Halloween Books

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This past year I got back into books big time. For years on end my new years resolution would inevitably be to read more. But that never happened. But 2019 proved to be different. I began reading again. And once more, I’ve become a book fiend. I love paperback novels. I love the way they feel. The way they smell (as long as it’s not rancid). The way they transport me to magical far away places. Being a massive Halloween fan, when I found out earlier this summer that the first 4 Halloween movies were novelized, naturally I was all over that like white on rice Michael’s mask. As I write this intro, it’s late Halloween night. I spent the past 3 weeks reading the 4 Halloween novels, having just finished Halloween IV. I had a blast with each of them, some more than others. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the first novel, Halloween.

HALLOWEEN by Curtis Richards

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Penned by Dennis Etchison using the pseudonym of Curtis Richards, this book was released in October of 1979, one year after John Carpenter’s Halloween made a killing at the box office. A rare and collectible piece of Halloween memorabilia, the book closely follows the film but adds in enough details to differentiate it from the movie. Namely, it provides a little more background information into what makes Michael Myers tick, and it really takes on a Celtic perspective. You’ll read words like SAMHAIN and “The Druid Festival of the Dead.” It’s the perfect companion piece to the film itself, moreso in my estimation than the actual Halloween II movie sequel. It’s rather well written too, and isn’t merely a throwaway movie novelization. Check out Chapter 1 below for instance…

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Not bad, eh? Really sets the mood and evokes that autumnal feeling of late October and sleepy suburbs where danger lurks in the darkness. Curtis Richards, er, Dennis Etchison, was something of a proficient horror writer in his day so it’s nice to see someone so professional handle this project.

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Unfortunately, being out of print and rare, copies of this book go for a pretty penny. It seems insane to drop triple figures on a book — a rather thin 166 page book at that — but this is a nice prize for diehard Halloween fans. From now on, every October I’ll be watching the movie and reading the book. There’s something about reading the movie in written form that is immensely satisfying. It’s one of those concepts that work equally well as a novel or as a film. I’m glad we have both — the best of both worlds, as it were.

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Following the smash success of Halloween, Halloween II hit theaters on Halloween Eve of 1981. The movie novelization, penned once again by Dennis Etchison who changed his pseudonym from Curtis Richards to Jack Martin, soon followed.

Halloween II film cover
Halloween II film cover

HALLOWEEN II by Jack Martin

The book cover was vastly different from the film
The book cover was vastly different from the film

Although certainly cheesy, I appreciate the creative deviations the novelization made in comparison to its film counterpart. Seeing a human face screaming out in agony covered by a carved jack-o-lantern is quite the gruesome sight. It’s exactly the kind of cover that would stop me dead in my tracks walking by a bookstore or newsstand.

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As it is with movie and video game boxes, in addition to the front cover I love admiring the back as well. The summary gives you a good idea of what you’re in store for, and the back cover of Halloween II is at once simple but effective and enticing. The perfect sort of book to read snuggled up by a roasting fire on a cold October evening.

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Like many movie novelizations of its time, Halloween II featured some photos plucked straight from the film. That or publicity stills, such as this eerie shot of The Shape’s evil presence looming over the desolate Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.

Who in the BLUE HELL is Launie? Oops...
Who in the BLUE HELL is Launie? Oops…

A recurring error were the photo captions which mostly spelled Laurie as Launie. How no one in editing caught that is practically inexcusable. Thankfully, they get the name right in the book and it’s a small misstep that’s mostly harmless. I get a kick out of it every time that I see it, though. Launie Strode? Get out of here with that :P

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Halloween II begins with this prologue. I love the part that goes, “You know what it is like.” YOU DAMN RIGHT I DO. And it’s practically the best time of the year for me. Dennis Etchison (or Jack Martin if you will) does a fantastic job of painting the scene for us. It’s Haddonfield. It’s Halloween time. It’s irresistible. Vivid sentences like “the broken moon drifting like a gauze-covered face” bring to mind gloriously rich pictures. Mr. Martin sets the mood right off the bat. You can’t help but want to read on.

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Chapter One opens with the haunting line, “There was a shape in the bushes.” This is followed by letting the reader know that the dead walked in Haddonfield that night. The lines about the Devil first being seen on Lampkin Lane and being a four-foot-tall version jumps off the page to me as well. Good stuff by Etchison.

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Here’s the infamous opening scene of Halloween II where the neighbor comes out asking Dr. Loomis what is going on out there. It’s always been one of my favorite scenes from the entire franchise. I just love when the neighbor goes, “Is this some kind of joke? I’ve been trick-or-treated to death tonight” followed by Loomis saying “You don’t know what death is” as he runs around the house and the Halloween theme plays. Gives me the chills every time!

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But notice in the novelization it gives a little more character insight. After the neighbor asks the question, in the film Loomis answers immediately. But here, the reader can read Loomis’ most inner thoughts… how he held to the gun, the empty gun… how he thought to himself this is it. How he should have known that Michael was a force beyond human. And how Halloween is over. The games. The roles. The cheap thrills. Now it really begins. This is what I love about novelizations. The writer can color between the lines and give you a little more depth than the film does.

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Here’s another shining example of more character insight. After Sheriff Brackett asks Loomis if he knows what Haddonfield is, we see that Loomis is at the point of exasperation with the Sheriff. How one can never expect more than a grunt from a pig, how it’s not the Sheriff’s fault that he is merely a pig in a game ruled by lions, tigers and boogeymen. And how the Sheriff’s very own term “slaughterhouse” is an appropriate metaphor for what might possibly come. God save us all. Loomis benefits greatly from the added insights that Etchison weaved in throughout, making Halloween II a wonderful companion piece to the film itself.

HALLOWEEN III by Jack Martin

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a polarizing and controversial film in the franchise. That’s mainly because it does not feature Michael Myers outside of a meta cameo. The producers had the idea of turning the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. It was universally panned when it originally came out in 1982 as moviegoers wanted more Michael but were instead given a movie about killer masks. Over the years however, namely in the last 15 years or so, Halloween III has earned something of a cult following. It is now viewed in the eyes of many as an underrated horror film that would have worked so much better if it were given any other name other than Halloween III.

Beware them creepy masks...
Beware them creepy masks…

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I have vivid memories of renting it from Hollywood Video 25 years ago in 1994. Back then there was no internet, no YouTube, no Twitter. I had no idea the movie didn’t feature Michael Myers. I just thought from the cover and title that it would be about a killer witch teaming up with Michael to slaughter the denizens of Haddonfield, and that idea captivated the shit out of me as a 10 year old kid. Alas, there was no evil witch (in the sense that I was imagining at least) and certainly no Michael. I was PISSED. However, I finally rewatched Halloween III this past October for the first time since that disappointing night and I have to say, I really enjoyed it as an adult who was now able to get pass that whole Michael thing. It truly is an underrated horror film.

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Ooh, how deliciously creepy! The back is perfectly stated and instantly makes you want to snuggle up in bed and read this book. OK, so the back is somehow inaccurate of how the real story goes but hey, I’ll give them points for creating a spooky atmosphere right away.

Their silhouettes always gave me the willies
Their silhouettes always gave me the willies

Something about those shapes… downright demonic. The witch in particular with its sharp pointed hat… it’s an image that has burned itself into my retina from when I first saw it in 1994. Say what you will of Halloween III, it has a badass cover and the tagline “The Night NO ONE Came Home” is a clever play off the original film’s tagline “The Night HE Came Home.”

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I love the scene in the movie where the homeless guy in Santa Mira — you know, the ONE guy in town who isn’t brainwashed by Silver Shamrock — tells Cochran to go fuck himself. It was a joy reading it in the novelization. Could totally visualize the actor shouting that line with rebellious fist thrown in the air and all. The paranoia is real, bleeding off the pages, and with good reason. Some shady shit is happening in the small cultish town of Santa Mira, and it’s up to Dr. Dan Challis to find out why…

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Here’s a nice added bit by Dennis Etchison. The actual film only showed a small snippet of the first Halloween film, but here Etchison dives in a little deeper. You might be wondering why, or if it’s just a bit of fan service, but the next paragraph reveals the true reason why…

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Challis’ wife in the movie, Linda, was played by Nancy Kyes. She also played Annie Brackett in the first Halloween film. So after Etchison wrote about the teenage girls walking down a street in the sleepy suburbs of Haddonfield, Dan Challis sees Annie and thinks to himself, “Hmm. I know the type well. Reminds me a bit of old Linda. I’ll bet that’s what she was like at that age. Always on hand with the right remark to shoot down anybody in sight.” That part made me laugh out loud harder than I probably should have. That is worth the price of admission alone!

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As Etchison wasn’t shy on doing, Halloween III has its quiet moments of introspection and philosophy. It added a lot of extra depth to the characters than what the movie was able to portray. Books can just describe a character’s innermost thoughts in a way the film medium simply cannot. While I enjoy the movie itself, the novelization of Halloween III is definitely a hit and one I plan to revisit in the years to come.

HALLOWEEN IV by Nicholas Grabowsky

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The first Halloween novelization not written by Dennis Etchison (AKA Curtis Richards AKA Jack Martin) was Halloween IV. While I find the cover to be simple and cool, I wish Grabowsky had gone with the classic poster version of the actual film.

One of the best covers of all time
One of the best movie posters of all time

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The back is a bit wordy one might say, but you gotta love that bright orange for the title and the font itself.

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The book starts off with this stellar prologue, immediately hooking the reader in. Once again, as with the other Halloween novelizations, there are some extra details here and there that help to better flesh out the various characters. My favorite example of this was when Brady was brawling with Michael Myers. Before he bites the dust, Brady thinks to himself for a second HEY… what if I actually put an end to this guy and become a folk hero of Haddonfield lore? It’s small stuff like that that makes it a little more interesting.

Sadly, this is where the movie novelizations stopped for Halloween. It ended at Halloween IV in 1988. There was no novelization for Halloween V in 1989, or Halloween 6 in 1995. And so forth. Who knows why? Maybe Nicholas Grabowsky’s novel didn’t sell as well as they were hoping. Or maybe the (horror) movie novelization business as a whole was starting to die out a bit. Well, the novelizations for Halloween stopped until 30 years later, anyhow…

HALLOWEEN (2018) by John Passarella

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The 40th year anniversary saw Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her beloved role as Laurie Strode. A new Halloween movie was finally coming out and it wasn’t being directed by Rob Zombie — score! Naturally, it called for a novelization, and John Passarella was the man for the job.

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Weighing in at a hefty 371 pages, Halloween (2018) is no lightweight novel. John Passarella was not shy on describing set pieces or adding extra depth to the characters. If you enjoyed the film then I think you’ll enjoy the novel too. As long as the page count does not intimidate you, I’d recommend it to all fans of the film. Best of all, it’s readily available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. It won’t cost you an arm and a leg, either. I recently reached out to John Passarella for an interview and he was kind enough to accept. Enjoy the Q&A!

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  • When were you first exposed to Halloween (1978), and what were your thoughts?

JP: I don’t recall the first time I watched it, but it wasn’t in the theater. My guess is that I first saw it at home, probably a video rental. My mother was a big fan of horror movies at the time, while I was more of a science fiction/fantasy fan. She always had horror movies on the TV while I spent most of my free time reading. When I first saw it, I thought it was stark and effective, with a understated supernatural quality to it, while other “slasher” movies that followed seemed more interested in violence/gore for its own sake. Even then it felt unique.

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  • Top 5 favorite Halloween films from the franchise?

JP: I am so bad at picking favorite things, let alone ranking them. The original stands alone at the top. I enjoyed H20 when it first came out. For the Halloween (2018) novelization, since I was pressed for time (less than 2 months to write it) and was told that the movie would ignore all the sequels, I didn’t take any time to re-watch any of those films. My wife watches the original movie every Halloween season, so I watched that again this year, but I definitely need to reacquaint myself with all the sequels.

Titan Books also published Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Titan Books also published Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  • How did you get involved in the process of penning Halloween? Did you have to make some sort of pitch or did Titan Books reach out to you?

JP: Titan Books approached me. Probably the best early email I’ve ever received! I had done several original Supernatural tie-in novels for them, plus an original Grimm novelization. And I had worked with several editors there. The editor for the Halloween novelization thought it would be a perfect fit for me.

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  • How long did it take for you to write the book? When did you first start drafting it? How many copies have been sold as of November 2019?

JP: I’d have to check my first contact emails, but I think it was either late March or early April of 2018. After I agreed to write the novelization and the studio approved me, I had to wait for the script to get started. I think that came in the first week of April. The novel was due by the end of May, so it was a compressed time frame. I received access to the daily film photo archive after I had already started writing the first draft. I had to backtrack and rewrite some scenes after I saw the photos of those sets/scenes. They reshot the ending and added some other scenes, mostly flashbacks and some of those still didn’t make it into the final film, but I was fortunate in that I hadn’t gotten to the ending before it was changed. I only had to write the ending once. As far as sales, I have no idea how well it did overall. It has gone into a second edition. For these work-for-hire projects, writers don’t get royalties, so we don’t get royalty statements which would show sales to-date.

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  • How did you feel watching the movie for the first time? Was it surreal to see your (novelization) words (more or less) being played out in front of your eyes in a capacity-filled theater?

JP: Surreal is a good word for it. I did not see the film until the premiere. At the time, I had three versions of the story bouncing around in my head. The script and revision, my novelization, and then what actually made it into the final film. There were things that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the film. Other things, mostly additional dialogue made it into the film, but wasn’t in the script at all. I made a point of including all the script dialogue, while adding a bunch of my own. Whole scenes were cut from the final film. Other scenes were really truncated. A few played out differently than they had in the script. They added a lot more humor via dialogue. And the editing of the movie had a thriller feel to it, rather than a horror/suspense film.

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  • There were obviously some cuts made from the movie (script) as compared to your book. Was there any one thing in particular that stuck out to you as you watched the film? Any part or scene omitted from your writing where you wish made it on the big screen? For me, I have to say the book definitely made me care more about Dana and Aaron. They were fleshed out a lot more (naturally) in your book than they were in the film. Understandable, but unfortunate nevertheless.

JP: I think the filmmakers made a choice to make the film mostly Laurie’s story, so a lot of the character development and scenes involving other characters were trimmed. Reading the script, I had this idea that Allyson was the star, so to speak, and it would be a passing of the torch from Laurie to her granddaughter. But the film leans more on Laurie vs Michael, so a lot of Allyson stuff, early on and at/after the dance, got cut to keep a reasonable running time. And, yes, Dana and Aaron had more “screen” time on the page, more scenes, more character development. That’s one thing that helps give the novelization some life and purpose outside the film. Fans can delve a bit deeper into the story and the characters.

Classic Budd...
Classic Budd…
  • In the restroom scene, Dana reads a message scrawled on the side that recites Budd’s infamous “amazing grace come sit on my face” line from 1981 Halloween II. Was that in the original movie script or did you add in that nice little touch yourself? I couldn’t but smile when I read that.

JP: I can’t take credit for that line. It was in the final script, but did not make the final cut.

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  • It’s been a year since your novel came out. How do you feel about the book overall? Is there anything about it you wish you could have written differently or is it how you wanted it to be?

JP: I don’t know if I would have written it differently if I had seen the movie (a rough cut maybe) before I finished, but maybe. What I enjoy the most in books is suspense, so I naturally tried to create as much suspense as possible. The original film relies heavily on suspense and I took that as my model (since I knew I wouldn’t see the finished movie until its release). A couple scenes (conversations) changed a good bit from script to screen and I would have liked the book version to be closer to the finished film versions but that was out of my control. I didn’t have time to stray too far from the script’s plot, to explore any side roads or backstory, so I may always wonder about that. And in a couple places, I probably described a set in too much detail. Usually the “sets” are only in my head. This was the first time I had actual photos to describe to the reader!

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  • Have you been signed on to write the movie novelization for Halloween Kills and/or Halloween Ends?

JP: I’d certainly be interested in writing those novelizations, but I haven’t heard anything about them yet. The second film has finished filming but won’t be out for an entire year. The first film came out several months after filming wrapped and everything on the novelization side moved quickly so that it could come out the same time as the movie. Right now, we still have a long window, so I’m not surprised I haven’t heard anything yet. If Titan Books is planning a novelization for the second movie, I may not know until a few months into the new year.

"You cant kill the Boogeyman"
“You can’t kill the Boogeyman…”
  • What do you think it is about Halloween and Michael Myers that has endured with so many fans 40+ years later and counting?

JP: The primal nature of the fear that Michael Myers represents, an unstoppable, merciless, and unknowable evil, represented by the unchanging, unflinching mask. He seems to be so much more than what we see on the surface. Loomis decides after years of examining him that he is simply evil, possibly evil incarnate.

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  • Advice for aspiring authors?

JP: Finish what you write. Once you finish, you have something you can use to get representation, to sell to a magazine or book publisher. And if it doesn’t sell or work for you, finish the next thing, and the next. I started writing at the age of 11, but didn’t publish my first novel until I was 37! I like to think it wouldn’t take so long if I started writing today. When I started, I relied on Writers Digest and Writer magazines, a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias (and my local library) for research, and a manual typewriter (I taught myself to type before they offered a course in school) with actual carbon copies as my only backups. These days, you have webzines, online writers groups, self-publishing tools, social media for marketing and networking, etc.

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  • Have you, by chance, read any of the other Halloween movie novelizations by Dennis Etchison or Nicholas Grabowsky?

JP: No, though I’d like to hunt down a copy of the original movie novelization. It seems they are hard to come by these days.

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  • What’s next for John Passarella?

JP: Thanks for your interest in my writing and the Halloween novelization. I’m working on a fourth novel in my Wendy Ward (Wither) series right now, but it’s not under contract, which means I don’t have deadline pressure pushing me to the finish line. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, per se, but procrastination is a real hurdle. I work much better and faster when there is a looming deadline!

Thank you once again to John Passarella for taking time out of his busy schedule. All the best in your future projects!

HALLOWEEN: THE CHANGING SHAPE OF AN ICONIC SERIES by Ernie Magnotta

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Last but not least, we come to Ernie Magnotta’s Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series. This is a comprehensive retrospective on the series that covers the entire franchise sans Halloween III and the 2018 version (it came out just one day after that film premiered). It’s an impressive tome of Halloween knowledge that comes highly recommended. It’s currently on sale on Amazon as of this writing. Its original price is $49.99 but it’s been slashed to $36.47. I bought a copy earlier this year and it’s definitely a must-have item for any diehard fan of the franchise.

I see you, Michael
I see you, Michael

Although not a novelization, being so damn impressive, I had to list and feature it as well. No Halloween fan is complete without it!

I never knew this before reading Ernies book
I never knew this prior to reading Ernie’s book
Its full of fun information and callbacks
It’s chock full of fun information and callbacks
A shot and scene I shall never grow tire of, ever
A shot and scene I shall never grow tire of, ever
Suitably spooky!
Suitably spooky!
Giving some love to the novelizations, did Ernie
Giving some love to the novelizations, did Ernie
I only wish I could have read em as a kid
I only wish I could have read ‘em as a kid!
Nearly 400 pages and towers over mere novels!
Nearly 400 pages and towers over mere novels!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I enjoyed reading all five Halloween novelizations this past October. They’re worth seeking out if you love the movies and you enjoy reading. The older ones will be a bit pricey, but c’mon, it’s HALLOWEEN. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare! If I had to rank and rate each book out of 5 stars, it would go as follows:

1. Halloween ****½
2. Halloween IV ****
3. Halloween III ****
4. Halloween (2018) ***½
5. Halloween II ***

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BONUS: THE PAPERBACK HUNT

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So with these older books, it’s always fun to find a stamp inside the book telling you which paperback store it once belonged to eons ago.

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Two of the Halloween novels I bought off eBay came courtesy of Westgate Book Exchange in Las Vegas. What a trip!

There it is again...
There it is again…

A quick online search and I found the place! It was fascinating to see the store pictures and visualize where my Halloween books came from however many years ago. Sadly, they seemed to have closed some time in 2015.

The scene of the crime
The scene of the crime
Out there in hot North Las Vegas
Out there in hot North Las Vegas, but now defunct
So thats where someone bought the books from :P
So that’s where someone bought the books from :P

The Sporting News Baseball (SNES)

Pub: Hudson | Dev: Now Production | June 1995 | 12 MEGS
Pub: Hudson Soft | Dev: Now Production | June 1995 | 12 MEGS

Yesterday marked the official end of Major League Baseball’s 2019 season. It was the last day of ball for 20 MLB teams. Now 10 teams have emerged victorious and are prepping to do battle in the postseason. My team of choice, the Oakland A’s, will be taking on the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, October 2nd. As an A’s fan for most of my life, I’ve witnessed some epic choking. Sadly, there’s a reason why they’re known as the Chokeland A’s. They make the playoffs fairly consistently but never quite make it far. Hopefully things turn around come Wednesday. At any rate, as I gear up for the big game, it made me think of an old obscure SNES baseball game that my brother and I enjoyed playing back in the day. I recently played it again after not doing so for over 20 years. Much to my pleasant surprise, it’s still a fun little baseball game even nearly 25 years on.

Brutal :
Brutal :(

EDIT: October 2, 2019. DAMN. The A’s just dropped the Wild Card game 5-1 to the Rays. The A’s are now 0-9 in elimination games, setting a MLB record. Damn. Feels like they’re cursed. But that’s baseball. There’s always next year!

A FIELD OF DREAMS

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In the summer of 1995, my brother had me rent The Sporting News Baseball. We both grew up baseball fanatics. I’ve been a fan of the game ever since my 5th grade class went to a ball game in 1994. The Sporting News Baseball isn’t the most refined baseball game on the SNES, but one thing it definitely had going for it was being able to play on that magical cornfield featured in Field of Dreams. Although I had yet to see the movie at that time, I knew it was an iconic field and it absolutely captivated my imagination. My bro and I played on that field every chance we got. There’s something truly magical about launching one deep into the corn stalks on a starlit night.

MLB LICENSE

Mode 7 Madness
Mode 7 madness :P

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Back in the ’90s, there weren’t too many MLB licensed games. But this one had the real players and the real teams. It was always nice when you ran across a baseball game featuring the real deal.

The Sporting News POWER Baseball
The Sporting News POWER Baseball

This game came out in Japan originally as Super Power League, so perhaps Hudson Soft forgot to remove the Power there from the title screen.

The Iron Man himself, Cal Ripken Jr.
The Iron Man himself
Typical modes of play
Typical modes of play
Up to 4 players can partake
Up to 4 players can partake
Adjust the roster as you wish
Adjust the roster as you wish
Only 3 ballparks, sadly
Sadly only 3 ballparks
At least you get night options
At least you get a night option
Dome with artificial turf
Dome with artificial turf
The best ballpark, hands down
The best ballpark, hands down
Majestic at night
Even better at night. Majestic
Players are huge!
Players are huge!
Swung at a pitch in the dirt
Swung at a bad pitch in the dirt
*Glaring intensifies*
*Glaring intensifies*
Dont let the ball get to the corn
Love that cornfield
Grabbing the ball or taking a dump
“Shouldn’t have ate that burrito…”
The ball cant roll into the cornfield
Ball can’t roll into the cornfield
Déjà vu
Déjà vu
Whew, close but no cigar
Whew, close but no cigar
OUT!
OUT!
SAFE!
SAFE!
As take the early lead
A’s take the early lead
Uh oh...
Uh oh…

Matt Williams puts a charge into that baseball as he launches it high into that starry night. The irony? Matt Williams, most well known for his Giants stint during his playing days, is now the Oakland Athletics’ 3rd base coach. You can’t make this stuff up. Such is life. Such is life.

Will it fall short?
Will it fall short?
I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT!
“I GOT IT, I GOT IT, I GOT IT!”
Nevermind...
Nevermind… my bad y’all
The Giants tie it 2-2
The Giants tie it 2-2
Love how they give "the finger"
Love how they sorta give the bird
Or at least kind of :P
Best home run trot ever
The As grab the lead right back
The A’s grab the lead right back
Good eye, Brosius!
Good eye, Brosius!
Bases loaded walk, baby
Bases loaded walk, baby
4-2 As
4-2 A’s
BIG MAC!
BIG MAC!
Doing what Mac does
Doing what Big Mac does best
583 career home runs to his name
583 career home runs
He hits it high, he hits it deep!
Blasted into that majestic night
Good luck catching that, pal
Good luck catching that, buddy
Way back in the cornfield
Way back in the cornfield
Deep into the night
Deep into the night
Talk about crushing it
Talk about crushing it
Screw ya, pal!
“Screw ya, pal!”
Look at my big boy helmet!
Look at his big boy helmet :P
"HE HITS IT HIGH!"
“HE HITS IT HIGH!”
"HE HITS IT DEEP! -Ish..."
“HE HITS IT DEEP! -ish…”
Love when it barely clears
Love when it barely clears
Mike F'N Bordick of all people
Mike F’N Bordick of all people
"UP YOURS, MAN!"
“UP YOURS, MAN!”
The previous ABs are a nice touch
Damn he almost got the cycle

Results for previous at-bats are cited, which makes for a nice touch.

Bleacher just like the movie
Bleacher just like from the movie
Love the accuracy
Love the attention to detail there
Home Run Derby's a lot of fun
Home Run Derby is a lot of fun
Pick from ANY player
Pick from ANY player
Nice for a lazy Sunday afternoon
Nice for a lazy Sunday afternoon
"Oooooh yeeeeeah!"
“Oooooh yeeeeeah!”
Love the night time
Love the night time
Aim for the windows!
Aim for the windows!
Pitcher be like "Fuck this!"
Pitcher be like “Fuck this!”
Ball heading for the building
Ball heading for the building
Then disappears. What a moon shot
What a majestic moon shot
White Bread? I rather be macho man
The 100 pitches go by fast

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I love how the camera pans down to give you the full scope. The Field of Dreams ballpark at night in particular is simply majestic.

Talk about a serene evening
Talk about a serene evening
Time to let it rip!
Time to let it rip!
The ball soars into the night
Watch the ball soar into the night
Love the center field HRs best
Center field home runs are best
You get to see everything
Brings out your inner child :)
So damn satisfying
So damn satisfying
All night!
All night, son. All night!
Games can range from 20-25 minutes...
Games can range from 20-25 minutes…
Or 45+. It all depends on the amount of offense
… to even 45+. It all depends on the amount of offense
I like the blurbs :P
Uh, the National League won so… :P
What a game this was
What a comeback win this was
Now there's a choke job for the National League
Now there’s a choke job for the National League
Love that you can edit your own All Star team
Love that you can edit your own All Star team

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you build it, he will come
“GO THE DISTANCE.”

My brother and I had more than our fair share of fun with The Sporting News Baseball back in the mid ’90s. Having played it recently in late 2018, I’m happy to say that for me at least, it’s held up pretty well. Granted, you’re probably not going to play this over the better baseball games available, but there is a quirky charm to this game. It’s definitely the cornfield — who doesn’t want to play a ball game on the iconic Field of Dreams cornfield? It just takes me to a happy place and makes Sporting News Baseball, at the very least, a notable effort. Speaking of which, it’s also the only 4-player baseball game on the Super Nintendo. Real players and teams, and plenty of editing options, round out the package. Unfortunately, there are only 3 ball parks to choose from. But in its defense, when you got the cornfield option, there could be 100 different ball parks to select from and I’d still pick the cornfield one 99 times out of 100. If you’re into old school 16-bit baseball games and you love Field of Dreams, Sporting News Baseball will likely entertain you enough for a few hours. It’s no Ken Griffey Jr. but what is? This certainly isn’t the worst alternative out there.

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Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 6.5
Longevity: 6.5

Overall: 6.5

Timeless!
Timeless!

Field of Dreams

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It’s been called America’s National Pastime. A game that turns grown men into innocent children. I love baseball. I have since I was a kid and that love continues to this day more than 25 years later. There’s something pure and magical about the game. As it’s been often quoted, “It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.” Being that we’re now in the dog days of August and the final days of summer, it brings to mind an unforgettable baseball season my pals and I participated in 25 years ago. This article is dedicated to baseball and its fans all around the world.

RISE OF THE BULLDOGS

OK maybe not so much a rise :P
OK maybe not so much a rise :P

In April of 1994 I found myself in the thick of 5th grade, and enjoying some of the best times of my young life. That year and that grade had it all. Best friend, check. Best teacher, check. Two cutest girls in the school in the same class, check. Life was pretty good. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, it did. That spring the two 5th grade classes began a baseball tournament. Teams were evenly spread out so there would be a fair number of random boys and girls on each team. 8 teams in all. 8 games to be played. Top 4 teams advance to the playoffs.

To call it an exciting time would be an understatement. I was a pretty competitive kid, and so I couldn’t wait to get started and help lead my team into one of the top four positions. And luck be my lady, Jennifer (one of the aforementioned “two cutest girls”) was on my team. I wasn’t sure if Jennifer was any good at baseball, but at least she’d be easy on the eyes. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to bond sitting next to each other in the dugout, talking about whatever.

Watching and talking from the dugout. Good stuff
It promised to be a baseball season for the ages

At the time the possibilities seemed endless. It was classic 10 year old fever… the thrill of growing up while still remaining very much so innocent. The first order of business was to decide on a team name. We agreed upon THE BULLDOGS. Unoriginal, I know, but hey it was a proven classic.

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I remember lunch that very same day. My best friend, Nelson, was on another team. That was about the only thing that didn’t go my way. Well, it wouldn’t hurt if the other cute girl was on my team too, but hey, you can’t get too greedy now, can ya? Anyway, Nelson was what you would call “big boned.” His team was indecisive and still hadn’t come up with a team name. I was sitting next to him in the cafeteria that afternoon when he suggested to his teammates, “How about the Orioles?” He was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, or their team logo anyhow. Or, at least he liked the name anyway.

A fair play of homophones, good sir. Oh that Joshua....
A fair play of homophones, good sir. Oh that Joshua…

His teammate, and resident class clown Joshua, said jokingly “Oreo’s? Can you please stop thinking about food for ONE second?!” Everyone at the table cracked up. Nelson took it in stride. The great thing about the 5th grade classes that year was we all shared a common bond. We had a camaraderie that was truly special; after all, most of us had known each other since Kindergarten. And anyone who came into the fold after that was immediately taken in with arms wide open. So our ball busting jokes never carried any ill intent in the least. It was a bit like CHEERS to be honest. Everyone knew everyone’s name and a little (or a LOT) about one another.

The first game was set to be played next week. I remember hanging out with Nelson that weekend, talking excitedly about how we would both start out 1-0 (1 win and 0 losses). We were probably shooting the shit, playing SNES together, or off at the mall being carefree kids. Spring was in the air, Major League Baseball was just starting, summer was right around the corner… it was a great time to be 10 years old enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

SEASON OPENER

Some folks just don't take losing too well
Some folks just don’t take losing too well…

The first game of the season came and went. The Bulldogs won 8 runs to 5. Herman, my friend and teammate, was even more competitive than me. I never met anyone so crazed about winning than Herman. Little did I know then that it was a major foreshadowing of events yet to come…

In contrast, Nelson’s team lost their first game. Imagine the bragging rights I had that afternoon!

Playing sports can teach you a lot about life itself. You learn about fair play, how to win (and lose) gracefully, how to work together with different teammates, and so forth. There was a real beauty to it, but especially when you came out on the winning end.

A BULLDOGS IMPLOSION

Things went south and fast
Things went south and fast

It’s amazing how quickly the tide can turn. We went from playoff darlings to the laughingstock of the league. The Bulldogs went on to set the school record for longest losing streak. We started out hot smelling like a rose, but it all went downhill from there. And no matter how hard we tried, or what we tried, we couldn’t stop the losses from mounting like a snowball rolling downhill.

At first we dropped game 2 and fell to an even 1-1 record. Ah no worries, we thought at the time. It was a close loss, but surely we’ll get ‘er next time!

But then it happened. The ship was sinking fast and so was team morale. The results of the next handful of games were not pretty. In fact, they were downright brutal. We were…

Slaughtered in game 3.
Bludgeoned in game 4.
Annihilated in game 5.
Crushed in game 6.

And then… Game 7 happened…

That’s when things really hit the fan…

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There I was guarding the 3rd base line on a hot spring afternoon. As usual, we were down, but lo and behold, we were in the game. For the first time since game 2, we had a shot to win the game. It was in the later innings. We were only down by one run. But they loaded the bases with 2 outs. If we could just escape this inning unscathed, Herman and I would be batting the next half inning down only one. We could actually pull it off!

I pounded my fist into my glove, anticipating the play. The runner on 3rd base started chirping, talking trash, but it fell on deaf ears. The pitcher went into his wind-up motion. Here we go…

CRACK!!
CRACK!!

It sounded like a gunshot reverberating through the hills. The ball was smacked into center field where Herman was fielding. Like everyone else, including the base runners, I stood there and watched with eyes and mouth wide open. Herman was streaking back as fast as his legs could take him… he had a chance to make the CATCH OF THE CENTURY.

We all watched the ball sail....
We all watched the ball sail high…
Herman streaking back...
Herman streaking back…
And what a catch! Well, I wish
And what a catch! Well, I wish…
Herman reached out and...
It felt as if time had froze for all eternity

As Herman made a diving attempt for the baseball, I watched in horror as it sailed JUST PAST his outstretched glove. The runners were off immediately. I heard a sickening THUD as Herman’s body pounded the grass like a car falling off the Empire State Building. It was a class-A belly flop. Amazingly, Herman got up immediately. But even more mind blowing was what took place next…

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As the runners rounded past me on 3rd base I saw something I’d never forget.

Herman retrieved the baseball and stopped dead in his tracks. Jojo from left field screamed “THROW IT HOME THROW IT HOME!” The commotion caused the runners to actually stop running to see what the hell was going on.

Then, it happened.

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Instead of throwing the ball toward home plate, Herman turned around and let out an animalistic cry as he threw the ball as far as he could into center field. I tracked the ball as it sailed high in the blue sky. A sky so blue that afternoon that it hurt my eyes just squinting at it. Herman stormed off the field in a fit of blind rage, leaving everyone speechless. Not to mention the ball 300 feet away from all of us. It was one of those moments that spoke for itself. A moment none of us would ever forget.

Once again, the Bulldogs lost. But this was more than a mere loss; this was a total meltdown. Made me glad there was only one game left in the season.

THE FINAL GAME

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We were a pathetic 1 and 6. The worst team in the tourney by a country mile. Although the season was a wash, we all agreed we had to try and salvage what we could. Ending the season with a win would ease the pain. No one on my team had talked to Herman since game 7’s ugly incident. None of us knew where his head was at. Speculation ran rampant. Until Herman finally shattered the silence.

In the dugout prior to the final game of the season, Herman issued a heartfelt apology. Said he lost his cool in the heat of the moment. We understood. We also knew we were now playing for a little thing called PRIDE. The Bulldogs, win or lose, were going to go down swinging… together.

We played loose, we laughed, we rallied
We played loose, we laughed, we rallied

Jojo started the wave at some point in the dugout. It was a great time. And believe it or not, the Bulldogs won the final game of the regular season. We started and finished the season with a win. In-between? Lots of devastating losses but they only served as an invaluable lesson: how to lose gracefully and bounce back from adversity. Baseball taught us far more than what we could have learned in the classroom. For that reason alone, and ever since that fateful day, I have always loved the game of baseball.

I can’t remember which four teams advanced to the playoffs or who even won it all in the championship game. But what I do remember is that the Bulldogs finished an unimpressive 2 and 6, but underneath that horrible record, lied a team that truly felt like winners in the end.

FIELD OF DREAMS

My favorite film of all time
My favorite film of all time

June 2001. I’d just graduated from high school and spent that summer working at Blockbuster Video with my good friend Eddie and the “high school slut.” Interesting times they were. See Memories of Renting for more on those halcyon days.

One night I was closing up and made my usual last minute DVD run. As an employee I received 5 free rentals a week, and never failed to take advantage of such luxuries.

As I scanned the aisles for my late evening entertainment, Field of Dreams caught my eye. I had heard over the years what an awesome movie it was but I had yet to see it. Memories of the epic 5th grade baseball tournament came rushing back to me. Kevin Costner seemed to wink at me from the DVD box. Looks like a date, good sir.

Soundtrack was absolutely stellar, and haunting
Off to the races!

With stunning cinematography and a stellar soundtrack that absolutely haunts and mesmerizes, Field of Dreams easily became my #1 favorite film of all time. More than just a baseball movie, it’s actually about life, second chances and father-son relationships. There’s also a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. Everyone was perfectly cast. It’s just a damn near perfect movie.

No film gives me more goosebumps than this one
No film gives me more goosebumps than this one
One of my favorite shots in cinematic history
One of my favorite shots in cinematic history

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One early evening out in the stalks of Iowa, simple farmer and family man Ray Kinsella hears “The Voice” for the first time. This spooky voice simply tells him “IF YOU BUILD IT, HE WILL COME.” Ray is understandably disturbed, and begins a wild journey to get to the bottom of things. Was this a mere hallucination, a simple prank or… something of the supernatural sort?

And so begins a magical yarn of adventure
And so begins a magical yarn of adventure

Ray decides to pursue the Voice’s wish, tears down a good portion of his live crops and builds a baseball field smack dab in the middle of his farm. The locals think Ray has finally gone over the deep end. Only his incredibly loving and supportive wife, Annie Kinsella, stood behind him. But even then, she had her moments of struggle. Who goes and builds a baseball field in the middle of their farm!? Nutcases, that’s who, and now her husband, Ray Kinsella. But was Ray a looney, or was he on to something here…

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No doubt the field was gorgeous, and a hell of a sight with the corn swaying in the wind in the outfield. But as the seasons passed, nobody came as the Voice promised that it would. Ray and Annie grow impatient, and restless, as they saw their income from the crops dwindle due to the baseball field eating up their real estate. Times were starting to grow lean, and the looming danger of the bank foreclosing became an ever increasing burden on the Kinsellas.

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And then it happened. One cold night, Ray looked out his bedroom window and spotted a haunting figure standing in the middle of his baseball field. It appeared to be an old timey ball player from 1919. But this was 70 years later, 1989. What in the world is going on here??

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The ghastly visitor turned out to be Shoeless Joe Jackson, who played for the Chicago White Sox back in the early 1900s. Long dead, Ray realized there truly were supernatural forces at play here. Ray Liotta absolutely shined as Shoeless Joe, stealing every scene he was in.

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The Kinsellas couldn’t believe it. The baseball field that was eating into their precious earnings, was finally serving a purpose. What that purpose was, they had no idea. But after their encounter with the night phantom, they knew they had to keep the baseball field erected to see what cosmic forces may yet occur.

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It wasn’t long until Ray received a second message from the Voice: “EASE HIS PAIN.” Of course, the Voice doesn’t offer explanations or clarifications. This sets in motion the next beat of the film, as Ray researches whose pain it was he had to ease. This leads the Kinsellas to a PTA meeting discussing the merits of censorship and book banning.

As an aside, the pictures above and below were taken at a Field of Dreams screening this past June. It was the film’s 30th anniversary. I had the honor of seeing it for the very first time on the big screen :)

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Over the course of the PTA meeting, Ray realizes whose pain he had to ease. Terence Mann, a great author of his time, who is now a recluse. Fun fact, W.P. Kinsella based this character in his book Shoeless Joe off real life author, J.D. Salinger. Another fun fact: Ray Kinsella is the name of a character from a short story J.D. Salinger wrote entitled A Young Girl In 1941 With No Waist At All. There was also a character named Richard Kinsella that appeared in The Catcher in the Rye.

Love love LOVE this book
Love love LOVE this book
So stoked when I ran across it in a book store!
So stoked when I ran across it in a book store!

This leads Ray to make a cross country trek to track down the reclusive Terence Mann. Shenanigans and hi-jinx ensues, including a classic scene where Ray uses his finger to poke his jacket pocket to stand in as a gun in an attempt to persuade Mann to leave the fine comforts of his sanctuary.

"GO THE DISTANCE"
“GO THE DISTANCE”

After “kidnapping” Terence Mann, played by the impeccable James Earl Jones, Ray Kinsella takes him to a ball game. The setup for this is classic, classic stuff. Costner and Jones shine in their roles, and their back-and-forth banter is both charming and wildly entertaining. Once situated at Fenway Park, Ray hears his next message from the Voice: “GO THE DISTANCE.” But what in the hell does that mean, go where and how far?

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Thankfully, the Voice offered a little more insight this time as a special message is displayed over the giant screen that only Ray Kinsella can see. Apparently, the Voice was talking about an old ball player by the name of Archibald Graham, or Moonlight Graham as he was known in his day. Moonlight Graham was a real life ball player who played only one game in the Majors, but had 0 at-bats. It is certainly a unique and fascinating story of almost achieving one’s dreams but not quite. After jotting down the information on his scorecard, Ray asks Mann if he heard or saw anything. Mann says no, and Ray apologizes. “I’m sorry, I guess you didn’t have to be here.” Confused and relieved yet disappointed, the two leave the game early.

FoDVW2

As they sit in Ray’s Volkswagen van, Terence Man asks Ray Kinsella, “What’s it you’re not telling me?” Ray replies, “I’ve already taken up too much of your time.” Mann stares quizzically at Ray for a moment before exiting the vehicle. Closing the door behind him and draping his jacket and arms over the side, Mann spits out some reflective prose. “I wish I had your passion, Ray. Misdirected though it might be, it is still a passion. I used to feel that way about things but…” His voice trails off as he ponders his current life state and how he got to be the way he got to be. Then it hits him.

“You got another message, didn’t you?”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

“I already think you’re crazy. What did it say?”

Mulling over whether to tell him the truth or not, Ray decides to tell a white lie. “It said the man’s done enough. Leave him alone.”

And thus, the two fellows shake hands and Ray pulls his Volkswagen van away from the curb and into that cold Boston night…

"MOONLIGHT GRAHAM!" Instant goosebumps
“MOONLIGHT GRAHAM!” Instant goosebumps

Ray is stunned when he finds Terence Mann blocking his path. Even more stunned to hear Mann utter the name “MOONLIGHT GRAHAM.” Looking at Mann bewildered, Ray shouts “YOU SAW IT!!!” This turns Field of Dreams into a road trip movie. They’re heading to Minnesota to find Moonlight Graham. Good stuff.

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Mann heads to Iowa alongside Ray Kinsella, and there he encounters the field of dreams for himself. He is instantly transformed from a social recluse to a grinning 10 year old boy as he watches his heroes of yesteryear play an evening game of baseball.

Mann can't believe his eyes
Mann can’t believe his eyes

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Who could ever forget the classic climax where James Earl Jones launches into a soliloquy like only he can. Pontificating on the importance of baseball and how it’s been a marker for American history throughout the ages, you can’t help but feel drawn to his passion and convictions. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, in that very moment you suddenly are. And that’s the true mark of a magical movie.

"PEOPLE WILL COME, RAY. OHHH, PEOPLE WILL COME."
“PEOPLE WILL COME, RAY. OHHH, PEOPLE WILL COME.”

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The ending, where Ray is reunited with his father (who’s long passed), never fails to tug at the strings of my heart. “Hey dad… want to have a catch?” has got to be cinema’s most emotional 7 words ever spoken. Truly the stuff that reduces grown men to crocodile tears.

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“Is this Heaven?”

“No, it’s Iowa.”

But then Ray glances back to his house, spotting his wife and daughter hanging out on the porch having a grand old time. He ponders the question again. Maybe this IS Heaven after all…

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Ray and his dad have a game of catch late into the night as the camera pans overhead and we see thousands of cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic coming to the ballpark.

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PAYING TRIBUTE

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In college I minored in Theatre Arts and for my Final, I had to perform a monologue. Naturally, I selected James Earl Jones’ baseball speech from Field of Dreams. Had a blast reenacting it and putting my own spin on it. Fun times.

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COMING IN 2020!

Not a hoax or prank... it's truly happening!
Not a hoax or prank… it’s happening!

Announced earlier today (August 8, 2019), Major League Baseball announced that the Yankees and White Sox will play an actual regular season game at the famous Field of Dreams ballpark in Iowa. This monumental event will take place on August 13, 2020. I wish I could go but tickets will be limited and through the roof. I’ll definitely have a front row seat in my living room, though, and will be plenty satisfied with that!

"Aaron Judge... COMES TO IOWA." Not the same effect as Shoeless Joe but I'll take it
“Aaron Judge… COMES TO IOWA.”
Not the same effect as Shoeless Joe but I’ll take it

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Looking back on my times spent with the sport of baseball, I cherish all the great memories it has given me along with all the great lessons it’s taught me. Summer is quickly coming to an end as Major League Baseball hurtles its way to the Fall Classic. The game may not be as popular today as it was when I was a kid growing up, but I hope the kids playing baseball today take away from the game as much as I did 25 years ago.

Even got a poster of the film :P
Even got a poster of the film :P
Long live baseball and dreams
Long live baseball and long live dreams

Adventures in Book Shopping

Adventures in Babysitting Book Shopping! AKA How I Finally Got Back Into Reading
Adventures in Babysitting Book Shopping!
AKA… How I FINALLY Got Back Into Reading

For the past handful of years, my New Years resolutions have always been to lose 10-20 pounds and read more again. The weight goal sees varying degrees of success, but the reading one for some reason has always managed to elude me. Until recently. For the first time in over 20 years, I’ve read 20 books already this year. It was hard to stop once I got the ball rolling. It explains the lack of updates on RVGFanatic this past summer. Usually the summer season is when I crank out material like crazy. Not so this summer. Because this was the summer I got back into books and more importantly, back into reading. How’s how it all came to be, for the morbidly curious…

It's also a book! How fitting, eh? :P
Was also made into a movie novelization. Fitting :P

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

LibraryNight

One of the many highlights of my youth was all the library trips I took with my mom, dad and my childhood best friend, Nelson. We visited the library it felt every Friday afternoon after school. Although I loved playing video games on the weekend, I loved reading as well. I always looked forward to the end of the school week so I could raid the local library and pick up a new stack of books to devour. It was a memorable and innocent time.

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Nelly and I ate up the Goosebumps series. We were absolutely in love with R.L. Stine’s monthly tomes of terror. Actually, they weren’t that big in size or scary, but as kids we couldn’t get enough.

To this day the covers remains embedded in my soul
To this day the covers remain embedded in my soul

We read some of R.L. Stine’s more grown up work as we entered junior high in the fall of 1995. Maybe some of his work hasn’t held up too well over the years but they were definitely a sign of the times. Damn good times they were.

Seeing them on a shelf always made me grin
Seeing them on a shelf always made me grin

But along the way, at some point in high school probably, I stopped reading for pleasure. Any reading I did was because I had to. Whether it was because I had to write a book report in an English Lit. class or a college professor assigned some reading for homework, suddenly reading became something of a chore more than a reward. It was a means to an end. And it would remain that way for many years… until this past year…

GOODWILL HUNTING

And no, I don't mean the movie :P
And no, I don’t mean the movie :P

The seed was planted on January 13, 2019. My girlfriend and I went out to order some Chinese food for lunch. After being told there would be a 10-15 minute wait, I suggested that we hit up the Goodwill just next door to pass the time. As we walked over I shared with her that the last time I went to a Goodwill was way back in 2012. And how I found some rare Sega Saturn games for cheap which I couldn’t resist but flip on eBay for a nice little profit. I rarely did that during my game buying career, but an extra $150 or however much I was bound to rake in was difficult to resist on that cold December evening of 2012. So it was with that little trip down memory lane that I entered Goodwill with a glimmer of hope that maybe lightning would strike twice. Little did I know, it was that innocent little visit that would spur my book fervor into motion.

Got the book for $2 and the Ernest DVD for $1.49
Ernest Scared Stupid is perfect for Halloween :D

As we were flipping through the DVD and book section (there were no video games on hand that day), I caught glimpse of What To Expect The First Year. It was in very good condition and at only $2 I felt it would make for a tremendous resource one day. Then I spotted an Ernest Triple Feature boasting the critically acclaimed (or not) Ernest Goes To Camp, Ernest Scared Stupid and Ernest Goes To Jail. At 50 cents a movie, I couldn’t pass up on that. The clerk at the counter grinned when he rung me up, saying, “You can read up on babies while watching Ernest do his thing.” My girlfriend and I both laughed and that was that. If only I had known what a snowball effect this would have…

Bunnicula

About a month later we found ourselves back at Goodwill browsing the book shelves. On that fateful day found a copy of Bunnicula. Suddenly mauled by a tidal wave of memories, I felt like I was 8 years old again. I remember seeing Bunnicula a lot as a kid, but I can’t recall any story details. Nostalgia bit me and the $1 price tag made it an easy slam dunk. Pandora’s Box was unleashed, and there was no stopping it. I suddenly began to long for all the books I read during my childhood that I wanted to read again, or to read those I had missed out on. In many ways, it was eerily similar to my SNES resurgence from early 2006. I swooped up SNES games left and right 13 years ago in 2006, and now 13 years later I was buying books by the boatload…

My girlfriend checking out the goods. Major props to her for putting up with my book fever
My girlfriend checking out the goods at a Goodwill.
Much <3 to her for putting up with my book fervor!

As I quickly discovered, Goodwill can be a gold mine for book hunting. Quality and quantity vary of course from location to location, but man have I been lucky. The Goodwill stores that I hit up always knock it out of the park. The books are usually in great condition and go for $1.99 a pop. I’ll never forget the first time my girlfriend and I ran across an unbelievable selection of books at a Goodwill. It’s rare for me to not walk away with at least an arm full of books!

I sensed magic in the air that cloudy afternoon...
I sensed magic in the air that cloudy afternoon…

Saturday, April 13, 2019. Stepping out of my car, I could feel something funny. No, not that Taco Bell burrito I had moments earlier. It was something else. I felt it in my bones. Something big was inside that Goodwill. I double checked to make sure my car was locked. Satisfied that it indeed was, I marched to the entrance like a man possessed.

Books. LOTS of books
Books. LOTS of books

As I stood there in awe and reverence, my mind did cartwheels and fist pumps as my eyes caught sight of something very near and dear to my heart… I could see them from the corner of my eyes… this was going to be a haul for the ages…

Fuck yeah
Fuck yeah

I felt like the lucky millionth customer who just won a shopping spree. The shelves boasted a bunch of R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers. I hadn’t seen those books stacked up like that in 25 years, not since I last saw them in 1994 at B. Dalton and Walden Books*. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were all in very good to great condition, $1.99 a pop and ripe for the taking. I was in book Heaven! It was like righting a childhood wrong; I always wanted to read more of Stine’s teen thrillers but I only read a small handful. This was a second chance!

*My favorite bookstore as a kid back in the early-mid '90s
*My favorite bookstore as a kid back in the ’90s
Even more!
Even more!

Freaking out on the inside, for a moment it felt as if time had stood still. I could see sounds, smell colors. A swirling sensation wrapped around me as I found myself instantly transported back to B. Dalton or Walden Books some 25+ years ago. Today’s find was one for the ages. I stole a glance around the store to see if time did in fact freeze. A few ladies down the aisle were shopping for clothes while a boy and girl ran down another aisle laughing and joking. Snapping out of my trance, I calmly began to place the books into the shopping cart by the handful.

Still more...
Still more…

I could tell the books were donated by the same person. And that he or she kept them in great condition. The only R.L. Stine teen thrillers already in my library were The Babysitter I-III, Silent Night 1 and 2, and I Saw You That Night! So most of Stine’s offerings sitting before me were taken off the shelf and judiciously plopped into the shopping cart.

Love the feeling of finding a book you really want
Love the feeling of finding a book you really want

Back in 1995 my dad took me to the library on a Friday night and I borrowed a book called Hit and Run. I got home that night and started reading the book. I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting. I remember being absolutely hooked and enthralled by it. There’s nothing like being wrapped up in a good book. Nearly 25 years later and here it was, live in the flesh. The thrill of book hunting!

Just a "few" books....
Just a “few” books…

I bought 52 teen thrillers that day, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. At $1.99 a pop, it ran me a total of $103.48. An insane amount to spend on books, I know, but to get most of Stine’s older work in one fell swoop felt like a chance encounter. One not to squander or pass on. Especially in the condition they were in. I could make 1,000 more Goodwill trips and probably would never run into something this good ever again.

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Back at my girlfriend’s place, I sprawled the books out to take a photo. I have no idea how long it’ll take me to read them all. Honestly, I’ll probably end up reading only the ones I really want, and not get around to the others. So why still buy them all? Part of it is to set up one hell of a library for any future children I may have one day. If I ever have kids, one thing’s for sure, they’re going to develop a love for literature.

GoodwillHunting18

On Saturday, May 4, 2019, my girlfriend was working but had a chance to swing by a Goodwill for a minute. She snapped this photo and texted it to me. I zoomed in and gasped. I found a childhood book, The Time of the Witch by Mary Downing Hahn, that I always wanted to read but never ever ran across. I remember reading a preview of it once in a book when I was young and being intrigued ever since. You know, those blurbs you would find on the back pages of a book. A fan of Hahn’s writing, she wrote many scary books for kids over the years. So to see it at last blew my mind.

By zooming in I was somehow able to make it out
By zooming in I was somehow able to make it out

I frantically texted my girlfriend back, telling her to please pick up The Time of the Witch (and The Jellyfish Season also by Mary Downing Hahn). I showed her where on the picture and she was left stunned. “How in the HELL were you able to make that out?! Alright baby, you got it.” What a saint :D

Jellyfish Season not horror but I like Hahn's writing. Plus I'm a sucker for a good book set in the summer time
Jellyfish Season not horror but I like Hahn’s writing.
Plus I’m a sucker for a good book set in the summer

We met up at a pizza parlor on her lunch break and she handed me the books. It was the first time I ever saw The Time of the Witch. I was ecstatic. When you’re building a library, any wanted book found is worthy of a (mental) fist pump.

GoodwillHunting20

I always get a kick out of reading the back of books, much like I do the back of video game boxes. There’s something cool about it that takes you back to the days of reading the back of VHS boxes at your local rental store!

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOPS

I love going to local book shops to find new gems
I love going to local book shops to find new gems

Beyond Goodwill, I’ve found plenty of nice finds at local bookshops. Support them! They’re good for the community and you might run into some really good stuff.

Found a bunch of the classic Wizard of Oz books!
Found a bunch of the classic Wizard of Oz books!
Off the shelf and into my bag :D
Off the shelf and into my bag :D

I read the first Wizard of Oz book as a kid, and absolutely adored it, but I never read the other 13 books in the series. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to doing.

This could easily occupy me for an hour
This could easily occupy me for an hour
Love finding a book that's been on my want list
Love finding a book that’s been on my want list

SCORE! At last I found a copy of Curtains by R.L. Stine. This was one of those books that haunted me during my childhood due to the intensity and creepiness of the art cover.

Would be so cool to have this as a blown up poster :P
Unnerving…
Field of Dreams!
Field of Dreams! Er, I mean Shoeless Joe!

My favorite film of all time is Field of Dreams. It’s just a fun, uplifting and magical movie. The soundtrack is absolutely spine-tingling. Years later I discovered it was adapted from a novel called Shoeless Joe. I remember borrowing a copy from the library in 1999 and reading it. I enjoyed it and have always wanted to reread it. 20 years later, I finally have that chance :)

DUN DUN... DUN DUN... DUN DUN DUN DUN!
DUN DUN… DUN DUN… DUN DUN DUN DUN!

Speaking of novels made into movies, Jaws by Peter Benchley was on my want list from the beginning of 2019. 7 months later I finally ran across a mint copy at a local bookstore. I loved how the white spine and crazy shark art on the spine made it stand out in the crowd. For this one I might have actually done a legit fist pump… no shame! It’s an interesting read for sure, but the movie is definitely better. Still, it’s nice to see where the movie was inspired from.

GoodwillHunting27

I’m such a sucker for the old Point Horror teen books with their cool art covers. It just takes you back to an innocent time where all the rage were thrillers and horror stories. Diane Hoh and Eve Bunting had some good ones.

I've spent hours and hundreds of dollars here...
I’ve spent hours and hundreds of dollars here…

On the hunt for more childhood books and ones I never got around to reading, I found one of my absolute favorites on this trip. Remember the author Robert Kimmel Smith? He penned such books as The War With Grandpa, Jelly Belly and Chocolate Fever.

GoodwillHunting22

But it was Mostly Michael that stuck with me over the years. I had to get the original edition I read from my childhood, and there it was in very good condition. It was my first time seeing it since my youth years, and it gave me a jolt of nostalgia that tickled my toes. It’s about a boy who receives a diary journal for his birthday. At first he thinks it’s a crock, but he writes in it and through his entries you get to experience what he goes through. I remember being captivated by it as a kid and the ending was very touching I recall. Can’t wait to read it again.

I love how one cover is darker than the other
I love how one cover is darker than the other

For the most part, I’m not a fan of today’s kids books in terms of art covers and such. There was something magical about a classic Dell Yearling book cover that I absolutely can’t get enough of. Apple Paperbacks are also good as well as Avon Camelot, but Dell Yearling takes the cake for me. And no author in my opinion represented Dell Yearling better than Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

They dont make em like how they used to
They don’t make ‘em like how they used to

Zilpha Keatley Snyder penned some really interesting books. Her style is unique and charming. I never read her books as a kid but boy do I wish I had.

Give me this, a lazy summer afternoon and Im good
Give me this, a lazy summer evening and I’m good
Youre never too old to enjoy a good kids book
You’re never too old to enjoy a good kids book
Talk about a haunting cover full of intrigue and mystery
Talk about a haunting cover full of intrigue and mystery
Dat vintage Doritos bag tho!
DAT VINTAGE DORITOS BAG THO
Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one of the best in the game
Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one of the best in the game
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was also a great author
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was also a great author

Naylor’s Witch series was one I missed out on as a kid. I wish I didn’t. I mean, just look at that cover! It’s creepy and unsettling. This is the stuff you don’t see anymore. Nothing beats a classic Dell Yearling novel. The Witch Herself is the 3rd book in a 6 part series.

The artwork made it even more special
The artwork made it even more special
That feeling when you find a long lost classic
That feeling when you find a long lost classic

The first in the Witch series, Witch’s Sister, eluded me for months. Sure I could have bought a more recent edition, but those lack soul and character. I waited it out, and when I spotted the original edition of Witch’s Sister sitting on the shelf, I did cartwheels internally.

You dont see shit like this today!
You just don’t see shit like this today!
My reaction spotting Witchs Sister on the shelf
My reaction spotting Witch’s Sister on the shelf
Reaching out to secure it immediately
Reaching out to secure it immediately
EVERYTHINGS AWESOME!!
EVERYTHING’S AWESOME!!
Speaking of witches, this was a spooky boxset
Speaking of witches, this was a spooky box set

I missed out on these books as a kid, but they look great for some Halloween reading :)

Gorgeous art
Gorgeous art
The stuff nightmares are made of
The stuff nightmares are made of
What a cover! Love that vintage COKE bottle
What a cover! Love that vintage COLA bottle
Is it October yet? :)
Is it October yet? :)
Speaking of boxsets...
Speaking of box sets…

The Henry Reed series by Keith Robertson is another great one I was able to hunt down and highly recommend.

Classic books featuring that classic Dell Yearling design
Classic books featuring that classic Dell Yearling design
Fun wholesome reads
Fun wholesome reads
Remember Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series?
Remember Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series?
Or how about John Bellairs' books?
Or how about John Bellairs’ crazy imaginative books?
This is the book the Jack Black movie was based on
This is the book the Jack Black movie was based on
Perfect for some October reading :)
Perfect for some October reading :)
Irresistibly atmospheric!
Irresistibly atmospheric!
So many good books and not enough time
So many good books and not enough time
Coming across my favorite book of all time :D
Ran across one of my favorite books of all time :D
So much sentimental value on top of a great story
So much sentimental value on top of a great story

Before moving towns in the 7th grade, my best friend Nelson gave me a book called The Bullies and Me by Harriet Savitz. It was about a boy who moved towns, got bullied and had to figure out a way of making sense in his own world. It felt like art imitating life, although I didn’t get bullied in my new town thank goodness. Still, the message of the story resonated deeply with me. I even wrote a review for it on Amazon way back in the year 2000.

Damn right
Damn right

GOING TO READING THE MOVIES

I'm a sucker for movie novelizations...
I’m a sucker for movie novelizations…

The best part of a book hunting trip is going into the store with a mental list of some books you want but knowing the odds aren’t great that you’ll find it since they’re of the older variety… and then finding it! On this particular jaunt, I walked in thinking how nice it would be if I could find the movie novelization for Gremlins 2: The New Batch by David Bischoff. I remember seeing it on the shelf all the time as a kid in the early ’90s, but never getting a chance to read it as I was too young at the time. After making my rounds in the young adult section, I almost went to pay for the books when a funny feeling said to check the Sci-Fi section. Imagine my surprise when I unearthed a mint copy of Gremlins 2! What can I say, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a book you’ve long wanted in the wild.

One of my favorite art covers of all time
Yet another cool art cover. Green title really pops!
Can't wait to read the Back to the Future trilogy
Can’t wait to read the Back to the Future trilogy
Alan Dean Foster you madman you
Alan Dean Foster you madman you

Fun story: the night my girlfriend came home following my purchase of Clash of the Titans (the original 1981 version not the 2010 remake), we watched the movie. It turned out that her grandfather used to love watching it and she would watch it along with him. I hadn’t seen the movie in over 25 years and I thought it held up surprisingly well. Now I gotta read the book :P

Some say it's even better than the movie...
Some say it’s even better than the movie…

Alan Dean Foster has been a busy man. He’s penned many books and many movie novelizations. His finest work, according to many, is the original Alien. Some go as far as to claim it’s the best movie novelization ever crafted. Read it for yourself and decide!

The feeling when your mailbox is stuffed with books
That feel when your mailbox is stuffed with books

This was the big one. There are only 6 books in the history of mankind I can think of that are bursting with enough machismo to be able to fill my mailbox like that. Let’s rip ‘er open to see which 6 they are…

That's a whole lot of testosterone
That’s a whole lot of testosterone
A thing of beauty if I ever did see one. My oh my
Arnold and Sly… does it get any better?!?
Badass
Badass to the nth degree
The coolest back cover in the history, period
The coolest back cover to a book ever created
A missed opportunity to show the T-1000 :(
A missed opportunity to show the T-1000 :(
RoboCop Returns is currently in the making
RoboCop Returns is currently in the making
Can't wait for Rambo Last Blood in theaters soon!
Can’t wait for Rambo: Last Blood in theaters 9.20.19
September 20, 2019 to be precise. Should be good
Before John Wick we had John Rambo

Check out the trailer here if you've missed it
[Damn right we did -Ed.]
I truly am a sucker for movie novelizations. Some are bad but the good ones add details in a way a movie can never quite hit. Similar to video game adaptations of blockbuster movies, it’s fun to suss out the diamonds in the rough.

FUN NOTES AND MORE

Stories can entertain, or enlighten, or both. Powerful!
Stories can entertain, or enlighten, or both!

BooksEx18

One fun perk of buying old used books is you never know what you might find inside. Sometimes you might find the author’s signature, other times a friendly letter left tucked inside or even alternative endings. It’s all part of the fun!

BooksEx17

An alternative ending to Judy Blume's Forever...
An alternative ending to Judy Blume’s Forever…
The most wholesome cutest note you'll ever read
Insanely wholesome and adorable

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I almost lost it when I saw this in Stranger Things 3!
I almost lost it when I saw this in Stranger Things 3

This past summer has seen a resurrection for my love of books and reading. For years my goal would always be to read more but inevitably I would never carve out the time.  This year alone I’ve already read 20 books. Admittedly, I’ve gone a little book crazy. My girlfriend will surely attest to that. My book resurgence is very similar to how I got back into the SNES in 2006. There are many parallels. I remember getting back into the fandom and the feeling of excitement that would course through my veins knowing that any swap meet (or book store) would assuredly mean coming home with several goods. Part of me is honoring the past by rereading old childhood favorites, but another part of me is honoring the future and what might come. I’m building a massive library for my future kids. They’ll never run out of literature to read and if public libraries do ever go the way of the dinosaur, at least my kids will have a safe haven. And certainly, libraries these days don’t carry the old classics. There will be plenty of Apple Paperbacks, Avon Camelot and Dell Yearling books for my kids to enjoy! I know it’s impossible to read every single book in my library but that’s just it. A library is meant to present one with many different choices at any given time depending on your current mood.

Preserving a library for future generations
Preserving a library for future generations

As much as I love the hunt and thrill of finding books to add to my library, nothing beats getting wrapped up in a really good novel. The words start to jump off the pages, worlds and characters form almost tangible images in your mind and it’s imagination intertwining with literacy and art at its finest. Not every book is worthwhile or memorable, but it’s awesome when you read one that sweeps you away. It’s a great feeling. You find it hard to put the book down and you hate when it ends. Some stories definitely stay with us for the long haul. I hope this article inspires you, if you haven’t read much lately, to look for a book that strikes your fancy. Who knows, maybe you’ll start reading regularly again just as I have. And on a final note… look for a certain series of book reviews coming in October right here on RVGFanatic!

The boogeyman's coming to get cha... [Yeah, get cha wallet! The prices, my goodness... -Ed.]
The boogeyman’s coming to get cha…
[Yeah, get cha wallet! The prices, oh my goodness… -Ed.]

Buon Compleanno

Today is June 15, 2019. To me that means two things. 1. It’s about summer time (kiss my ass, school!) and 2. It’s my little cousin’s birthday. Well, he’s not so little anymore — he stands 6 feet tall and just turned 31. David, in a nutshell, has always sort of been the little brother I never had. Thus, this article is a tribute to my cousin, the little bro I never had. Cheers to you, David. And happy birthday, bro.

IN THE BEGINNING…

David and I grew up together. In the late ’80s, my uncle lived with me and the family. He married, his wife moved in and they had a baby in ’88. I remember June 15, 1988 pretty well, considering I was only four (and three quarters) at the time. It was a damp and blustery morning as I stood outside the garage door, watching my mom sweep the dry brown leaves off the driveway. And then my uncle’s car gently roared into the just swept driveway. My aunt clambered out and it was then that David and I first met. We bonded immediately, as though we were best friends in a past lifetime.

ADVENTURES IN TEETH BRUSHING

DavidTeeth

I’m so glad my uncle loved recording us as we grew up together in the late ’80s to early ’90s. It was thanks to my uncle’s penchant for documenting everything that I fondly recall all the wacky adventures David and I shared. One of my favorite memories was David’s love for sneaking out of his crib (with my aid of course) to brush his teeth for the hundredth time that same night. At two years old, he would reach out of the crib and beg for me to transport him to his very own version of Disney World. And with that patented jovial grin of his, how could I resist? He was such a delightful and cute little rascal.

DavidTeeth2

No one loved brushing teeth more than David, and I loved to watch him do it. Never before had I seen such showmanship! After he brushed, 5 minutes later in his crib he’d tug on my shirt to take him back. So under the cover of darkness, I’d smuggle him off to the bathroom for another show. There’s a home video floating out there somewhere where you can see me shoving David — with all of my seven-year-old strength — up on to the sink. He bumped his head against the mirror really hard as he fought to stand up on his wobbly legs. Instead of crying, he amusingly stared back at his two-year-old reflection and, with a gleeful laughter, jubilantly pounded the mirror with his palm. He was a bundle of joy.

FEARLESS

FoDBaseballEx

One of my favorite pastimes was playing backyard baseball against my brother. This moment was not captured on film by my uncle but damn do I remember it as though it happened yesterday. It was the summer of 1991. I was about 8, my brother was 10 and David was 3. Kevin was on the mound and he stared me down as I stood firmly in the batter’s box (AKA a patch of grass at one end of my backyard). Kevin went into his windup, lifted his leg and flung the tennis ball down broadway as hard as he could. I took a mighty cut and fouled the ball off into the thorn bushes. David was in the background fiddling around on his brand new Power Wheels. Like most brothers growing up, Kevin and I fought a shit ton as youngsters, physically and verbally. Instead of grabbing a stick and poking the tennis ball out of the thorn bush he screamed at me for hitting it there. Of course, as little brothers often do, I had to respond in kind. And my response was not kind! We were busy shoving and jostling. And in the middle of this commotion I felt a tap. Kevin and I turned around. We could not believe our eyes.

DavidTeeth4

David, with a grin oddly plastered across his angelic little face, held out the tennis ball to us. As if it were an offering. We gasped in horror when we saw the sickening multitude of thorns that had pricked his tiny arm. But judging by his ear-to-ear grin, you’d never think the pain that had to be surging through his little arm bugged him at all. I remember kissing him on the forehead and patting him on the back. What a great kid. My brother and I immediately dropped our quarrel and we spent the rest of that afternoon playing with David in complete and blissful harmony. David does it again!

I'll never forget the sight of his pricked arm. Insanity!
I’ll never forget the sight of his pricked arm. Insanity!

Then in the spring of ’92 my aunt became pregnant, and my uncle decided the time was perfect to move out and buy a place of their own. My childhood dream of growing up in a big household — blame it on Full House I suppose — was suddenly dashed. And life, well, life would never be the same.

ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTIONS

DavidTribute1

My cousin Vince, about 10 years my senior, was one of my idols growing up. I always looked up to Vince, and in many ways felt I should pass that down to David. I hoped to provide him with wonderful memories and experiences as he grew up — just like how Vince did for me all those years ago. So when David was around 10 in 1998, I suddenly had this knack for taking him on his first roller coaster ride. He told me he had never been on one due to his fear of heights and whatnot. But I assured him it was worth it… that it was sort of a childhood rite of passage. In the summer of ’98 it became my obsession to have him ride one. And finally, one scorching hot summer day, he finally said YES.

DavidTribute

I couldn’t believe my ears, as though David was speaking to me in tongues. David was confronting his fear! He was about to embark on his first ever roller coaster adventure. Looking back on it, it may sound kind of silly but at the time it truly felt like a landmark moment in his life. I had this weird fantasy where riding a roller coaster would expand David’s world and help him to fully realize his potential. For as exuberant and daring a toddler he was, as a child he grew to be rather reserved. Deep down I always believed he still had that expressive and jubilant side in him, and I was determined to bring it out at any cost.

Finally, the moment of reckoning descended upon us. Proudly marching up to that towering steel structure that loomed before us, David was rearing to shock the system and give the man the proverbial old middle finger. But just as quickly, from out of nowhere, his grandmother (God rest her soul) swooped in, grabbed him by the wrist and yelled “ARE YOU CRAZY?! NO YOU’RE NOT GETTING ON THAT!”

Although it happened only a foot away from me, I remember feeling like it took place a chasm apart. I was completely helpless to stop it, and I saw the gleam of courage in David’s eyes instantly give way to fear. Physically, he seemed to shrink before me. And despite my urging him to still carry on, he sadly shook his head at me and could only say, “Sorry Steve, I can’t do it…”

I was crushed. So close, yet so far. It’s one of those memories and vivid scenes that stay with you for a lifetime. But as terrible as I felt, I could only imagine how defeated David must have felt. And for that, my heart absolutely sank.

DAVID’S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE

DavidTribute2

Relinquishing the dream of the cold steel wonder that is the roller coaster, I looked to another form of cheap American thrill… the haunted house. Yet another childhood rite of passage, one of my fondest childhood memories was Halloween night of 1995. That was the night my cousins took me to my first real haunted house and I never looked back. The sights, the sounds, the smells, ahhh. I wanted David to have that experience for himself.

Michael Myers almost attacked me that night!
Michael Myers almost got me that night!

Similar to the roller coaster, David rejected my various invites. 1998 was a no go. But in 1999 he accepted. But first he wanted to trick or treat around the block. Fair enough, I thought to myself. So I took him and his sister trick or treating. David and his sister ran from house to house like thieves in the night. In a way they were! Free candy! Wearing masks! Why, in my day they didn’t hand out candy; oh heck no, rather, it was rationed paper clips! [Oh stop it -Ed.]

If only David saw those steps in the darkness...
If only David saw those steps in the darkness…

Near the end of that fateful evening, on one of the final houses on our tour, David didn’t make out the steps in the darkness and fell. I heard the sickening sound of bare knees scraping concrete. And that is a match concrete will always win. I took David and his sister home, and sadly he never left the house again that night. I was so disappointed. It was just like the roller coaster from the year prior. So close, yet so far. But there’s always next year, right?

But time was quickly running out. I was 12 when I went to the haunted house in ’95. There’s something to be said about going to a haunted house when you’re THAT young. When you’re easily impressed by halfway decent setups that replicated the horrors of a house. When you think about it, 12 is really the last year of childhood, is it not? Well, in 2000, David was 12. This was the year. The last year. It was now or never. Do or die.

DavidTribute6b

October 31, 2000. David and I finally went to that haunted house. I was glad David was able to experience it just in the nick of time before hitting his teenage years. And I know it’s über dorky but for many years following Halloween 2000 I proudly carried the ticket around in my wallet wherever I went. It was a symbol, to me, for breaking through.

Oh snap, remember Gyro's?
Oh snap, remember Gyro’s?
Good times
Good times

A SHOCKING BOMBSHELL

Say whaaaaa...
Say whaaaaa…

Summer 2004. My cousins on Vince’s side from time to time held family get togethers on Saturdays, and this was one of those jam-packed occasions. Their huge two story house was the perfect place for family reunions and gatherings. As previously stated, I admired Vince growing up. And I’ve always strove to be a great cousin and example for David, like how Vince was to me. So I guess you could say it was pretty fitting anytime that Vince, David and I found ourselves under the same roof. It actually didn’t happen as often as one might think since David’s family wasn’t super close with Vince’s family, and David was a homebody who deeply valued his peace and privacy. But in a stroke of luck, David decided to come out to the party on this fateful day, and that was where he dropped a bombshell on little ol’ me.

DavidTribute8b

Everyone was hanging out downstairs or playing pool in the backyard. David and I were chilling upstairs in the den. We were playing foosball and just kind of hanging out when he looked at me and said something I would never forget.

“… I got a D in math this past semester.”

All my life I’ve looked at David as the little brother I never had. And his bold gesture, despite the negative context, made me feel SO proud. He rarely opened up like that to anybody. At that moment I knew, without a shadow of a doubt and for the first time ever, that he saw me as the older brother HE never had. My family has never been the strongest in terms of keeping an open line of communication as I think many of us don’t feel comfortable sharing details. So for David to share that with me on that day… it blew me away. I, of course, reassured him that it was OK and that life is about learning from our mistakes. We had a really good and deep conversation before joining the rest of the fam downstairs. It was one of those bonding conversations you never forget.

A SLICE OF COLLEGE LIFE

NightHouse

It was the spring of 2005. There was a big event going on at my University one night. Everyone was welcomed to join the fray in the Student Union. It was a rally night to discuss various topics in the Asian community such as issues related to drugs, sex, sexual identity, you know, that kind of gig. I asked David to join me. Surprisingly, he was game. So 30 minutes before the event began at 7 PM, I drove to his place to pick him up.

DavidTribute9

The event was packed with roughly 60 to 75 college students from every imaginable walk of life. I glanced over at David as we found our seats. I was ecstatic that he decided to come along and step out of his comfort zone. I wanted to expose him to a slice of college life. He was probably the only high school kid there that night.

Following a brief introduction by the MC and a speech by the presenter, the floor was opened up to the people for thoughts and questions. The MC asked if anyone would like to respond to the speech. Glancing around the room, and then looking over at David who sat there with an odd grin on his face, I decided to stand up. As I stood up from my seat I could see David looking up at me in a state of semi shock. I’d never really told him about my public speaking background before. No doubt the #1 reason I decided to speak that evening was to show David you can do anything when you believe in yourself.

Staring out at a sea of humanity...
Staring out at a sea of humanity…

The walk from my seat to the front of the lecture hall felt long as hell. I think a few students coughed as I made my way up there. I shook the MC’s hand and then turned to face the audience. Man was it packed. Tugging on my blue Michael Jordan skullcap, I began my spiel.

“You know, in our Asian culture it’s not easy being homosexual. *pause* Not that I am… and not that there’s anything wrong with being homosexual.”

The room filled with laughter. I saw David cracking up. I think in some way he understood I was doing this for him. His expression was one that read, “That’s my cousin up there.” [Or maybe “I don’t know him, I swear, I don’t!” -Ed.]

On a side note, I had a point to my speech. The usage of comic relief in the intro was to lighten up the mood for a second. I certainly wouldn’t do it in a room full of college professors. It’s all about reading your audience!

However, the thrill of the night came later on. We broke into small groups to talk about our experiences and thoughts on these various issues in the Asian community. We sat in a circle and went around. When it got to be David’s turn, he shared his two cents. This high school kid was talking with a group of college students like he belonged. I was so proud of the guy. I remember just beaming at him like a proud older brother.

When the meeting concluded, David and I talked and joked all the way back to the parking garage. It was a cold and starry night. Just absolutely serene. I was thrilled that I was able to provide David with a small taste of what was to come in his future, being that he was now almost 17. Any sort of preparation, no matter how small, is big. Plus he got to see his crazy ol’ cousin in action as a bonus :D

Driving David home on the freeway that night, music blaring, I think I did Vince proud.

It was a great night for all
It was a great night for all

AMERICA’S NATIONAL PASTIME

FoDBaseball

Later that summer in July of 2005 I took David to his first baseball game. It went to extra innings and ended with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 10th. We had a blast at the park rooting on the home team. It was another item checked off David’s list. It was simple, it was fun and he couldn’t have watched a better more exciting game. We went home on a high :)

CELEBRATING AMERICA

DavidTribute11

4th of July, 2006. I took David to one of my favorite spots to watch fireworks. It’s on a hill in the eastern side of town. At sunset the view is pretty damn gorgeous. We had a blast just talking, catching up, admiring the fireworks and celebrating America’s 230th birthday.

Check out these crazy weird photos I took that night:

O_o
O_o
:P
:P

THE RISE OF DAVID

Rise of the Silver Surfer. Hey, it's a guilty pleasure OK?
Rise of the Silver Surfer is a guilty pleasure

June 15, 2007 (the date this article was originally written) marked David’s 19th birthday. It was also the opening day for Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. We caught the first film on opening weekend back in 2005. It was me, David and our cousin Mike out to celebrate David’s last year before hitting his 20’s.

Remember Marvel '91 trading card series? Classic!
Remember Marvel ’91 trading card series? Classic!
What a bad ass time to be a kid!
What a bad ass time to be a kid!

When we arrived at the theater it was completely jam packed! I couldn’t help but notice cute girls around David’s age were all over the place. Given the film, no shocker there. David was sitting on the edge of a row, Mike in the mid — oh look, here’s a pic to make your life (and mine!) easier.

But imagine the seats looking MUCH nicer
But imagine the seats looking MUCH nicer

The girl sitting in the row in front of us, about 5 minutes before the trailers, turned around to look back at me.

“Hey, are you saving that seat there for a friend?” she pointed to the empty seat that separated me and the cute girl.

“Nope.”

“Is it cool if you move over? My two friends are coming soon and we’re out of seats in this row here.”

No problem, I told her. OH NO PROBLEM AT ALL! David, Mike and I moved over one seat. So now the cute girl and I were sitting next to each other. I can’t say that it hurt my feelings.

And then… as I sunk into my chair and chatted with Mike and David, the two friends the girl had mentioned walked into the theater and made their way to our row.

These two ladies, as fate would have it, were the type to turn heads. I looked over at David as one of them sat down beside him and I could sense him doing mental cartwheels. Ah indeed, what a stroke of luck for my fine feathered friend.

I felt so happy for David. Dude was GOOD!
Good times

Right before the house lights dimmed for the trailers, I caught a glimpse of a sly little grin crossing David’s face. As the first preview roared over the screen and speakers, I laughed to myself, poking Mike. I gave him the look. He, too, knew what was going on with David. He discreetly glanced over at David in the darkness and then back to me, returning the “I gotcha” gesture.

What David probably dreamed of doing :P
What David probably dreamed of doing :P
dd
:D

After the movie I took David and Mike to a nearby Italian restaurant. David insisted on going to Taco Bell or Wendy’s. I told David that I love those places as much as anyone but those are no places to eat on a birthday. This Italian restaurant was far from hoity-toity upper class, but at least it had some class.

Once seated, I noticed a waitress who looked vaguely familiar. She was serving an old couple the table over. Hmmm, where have I seen her before?

This restaurant, being family oriented, had each table adorned by white drawing paper you could write and color on. A set of crayons were sprawled between the salt ‘n pepper. I took a green crayon and wrote on the sheet “Happy 30th Birthday David!”

Zoom in on mobile and you can see my messy scribble
Zoom in on mobile and you can see my messy scribble

It was an in-joke between the three of us. We often joked that David, although turning 19 at the time, always acted like someone much older than his age. David and Mike laughed when they saw my message on the dining table paper.

When our waitress came over to field our orders, she pointed to the crayon scribbling and asked “Whose birthday is it?” I pointed to David, who made meek eye contact with this attractive Filipino lass probably in her mid 20’s.

“Well, happy birthday, David,” she said warmly. He said a quick thank you. “I’ll be back with your drinks in a minute. If you need anything else, let me know.”

And then the waitress from the other table walked by. I saw her face and it hit me. She looked at me funny, too.

“Tiff?!”

“Oh my God, Steve??”

Tiffany was an old family friend I’d spent more than a few Saturday nights with, back in ’99 and 2000 along with another family friend, Tim. Back then, our parents met at Tim’s house once or twice a month for dancing and drinking. The parents partied downstairs while we did our thing upstairs. Tim and I both openly shared a crush on Tiff. Some nights she was closer to him, other nights closer to me (not physically close but emotionally). It was a friendly rivalry between he and I (we were really good friends). All in all it was good harmless 16 year old fun.

In fact, that hill I took David to on 4th of July, 2006, was the same hill in which Tim, Tiff and I spent our 4th of July back in 2000, just months before I took David to his first ever haunted house. Crazy how things connect…

Anyhow, Mike and David looked on in a mixture of confusion and wonder as Tiff and I quickly played catch-up. What a freaking small world! We hadn’t seen each other since the summer of 2000 when the parents quietly disbanded their Saturday night dance and drink-athons. Our impromptu reunion ended when she had to go back to waiting tables. We hugged and wished each other well. And that was that.

So now Mike, David and I were eating and talking. Just enjoying life. And then our waitress came over, along with another attractive female co-worker, holding a surprise small fudge cake. David’s expression said it all.

“We’re going to sing you happy birthday but in… Italian!” they ceremoniously declared.

  • Buon compleanno a te
    Buon compleanno a te
    Buon compleanno a David
    Buon compleanno a teeeeeeeeeeee

As they sang, I noted the way they starred merrily into David’s eyes as though he were the most handsome young man they had ever laid eyes on. I NEVER saw David look any prouder in the 19 years that I had known him than at that very moment in time. He sat up, chin held up high and he was beaming from ear to ear. I sat there and admired the moment. It’s an image that’s been embedded in my soul.

The rest of the day David was like a new man. I ribbed him about his two new girlfriends. He laughed and had this spark in his eyes as he went along with the joke — it made me so happy seeing him be so happy :)

And, to this day, it’s a joke we still occasionally joke about.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

MemoirsCave

In early 2015 I gave David a copy of Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman, written by my buddy, Rob Strangman. I contributed 5 guest stories to Rob’s epic book of video game memories from yesteryear, and I felt the time was right to finally share with David about the existence of RVGFanatic, and the article I had written about him way back in 2007. He was touched.

DavidNote

To my cousin, David, AKA the little bro I never had, thanks for being my cousin brother. May you always reach for the stars and be who you’re meant to be. Love ya, bro.

PS- Your ass still owes me a roller coaster ride ;)

Aladdin (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Capcom | November 1993 | 10 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Capcom | November 1993 | 10 MEGS

Last week my girlfriend and I caught the live movie adaptation of Aladdin in theaters. We enjoyed it, although both of us prefer the animated film. Seeing Aladdin on the big screen instantly brought to mind the time when Capcom, over 25 years ago, released Aladdin on the Super Nintendo. “Oh no, not another licensed video game!” Some might think from the outset. And really, history would have your back as many licensed games were seemingly more miss than hit more than a quarter of a century ago. Thankfully, Capcom incubated Aladdin with nearly as much maternal care as Disney bestowed upon their animated film. That means top notch animation, plenty of humor to keep things lighthearted and entertaining, and backed it all up with an incredibly authentic Middle Eastern atmosphere. Thus, what you have here is a strong example of the platforming genre based off 1992’s most successful film.

Will Smith as the Genie... it worked!
Will Smith as the Genie… it worked!

NEVER HAD A FRIEND LIKE ME

AladPoster

Aladdin roared into theaters the day before Thanksgiving ’92 (November 25, 1992 for those keeping score at home) and grossed over 500 million worldwide! It was met with undying fanfare. The song “A Whole New World” won an Oscar at the 1993 Academy Awards. The end credits boast a whopping 513 people! It was the first Disney film to show a belly button. Aladdin was based, believe it or not, on a cross between Michael J. Fox and Tom Cruise. Also, did you know that Aladdin once killed 40 thieves? [That was Ali Baba, you fool -Ed.]

[Hmmm, those facts sound oddly familiar... -Ed.]
[Hmmm, those facts sound oddly familiar… -Ed.]
Hey now, I *like* that song
Hey now, I *like* that song

AladTV

Aladdin was such a smash hit that he had his own animated series as part of the classic Disney Afternoon lineup back during the early mid ’90s. I was a pretty big fan of the TV series. If you don’t remember the Disney Afternoon, it was essentially the cartoon version of TGIF. The Disney Afternoon aired Mondays through Fridays from 3 to 5 PM. Perfect for veggin’ out right after school for a couple blissful hours. Oh they don’t make them like how they used to, that’s fer damn sure! Needless to say, Capcom had a lot to live up to when they set their sights on adapting Aladdin to the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. But if anyone could pull it off back in those days, it was the Big C.

Racist? Never...
Racist? Never…

THE ADVENTURES OF ABU

Abu is wonderfully represented here
Abu is wonderfully represented here

THE STORY GOES…

Follows the movie to a tee
Follows the movie to a tee
Creepy looking hands!
Creepy looking hands!
It's the Cave of Wonders!
It’s the Cave of Wonders!
One whose worth lies deep within ... THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH!
One whose worth lies deep within
… THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH!
... this diamond in the rough...
… this diamond in the rough…

mmx6

Not all movie games suck ;)
Not all movie games suck ;)

THE BASICS

Aladdin has got the moves
Aladdin has got the moves

AladdinEx1

THE MARKETPLACE

The game begins In the dusty streets of Agrabah
The game begins in the dusty streets of Agrabah
Fun bouncing on the guy's head
Fun bouncing on the guy’s head
Where you at, Shaggy?
Where you at, Shaggy?

Aladdin3

Sprinting across the tops — high above the heads of enemies — looks great, but Aladdin’s movement has a certain herky jerkiness. It’s not a big issue but it does take a second to adjust to.

Aladdin4

Aimed properly, you can bounce off a bad guy’s head and in one seamless motion stick the landing on a nearby platform. Pretty satisfying it is.

Aladdin5

Press down to fall on the villain’s head and vanquish him. There is a sort of Prince of Persia feel to this game.

Snakes be damned!
Snakes be damned!

More fun than a barrel  [snip -Ed.]
And these fools, too
[I always knew the monkey was smarter -Ed.]
[I always knew the monkey was smarter -Ed.]
[Truly, the brains of the operation -Ed.]
[Truly, the brains of the operation -Ed.]

You best better
You best better
Animations are amazing
Animations are amazing
Apparently not
Apparently not
I love how they mock you
I love how they mock you :P
He's pissed off now!
He’s pissed off now!
When all else fails, feign defeat
When all else fails, feign defeat
That would be a long fall down
That would be a long fall down…
Never skip arm day
Why you never skip arm day
Gotta love the little bugger
Gotta love the little bugger
A satisfying means of dispatching the opposition
A satisfying means of dispatching the opposition
Meet the first boss of the game
Meet the first boss of the game
Apples don't hurt him, not even down there
Apples don’t hurt him, not even down there
When did Abu become so cynical? :P
When did Abu become so cynical? :P
Whoa that escalated quickly
Whoa that escalated quickly
Sorry old pal
Sorry about that, old pal

[You and me both, Abu. You and me both -Ed.]
[You and me both, Abu. You and me both -Ed.]
[Us too! -Super Play staff]
[Us too! -Super Play staff]

But peace doesn't last long
Of course, peace is short lived…

THE CAVE OF WONDERS

Aladdin26

I rather like this stage quite a bit. Use your athletic acrobatics to maneuver your way across spiky pits and such. Good stuff.

Aladdin27

Use apples to send pesky bats away. And what the hell is a delectable piece of meat such as that doing out in the wide open? It’ll spoil! Guess you better gobble it up then before it does!

Aladdin28

Leaping off enemies and platforms doesn’t always go as you intend it to. Thankfully, it’s mostly a case of something you did that went awry, as opposed to flat out poor controls.

I swear Abu, this had better be good...
I swear Abu, this had better be good…
Of course Abu would
Of course Abu would
But I swear, if this hits the fan...
Man, if this hits the fan…
Moral: Never trust a monkey, ever
Moral: Never trust a monkey, ever
That sounds about right
That sounds about right
Feet fail me not!
Feet fail me not!

Aladdin34

If you manage to survive this, you’ll run into a rather magical friend.

Abu's expression says it all
Abu’s expression says it all
Obviously not
Obviously not
Yo Carpet, it's like that huh
Yo Carpet, it’s like that huh

Carpet, in theory, could whisk you to safety, but where’s the fun in that? Nope, you must brave through this auto scrolling stage on your own.

Damn you, Carpet!
Damn you, Carpet!
Don't hang on too long or else
Don’t hang on too long or else
Pull it to rise the barrier
Pull the rope to raise the barrier
Whew, just missed!
Whew, just missed!
Yeah, sure, whatever ya say...
Yeah, sure, whatever ya say…
O_O
o_O
Good shit from Capcom
That’s me at 5 stealing my mom’s cookies from the jar
DON'T TOUCH THAT, ABU!
DON’T TOUCH THAT, ABU!
Carpet tries its damndest
Carpet tries its damnedest
That can't be good
That can’t be good
ALVIN!!! ABU!!!
ALVIN!!! ABU!!!
Whew, too close for comfort
Whew, too close for comfort
Yet another force scrolling stage
Yet another auto scrolling stage
Word!
Word!
Should have worn sandals
Should have worn sandals
The biggest pull up of your life
The biggest pull up of your life
ANOTHER auto scroller
ANOTHER auto scrolling stage
But at least Carpet's with you
But at least Carpet’s with you this time!

After a couple head scratching stages where you’re forced to travel over murky waters and skin scorching lava without the aid of Magic Carpet, it finally decides to lend a hand, er, corner? Hey, better late than never!

AladdinEx8

Arguably the game’s most adrenaline-fueled level, nothing quickens the pulse quite like riding on Magic Carpet with your girl while doing your best to evade the sizzling molten lava that’s right on your tail!

INSIDE THE GENIE’S LAMP

"Little ol' me?" Yes, little ol' you!
“Little ol’ me?”  Yes, little ol’ you!

Aladdin55

Genie’s stage takes you to a cloud-filled universe that’s well out of this world. How befitting of a genie! You suddenly find yourself doing pull ups on cloudy wisps in a strange land that’s NOT AT ALL egotistical…

Aladdin56

In classic Capcom fashion, landing on those Genie platforms will make the Big G frown for as long as you’re on it. Otherwise, the blue bastard’s full of cheesy grins.

I've never had a friend like you...
Patience and precision is key here
Things get more and more bizarre
Things get more and more bizarre
Man, I sure as hell ain't never had a friend like you
Man, I sure as hell ain’t never had a friend like you
Use his makeshift parachute to glide to safety
Use his makeshift parachute to glide to safety

THE PYRAMID

I like how they disintegrate when you jump on them
I like how they disintegrate when you jump on them
The shifting sands makes it difficult to navigate safely
The shifting sand makes it difficult to navigate safely
Er, yeeeeah. You're on your own on this one, Al...
Err, yeeeeah. You’re on your own on this one, Al…

BONUS LEVEL: MAGIC CARPET RIDE

Aladdin62

For my money, this is by far and away the greatest moment in the entire game. The sights and sounds — perfection personified. Based on the classic scene from the movie, it even replicates the “A Whole New World” song! Sans lyrics of course, but it’s a near perfect rendition otherwise. The whole damn thing is almost enough to make even the most hardened warrior feel all warm and tingly inside. Don’t take my word for it, watch it and listen to it here!

A WHOLE NEW WORLD! [Don't you dare... -Ed.]
A WHOLE NEW WORLD!  [Don’t you dare… -Ed.]

JAFAR’S PALACE

Saving the best for last, eh?
Saving the best for last, eh?
Wouldn't be Aladdin without a street rat reference
Wouldn’t be Aladdin without a street rat reference
Repeat this pattern for good health and prosperity
Repeat this pattern for good health and prosperity
Uh oh, Jafar is pissed now...
Uh oh, Jafar is pissed now…
HOLY MOLY!
HOLY MOLY!!

Aladdin68

Use the parachute or else you'll get singed!
Use the parachute or else you’ll get fried
Shout out to those who get this reference!
Shout out to those who get this reference!
Early-mid '90s was such a great time for games
Early-mid ’90s was such a great time to be a gamer :)
It's got a simple pattern. Do yer thang, Big Al!
It’s got a simple pattern. Do yer thang, Big Al!
YEAH, TELL 'IM, AL!
YEAH YOU TELL ‘IM, AL!
*collective gasp*
*collective gasp*
Man fuck this shit :P
Man fuck this shit :P
Who're you... SHREDDER?!
Who’re you… SHREDDER?!
R.I.P. James Avery AKA Uncle Phil, voice of Shredder
One of my favorite lines of all time
Is it? Find out for yourself...
Is it? Find out for yourself…

GENIE!

AladdinEasy2

AladdinEasy

On the whole, Aladdin is a pretty easy game. It’s got a few tough spots, but with a password system in place and plenty of extra lives to be had, it’s something that the average gamer should be able to polish off without too much hardship.

AladdinGO

Capcom’s classic continue screens, er, continue with Aladdin. Pull the yes one and Genie will flash you a satisfied grin.

AladdinGO2

But yank on the no one and watch the poor sap sulk and frown.

Not as crazy as the one in Final Fight though :P
Not as crazy as the one in Final Fight though :P

GENNY!

Aladdin79

For ages now, even to this day more than 25 years later, there has been a debate amongst gamers on which version is superior: the Genesis or Super Nintendo rendition of Aladdin. Both games are significantly different from one another, as Capcom developed the SNES one while Virgin Interactive did the Genesis one. The Genesis version emphasizes more action than platforming. Both games were highly praised in their own right, but consensus seems to favor the Genesis game slightly. Regardless of which version you think is better, you can’t go wrong with either one.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

AladdinCT

Aladdin was well received by the critics. EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 8 and 8. EGM’s sister publication, Super NES Buyer’s Guide, scored it 89, 86 and 85%. GameFan gave it ratings of 90, 90, 89 and 87%. Super Play rated it 81%. Most agreed on it being a fun and colorful platforming game by the ever trustworthy Capcom, who infused Aladdin with an admirable amount of care and respect to the source material. It’s not the most outstanding example of the genre on the SNES, but it’s certainly one of the better ones in the catalog.

AladdinEx15

AladdinEx14

AladdinEx12

AladdinEx13

AladdinEx10

AladdinEx11

AladdinEx16

CLOSING THOUGHTS

AladdinCT2

Aladdin is a quality platformer, but its two biggest flaws are that it’s too short and it teeters a bit too much on the easy side. Similar to Skyblazer, the levels are over right as I’m ready to sink my teeth into ‘em. The lack of enemies, not to mention the lack of enemy diversity, was also something of a disappointment. You can easily finish this game before you finish watching the animated movie! However, with a busy schedule that may include juggling relationships, kids and work, those two “flaws” aren’t the biggest indictments in the gaming world. I suppose that’s one way to look at it.

Aladdin80

The graphics are splendid; they’re filled to the brim with detail, colors and parallax scrolling that seems to stretch on forever. The sound is pretty good, especially the renditions of the movie’s various themes. The SNES version of A Whole New World is my personal favorite and hits me in the feels every single time I hear its lovely jingle. Gameplay consists of your classic basics, sprinkled with a little Prince of Persia feel to it, complete with hanging from ledges with your pinkie fingers.

AladdinCT3

The control is generally solid but I do have a few gripes. Whenever you press left or right Aladdin will take a step (or two) in that direction. On small platforms this could cause him to slip every now and then, so be thankful for that hanging-on-the-ledge-with-your-pinkie business! Some handspring bounces off obstacles and enemies are also a bit tough to implement properly, particularly when it comes to needing several bounces in succession. Thankfully, such parts are few and far between. Mostly you’re just bouncing off one enemy or object at a time so it doesn’t adversely impact gameplay as much as one might fear. The control is definitely far from perfect but nothing you won’t quickly adjust to and manage. Those few niggles, however, are worth noting.

AladdinCT4

All in all, Aladdin is a fine platformer that deserves a spot in any SNES library. It does its source material a great deal of respect and is plain fun to play. It won’t last you long, or challenge you terribly much, but depending on one’s schedule and tolerance level, those things may be blessings or curses. Capcom could almost do no wrong back in the early-mid ’90s, and Aladdin is another solid example of such. Definitely and easily one of the better license games from the vaunted 16-bit era!

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 8
Longevity: 5.5

AwardsOverall: 8.0
Silver Award

 

Aladdin81

Final Fantasy II (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Square | November 1991 | 8 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Square | November 1991 | 8 MEGS

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…

FinFan2

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?

Cecil:

Crew Guy 3: Prepare for landing!

FinFan2-1

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?

Cecil:

Crew Guy 2: SHUT UP old man, or I’ll shut you up myself!

The heist has been completed
The heist has been completed

FinFan2-3

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?

Cecil:

FinFan2-4

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.

Cecil:

Baigan: Follow me…

FinFan2-5

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.

*MOMENTS LATER*

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?!?

FinFan2-6

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!

Cecil: What?!

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!

LATER THAT NIGHT...
LATER THAT NIGHT…

FinFan2-8

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…

No genre does atmospheric late night musings like RPGs
No genre does atmospheric late night chats like RPGs :)
Really part IV in Japan but part II in North America
Really part IV in Japan but part II in North America

FinFan2-11

In typical RPG fashion, you trek through the land in an overhead view. It’s simplistic but therein lies the beauty.

FinFan2-12

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!

Use magic to light up the screen
Use magic to light up the screen
Gotta love magic attacks that strike all of the enemies
Gotta love magic attacks that strikes all enemies
Quoth the Raven: Nevermore
Quoth the Raven: Nevermore
And so, the bartering begins
And so, the bartering begins
Maybe Namingway should change his own name...
Maybe Namingway should change his own name…

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.]

Chatting up the locals is all part of the storytelling fun
Chattin’ up the locals is all part of the storytelling fun
Oooh, the plot thickens. Who is this strange old man?
Ooh, the plot thickens. Who is this strange old man?
Hmm. I reckon this can't be too good...
Hmm. I reckon this can’t be too good…
What a guy, that Steve [It should be Cecil... -Ed.]
What a guy, that Steve [It should be Cecil… -Ed.]
Antlion doesn't sound like the name of sumthin' tame...
Antlion doesn’t sound like the name of sumthin’ tame...
Old Guy: Let's see what kind of game Steve has...
Old Guy: Let’s see what kind of game Steve has…
Rosa: Thank you for being here with me... Steve: Alright... well... yeah, get some sleep. Old Guy: Ugh... no game at all!
Rosa: Thank you for being here with me…
Steve: Alright… well… yeah, get some sleep.
Old Guy: Ugh… NO game at all!
Steve: Say whaaaa?! Um, no she doesn't... Old Guy: YOU FOOL. I'm blind and EVEN I can see!
Steve: Say whaaaa?! Um, no she doesn’t…
Old Guy: YOU FOOL. I’m blind and EVEN I can see!
Rydia: You always get me, Steve...
Rydia: You always get me, Steve…
Everyone plays a vital role in the journey
Everyone plays a vital role in the journey
Edward: DO IT FOR ANNA! Rydia: Playing the dead girlfriend card?! Oh my...
Edward: DO IT FOR ANNA!
Rydia: Playing the dead girlfriend card?! Oh my…
Steve: Hey, no! Wait, no it isn't what it looks like... Yang: Suuuuure... mmm hmm.
Steve: Hey, no! Wait, no it isn’t what it looks like…
Yang: Suuuuure… mmm hmm. Riiight…
Love Yang. Such a badass
Love Yang. Such a badass
Here comes the calvary at last!
Here comes the calvary at last!
Steve: Um... hi there... PS- no thanks on PPS
Steve: Um… hi there… PS- no thanks on PPS

The twins, Palom and Porom, are comic relief characters to the nth degree.

Old Guy: What, was there no decaf this morning?
Old Guy: What, was there no decaf this morning?

[Lord knows ONE Steve is more than enough! -Ed.]
[Lord knows ONE Steve is more than enough! -Ed.]
[Keep heading toward that light, Steve... -Ed.]
[Keep heading toward that light, Steve… -Ed.]

Envy is the ruin of us all
Envy is the ruin of us all
Plenty of story twists abound in FINAL FANTASY II
Plenty of story twists abound in FINAL FANTASY II
Here, take a look for yourself
Here, take a look for yourself
"Ooooooooh... ahhhhhh..."
“Ooooooooh… ahhhhhh…”
Old Guy: Hey I'm old and blind, cut me some slack. Listen again!
Old Guy: Hey I’m old and blind, cut me some slack!

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.]

Such a sad scene this was... *SNIFF*
Such a sad scene *SNIFF*

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.

Never know what goodies you might find
Never know what goodies you might find

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.

The story moves along at a brisk pace
The story moves along at a brisk pace

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?

Forgiving someone can do wonders for ones own spirit
Forgiving someone can do wonders for your spirit…

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!

What's an RPG without an innocent perverse moment?
What’s an RPG without an innocent pervy moment?
It's prudent to heed the wisdom of your elders...
It’s prudent to heed the wisdom of your elders…
But not this one. D'oh! Love Square's sense of humor
But not this one, d’oh! Love Square’s sense of humor
Ominous...
Ominous…
Edge the ninja is a pretty bad-ass dude
Edge the ninja is a pretty badass dude

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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.

Edge is 1337! How appropriate...
Edge is 1337! How appropriate…
Door #1, #2, or #3? Which door shall it be? Hmmm
Door #1, #2, or #3? Which door shall it be? Hmmm
Of course, Nintendo of America didn't allow "PRAY"
Of course, Nintendo of America didn’t allow “PRAY”
"For me WHAT?! What 'cha say? Damn, maybe I should have been listening"
“For me WHAT?! What ‘cha say?
Damn, maybe I should have been listening!”
Plenty of intense drag-'em-out boss fights await
Plenty of intense drag ‘em out boss fights await
Can you survive the challenges ahead?
Can you survive the challenges ahead?
[Oh so you mean like basically the rest of eternity -Ed.]
[Oh so you mean like basically the rest of eternity -Ed.]
Will he finally say it at last...
Will he finally say it at last…
[I freaking knew it -Ed.]
[I freaking knew it -Ed.]
Who needs fancy 3D graphics when you have THIS?
Who needs fancy 3D graphics when you have THIS?
Final Fantasy II proves gameplay trumps graphics
Final Fantasy II proves gameplay trumps graphics
But the visuals certainly aren't half bad for their time
But the visuals certainly aren’t half bad for their time
Steve: "But naw, it was just my stomach growling"
“But naw, it was just my stomach growling”
Ah, how good to see everyone again!
Ah, how good to see everyone again!

In the end, a grand celebration is held and many old faces rejoin the fray for one big reunion bash.

To the right, to the right, to the right, to the right To the left, to the left, to the left, to the left Now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick Now walk it by yourself, now walk it by yourself
To the right, to the right, to the right, to the right
To the left, to the left, to the left, to the left
Now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick
Now walk it by yourself, now walk it by yourself
From the previous owner's save slot. He went nuts...
From the previous owner’s save slot. He went nuts…

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

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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.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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.

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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.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 9
Longevity: 8

Award4Overall: 9.0
Gold Award

Sure. As we know, nothing is final with Final Fantasy :P
Sure. As we know, nothing’s final with Final Fantasy :P

Fatal Fury 2 (SNES)

Pub: Takara | Dev: SNK | April 1994 | 20 MEGS
Pub: Takara | Dev: SNK | April 1994 | 20 MEGS

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

The Neo Geo MVS was a gorgeous sight in those days
The Neo Geo MVS was a gorgeous sight in those days

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.

Magical memories
Damn near mythical

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.

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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 Fury WAS Street Fighter II. My bad, Mr. Nishiyama. Forgive me for the sins of my youth.

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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.

This was mind blowing back in 1991!
This was mind blowing back in 1991!

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.

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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!

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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.

I was so hyped seeing this in EGM circa January 1993
I was so hyped seeing this in EGM circa January 1993

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.

Sure it looks nice but...
Sure it looks nice but…

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.

What a missed opportunity...
What a missed opportunity :(

ROUND 2… FIGHT!!

One of the best quotes in fighting game history
One of the best quotes in fighting game history

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…

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MORE FIGHTERS! MORE MOVES! 20 MEGS! YEEEAH!!
MORE FIGHTERS! MORE MOVES! 20 MEGS! YEEEAH!!
Damn right
Damn right

HIDING IN PLANE SIGHT

Two planes let you escape the action for a strategic bit
2 planes let you escape the action for a strategic bit

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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.

Just another reason why I love the SNES controller :)
Just another reason why I love the SNES controller :)

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.

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Projectiles are much easier to avoid, and thus a bit devalued as a result.

You can even smack them into the next plane!
You can even smack them into the next plane!
You can also attack from one plane over. Sweet
You can also attack from one plane over. Sweet
Jubei's stage is the best for plane jumping ;)
Jubei’s stage is the best for plane jumping ;)
Jump kicking through paper screens is rather satisfying
Jump kicking through paper screens is quite satisfying

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…

Good shit
Good shit
It never gets old :D
It never gets old :D

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

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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.

You can also taunt... if you're the scoundrel type
You can also taunt… if you’re the scoundrel type
They always come crawling back... or forward
They always come crawling back… or forward

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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

If you're gonna steal some ideas then take from the best
If you’re gonna steal some ideas then take the best
Andy was my guy. Terry for my brother. Art imitates life
Andy was MY GUY. Terry for my bro. Art imitates life

THE KING OF FIGHTERS

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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.

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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…

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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.]

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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?

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DESPERATION SUPER SPECIAL MOVES

C'mon Nintendo Power. Seriously?!
C’mon Nintendo Power. Seriously?!

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.

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Damn, Kim. Have some mercy!
Damn, Kim. Have some mercy!

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Jubei with all that old man strength
Jubei with all that old man strength

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“YOU AIN’T THE BOSS OF ME!”
[OH YES I AM, ACTUALLY -ED.]

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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!

Lets check out those bosses shall we!
Let’s check out those bosses shall we!

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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… ;)

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Balrog, you say? Never! :P 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…

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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.”

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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 Krauser is the danger and the one who knocks.

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When you finally dethrone the bastard, he goes out in dramatic fashion á la The Nature Boy, Ric Flair!

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY

Knocking em into the giant gears is so damn gratifying
So damn gratifying knocking ‘em into the giant gears
Exhibit A: Well-timed duck, bravo! Exhibit B: Someones been skipping Squat Day
Exhibit A: Well-timed duck, bravo!
Exhibit B: Someone’s been skipping Squat Day
Axel Hawk reminds me of King Hippo from Punch-Out
Axel Hawk reminds me of King Hippo from Punch-Out
Ah, such sweet sadistic memories :P
Ah, such sweet sadistic memories :P
Looks like he messed with the bull
Looks like he messed with the bull
Make that 25 YEARS now! And counting
Make that 25 YEARS now! And counting
I like how it borrowed inspiration from World Heroes
I like how it borrowed inspiration from World Heroes
Talk about a hilarious sight gag
Tung Fu Rue: “I’M TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!”

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BONUS QUESTION

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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.

Would have been ho-hum without the plane system
Would have been meh without the two planes
Love making it just in the nick of time
Love making it just in the nick of time
Second one is similar, just swapped out with bricks
Second one is similar, just swapped out with bricks
Its not Capcoms car, but its not too shabby
It’s not Capcom’s car, but it’s not too shabby

GHOST STORIES, DEBAUCHERY AND MORE

In the wrestling biz that's known as great selling
In the wrestling biz that’s known as great selling
Ouch, I guess no Little Bears will be running around
Ouch, I guess no Little Bears will be running around

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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?

Beware of The Woman With No Feet...
Beware 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!

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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…”

WHOA... maybe Kim is the missing father!?
WHOA… maybe Kim is the missing father!?
Missing his foot, too! Is this how the missing dad died?!
Missing his foot too! Is this how the missing dad died?
Paper screens in Jubei's stage offers plenty of hi-jinx
Paper screens in Jubei’s stage offers plenty of hi-jinx
Hard to believe that film was almost 20 years ago!
Hard to believe that film was almost 20 years ago!
WHAT?! I would *never* do anything juvenile
WHAT?! I would *never* do anything juvenile
[Of course. Jubei... more like Pee-wee M I RITE -Ed.]
[Of course. Jubei… more like Pee-wee M I RITE -Ed.]
Press X, A, R -- oops... Ryo was in Fatal Fury Special
Hmm, where have I seen and heard this before?
Ah, right
Ah, right

ACTION FIGURE-O-RAMA!

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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!

Those 2-4 weeks were also spent wondering who Id get
Those 2-4 weeks were also spent wondering who I’d get

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).

Stamps in 2019: 55 cents. Stamps in 1994: 29 cents
Stamps in 2019: 55 cents. Stamps in 1994: 29 cents

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.

One day before 2002. Damn, feels like a lifetime ago
One day before 2002. Damn, feels like a lifetime ago
Good times we shared. Bubble baths, long walks, ah [Im not one to judge but er... -Ed.]
Good times we shared. Bubble baths, long walks, ah
[I’m not one to judge but errr… -Ed.]
Great stuff, TAKARA!
Great stuff, TAKARA!

GREAT JOB WIL OVERTON!

Wil Overton designed the amazing Super Play covers
Wil Overton designed the amazing Super Play covers
Wil's attention to detail was IMPECCABLE
Wil’s attention to detail was IMPECCABLE

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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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.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8.5
Longevity: 8.5

Overall: 8.5

Double Silver Award
Double Silver Award

 

 

 

106 MEGS OF POWER
106 MEGS OF POWER!

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.

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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.

Fatal Fury franchise belongs on Neo Geos Mt. Rushmore
Fatal Fury series belongs on Neo Geo’s Mt. Rushmore
Until we meet again, Bogard brothers!
Until we meet again, Bogard brothers!

Claymates (SNES)

Pub: Interplay | Dev: Visual Concepts | March 1994 | 8 MEGS
Pub: Interplay | Dev: Visual Concepts | March 1994 | 8 MEGS

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?

Love it or hate it, Clay Fighter was a big deal in '93
Love it or hate it, Clay Fighter was a big deal in ’93
Could Claymates carry that momentum over into 1994?
Can Claymates carry that momentum over into 1994?

ExClayMa4

Pretty sizable stages indeed
Pretty sizable stages indeed
You begin as Clayton but can morph into 5 animals
You begin as Clayton but can morph into 5 animals
Oozy actually may be faster than Sonic the Hedgehog...
Oozy actually may be faster than Sonic the Hedgehog
All 5 animals have their own special charm to them
All 5 animals have their own special charm
There's not a single one I found useless or annoying
There’s not a single one I found useless or annoying
Some helpful items
Some helpful items
More on the weird robots later...
More on the weird robots later…
I like when a game features different bonus levels
I like when a game features different bonus stages
Simple good fun that puts your reflexes to work
Simple good fun that puts your reflexes to work

ExClayMa13

ExClayMa14

THE STORY GOES…

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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.

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Citizen Kane this ain’t, but this is a 25 year old Super Nintendo video game we’re talking about here :P

PLAYING WITH CLAY

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunday morning strolls are the best… that is until two weasels crash the party.

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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.

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Continue markers and collapsing bridges… hey, you can’t always be original.

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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.

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Electrical charges zipping along the exposed wires will keep Muckster on his toes, er, paws. After traveling high above ground, make your way underground.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*shakes fist* “These here tunnels be big enough for only one of US! A waterspout sends you to your first boss encounter…

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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.

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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…

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Although it looks like you can, Muckster sadly took ducking lessons from Mega Man…

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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.

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Surrounded by deadly piranhas and razor sharp spikes, you best better catch that ride and catch it fast!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Mallards are cranky and testy. Punch them out of their misery.

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Where’s Martin Brody when you need him, eh? Enter those small wooden doors for a nice little surprise.

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Leader of the Pacific, Corky the Clam is a tough customer to crack. Keep your distance and shoot from afar whenever possible.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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Globmeister is the only one who can dig, which allows you to explore new playing areas below the surface.

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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.

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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!

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Clayton finds himself in Africa. That giant rotating coin there evokes memories of Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Things get a lot tougher in Africa. Obstacles and projectiles come flying at you from every which direction.

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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…

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Claymates turns into a horizontal space shooter!

INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN GREENSTONE

ExClayMa1

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.

IntCM2

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.

IntCM3

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.

IntCM5

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.

Interplay gave Claymates the shaft in lieu of this...
Interplay gave Claymates the shaft in lieu of this…

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?

This ad cites March '94...
This ad cites March ’94…

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.

Claymates sadly was forced to sit on the shelf...
Sadly, Claymates was forced to sit on the shelf…

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.

When Brian originally stated EA, he meant Interplay
Brian meant Interplay when he originally stated EA

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.

ClaymatesBox

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.

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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.].

Blaze Processing!
BLAZE PROCESSING!!!

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.

Warps make life a bit easier
Warps make life a bit easier

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.

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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!

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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.

Indeed, the ads were creative and colorfuk
Indeed, the ads were creative and colorful

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.

As a kid it hyped me up to play each of the animals
As a kid these individual ads got me super hyped
Hook, line and sinker...
Hook, line and sinker…

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?

Like a bad good acid trip...
Like a bad good acid trip…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gotta love those interpromotional crossovers!
Gotta love inter-promotional crossovers!

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.

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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.

IntCM18

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.

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Thank you Brian Greenstone for answering my questions and thanks for programming this underrated SNES platformer :)

Here's to a sequel yet!
Here’s to a sequel yet!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

ClayMaCT

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%.

EGM
Don’t show that first sentence to Brian Greenstone…
Oh c'mon Super Play. Fun gameplay > lack of longevity
C’mon Super Play. Fun gameplay > lack of longevity
Red: Graphics and Animation. Green: Music Yellow: Gameplay. Blue: Level of Difficulty
Red: Graphics and Animation. Green: Music
Yellow: Gameplay. Blue: Level of Difficulty

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!

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

ExClayMa2

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!

IntCM9

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.

IntCM12

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

AwardOverall: 7.5
Bronze Award

D'OH!
D’OH!

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 :P

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Publisher and Developer: Nintendo | October 27, 2017
Publisher & Developer: Nintendo | October 27, 2017

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

PlayMario

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.

Poor Mario
Poor Mario

THE ODYSSEY BEGINS

I'm a sucker for an atmospheric moon shot
I’m a sucker for an atmospheric moon shot
And boy are there a lot of moons in this game...
And boy are there a lot of moons in this game…

SupMarO3

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.

I love gawking at the luscious waterfalls
I love gawking at the luscious waterfalls

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!

Yay, my first Power Moon (of many to come). 6/19/18
My first Power Moon of many to come. 6/19/18
A holy shit worthy moment indeed
Holy shit O_O

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.

SupMarO8

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.

Cappy gives you his 2 cents now and again
Cappy gives you his 2 cents now and again
Takes me back to the '80s :)
Takes me back to the ’80s :)
1985 meets 2017... and it's a marriage made in Heaven
1985 meets 2017… and it’s a marriage made in Heaven
Such a nice nod to the first game
Such a nice nod to the first game
More warp pipe 2D fun
More warp pipe 2D fun
Where your prize is yet another Power Moon
Where your prize is yet another Power Moon

SupMarO15

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.

Mini games like this can be surprisingly fun
Mini games like this can be surprisingly fun
Never gets old when Mario goes OLD SCHOOL!
Never gets old when Mario goes OLD SCHOOL!
So much nostalgic fun mixed in with the new
So much nostalgic fun mixed in with the new
Metal Mario Storm?!
Metal Mario Storm?!
Behold... the Inverted Pyramid!
Behold… the mysterious Inverted Pyramid!

SupMarO21

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.

Mario runs into the screen Crash Bandicoot style
Mario runs into the screen Crash Bandicoot style :D
Somewhere Uncle Scrooge is green with envy
Love the sound effect it makes when you collect ‘em!
Cloud Kingdom sees our first tangle with Bowser
Cloud Kingdom sees our first tangle with Bowser
Metro Kingdom and New Donk City are mind-blowing
Metro Kingdom and New Donk City are mind-blowing
Mixing in real people was as bold as it was brilliant
Mixing in real people was as bold as it was brilliant

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.

100 Power Moons in the book!
100 Power Moons in the book!
Love the Bowser emoji
Love the Bowser emoji
The city has been littered with Bowser's propaganda
The city has been littered with Bowser’s propaganda

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.

Only that one time back in 1996...
Well, there was that one time back in 1996…
Batman would be proud
Batman would be proud
Holy moly
Holy moly
Try using Cappy on the tanks there...
You can use Cappy to become Tank Mario!
You're going down, Scourge of the Skyscraper!
You’re going down, Scourge of the Skyscraper!
Eradicate the Scourge and the city is liberated
Eradicate the Scourge and the city is liberated
There's a definite Princess Peach vibe to Mayor Pauline
There’s a definite Princess Peach vibe to Pauline
The city views are gorgeous
The city views are gorgeous
One of the most memorable moments :)
One of the most memorable moments :)

SupMarO39

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!

Moons are available at the oddest places...
Moons are available at the oddest places…
This was such a fun space to navigate Mario through
This was such a fun space to navigate Mario through
Busting a move!
Busting a move!
I never knew Mario was like only 4 feet tall
I never knew Mario was like only 4 feet tall
"Man, screw this Black Friday bull shit!"
“Man, screw this Black Friday bullshit!”
GTA vibes... nice!
GTA vibes… nice!
This is so damn satisfying
This is so damn satisfying
Oh God I hope not! I gotta play Super Mario Odyssey
Oh God I hope not! I gotta play Super Mario Odyssey
You mean, 4th of July? :P
You mean, 4th of July? :P
Fun Fact: Dixie Theater is a nod to Dixie Kong
Fun Fact: Dixie Theater is a nod to Dixie Kong
Mario is known to be quite the party animal
Mario is known to be quite the party animal
Aw, Mario is all alone. Gotta save Princess Peach pronto!
Aw, he’s all alone. Gotta save Princess Peach pronto!
Whoa, a nod to 1981 Donkey Kong!
Whoa, a nod to 1981 Donkey Kong!
It's the best of old and new school
It is New DONK City after all
It is New DONK City after all
How incredibly nostalgic in the best of ways
Some things never change :P
Some things never change :)
We're gonna have a good time tonight. Let's celebrate, it's all right! Celebration time come on!
Mario’s getting wasted tonight :P
Brrr! Snow Kingdom will freeze your balls off
Brrr! Snow Kingdom will freeze your balls off
Take a brief swim to collect the rings. Fun stuff!
Take a brief swim to collect the rings. Fun stuff!
Always a high when you just meet the bare minimum
Always a high when you barely meet the minimum
Mario and the Beanstalk!
Mario and the Beanstalk!
Seaside Kingdom offers some wacky views!
Seaside Kingdom offers some wacky views!
Love the shiny watery effect
Love the shiny watery effect
Even the coins have that distorted water look to 'em!
Even the coins have that distorted watery look!
These throwback sections are simply the best
These throwback sections are simply the best

SupMarO65

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.

Not a very subtle clue...
Not a very subtle clue…
Too close for cigar
Too close for cigar
Hmm, Mario or Master Higgins?
Hmm, Mario or Master Higgins?
Yer going down, Squidward!
Yer going down, Squidward!
Earn 3 Moon Shards for your troubles
Earn 3 for your troubles
Luncheon Kingdom earns points for creativity
Luncheon Kingdom earns points for creativity
Not exactly the best place for a dieting plumber
It’s so hot that poor Mario can hardly stand it
Ruined Kingdom features a menacing dragon boss
Ruined Kingdom features a menacing dragon boss
Shades of King Ghidorah
Damn
You got him!
You got him!
Scratch that...
Spoke too soon…
Love it when the screen moves over like that
Love it when the screen moves over like that
Good stuff
Good stuff
Bowser's Kingdom is a beautiful but deadly fortress
Bowser’s Kingdom is a beautiful but deadly fortress
Old school 2D Mario on a Shoji panel screen? Brilliant!
Old school Mario on a Shoji panel screen? Brilliant!
That Bowser is such a tease
That Bowser is such a tease
Broodal fireworks is a nice touch
Broodal fireworks is a nice touch
At last we arrive at the Moon Kingdom
At last we arrive at the Moon Kingdom
After beating him, use Cappy to take control of Bowser
After beating him, use Cappy to control Bowser!
Nintendo was too smart to pass on this opportunity
It’s a dream come true
Breathe fire at those bricks!
Destroy bricks by blowing fire
WHOAAAAAA!!
WHOAAAAAA!!…
What a freaking game
What a freaking game
But wait, it's not over yet...
But wait, it’s not over yet…
It's the Mushroom Kingdom!
It’s the Mushroom Kingdom!
What a lovely nod to Super Mario 64!
What a lovely nod to Super Mario 64 :)

CLOSING THOUGHTS

SupMarO6

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!

SupMarO92

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.

SupMarO91

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.

OVERALL: 10

Goombas!
Goombas! Truly, the package is now complete