta Motokura, was inspired by his trip to Mexico and his fondness for that country. Traces of that culture can be seen throughout the Sand Kingdom.
The majority of the bosses in Super Mario Odyssey consist of the Broodals — vicious anthropomorphic rabbits who also serve as Bowser’s wedding planners. One of the nice things about the Sand Kingdom is that you get to battle bosses of both varieties: Broodal and non-Broodal.
It blew my mind the first time I saw New Donk City. That’s mainly thanks to the shocking appearance of real human beings. It was only further proof that Super Mario Odyssey wasn’t afraid to think outside the box.
New Donk City was so fun to explore, whether at night or in the daytime. It was unlike any other Mario level or world I had previously explored.
I gotta give props to Nintendo. I was so pleasantly shocked to see this T-Rex cameo. I thought Cascade Kingdom was it as far as T-Rex appearances go. Glad to have been proven wrong!
Seaside Kingdom might just be my favorite Kingdom of the bunch. I tend to not be the biggest fan of water-based levels, but this one totally and completely does it for me. Maybe it’s because a good half of it takes place on the beach, offering some variety and varied nuances in gameplay that make it much more interesting to play than if it were completely underwater. For example, being able to bounce off two walls in an effort to collect coins and reach new heights is remarkably satisfying.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything I wanted in a 3D Mario game and then some. The addition of Cappy added a ton of layers to the gameplay. Whether you were flinging Cappy and then jumping off it as a makeshift platform or using it to take control of the various enemies, this mechanic breathed much needed new life into the Mario formula. I’ll never forget the first time I spotted that T-Rex napping on the hill of Cascade Kingdom. Even more memorable was the first time I became Mario T-Rex, complete with a ridiculously oversized mustache to boot!
All the throwback 2D Mario sections were a blast to navigate. It took me right back to 1987, playing Super Mario Bros. with my uncle, brother and our friends late into the night. These bits always somehow felt organic rather than forced. It was just the right amount of nostalgia rush blended with the newfangled 3D Mario gameplay that is so smooth and easy to pick up, but hard to put down.
Along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey helped to make Switch’s first year, 2017, a roaring and smashing success. I can’t wait for a sequel to both games. These two games alone are reason enough to invest in a Nintendo Switch, not to mention the dozens and dozens of great 3rd party titles and Indie hits. I had an absolute blast playing through Super Mario Odyssey, and I feel Nintendo was able to completely capture the magic of what made all those Mario games from so long ago so very damn special indeed. Not only that but they were able to add to the legacy, adding in enough new elements to make this entry stand on its own two feet. Bravo, Nintendo. Bravo! I eagerly await Mario’s next adventure on the Switch. Until then, I think I’ll head back to Mushroom Kingdom yet again for one more romp.
Today marks the 2 year anniversary of the Nintendo Switch. Of course, that also means it’s the 2 year anniversary for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Released on launch day alongside the brand new Nintendo Switch, players were thrust once more in the shoes of Link and embarked on an incredible and breathtaking journey. This also marks the first Switch game review on RVGFanatic, and I can’t think of a better time than the 2 year anniversary or a better game to kick things off with than Breath of the Wild. Stunning in sheer scope and majestic in motion, there’s a reason why this game has made such a lasting impression and is considered by many to be one of the finest Switch games made so far, if not THEbest.
SWITCHED: HOW NINTENDO WON ME BACK
The Switch marked my first system purchase in nearly 12 years. Prior to that, I’d been perfectly content rocking it out with the SNES. But the trailer for Breath of the Wild dropped in January 2017 and for the first time in eons I found myself drooling over a new video game. However, the Switch’s launch came and went in March 2017 and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Maybe I don’t need it after all…
Fate stepped in when my brother bought a copy over Black Friday for just $29 on Walmart’s website due to a system error. Walmart quickly realized its mistake but had to honor the lucky folks who jumped over the deal before it could be fixed. My brother didn’t own a Switch but he figured it was too good a deal to pass up on and that he could always mail it to our cousin, who is a huge video gamer.
As luck would have it, my cousin — being a huge Zelda fan — already had it. With my brother willing to gift me Breath of the Wild as an early Christmas present, I rushed out to Target on Saturday, December 2, 2017. I walked out with the last Switch system, cradling it close to my chest as though it were the last piece of meat on earth. It was the first system purchase I made in nearly 12 years. Later that night I fired up Breath of the Wild and fell in love with the land of Hyrule all over again. The following is a visual documentation and stroll down memory lane of that epic adventure that ran me over 200 hours over the course of 6 blissful months.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Link awakens after a long slumber in this weird chamber of sorts. Navigate your way around and then venture forth in the opening there to the great unknown. Much like previous Zelda classics, a palpable sense of ADVENTURE permeates throughout Breath of the Wild.
It’s hard to describe the first few hours of this game and do it justice. It’s a discovery of autonomy and endless options. You just know you’re embarking on this grand scale adventure and that you’re barely scraping the surface. Night falls and it feels like you’re right there with Link lurking in the wooded areas. Best of all, thanks to the Switch’s versatility, you can play this on your giant screen HD TV or play it in portable mode in the comfort of your own bed.
It’s fun just playing around with the camera and admiring the sights that surround you. This shot here reminds me of all the long summer evenings of my childhood sprawled out in my backyard looking up at the starry sky while listening to my uncle weave spooky stories of the macabre.
Up ahead looms a quaint cabin. You wonder if the owner is home… hell, is the owner even a friendly fella? It’s awfully cold out though, and a little shelter does sound nice right about now… maybe we’ll take our chances…
A seamless and free flowing sandbox world means you can easily get lost in a number of side tasks for as long (or little) as you wish. On my way to discover the next shrine, I often found myself distracted by random things such as unearthing Korok seeds, interacting with locals or destroying the latest nest of Bokoblins to unlock treasure chests. Spotting a new shrine in the not too far distance always made me cheer silently in my seat (or, as it was in most cases, laying down in bed).
Upgrading your inventory is not only rewarding, it’s necessary. Since weapons break with usage, you’re in a constant scramble to restock. Going from wooden shields and weak weapons to fancy metal ones and spears is a tangible surge in both ability and confidence. Also, reaching new areas of Hyrule never failed to satisfy as you survey the gorgeous sights that lay before you.
A crackling fire nearby keeps Link warm as he gazes at the volcano that looms ominously over the horizon. He knows deep down that at some point in his quest he must cross that waterfall and confront the vicious volcano head on.
Shrines were a point of contention among some players. Traditional Zelda games featured dungeons with plenty of monsters and a few puzzles thrown in for good measure. Breath of the Wild, however, has few dungeons. Instead we got shrines, designated areas consisting mainly of puzzles with scant enemies. Thanks to his Sheikah Slate, Link can call upon one of several Rune skills. For instance, Magnesis allows Link to lift and carry metallic objects using magnetic energy.
These are always nice. Some shrines are harder to find than others. For certain ones, just finding them is considered good enough for an automatic orb. No puzzles inside. Hey, I’ll take it!
Eerie and dramatic, the Blood Moon is an occasional event that occurs in the world of Hyrule. By the red glow of the Blood Moon, slain enemies respawn. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that creepy music as a crimson red consumed the screen and ashes rose into the blood soaked sky.
Like frying an egg on the sidewalk on a scorching hot day, in Breath of the Wild you can drop meat on a frosty surface and it will become “Icy Gourmet Meat.” The amount of possibilities this game offers the player is mind-blowing. Many times I thought to myself, “This might work” and sure enough, it did. Ingenuity is off the charts here, rewarding creativity and experimentation.
INTO THE WILD
I’ve been playing video games for over 30 years now. I can honestly say that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the longest single player campaign of my life. It provided me with over 210 hours of blissful entertainment. It was an insane 6 month experience… one I’ll never forget and forever cherish as one of the finest playthroughs of my gaming career.
What can I add that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over in the last 2 years since Breath of the Wild came out? It stands out as one of the most immersive and engaging single player adventures I’ve ever played. Part of me wishes I could wipe out my memories of this game so I can experience it for the first time again. The sheer scope and scale of Link’s open world quest empowers you to forge your own path. Multiple routes and multiple possibilities lay before you, truly giving the player full autonomy and power. There are so many memorable moments, such as the first time you run into the Hinox monster.
Or the first time you pierce one of the explosive barrels to blow up a nest of Bokoblins… running away and seeing the fiery explosion go off behind you in summer blockbuster fashion. Hyrule is a living and breathing world full of fascinating creatures, vicious monsters and helpful (as well as odd) locals to interact with. While not everyone appreciates this open world approach, I sure did. Of course I harbor fond memories of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past but I applaud Nintendo for taking Breath of the Wild in a radically different direction that reflects the ever growing evolution of video gaming as we know it today. Besides, if you don’t like it, you can always return to the classics. But for the most part, there’s a reason why so many have fallen in love with Breath of the Wild. It’s a Zelda game like never before.
2 years have passed since the Switch and Breath of the Wild came out and thrilled gaming audiences around the globe. While the game has a few areas I could nitpick, such as the lack of “proper” dungeons and the 4 Divine Beast bosses looking too similar and somewhat generic, Breath of the Wild is an incredible adventure worth taking on. It’s an instant classic that will go down in the annals of gaming lore as one of the best adventures of all time. Lovingly crafted and fine tuned, Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s signature stamp on the Switch that has set the bar for all others to come. I look forward to seeing if any game can match or surpass it. What a time to be alive
I love beat ‘em ups. Always have, always will. From Double Dragon to Final Fight to Streets of Rage, I love me a good old fashioned side scrolling beat ‘em up. One of the most revered brawlers on the SNES is Ninja Warriors. I missed out on it back in the day and despite buying a copy 13 years ago in 2006, I finally got around to playing it earlier this month. There are simply too many good games and not enough time, so forgive me for waiting so long. My backlog is seriously insane, but I digress. Ninja Warriors on the SNES just turned 25 years old so it was the perfect time to see what the hype has been all about. Play as one of 3 robot ninjas and battle an army of villains and evildoers. Surely, it’s a formula for smashing success, no? Let’s take a look…
THE YEAR WAS 1987
Developed by Taito, Ninja Warriors began its life in the arcades in 1987. The cabinet was a massive monstrosity, one I never had the good fortune enough to witness in person. Back in the ’80s, ninjas and cyborgs were running wild. Taito had the brilliant idea of mashing the two together.
FAST FORWARD TO 1994
Some 7 years later, Taito revitalized Ninja Warriors when a remake was issued for the SNES and hit store shelves in February of 1994. It rapidly garnered positive reviews and is often considered as one of the best beat ‘em ups on the SNES.
MEET THE NINJA WARRIORS
MEET THE NINJA WARRIORS AGAIN [I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE -ED.]
NEW NINJAS ON THE BLOCK
One of the cool things about this game is the ability to block enemy attacks. It’s just too bad then that blocking is the same exact button as attacking. Not a dealbreaker by any means but with no option to adjust the buttons, it’s a bit of a bummer. Back on the right side of things, there are plenty of fun items to throw around. In fact, let’s check them out.
What could be more gratifying in a beat ‘em up than seeing that big health refill right as you’re on the verge of dying?
Plenty of fun stuff to fling at enemies. The containers are the best because they may house energy pods inside.
THE STORY GOES…
Banglar seeks to rule the world with an iron fist.
Reminiscent of Contra III: The Alien Wars! On a side note, Natsume developed the SNES remake of Ninja Warriors. That same year they also made Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The two games are eerily similar, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the same Natsume folks worked on both titles.
Somewhere, a darkened corridor lights up…
UNLEASH THE TERMINATORS!
Nothing like that classic giant scrolling title screen to get you all pumped up to kick ass.
Smashing out of a window that takes out the opposition, Ninja Warriors is off to a blazing hot start. Love seeing all those shards of glass flying every which way. The sprites are pretty big and the colors are bright and bold. So far, so good!
There’s a “Blaster” bar at the bottom that automatically charges as long as you’re not hit. Once full you can unleash a super attack that damages any enemy onscreen. I’m not a fan of the weird visual effect it produces, however. It looks like a glitch that managed to slip past the game testers.
Natsume, I like to think, learned from their mistakes and did it the right way in Power Rangers.
Unlike most beat ‘em ups, Ninja Warriors operates on a single plane. Due to this restriction, I had my concerns about crowd control. Thankfully, the protagonists can attack in such a flurry that it provides extensive coverage, taking out bad guys in front of you as well as behind.
Missiles rain down from the sky, damaging anyone caught in its wake (bad guys included). Be careful not to get stuck in the middle where enemies can gang up on you. Better yet, watch out for that missile rapidly approaching your face!
Shoulder tackles are good for clearing crowds. It’s not quite Contra III but seeing this set piece explosion on the first stage sets a good tone.
Explosions continue when you defeat this towering terminator.
Kunoichi is the fast but weak fighter of the group (to no one’s surprise).
Mindless enemies are easily lured to a grisly death (in theory, anyhow). I’m not a big blood guy, but if there was ever a time…
Leatherface would be proud! What an awesome entrance.
Chainsaw is as big as her! Son of a bitch blocks well, too.
What’s worse than dealing with a chainsaw wielding homicidal maniac? Contending with soldiers who have plenty of firepower!
Kamaitachi is my favorite of the ninjas. He’s agile enough while being able to withstand more damage than Kunoichi. Not only that but he has a cool spinning attack as well as a retractable scythe!
Beating up businessmen in suits is extra satisfying. That big fella there is the toughest of the regular enemies. He’s more or less the “Andore” of the game.
Banglar flashes intermittently on the multiple screens as the boss fades in and out. Beware of bombs!
Throwing a searchlight… points for creativity! Also love that atmospheric skyline. Later in this stage a tank comes smashing through the wall. Don’t get caught in the middle if you can help it.
Exercise crowd control by jumping to one side and kicking an enemy to take out their own. This is critical to keeping your head above water.
Insane flexibility on his part to kick that high without splitting his business slacks. A helicopter flies by launching an all-out assault. Stay out of harm’s way; the bullets will blast Banglar’s brigade!
Massive destructive energy beam aside, this boss is a joke.
Strolling through the city at night is always fun. That is, until you meet a pair of schmucks in slacks!
Remember the first boss? He’s back but now he’s a regular enemy. Avoid jumping at him or he’ll uppercut the holy hell outta ya.
Blocking and capitalizing is key to success. I love when levels transit from one scene to another, such as this seamless transition to a dojo. Any backdrop featuring Shoji screen panels is a big win in my book!
There’s something inherently beautiful about beating up thugs in a dojo. Especially when the buildings come into view at night time. Ninja Warriors has an ’80s action movie vibe to it.
Speaking of action movies from the ’80s, this boss looks like the big bad from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie!
Obviously, he’s well versed in black magic…
Destroy Banglar’s exquisite statues by sending his army through it. The key to beating Bumblebee and friends is attacking them from behind; their front defense is very strong.
Banglar! But he doesn’t stick around long. He tramples off, the bald little bastard. In his place comes two towering titans. Good luck!
Snowy levels are always nostalgic for me, as they take me right back to the days of Contra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.
Unlike most other SNES beat ‘em ups that typically max out at 3 enemies onscreen, Ninja Warriors can have up to 4. Throw them into each other to exercise crowd control.
Heaving around gas tanks lead to huge explosions. The red variant is the strongest of the regular enemies. Luckily there should be a health refill in one of those containers…
Bumblebee and friends are tough when they surround you from both sides. Knock them into each other if you can.
Experiment gone wrong… or right?
Banglar is an interesting final boss fight. You face his cronies (and his deadly laser beams) rather than Banglar himself.
Damage is inflicted only by throwing his lackeys back at him. This takes a long time and the enemies get tougher and tougher. Damn you Banglar, you chicken shit coward!
THEY RETURN… ONCE AGAIN
In September of 2018 it was announced that Ninja Warriors would be the latest retro intellectual property to be revitalized. It is set to land on the Nintendo Switch at some point in 2019. I personally cannot wait.
A proper 2 player mode and gorgeous sprite work? Count me in!
Check out the teaser trailer!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Ninja Warriors was met with high praise. EGM gave it scores of 8, 8, 8, 8 and 9. GameFan gave it ratings of 86, 87, 92and 93%. Even Super Play, who were often critical of beat ‘em ups, rated it 84%. SNES fans often cite Ninja Warriors as one of the best beat ‘em ups on the Super Nintendo.
Ninja Warriors has a lot going for it. Straight forward arcade-like action, cool ninjas, killer robots and an atmosphere plucked right out of late 1980s action movie lore. Huge detailed sprites, menacing bosses and all the classic lackey tropes you could want to beat up. Yet, for some reason I’m not over the moon for this one. It plays well and the ability to block adds depth to the core gameplay. But I’m not a huge fan of the action taking place on a single plane. Enemies can quickly crowd you and sometimes cheap hits feel impossible to avoid. Thankfully you can block bullets but I would like this game much more if it were free roaming like most other traditional beat ‘em ups. There’s a flash of utter brilliance here and there, such as giant fans being able to kill enemies or the helicopter that flies by spraying bullets unmercifully. Sadly, that’s pretty much it as far as that goes. In addition, a 2 player mode is sorely lacking.
That said, it’s still pretty good. The colors scream “1994 SNES” as they are bright, bold and easy on the eyes. There are 3 distinctly different characters and I like how the bomb attacks uses a separate meter rather than subtracting from your precious life bar. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with pummeling the various enemies and exploiting their weaknesses. The music gets the job done for the most part although it doesn’t really stand out, either. Ninja Warriors is a very worthy addition to any SNES library.
One of my favorite things about this hobby is the ability to right childhood wrongs by going back to play games that I missed out on. Ardy Lightfoot turns 25 years old this month, and it was one of those games that intrigued me as a kid. It looked like a fun game and a hidden gem. When I got back into the SNES over 13 years ago in January of 2006, Ardy Lightfoot was one of the earliest games I sought out. At that time, I’d been curious about it for 12 years. Sometimes your gut feeling about a game is right and sometimes it’s wrong. Let’s see where Ardy Lightfoot stacks up.
THE YEAR WAS 1994
I was instantly intrigued the first time I laid eyes on Ardy Lightfoot via an EGM preview guide. Sadly, my brother made most of the renting choices back in the day and “ALF” never struck his fancy like it did mine. Thus, Ardy Lightfoot (along with over a hundred other SNES games) became doomed to remain a childhood curiosity… that is, until my SNES resurgence in early 2006.
WHO IS ARDY?
AND THAT BLUE BLOB?
AND WHO, PRAY TELL, IS LIGHTFINGER?
WHAT ABOUT ARTY?
Congrats to Konami for securing the rights to Monsters, which eventually became the cult hit Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Reading tidbits like that is always a blast when revisiting the gaming magazines of yesteryear.
AND THIS GUY?
THE STORY GOES…
That awesome mini-manga was featured in the instruction manual of the Super Famicom version. The English text was translated by Kate (AKA vgperson). Thanks Kate for your awesome contribution!
Coincidentally, Titus published Ardy Lightfoot and Titus’ logo bears more than a passing resemblance to the titular hero. I like how the title screen conveys a sense of wonder and adventure. Even the font and colors are on point and all indicators, thus far, seem to point in the right direction. What could go wrong?
Introductory stage takes us through a mysterious mine.
Indiana Jones and Metroid flashbacks…
Visconti, the big bad of the game, is informed of the latest. Meanwhile, Ardy maneuvers about the cute isometric map. It makes me think of games such as Super Mario RPG, Equinox, Shadowrun and even EarthBound.
Reading the slate aloud, the old man tells us that the rainbow has been divided into seven pieces. Scattered across the land, it’ll grant the owner a wish once all seven pieces have been reunited. But before they can enjoy some tea, the local town is suddenly set ablaze!
Isometric visuals will never get old for me.
SCENE 1: MINING TOWN ABLAZE
Visconti’s goons are bombing this poor little town. Save the denizens from certain doom! Throw Pec around to clear the bad guys.
Eventually, it crashes into a water tower and Ardy goes through the hole as the old man and Nina look on with grave concern.
SCENE 2: GROUNDER’S MINE
Regular jumps won’t suffice here. Call upon Ardy’s tail spring super jump. Jump and then press the jump button again before landing to activate his springy tail. Unfortunately, it’s a bit awkward to implement and never feels as smooth as you would like.
SCENE 3: TUNNEL CHASE
Reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country… but don’t forget that Ardy Lightfoot came out a year prior. The Super Famicom version was released on November 26, 1993 while Donkey Kong Country came out precisely one year later on November 26, 1994. What are the odds?
Donkey Kong Country has it beat though in terms of which mine cart level is more interesting and fun! Some of the stages in Ardy Lightfoot are laughably short and simple — this being one of them.
Beware of falling rocks and spring tail jump him to oblivion. Pec won’t damage him and neither will regular jumps. You secure the first of seven Rainbow shards after beating him.
Mysteriously swooping in is Don Jacoby. Is he friend or foe? Make your way to the forest next.
Flashback of how Catry stole one of the precious Rainbow shards.
SCENE 4: LUMBERJACK FOREST
There’s no shortage of stars to collect here. Pec gobbles up enemies like Yoshi.
Special icons transform Pec into an inflated makeshift ride. It doesn’t last long but you’ll be able to grab otherwise unreachable items.
Platformers typically have some kind of continue marker. Step on her head and she writes furiously to record your journey. I like it a lot; it’s quirky and has that “Nintendo touch” to it. On the flip side, the game’s first truly annoying bit presents itself when you have to jump off those enemy heads in succession to safely reach the other side. They’re a bit far apart and the control is not very precise, making it unnecessarily frustrating.
Paying homage to Sonic the Hedgehog, Ardy comes screaming down the hill with incredible speed. Clear the stage and head to the tree fortress.
SCENE 5: CATRY’S TREE FORTRESS
Platforming rule #72: one must have a vertically scrolling stage. This one is a bit annoying because certain jumps require the awkward spring tail jump and some of the platforms rotate, giving you very little time to react.
Wrestle your way to the top and it’s that blasted Don Jacoby again. You’ll find a 1-UP generously placed in the chest because the upcoming boss fight can be a bit tricky at first.
Jumping on the color buttons causes a boxing glove of the matching color to extend out. Be quick on your toes!
Securing the second Rainbow shard? Not so fast. That cowardly Catry flies off with it but she ends up getting eaten by a giant worm! Crap, you got no other choice but to follow…
SCENE 6: EATEN!!
Following in the tradition of the Bonk games, Congo’s Caper and The Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse, Ardy finds himself navigating through the belly of a beast. I’m always a sucker for such levels.
Climbing and sliding down the slimy strands of this beast is as fun as it is disgusting. Watch out for the acid and sharp teeth!
Apprehend Catry’s Rainbow shard and we’re off to the pyramid.
SCENE 7: ANCIENT PYRAMID
Difficulty of this game fluctuates like crazy. This is a very annoying stage that requires pinpoint precision from a game lacking such.
Killing that enemy reduces the light.
Killing another one reduces it even further. The thing is, you pretty much have to which leaves you no choice but to brave the dark.
Thankfully, it doesn’t last too long.
Falling spikes impale Ardy easily. I like the lighting effect here but damn is it hard to avoid those deadly spikes.
Pushing gimmick is utilized a bit here but I wish the game used it a little more. That mouse is up to no good.
World’s Strongest Genie (eat your heart out Will Smith) flexes like a champ. Get up to the lamp and secure the key.
SCENE 8: MOUSE TRAP
Homewrecker mouse nabs the Rainbow shard before you can. Flag it down to end this ridiculously short level.
Quickly get the hell out before you’re crushed!
JACOBY?!? He appears out of nowhere to save Ardy. You book it and the wall collapses right after you’re out of harm’s way. Does that mean Don Jacoby is…
Beecroft reports Ardy’s adventures back to Visconti. Meanwhile, our furry hero sails out to the high seas.
SCENE 9: GILSON’S PIRATE SHIP
Somewhere Steven Spielberg is smiling (or not). Gilson is a vicious owl with some serious firepower.
However, beat Gilson and you’ll earn his respect and another Rainbow shard. Time to sail back.
Beecroft proves to be a real punk as he runs over an old man and kidnaps helpless Nina.
SCENE 10: ISLAND OF RUINS
Beware of cannonballs in this gorgeous early evening stage. Hold the block to block incoming arrows.
Catching a ride on an arrow is quite satisfying. Use the cannonballs to make your way across this spiky pit.
Always been a sucker for collectable items arranged in a recognizable fashion. A lone skeleton guards the exit. This game suffers a bit from short and sparse levels.
SCENE 11: BEECROFT’S STRONGHOLD
Nothing like a starry night to hit me in the feels. Watch out for the buzzsaw.
Mindless bots will carry that block. Time your spring tail jump perfectly. It can be a bit tricky. You meet up with Beecroft once again but this time, it’s on.
Visually, this is the game’s most impressive moment. It’s such a beautiful sight and makes me wish Ardy Lightfoot had more strong moments like such. Use the prism to deflect the boss’ energy beams. Suck it, Beecroft!
MechaGodzilla flashbacks. This boss has a ton of projectiles but it’s no match for Ardy and his trusty prism!
Earthquake!! Hey look, Don Jacoby lives! And, he offers a helping hand.
SCENE 12: UNDERGROUND PASSAGE
Miniature Ardy gives you an extra life. Ardy can hold his breath underwater. But beware of biting fish!
Yanking and creating a path for yourself is the order of the day here. It’s fun and this is easily the best stage of the game. I just wish the other stages were as well crafted as this.
Another reason I like this stage so much: Pec becomes Super Pec! Sadly, Super Pec exists only in this one level. Pull more switches to solve the puzzle.
Nothing stands in the way of Super Pec! Toss him through barriers and he’ll do the rest. Treasure chests abound but the “trapped” skeletal prisoners burst to life!
Awww… how cute. Ardy’s posing for his eHarmony profile. More skeletons spring to life but Super Pec sends them packing.
Finally, we come to the third and last switch. Yank it to make the water rise which opens up the exit for Ardy. It’s a shame the other levels aren’t as fun or interesting as this one.
Visconti’s castle looms ominously in the background as Ardy makes his way to the stronghold.
SCENE 13: VISCONTI’S CASTLE
Punishing BS here. The game’s uneven difficulty is jarring, to say the least. One level it’s easy and the next it’s murder (literally). Catch a lift on the arrows going up. This requires timing and precision. It wouldn’t be so bad if the control was more responsive and there wasn’t a lava pit below. Hey, at least there’s no timer right?
SCENE 14: THRONE ROOM
Speaking of brutally difficult, stage 14 isn’t any easier. Use Pec to navigate your way through. Unfortunately, Pec can stay inflated for only so long. Thankfully, there are treasure chests scattered throughout for you to return your friend to puffy status. But it’s still a bitch.
SCENE 15: THE TOWER
Springboard from one platform to the next and make your way all the way to the top. Thankfully, this one isn’t too bad.
Having collected all 7 pieces, Ardy is granted one wish. He uses it to revive Nina. What a good guy, that Ardy.
PSST, WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?
Although not a long game by any means, password systems are always a plus. I particularly like the style of this one a lot. Arrange the three blocks in the right spots. These spots include the house, table, stump, balloon and tree. It’s cute and memorable!
There’s a cheat code to play Ardy Lightfoot in either black and white or sepia. Kind of odd but hey, it’s there if you have that urge.
There’s even a code to play as miniature Ardy. It’s basically being able to control the 1-UP icon. At the end of the game, we get a TO BE CONTINUED message. Sadly, this would be Ardy’s one and only adventure to date. On a side note, I think this universe has a ton of potential and could find a great home on the Nintendo Switch…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Ardy Lightfoot did well with the critics. EGM gave it scores of 6, 7, 7, 8 and 8. Super Play rated it 83%. However, opinions vary among SNES fans. Some praise Ardy Lightfoot to the moon, calling it a hidden gem and deeming it as one of the great forgotten SNES games of the ’90s. Other retro gamers don’t hold it in quite the same esteem. If you haven’t played it yet and you have a penchant for mascot platformers from the early-mid ’90s, definitely find a way to play it somehow and see for yourself which camp you belong to.
Sorry EGM but I have to call you out on one thing here. “Huge levels” — really? Really?? The levels are almost embarrassingly short, well, many of them at least.
Super Play got it right when they called the levels short. Not sure what EGM was smoking
When I first booted up Ardy Lightfoot back in early 2006, it had been a 12 year curiosity. I remember seeing the previews in EGM and wanting to play it so badly. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I thought to myself that surely it had to be a hidden gem. The visuals have that classic SNES look — they’re bright and bold and look a bit like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. Ardy had the potential to be a great protagonist, and his trusty sidekick Pec adds to the overall appeal of the package. Heck, there’s even a cool isometric map that makes the game look like an RPG even though it’s strictly a platformer.
I think you know where this is going, though. So what went wrong? To be certain, Ardy Lightfoot is by no means a bad game. It’s quite playable and even enjoyable. But for my money, it comes nowhere close to fulfilling its potential. A platformer is only as good as its control. You look at a masterpiece like Super Mario World with its impeccable control and stunning level design and it’s easy to see why it stands the test of time. Ardy Lightfoot, unfortunately, is let down by less than stellar control. It isn’t ultra responsive, and the tail spring jump mechanism is a bit awkward to use. And you use it quite a bit. It’s also annoying how simply pressing either left or right sends Ardy sprinting not long after. In general, something about the control is slightlyoff. These factors are enough in my book to bump Ardy Lightfoot from hidden gem contention.
Some of the 17 levels are quite fun to navigate, with interesting gimmicks that reel you in. Unfortunately, the majority of the levels leave something to be desired in terms of both design and length. I never really felt like I was able to truly sink my teeth into this game. For every semi-brilliant level, there are 4 or 5 very plain ones that struggle to leave an imprint. Enemies are also very sparse, leaving the game to feel a little devoid of action. Speaking of missed opportunities, they could have done a lot more with Pec. Yeah you can toss him at enemies and he has two different forms he can turn into, but his different forms only occur in a paltry 3 of the 17 stages. This game would be so much better if only the developers incorporated Pec more to further differentiate it from the pack of “me too” platformers that proliferated the SNES throughout the ’90s.
These blemishes make playing Ardy Lightfoot a bit of an uneven experience. One level you’re cruising through and the next you’re utterly decimated. The difficulty fluctuates and the less than stellar control doesn’t help when the difficulty randomly spikes. But if you’re the persistent type and can overlook the game’s notable flaws, then there’s enough merit backing Ardy Lightfoot to make it worth seeking out.
It’s just a shame it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Not all childhood curiosities have a happy ending. But at least it didn’t flop. There’s definitely a decent game here, but hidden gem? Not in my book. Ardy Lightfoot to me is a slight disappointment, bordering on moderate. I was hoping to love it and sing its praises. A little tweaking here and there and some polish could have made this one special. Instead, it is what it is. Ardy Lightfoot is merely a footnote in the annals of SNES lore.
25 years ago today, Zamuse released Tetsuwan Atom (AKA Astro Boy AKA Mighty Atom) on the Super Famicom. While the game itself is a mere footnote in the annals of SNES lore, there’s no denying the immense popularity and impact of the source material. Today we celebrate the titular science fiction superhero by looking at his one and only Super Famicom game.
A LONG AND STORIED HISTORY
Created by Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy began as a manga series in 1952. Astro Boy is even older than another iconic Japanese legend: Godzilla. It is the 10th best selling manga series of all time, having sold over 100 million copies.
On a side note, Nicalis just announced the 20th and final character for their upcoming puzzle game, Crystal Crisis. It is none other than Kawase from the super quirky Super Famicom cult hit, Umihara Kawase.
I can’t wait to play both Crystal Crisis and Umihara Kawase Fresh on my Switch this spring. Funny that both releases will be just two days apart. So many good games and not nearly enough time!
BACK TO TETSUWAN ATOM…
*cue Movie Trailer Voice Guy*
In a time of hostility and turmoil, only one hero has the courage…
… and the will of a nation’s indomitable spirit…
Based off the classic manga and anime series by Osamu Tezuka, this is an action game featuring 8 levels. Some are straight platforming romps while others have you taking to the skies. Let’s check out the first 5 stages.
Typical easy introductory level. His movement is a bit stiff and his punch lacks range so there may be an adjustment period.
Beware of giant boulders! The first boss is a piece of cake. Use the Air Dash to quickly defeat it.
Unspeakable horrors lie inside this fright-filled haunted house. But judging by the terrible lightning outside, you just MIGHT be safer inside…
Perhaps I spoke too soon! Crawl in that little space there so that the chained ball will sail safely over your head.
Luckily, you’re armed with super strength. And staying true to form, your bright eye lamps are put to use whenever in the dark. This spirit boss requires several Air Dashes before submitting to the foul night.
Showing off his flight powers, this stage curves around. Kill everything on the first floor. Don’t bother punching here as the Air Dash proves to be most effective. Once you kill everything, repeat this process on the second floor. The third floor is where you’ll face the boss. His second form is a tough little cookie!
Despite being an android, Astro Boy can brave the waters with no electrical issues. The spike sections are tricky. Occasionally, the water current flows in the other direction and the force is incredibly strong. The school of fish zooming by is a lovely visual effect when these tides occur.
Relying on your Air Dashes much? Well this stage disables that ability so you must rely instead on your swimming and flying prowess to help see you through. The boss of this level is one bad mutha! Watch out for its long limb and electric bolts. Save that energy tank power-up at the bottom there until you’re down to your last heart.
LEVEL 5 (AND BEYOND)
Platforming rule #11 dictates that there must be some kind of auto-scrolling stage. Many hazards attempt to put you down for the count. Later levels incorporate the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 special effects.
You begin with 3 hearts. Along the way extra hearts can be gained. Each heart accounts for two enemy attacks. Health refills and 1-UP’s are also scattered throughout
The default controls are awkward (B = jump, A = punch, X = charges the flight meter). Thankfully, it’s adjustable
The flight meter must be charged before you can fly, and during flight slowly decreases. Pressing A during flight executes the powerful Air Dash. This attack grants you temporary invulnerability. Press A during an Air Dash to cease abruptly. Otherwise you’ll zip across until your meter is fully depleted
Astro Boy has been around for nearly 70 years now. He’s often considered as sort of the Mickey Mouse or Super Man of Japan — that’s how big and influential he has been in the anime and manga fandom. His place in pop culture history has been cemented with a long and storied legacy… one that continues even to this day. Tetsuwan Atom on the Super Famicom is a decent game, if not leaning toward average. It’s nothing special, nor anything you should actively seek out. But for huge fans of Mighty Atom, it might be worth a look if nothing else than morbid curiosity. It’s certainly playable, but it’s nowhere near essential. At any rate, happy 25 years to the Super Famicom game. You may be largely forgotten, but you’re honored on this milestone day nonetheless.
In my previous article, Fast Times At Bayside High, I looked back on one of the best college courses I ever took: Storytelling. I shared some of the great stories from that class, including a few of my own. It went so long though that I had to break it up. So now I’ll share my third and final story from that semester. Also, stay tuned to the very end — I conducted an interview with Cylk Cozart back in 2009 regarding his Saved By The Bell cameo and much more.
THE FINAL STORY
No rest for the wicked! Right after Zack’s War I started thinking about what my third and final story might be. It had to be better than my first two. One day I was perusing the children section of my library looking for inspiration. It hit me in the form of BASEBALL SAVED US. It’s an awe-inspiring story about a young spirited Japanese boy’s experience in camp in 1942 — the year when all people of Japanese descent living in America were put into camps due to the government’s increasing paranoia. Many decades later, 1988 to be precise, the US government admitted their wrongdoing. I love baseball and found much breadth in this tale of survival and hope. I decided to adapt BASEBALL SAVED US for my final story until fate stepped in. One day in December of 2003 I came across a hilarious story I read online. I loved it so much that it bumped Baseball Saved Us.
The story was a little short though, so I fleshed it out by incorporating a fun rapid fire scene from an old childhood favorite of mine, Happy Ghost III. For those unfamiliar to the Happy Ghost series, it was a comedy franchise consisting of five films from 1984-1991. It’s totally a product of its time and it’s super cheesy but I find a lot of charm in that.
So, adapting one scene from Happy Ghost III and jamming it with the online story I read, I had a full and proper story to end things with a bang. I called it AFTER FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH… BUT BEFORE AMERICAN PIE… THERE WAS A GUY… NAMED ALAN Y. The title was so long that it stretched all the way across the white board. I remember my classmates clamoring about it when they saw the ridiculously long title on the board. They knew they were in for quite a treat.
Do you believe in true love? Do you believe that there’s someone out there for everyone? Well, this is a story about me and my dear sweetheart, Katy. As you can probably infer from the title of this story however, this isn’t exactly your run of the mill sappy love story. But first, let me tell you how Katy and I met.
It was my first day of my senior year in high school… but for most others it was the 5th week of school. Yeah, I changed schools. But let’s not talk about why. So I’m cruising the parking lot for a spot and there’s one left. That’s when I saw this goofy looking teacher heading for it too. All’s fair in love and war… and parking spots I always say.
Guitar in one hand and comb in the other, I got out and waved to all the honeys drooling at me.
The goofy teacher made some lame remark but I paid it no mind.
Whatever! The chances I’ll get him are like 1 in 200 anyway.
My first class was music. It was 8:10 and as usual, I made a dramatic and fashionably late entrance. Sliding into the room on my knees, I cranked up my guitar and sang.
Still like that old time rock ‘n roll! That kind of music just soothes the soul! I reminisce about the DAYS OF OLD… With that old time ROCK ‘N ROLL!
“Hey hey hey! You?!?”
I’ll be damned! It was the goofy looking teacher from earlier in the parking lot.
“What are you doing here?” he bellowed.
“What is your name?” he demanded.
I turned to face my classmates and saw a handful of beautiful lasses. Suddenly I remembered why I never dropped out, despite being 19 and flunking a grade prior.
“My name is Alan… Alan Y. I’m a good guy. I only drink and smoke occasionally. I make lots of money betting on horse racing and I love taking cute young girls out to dinner, such as you, you AND YOU — on the house!”
“Stop right there! Sit down.”
I took the empty seat next to a precious little thing. Katy, as I’d come to know.
“Hey good looking. I’m here now, so what are your two other wishes?”
“Better do as he says, or the poor son of a bitch will have a heart attack.”
I went over to the corner as requested but the teacher kept coming at me.
“How old are you?”
“How old is that?”
“Makes me 19.”
“He’s a prime example of how you DON’T want to be in life… so take a good close look at him and consider yourselves WARNED!”
“You said my IQ is low but can you spend the shortest amount of time to answer me three simple questions?”
After class Katy came up to me. “That was awesome! A little mean, but I never laughed so hard in my life before!”
“Just another day at the office. He had it coming.”
“I suppose he did!”
“Hey, wanna grab a bite to eat?”
Katy and I hit it off. We became a couple later that week. We were madly in love and we were so happy. Katy and I had been dating for over a year. We decided the time was right to get married. My parents helped us in every way and my friends encouraged me. And Katy? She was a dream come true.
There was only one thing bothering me, very much indeed. That one thing was her older sister, Tammy. My prospective sister-in-law was 22 years old, wore tight mini skirts and low cut blouses. She would regularly bend over whenever I was around. It had to be deliberate. There are worse things in the world that could happen to a guy, of course, but I was never good at fighting temptation and I didn’t want to do Katy like that. Simply put, Tammy was like a box jellyfish. Absolutely mesmerizing, but equally and potentially fatal.
One day Tammy called and asked me to come over to check the wedding invitations. I thought nothing of it and drove over. When I arrived, it turned out that she was alone…
“Uh, where’s Katy?”
“Of course… when will she uh, um, be back?”
“A couple hours.”
“What about uh, your um… parents?”
“They won’t be back til dinner.”
I cracked a nervous smile. Tammy’s tone was too suggestive. Too seductive. The next thing I knew, she walked over to me and whispered in my ear that soon I was to be married, and she had feelings and desires for me that she couldn’t overcome. Didn’t want to overcome. She told me she wanted to make love to me just once before I commit the rest of my life to her sister.
I was absolutely stunned and at a loss for words. She continued lustfully, “I’m going upstairs to my bedroom now… feel free to join me…”
Frozen like a statue, I watched her go up the stairs. When she reached the top she pulled off her pink panties and threw them down at me.
“TAKE ME, TARZAN!”
I watched as Tammy disappeared into her room. I couldn’t help but imagine what she was doing in bed. I knew EXACTLY what I had to do. Without wasting another second, I turned around and headed straight for the front door. I made a beeline for my car, but I didn’t make it very far.
My future father-in-law was standing right outside. With tears in his eyes he hugged me and said, “We’re very happy that you’ve passed our little test. We couldn’t have asked for a better man for our Katy. Welcome to the family!”
The moral of this story is…
Always keep your condoms in the car.
A thunderous silence fell over the Storytelling class for about two seconds. Then came the “ohhhhs” and riotous laughter when people started registering what happened. Priceless! I sat down and they went on with their feedback. They loved the humor in the story, the rapid fire exchange between Alan and his teacher, and the “moral” of the story was a big winner as well. I aced the class. This third and last story was probably my strongest story of the three I told. I’m glad to have gone out with a bang.
Looking back on my college years, I had my fair share of fond memories. Inevitably, I always think back to the friends and unforgettable experiences. That includes the great Storytelling class I took during the fall of 2003. From the camaraderie and stories my classmates and I shared to the crazy professor we had, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken in my life. It was a makeshift campfire every Tuesday and Thursday where we celebrated the human spirit and shared moving stories… emotional ones and entertaining ones alike. We all have interesting stories waiting to be told. A great story lives on and is passed from generation to generation. It stands the test of time. Maybe the next great story the world will hear… will be your very own.
CYLK COZART INTERVIEW
I emailed Mr. Cozart June 2009 in hopes of scoring an interview with him. He reached back and the following Q&A was conducted on July 3, 2009. Enjoy.
1). Any stories or memories you can share about working on the episode Zack’s War? What was it like working with the cast and crew, specifically Mark-Paul Gosselaar (whom you shared the majority of your onscreen time with)?
Mark was one of the most gracious actors that I’ve worked with. Very kind and funny. Great guy. Everyone loved him.
2). How aware of the show Saved By The Bell were you prior to signing on for this one episode?
I had never seen the show until I got the offer. A lot of my friends had seen it and told me about every one of the characters. I knew all of them when I walked on the stage for the first time.
Any time that I have ran into any of the cast, we always hug and talk about that episode. And laugh for about 10 minutes. LOL!!!
3). When was the last time you saw Zack’s War and what are your thoughts on how that episode came out? Personally speaking, it’s one of my all time favorites for ANY sitcom.
I see that show all the time. So many people of all ages see that particular episode and I have gotten as much attention from Saved By The Bell as a lot of movies that I have made. I have several friends and family members who will never let me forget it. I loved every minute of it!
4). You have been in over 30 movies and 20 television shows, what is your proudest moment as an actor? (i.e. was there a specific film you’re most proud of?)
That would have to be WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP. Ron Shelton (Writer/Director) is and always will be in my life.
Wesley Snipes and I keep in touch on a regular basis. But one of my best friends in LIFE is Woody Harrelson. We have become very close friends since we met on the first day he came in to audition.
I was set to play Sidney Dean. Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves both came in to audition while I sat and read with them. At the end of all the auditions, Ron asked me who I felt the most comfortable with and I said hands down, Woody.
The next thing I know, 20th Century Fox called Ron and said to put Wesley in the lead because New Jack City, Wesley’s film that just came out at the time, was a hit movie and Wesley was hot! They loved me but gave me a co-starring role.
That was the “worst” day of my acting life I thought. But once Ron took me to dinner and explained how the studio system worked, I felt a little better. Still it hurt so bad.
Ron told me that he and I would make many many more films together. We have already made three: White Men Can’t Jump, Play it to the Bone and Blue Chips.
5). How old were you when you first got into acting and what originally intrigued you about acting?
I used to watch Andy of Mayberry and The Beverly Hillbillies everyday. That made me aware of HOLLYWOOD. But growing up in Tennessee, there was no way to even know how to get there. But I figured it out
6). Which do you prefer: acting in films or acting in plays? (I have done both and I myself much prefer theater; nothing beats that raw LIVE “one take, no net” element).
There is nothing like that direct response from a live audience. Like live theater. Playing basketball in front of thousands of people while in college, was just like doing a play to me… in a way. So I loved the stage from the start.
Film is the most rewarding as far as exposure to so many people is concerned.
7). You were about six years old when Martin Luther King Jr. made his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech. Where were you that day and what were your memories of that time frame in the ’60s when racial tension was running incredibly high?
I’m a product of the ‘Baby Boomers.’ I was right in the middle of the SOUTH, Tennessee. Where the KKK “originated.” It was Hell for my family and friends. I remember most of that time at that young age.
Check this out, within a 6-month time frame, King was killed. 2 months later, Kennedy. After that, students from Kent State had their heads bashed in race riots. Charles Manson Sharon Tate Murders, Vietnam. Most of our parents were either pot smoking hippies or trying to join the Black Panther party. Those were the times that we lived in.
Note: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is set to be released on July 26, 2019. Starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, critics predict it will be one of the most successful films of the year. In 1969 Los Angeles, a former Western star and his longtime stunt double struggle to find success in a Hollywood that they don’t recognize anymore. Sharon Tate is their next door neighbor, and the infamous Manson Tate murders will be featured in the film. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is sure to be the hit of the summer.
8). Ever look back and wonder what would have happened if you never suffered that foot injury in that one NBA Summer League game? Was that your greatest regret in life? Or do you believe everything happens for a reason?
Every day, I think about “What If”???? Then right after that thought leaves… I think that nothing ever stays the same in life. It can’t and expect to survive. So I don’t hold on or regret anything. I am living my dream. I played pro basketball AND I am working with the most wonderful people in the entertainment world!!!! I have so much to be thankful for when you break it down.
9). As someone who has seen and done a whole lot, what advice in general would you give young people as they march through the trials and tribulations of life?
I would say to them first… “How well do you take the word “NO”? I would tell them, not to worry about what other people think of their work or performance. But work on your craft so you can always be your best critic.
This is an ART. You have natural ability but you must train as a pro athlete trains before the season. They work out so hard before the games, that the actual game is FUN. Same as an actor. Train your mind, body and soul for whatever you want to make a living.
Thank you for the interview!
In late 2016, actress Nikki Estridge submitted a DNA test because she couldn’t shake the feeling that she didn’t look like her siblings. Sure enough, she discovered that she was 32% African American, and she also found out that her dad is Cylk Cozart.
Nikki called her dad on Father’s Day to break the news. The two quickly met up and began making up for lost father-daughter time. It’s a touching story that’s worth a read! Cylk didn’t know that he had a daughter, or that she was married with kids! So he also realized he was a grandfather. What a crazy story! Congratulations to the Cozarts for their incredible reunion and new life
I’ve loved storytelling ever since I was a little kid. I can pretty much trace it back to growing up with a vibrant and charismatic uncle who always had a story to tell. Many nights back in the glorious late ’80s to early ’90s were spent with my brother either curled up on the couch listening to Uncle Jimmy’s tales of wonder, or camping out in the backyard under the stars on a hot summer night listening to Uncle Jimmy regale us with ghastly tales of the macabre. As I grew older, I came to appreciate the ART of storytelling. In college I took one of the best classes ever: Storytelling. I still remember the course objective to this day: “To be DAMN GOOD at storytelling.” Even to this day, randomly I find myself fondly reminiscing about that class and all the crazy stories it produced. So gather around for a storytelling extravaganza!
Storytelling is one of the oldest and purest forms of entertainment, dating back to ancient times when drawings were etched on cave walls. I feel it’s sort of become a lost art in this day and age in an era proliferated by technology. Between checking emails, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, texting and so forth, our level of actual face to face communication has dwindled and thus, storytelling has taken a back seat over the past number of years. When done right, storytelling is perhaps the purest and greatest form of entertainment at its basic core. All you need is a talented speaker with a vision and an engaged audience looking for some message to click or resonate.
STORYTELLING CLASS: FALL 2003
In August of 2003, I had just turned 20 and was entering my junior year at University. One of the classes I took that semester was Storytelling as it fell under my Minor of Theatre Arts. The room itself was like none other. Not a single desk in sight. Instead, you had one big ass rectangular table. Right away I knew this was going to be one of those rare special classes that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Chairs rested on the sides for the ‘peanut gallery’ folks. You told your story standing front and center with the professor sitting at the back table jotting down notes and rating your performance. Each class began with a 15 minute vocalization and body warm-up. We had a new leader each day. The leader would drape this thick green curtain (long replaced in this photo which was taken in 2007) to cover the windows. The leader then lights a match. To this day I don’t know why we did our exercises in the dark, but it sure made it memorable.
We met Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1:15. Our professor was an eccentric woman in her 60s. Her taste for fashion was rather remarkable. She never wore the same outfit twice and always had matching shoes to go with whatever handbag or purse she decided to bring with her that day. Outside of class I often saw her randomly smoking somewhere on campus in one of her loud outfits. It was the closest thing to playing Where’s Waldo in real life. She was certainly one of a kind. Like one of those old Hollywood stars that just stepped off the set of a movie filmed in the 1940s.
If you came to class tardy, you snuck into one of these side chairs. This was actually where you wanted to be back in the fall of 2003 as the class’ two hottest girls always sat there. For some odd reason, I often found myself a part of the infamous Peanut Gallery. Odd, that.
The class had so many classic characters. We had someone from every walk of life imaginable. From ripe 18 year old freshmen to 45 year old mothers looking to finish up their degrees. Hell, we even had a former NBA player! But more on him later.
I’ll never forget Sean. Sean was 25 years old, Caucasian, married and possessed a dry and dark sense of humor. He was also quite the artist. The big guy took a liking to me as we often chatted before class began. He was a hell of a character whose “unique” speeches always made everyone bust a rib laughing. Imagine Bill Murray’s sense of humor and Seth Rogen’s physical features, and that’s pretty much Sean. His speeches had the most awkward pauses; we could never figure out if that was by design or if it was just Sean being Sean. Whatever the reason behind the madness, I’ll never forget his crazy stories. He blurred lines and was a master storyteller. During the first couple weeks of Storytelling, we all had to share an icebreaker in front of the class. I still remember Sean’s icebreaker. Now listen to this and tell me if it ain’t messed up.
When I was 5 years old, I saw the Devil. I was at the local playground… sitting in the sandbox. The Devil… looked at me… and he said… “Son, you more messed up than me.” I said… “COOOOL.”
I loved the format of the class. Each of us told 4 stories that semester (a quick icebreaker and 3 full proper stories). Each day we had 3-5 storytellers. If it wasn’t your day, you just sat back and got to chill. But if it was your day to share, it was first come first serve. You would march up to the white board to write down the title of your story. Do warm-ups. Then showtime! It was the easiest and coolest format of any college course I ever took. Sean’s first story — I’ll just share a small bit of it — was insane. He was doing his spiel and suddenly, WITHOUT warning, he collapsed! SPLAT!Did I mention by the way that he was about 6’1″ and 230 pounds? And I remember most of us being like “WHAT THE HELL…” And most of us kinda got up, you know, in that sort of weird half position where you’re caught between sitting down and standing up… just so we could get a better view to see if he was OK or not on the floor. WITHOUT WARNING HE POPS UP LIKE A SPRING and yells “AND THEEEEEN!!!!” That made many flinch. We were like “DAMN DUDE DON’T DO THAT YA FREAK!!!” Good times. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let’s go back quickly to DAY ONE…
THURSDAY AUGUST 28, 2003
Today we got in groups of 4 and had 5 minutes to come up with a fairy tale to reenact in front of the class. The catch? It had to be a silent presentation. So we were forced to rely on everything except our voices. The lesson here was learning how to communicate effectively through using hand gestures, facial expressions and body language. My group had a guy my age, a middle-aged father of two and a middle-aged mother of four (Marlene was one of my favorite storytellers… an absolute natural that Marlene). We decided on The 3 Little Pigs. The 3 guys would play the pigs and Marlene the wolf. I played the first pig, and had an idea on how to make the scene work.
I started out by building my lovely straw house. Marlene the wolf came. Blew down my poor house. I panicked and frantically pointed behind her. I made my getaway as she glanced back. I pretended to run smack dab into an imaginary door and flew back, holding my nose and acting it all out in a very slapstick fashion. Lots of laughter from the audience. It felt good to be the first one up and making people laugh. After the wolf blew down the second house we ran off to the brick house. Once safely in, we began taunting the wolf. She tried to blow us (as in the brick house!) down but she couldn’t. I flexed my muscles, every now and then showing my tentativeness by hiding behind my brothers while continually taunting. I had the entire class roaring and eating out of my hands!
The best part of all came at the end of class. I was walking out when one of the cute girls from the class looked back at me in the hallway. She flashed me an ear-to-ear grin. That was the precise moment where I thought to myself, “GOD I love Storytelling.” It was a great feeling. Being up there and controlling the audience’s emotions without even talking was downright EMPOWERING.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 11, 2003
On the 2 year anniversary of 9/11, it was my day to share my icebreaker. I decided to share a story about believing in yourself, even against all critics and odds.
Hi. My name’s Steven, but most call me Steve. Like some of you, this is my junior year. Summer of 2002 I did a really dumb thing. I parked in our school’s parking lot without a valid parking permit. I just had to drop off my registration bill and thought I could sneak in, sneak out. I have no idea why I didn’t park elsewhere or in one of the 20 minute zones. I guess I just wasn’t thinking that morning.
Anyway, I came back to my car and surprise surprise, there was a ticket slapped to my windshield. 31 dollars. I went to get a petition form. My brother snapped at me when he found out. Then he saw the petition form I was holding and told me to not even bother. Said he tried it before and got rejected. And that all his friends suffered the same fate in years past as well. So I would be no different, according to him.
ACCORDING TO HIM. Me on the other hand… I knew I could buck the system if I could just come up with something creative, memorable and never-before-seen…
One night I was channel surfing and came upon Nick At Nite. And there I found my inspiration…
“Come on and knock on our doooor. We’ve been waiting for yoooou. … there’s a thing and a thing and the guy falls off his bike…
Three’s Company too!”
The wheels in my mind began turning. Hmmm. “Come on and knock on my door. I’ve been waiting for you… to lift the fee.” No that doesn’t flow. I need to express my story somehow… my STORY… hey! That’s it! My story…
“Here’s a story…”
Of course. The Brady Bunch! I went to work and the words began flowing out of my pen like it was meant to be. And this is how it went:
Here’s a story… about a man named Steven… that’s me (I quickly added, causing my classmates to chuckle).
Who was caught in the parking lot without a permit.
Now he’s pleading for some justice.
He was only there to pay his registration bill.
It cost him nine hundred and fifty-seven dollars, plus the line was long.
The line was long, the line was long.
And when he came back, he found out he was 5 minutes too late… well actually 12 but 5 sounded a whole lot better (I quickly added, much to the laughter of my peers once again).
He said to himself, “If there’s any good left in this world, they’ll lift the fee.”
And that’s how it came to be!
10 days passed. Finally it was mailed back home with a verdict. It would either be stamped REJECTED or FILE AS A WARNING.
I flipped the petition form over for all my classmates to see.
It was stamped “FILE AS A WARNING.”
They cheered and applauded while I stood there humbly motioning with my hands ALRIGHT ALRIGHT CALM DOWN Y’ALL… I ain’t quite done yet!
This here, in my hands, is proof positive that sometimes if you go with your gut feeling, really put in the work and believe with conviction, it just may pay off. More specifically, it just may pay off 31 dollars.
And so, my icebreaker was complete and I received a second ovation less than half a minute after the first one. It was humbling and empowering all at once. But the craziest thing was, later that same day when I got home from class, I read the terrible news that John Ritter passed away that very same day. What were the odds of that?! I loved him in Three’s Company and the Problem Child movies, plus he always reminded me of Uncle Jimmy. Uncle Jimmy was like an Asian version of John Ritter
Before I share the main stories I told that semester, I gotta share this one from my classmate. It was probably the best story I heard that entire semester, and I still remember it 15+ years later. The following story comes courtesy of the guy who, during his icebreaker, shared with us that he once played for the Toronto Raptors (!) during an NBA preseason before being cut.
I’m walking to class one day and I spot this hot chick. She had sunglasses on, a mini skirt, and a bomb pink top. She was the kind of girl guys dream about. So I’m like, I gotta get with her, right, but what do I see? A guy holding her hand. Damn! So I walked to class but all I could think about was her.
Next thing I knew, she walked through the door! I was like “HELL YEAH! This was a sign.” But once again, that guy was holding her hand. I looked at him and I was like, “What?! This hot girl is with some average Joe Shmoe like him?” She sat down with her boyfriend. Screw it, I still went up to her. I asked for her name and how’s she doing and all that stuff. Her boyfriend asked me rudely what I wanted.
“I just wanna talk with her. Is that illegal?”
Then he got up and hugged her right in my face. I’m feeling bad at this point, but then he said, “See you later, sis.”
And inside I’m going “OH YEEEEAHHH!”
Later that day I was at the cafeteria when I saw her sitting by herself. Yes, this was my chance. So I came over and we talked. I definitely could see us getting together. I was cracking jokes and she was laughing a lot. But soon I had to get to class. All day I was thinking about her. I mean, I think about girls a LOT, but this girl was driving me nuts!
Once I finished class I was walking to my car when I saw her standing around, and she was crying. I rushed over and asked her what’s going on. She told me her brother got in a fight with her and left her, so she had no ride home.
“What?! Your bro’s a real asshole. You don’t know how to use public transportation or something? Hey, don’t worry. I can give you a ride home.”
She didn’t hesitate at all and gave me a nod. Wow, I couldn’t believe how this situation was unfolding. She gave me her address and luckily I was familiar with the area. As we began walking, suddenly she grabbed my hand. I was like HELL YEAH! So we were walking down the street and I was nodding my head like “Yeah this my girl” to everyone walking by who was checking her out.
After driving her home, I asked if she’d like me to walk her to her door. She said yes. I opened the passenger door for her and again she held my hand in hers. We walked over to her front door and I could see she was still distraught over the fight with her brother. She fidgeted with the keys as she opened the front door. She got in, said bye quickly and closed the door in my face without giving me a chance to say anything.
I was like… WHAT THE FUCK?!?
So I pound on the door.
“Who is it?”
Who is it? What kind of messed up mind games is this chick playing?!?
“It’s me. Who else?”
She opened the door. “What do you want?”
“You’re welcome. Hey listen, if you want I can straighten out your brother for you. Well alright then, I’ll see you Thursday.”
“… I need to see you Thursday too,” she said quietly.
Then she closed the door and I stood there thinking, DAMN! Girls. Can’t live with ‘em… sure as hell can’t live without ‘em.
So Thursday came and after class we walked to the cafeteria. She asked me if she could hold my hand. At this point I was just so confused by her split personality, so I decided to let her know what was on my mind.
“What are we gonna do? Play patty cake? Why you acting all weird on me huh? I need to know right now. Why all the games? One minute you’re holding my hand, the next minute you’re slamming doors in my face! What is it, huh?! Is it because I’m black?”
“Is it because I’m 6’6″? You don’t like tall guys?”
“No, it’s not that.”
“I only see your personality.”
“Say what? My personality? You mean, you think I’m all jokes? You wanna see the deeper me or something? Wassup?”
“I don’t see you as a tall black guy. I only see your personality.”
At this point I was thinking this chick has me all mixed up! Then she held my hand, took off her sunglasses and told me, “I can’t see. I’m blind.”
The room fell in thunderous silence as he stood there, staring at us for a second letting everything sink in. Then he slowly sat down as the room erupted in applause and cheers. Maybe the NBA didn’t work out for him, but he’s definitely got a future in any field that requires dynamic public speaking!
THURSDAY OCTOBER 2, 2003
I remember standing right there, glancing at my 20+ classmates for a second before I began. I was a bit nervous, but once I got going I channeled that nervous energy into positive energy. Sharing about one of the greatest nights of my life in front of friends and colleagues turned out to be one of my greatest collegiate memories. And since the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake was only 2 weeks away, I used part of that title as a tribute.
I had a blast recounting my epic Halloween 1994 adventure in front of my peers. At that time it was only 9 years removed. Crazy to think this upcoming Halloween will be the 25th anniversary!
After finishing your story, you took a seat right there for feedback time. This is where the professor as well as your classmates chime in. They gave me a nice ovation as I sat down. One girl said she loved how I made sound effects and how I painted pictures for her with my word choice, such as “green and red lights flashing wildly into the night.” Another classmate said I had great projection and energy. Professor told me, “Steven you possess great stage presence; you’re a natural storyteller with an irresistible style.” Wow. Talk about pumping a guy up!
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 6, 2003
In the weeks leading up to my second story, I was watching Saved By The Bell episodes on the season one DVD set my brother bought when it first came out in September of 2003. We both watched the show religiously when we were kids in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. Hell, growing up I even looked up to Zack Morris. I thought he was just the coolest dude around. In the words of Mean Gene Okerlund, “I mean HE HAD IT ALL.” A hot girlfriend in Kelly Kapowski, great friends and Zack was the toast of Bayside High. While high school for me in real life never quite played out like how Bayside High was depicted, for one day at least I had a chance to be Zack Morris.
Before I officially start my story, I’d like you all to know in advance that you may be familiar with the characters to come. Also, I will be switching voices on the fly. Having said that, let us begin…
The year was 1990. I remember that year fondly. It was my senior year at Bayside High and the best year of my life. A lot of things happened in 1990 that I’ll never forget. Sure I got in trouble a lot, but I usually charmed my way out of it. Many called me a slacker as well as a class clown. Now truth be told, there’s a reason for those labels. However, one day… that all changed…
Note to reader: Remember that “Corps” is pronounced “core.”
“No. Bayside has been chosen to host the pilot program for the California Cadet Corps. Now I’d like to introduce you… Lieutenant Chet Adams.”
“In the Cadet Corps we initiate students into the Army way of life. Naturally, there’s discipline and hard work involved.”
“As I was saying… there’s also career training and a chance for college scholarships. I hope you sign up and see what you can be in today’s Army. Hope I’ll be seeing some of you soon.”
“I’m giving you a month’s worth of Saturday detention.”
“Nah uh. THIRTY Saturdays.”
“Thirty Saturdays?! Sir, can we negotiate? Hey I’ll wash your car!”
“The last time you washed my car you flooded the inside.”
“Hmmm, maybe there IS something you can do. I wanna see this Cadet Corps succeed here SO… you sign up, no detention.”
“You mean all I hafta do is join that Mickey Mouse Army?”
“That’s right. Oh, that and one other little request. We need a full class for the program so it’s your job to get ‘em.”
The next day Zack went to the Max, the local Bayside High hangout, to recruit and assemble a full class. Employing his natural charisma and used car salesman tactics, Zack recruited enough students save for one. He needed one last sucker… and that’s when his best friend entered the Max.
“Hey Screech! You wanna know how to get Molly? By being a REAL MAN.”
“That’s right. Wait til Molly sees you… in a uniform.”
“Count me in, Zack! I’ll be ALL that I can be!”
The next week Zack and his friends waited for the first official Cadet Corps class to begin. As they waited for Lieutenant Chet Adams to arrive, they began discussing among themselves what the experience might be like.
“I hope I can handle this and have a chance at that college scholarship.”
“Ah stop worrying, Kelly. Would I be in this class if it weren’t a snap?”
And that’s when the Lieutenant walked in…
“Weeeell, it’s nice to see such a good turn out. Now I want you guys to relax, enjoy yourselves, and I’m sure we’re going to have a good time.”
*Turns around, back facing audience*
*Turns to face audience*
“Oh it’s gonna be plenty of fun… FOR ME. MAKE THAT ONE HUNDRED.”
“But sir, I can’t do that many push ups.”
“Oh that’s OK. I have all day to watch you try.”
The next day Zack showed up to class but something was missing…
“Well, I’m afraid my ARMS can’t take any more of your BIG plans, sir.”
The Lieutenant made the big announcement later that day in class.
“The highlight of every Cadet Corps program is an athletic competition. It helps develop physical skills, teamwork, and it’s the Army’s way of separating the men from the boys.”
“I mean, the persons from the persons. Better now, Ms. Spano?”
“Now, there will be a red team and a blue team. I’ve already picked the leaders for the two teams: AC Slater and Zack Morris. I’ve given Cadet Morris the responsibility of choosing the teams.”
“Alright, we’ll start first with the red team. When I call your name, step forward. Alan, Screech, hmmm, Lisa, Louise. OK, you guys are with Slater.”
“Jessie, Kelly, Butch and Rocco, you guys are with me on the blue team… LET THE GAMES BEGIN!“
“Yeah for WHAT — THE NERD BOWL?!“
Later that day Zack and Slater began practicing with their own teams. Zack, the red team. Slater, the blue team. The blue team was a well-oiled machine. The red team on the other hand…
“Left… left, left, right, left… company HALT. Alan, I said halt!”
“I thought you said MALT! And I’m thirsty from all this moving about.”
“Alright team, get it together. Come on. About-FACE!”
Maybe Zack’s red team could salvage the obstacle course. Then again…
“OK guys, let’s do something right this time alright. Let’s go guys!”
“Red team ready, GO.”
Zack flew through the tires. His teammates however fell flat on their faces.
“Great, JUST great. I am NEVER gonna win with a bunch of losers like you. You guys are the worst clumsiest bunch of goofs I’ve ever seen! I QUIT!“
Zack tore off his red armband and stormed off. After school that day his best friend Screech dropped by.
“Oh but we’re getting better. Alan even got his uniform off without ripping it.”
“I don’t get it, Zack. You’re the one who talked us into joining the Corps. And now you’re quitting it all just because you’re not on the best team?”
“Yeah that’s about it. Because the Corps is stupid.”
“But you said the Corps would make me the kind of man Molly would want.”
“You know Zack… ever since we were little… I looked up to you. You had everything. And I always wanted to be like you. Now I’m glad I’m not.”
Screech left the room and left Zack to ruminate. The next day…
“I want another chance. Please let me back in, sir.”
“That’s not for me to decide. Maybe they don’t want you back.”
“Alright, I let all you guys down and I called you losers. You know what, I was wrong. The only real loser on this team… was me.”
“We’ll have to talk this over…”
“Look guys, I think we need him DESPERATELY.”
“Welcome back, buddy.”
Not only was Zack back, but so too the athletic competition. Tied two wins a piece, the big Tug-O-War finale would determine the winner. Alas…
“Since the rope broke, this is the tie breaking event… the super obstacle course. Each team will choose one man… I mean, ONE PERSON… to compete.”
“Very good, Lieutenant.”
“I’m trying, Ms. Spano.”
“NOPE. There’s someone else here who can beat him...”
“ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!? You saw what happened last time!”
“Yeah, I can’t beat Butch. We’ll lose!“
“Runners, take your position.”
“Alright Screech you can do it!”
Both Butch and Screech shot off like two cannons being fired into the dark cold night. In the end, it was Screech who crossed the finish line first. No one could believe it. No one except Zack Morris. Molly came over to greet Screech with a kiss in the winner’s circle, and everyone filed out of the hallway except for Zack and the Lieutenant.
As I stood there saluting the class as if I were looking into the eyes of the Lieutenant himself, the class gave me a roaring ovation that sent chilling goosebumps up and down my spine. I sat down and right away one girl said, “That was so unexpected and awesome. I loved that show when I was a kid and I felt like those characters were right in front of me!” I saw many of my classmates nodding and smiling in agreement, and I can’t tell you how great that felt. The professor had this to add. “Steven, that was an INCREDIBLE one man show you just put on for us. Thank you, I enjoyed it very much.”
Remember Sean? Bill Murray meets Seth Rogen? The next week he told me, “You know Steve, I’ve never cared to watch Saved By The Bell before. But the other day it came on TBS and I just had to watch it because of your story. I couldn’t believe how accurately you replicated the characters, especially Zack. It was your voice, facial expressions and mannerisms… I thought I was watching YOU on the show!”
So what was my third and last story of the semester? I’d love to share that here but this is already at 5,000+ words! I’ll save my third and final story for next time. See you soon at the Bayside High reunion!
In addition, check out the link above for an exclusive interview I conducted with Cylk Cozart back in the summer of 2009. He had some interesting stories to share… from what life in the ’60s was like to his one episode cameo in Saved By The Bell to White Men Can’t Jump and much more.