As a kid I had almost zero interest in RPGs. My brother loved them but I had the ignorant opinion that they were slow and boring. Now opinions are opinions and I would never call someone who dislikes the genre “ignorant.” However, I say ignorant for myself only because I judged an entire genre without giving it a chance. Ironically, I now love RPGs as much as any other gaming genre. My first foray into the RPG realm came courtesy of Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (December 2007). Although certainly a flawed game, I had one hell of a good time. Naturally, it made too much sense to have my second RPG experience be Final Fantasy II. In some ways you could say that Final Fantasy II marked my first “real” RPG (if you don’t count Mystic Quest as a legit RPG which some folks do not). Final Fantasy II was a sweeping and grand adventure; what follows below will be some thoughts and memories. Fair warning: some spoilers lie ahead so play it first before you continue on! Besides, if you haven’t already played it, you probably should.
THE STORY GOES…
Crew: Captain Cecil! We’re about to land.
Cecil: At long last!
Crew Guy 1: Pray tell, Cap, why are we stealing the crystals from innocent folk?
Crew Guy 2: That’s what we’ve been summoned to do. And that’s that.
Crew Guy 1: Do we really have to keep doing this? Captain?
Crew Guy 3: Prepare for landing!
Elder: Take the crystal if you must.
Cecil: Could have saved yourself the trouble by saying that earlier.
Elder: But consider this. Why would the King of Baron do this? Why do you pursue the crystals so eagerly?
Crew Guy 2: SHUT UP old man, or I’ll shut you up myself!
Crew Guy 1: Captain, I don’t know if we can keep doing this.
Cecil: Possessing the crystal is essential to our prosperity. More importantly, His Majesty has deemed that the Mysidians know too much about the crystal’s secrets. We are the Red Wings, the air force of the Kingdom Baron! The Royal Command is absolute.
Crew Guy 3: You sure?
Baigan: About time, Cecil! I see you have the Crystal of Water. Well done.
Cecil: Indeed. But… the Mysidians were so helpless.
Baigan: What are you trying to say?
Cecil: Well… it’s just…
Baigan: Don’t get soft on me now. You did what you had to do. Don’t overthink it, for your own sake.
Baigan: Follow me…
Baigan: Your Majesty, I’m afraid Cecil has developed a conscience and a rebellious air. I don’t think we can trust him going forward.
King: I have no room for backstabbers. I’ll take care of him swiftly.
Cecil: You called, Sir?
King: Yes! Good job, Cecil. Hand me the crystal.
Cecil: Sir, are we doing the right thing?
King: You dare question me, YOUR KING?!?
Cecil: I just want to know what’s going on.
King: Let’s cut the bullshit. I know of your discontent, Cecil. Since you no longer trust me, you cannot be commander of the Red Wings. You are dismissed from your post!
King: Take this package, and venture to Village Mist. Just remember this one thing. A man digs his own grave. Guards, get this maggot outta my sight!
Rosa: Cecil! What’s wrong? You haven’t been yourself lately.
Cecil: We had to rob the innocent folks in Mysidia.
Rosa: Oh dear…
Cecil: I’m just a Dark Knight with no courage to disobey His Majesty.
Rosa: Hmph! The real Cecil I know would never whimper like this!
Cecil: Rosa, about tomorrow…
Rosa: I know. I know. Get some rest, for tomorrow is a big day… for all of us…
In typical RPG fashion, you trek through the land in an overhead view. It’s simplistic but therein lies the beauty.
Enemies randomly crop up, taking you to this battle screen. Growing up I thought RPGs were lame and boring, but now I can’t get enough of it. Go figure!
Early on in the game, Cecil fulfills a life long dream when he legally changes his name to Steve. Hey, can you blame him? [Shush you -Ed.]
The twins, Palom and Porom, are comic relief characters to the nth degree.
This part cracks me up because we all know a nostalgic person like this in our lives who can’t shut up about their old war stories or the “good old days” [Pot, kettle, black -Ed.]
Final Fantasy II featured an intricate plot full of twists and turns that will tug at your heartstrings. You latched onto the characters; you connected with them and believed in them. There’s a certain synergy about this game that makes playing it akin to reading a really good book.
JACKPOT! Finding a bevy of treasure chests just lying around is always exciting. Your eyes just light up as you make your way around each box. Classic RPG gaming at its best.
An epic battle wages between Golbez and Tellah. Tellah has a devastating magic spell up his sleeve known simply as Meteo. It inflicts a shit ton of damage — 9,999 HP reduction to be precise. But at what cost?
In life sometimes we have to learn how to forgive those who have harmed us. We’re only hurting ourselves if we don’t. It’s more about what it does for you than it does to the person you’re forgiving. A good lesson I’ve learned over the years!
One of the many things I love about RPGs is the relationship dynamic between the group members. I particularly like it when there’s some degree of inner turmoil among the party members. It just makes things more interesting when there’s little moments of in-house bickering. They add charm to the game and are always a hoot to read. Nothing like a little good old fashioned tension among the ranks to break up the monotony of the trip.
In the end, a grand celebration is held and many old faces rejoin the fray for one big reunion bash.
I love how stupid high the numbers get in this game. HP of 5611? Why not! My final stats:
Steve L55 3699 HP 222 MP Rydia L51 1704 HP 449 MP Edge L52 2614 HP 168 MP Rosa L53 2654 HP 440 MP Kain L54 3373 HP
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Final Fantasy II was very well received by the critics. EGM gave it the Game of the Month honors, earning scores of 7, 8, 8 and 9. Super Play Magazine rated it 90%. You can’t go wrong with this game, and there’s even a small spattering of fans who prefer it to the almighty Final Fantasy III. Final Fantasy II is a well paced, story driven RPG no SNES fan can afford to miss. If you’ve somehow missed it all these years, be sure to bump it up to the top of your queue.
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest eased me into the genre, which I blindly disliked as a kid, but it was Final Fantasy II that cemented me as an RPG fan for life. I discovered, in my mid 20s, just how satisfying RPGs can be. The action may not come at you fast and furious, but the great storytelling and character dynamics make for a hell of a ride no other genre can provide. From romantic subplots to betrayal to even death, Final Fantasy II is a breathing and organic piece of art that sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the very last magic spell. You can’t ask for much more from a video game than that.
The effectiveness of its characters can often times either make or break an RPG. Thankfully, Final Fantasy II is graced from top to bottom with plenty of memorable characters. Yang, the wacky twins, Cid and Edge — just to name some — are the sort you’ll grow attached to as you go about the journey. Although Cecil is the main star here, it’s more akin to an assemble cast. Sure, the formula’s a bit simple and basic, but that’s also part of its charm. You traverse from town to town, talking with the locals, picking up clues, buying supplies, leveling up in the nearby forests and caves, and then battle a boss before moving onto the next region. It’s the storytelling aspect of these games that I admire so much. When an RPG is done right, like this one is, it sweeps you away to a far away land full of wonder and danger. It’s video game escapism at its best. Long day at work? Long holiday weekend? Nothing like popping in a quality RPG to get away from it all for a few moments. Although Final Fantasy II may be linear, doesn’t have many side quests and may even seem rather basic to more seasoned veterans of the genre, there’s an undeniable charm to the game. The story moves along at a brisk pace, the characters are endearing and it’s backed by a stellar soundtrack. If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re missing out on one of the best SNES RPGs.
In April of 1994 — 25 years ago in fact — Takara released the SNES port of Fatal Fury 2. Being one of the Neo Geo’s most popular fighting games, the original version made its debut in the arcade in 1992 and weighed in at a hefty 106 megs. The Super Nintendo conversion clocked in at 20 robust megs, arriving (arguably) right around the peak of the golden age of both fighting games and 16-bit gaming. Fatal Fury 2 proved to be a prime example of how to nail down a sequel properly, featuring more playable fighters, more special moves and enhancing virtually everything that the first Fatal Fury had to offer.
FATAL FURY ORIGINS
March 1991. A one on one fighting game revolutionized the gaming world. STREET FIGHTER II became nothing short of a phenomenon and a household name. At the time I was only 7 years old, but I can still remember it so vividly. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the Street Fighter II arcade cab. Whether it was 7-11, video rental stores, Pizza Huts or trading card shops, people lined up in droves to play it. Fatal Fury came out roughly 8 months later in November of 1991. I remember encountering Fatal Fury for the first time on a Neo Geo MVS cab. These powerhouse machines could hold up to four games, giving players the ultimate choice. The cab stood out in a crowd with its bright red exterior and four mini game posters up top. It immediately caught your eye and it was always fun to look up and see which four games were featured. Occasionally, old games got filtered out and were replaced by newer ones. There was always an element of Russian Roulette with Neo Geo MVS cabs that I loved. If you were in the arcade scene back in the early ’90s, then I know you know damn full well what I mean.
In retrospect, that time period was truly special. There was a certain magic to it. Just standing in front of an MVS cab gazing up at the four titles and watching the game demos switch on the screen before you, each game making a convincing bid for your precious quarter, was epic beyond words. Maybe part of it had to do with being young… but I really believe in my heart of hearts that that was simply a magical time in gaming that will never be duplicated ever again, period.
Fatal Fury was often wrongly accused of being a Street Fighter II clone as it came out 8 months later. Back in the day it was easy to claim that. But years later I discovered a shocking fact. The sort that debunks the gaming theories of one’s youth. The creator of Fatal Fury, Takashi Nishiyama, also created the very first Street Fighter (1987). After gaining recognition for his talents following Street Fighter, he was sought out by SNK. Nishiyama, along with many members of the development crew for the first Street Fighter, made the jump to SNK. Fatal Fury was the follow-up title in November 1991. In an interview conducted by 1UP, Nishiyama was quoted, “Fatal Fury was my Street Fighter II.” Wow. As it turns out, Fatal Fury was never a Street Fighter II wannabe. In Nishiyama’s mind, Fatal FuryWASStreet Fighter II. My bad, Mr. Nishiyama. Forgive me for the sins of my youth.
So much for Fatal Fury being a Street Fighter II clone, eh? Fatal Fury was actually in development at the same time as Street Fighter II. Fatal Fury has a special place in my gaming heart. I fondly remember it best for its 2 player co-op mode, where you and a friend can team up to fight the thugs at the same time. This gave it a unique atmosphere, almost as if it were an old kung fu flick. I have so many memories of my brother and me battling South Town’s most corrupt and dangerous villains. From the ageless Tung Fu Rue, who could morph into a muscular monster, to the enigmatic dancing Duck King. With incredibly lush and vibrant visuals, it made for a damn fine alternative whenever the Street Fighter II line went past the entrance. In some ways I even liked Fatal Fury more than Street Fighter II as a kid.
It was so cool how the levels you fought on would change from round to round. At first it’s sunny but then evening would befall the battle tested warriors. Tung Fu Rue’s stage haunts me to this day, even nearly 30 years later. The second my brother and I saw those heavy raindrops falling from the sky, complete with ominous thunder and lightning, we didn’t know whether to wind our watches or crap our pants. I remember standing there at Safeway completely frozen in awe. To this day it remains one of my fondest gaming memories. Another night I recall fondly occurred either in late ’91 or early ’92. Fatal Fury just came out and my uncle took us to a mom and pop rental shop. We rented WWF Survivor Series 1991. My brother and I were so hyped to see the championship match pitting the Immortal Hulk Hogan against the impervious Undertaker. But instead of rushing home as we normally would following a WWF tape rental, we found ourselves fixated on tag teaming against Tung Fu Rue as the arcade screen rained cats and dogs.
Our uncle, being the awesome uncle that he was, stood by the arcade cab cheering us on. Not many games could put Hulkamania on hold, but there was something special about Fatal Fury that resonated with me. Those colorful backgrounds and their wondrous transitions haunt me to this very day!
While flawed, Fatal Fury was a fun game in its own right. While Street Fighter II featured smoother gameplay and placed an emphasis on combos, Fatal Fury (from Nishiyama’s own words) “focused more on storytelling and special moves.” Although Fatal Fury lacked a combo system, it did feature some amazing special moves. Since there were no combos, you had to rely on pulling off your special moves at just the right time in order to gain the upper hand. Special moves are the lifeblood of Fatal Fury. Fatal Fury also had a pretty good story. You play as one of the Bogard brothers (Terry and Andy) or Joe Higashi. Your goal: avenge your father’s death. The man responsible: South Town’s crime lord, Geese Howard! Sure it sounds simple, but there is much beauty in simplicity.
As was the case back in those days, one could only dream of owning the mega expensive Neo Geo system. Therefore, most of us mere mortals had to rely on sized down 16-bit conversions that were either hit or miss (often times seemingly more miss than hit). Sadly, Fatal Fury was a massive miss. My brother and I were ecstatic seeing it previewed in the vaunted pages of EGM in early 1993, but a small part of our childhood died when we finally played it months later. I won’t even bother to review it. It’s a super disappointing conversion, eliminating the 2-on-1 game mode that made the original so damn fun and appealing.
At first glance, it looks promising. Although obviously scaled down visually, it looks pretty damn good for a 1993 Super Nintendo game. It captures the lush and vibrant colors of the arcade. F’rinstance, Andy’s massive energy wave looks fairly on point. But beyond excluding the 2-on-1 mode, the gameplay suffered due to its terrible control. The sound quality was poor as well. It was a far cry from the arcade original and that made me very sad as a kid.
ROUND 2… FIGHT!!
Following the “death” of Geese Howard at the end of the first tournament, a new leader stepped in. And not just any Average Joe [Higashi -Ed.], it was actually Geese’s half-brother, the vile Wolfgang Krauser! Talk about keeping it in the family…
HIDING IN PLANE SIGHT
The first Fatal Fury didn’t allow you to manually switch planes. But here you can, and it’s much better this way. It added in a wrinkle and made battles more strategic.
The six buttons on the SNES controller was fully utilized. Instead of pressing two buttons to switch planes like in the arcade, all you had to do here was push R. Nice! So while the arcade original is obviously superior, little tweaks like this made the SNES port easier to play in some ways.
Projectiles are much easier to avoid, and thus a bit devalued as a result.
A few stages have their own unique gimmick. On one stage you can shatter paper screens or “hide” behind them, making you feel like you’re in a Bruce Lee film. There are other stages where you can even send your rival into various hazards in the background, causing extra harm. More on that later…
Everyone can jump back to avoid attacks. Also, anyone can crouch while moving forward at the same time. Not just for the more agile fighters but everyone, including Big Bear. There are also counterattacks. All of this made Fatal Fury 2 a much deeper game than its predecessor.
Although home ports could never match the faithfulness of its arcade original, home bonuses such as the Elimination Mode was always a welcome sight.
LET THE TOURNAMENT BEGIN
THE KING OF FIGHTERS
It’s nowhere near as iconic as Ryu’s dojo rooftop but it’s memorable in its own right. Battling on a roaring railroad train, the passing scenery is majestic but the action is brutal and barbaric. Few landmarks scream AMERICANA more than Mount Rushmore, which you can catch a glimpse of in all its sweet glory.
Overlooking the exquisite sights of Italy, combatants wage war on a boat that’s anything but the Love Boat. As stated earlier, Andy’s always been my guy [Who are you, Woody? -Ed.] when it comes to the Fatal Fury franchise. He’s got the coolest special moves in (South) town…
Set in a quaint Thailand village, the hardworking women look on as they cheer their local champ who is anything but an ordinary Joe [You just had to, didn’t you? -Ed.]
Japan is well known for its bustling night life but Mai prefers to whup your ass on this private wooden raft. Gorgeous waterfalls and exotic statues grace the background.
Proud of his Korean roots, Kim shows off his skills in a busy part of town that showcases Korea’s rich sense of culture and tradition while also embracing modern sensibilities. Best of all, this stage is home to a hilarious sight gag. Timed precisely, you can knock the elderly off their bikes! Talk about some dark humor…
I love how Jubei kicks off his wooden clogs right before each fight, and how big they appear as they fly into the screen. Speaking of screen, his stage is one of my favorites because of all the paper screens. They’re irresistibly fun to mess around with, whether you’re “hiding” behind one or busting through one!
Hong Kong makes for a gorgeous backdrop. The skyline is absolutely breathtaking, and it’s awesome to see it transition from early evening to late evening between rounds.
The big Aussie, proud of his digs, wrestles all foolish challengers in the Australian outback. Having earned a large following, a small legion of his most fervent fans cheer on the big man as he attempts to rip apart his latest victim. All about branding, Big Bear even has his own personal big rig on full display. Raiden who?
DESPERATION SUPER SPECIAL MOVES
Fatal Fury 2 introduced desperation moves. These super moves, often featuring a complicated command, can only be performed once your energy bar is low and flashing. They are powerful and hard to pull off.
“YOU AIN’T THE BOSS OF ME!” [OH YES I AM, ACTUALLY -ED.]
For fighting games back in the early to mid ’90s, the inherent thrill of a home port was undoubtedly the strong possibility of a boss code. The very idea of playing as the boss characters at home — you know, the same ones that kicked your ass in the arcade — was titillating. Sure, home ports back then could never dream to approach the lofty standards set by their arcade original, but the really good ports were able to capture the spirit of the arcade while providing you with some awesome home bonuses. Look no further than Fatal Fury 2 which has a handy code allowing players to use any of the 4 bosses, expanding the roster from 8 to 12. Talk about a fantastic Easter egg!
An ominous fog permeates in the background. Watch out for those massive cogwheels — Billy Kane can smack you into them causing extra damage. Of course, this means you can do the same to him…
Balrog, you say? Never! At any rate, Axel Hawk (what a name) is a mean sucker who uses his environment to his advantage. He can pound you into the electric ropes, zapping you of whatever will remains in your bruised and battered body. But similar to Billy Kane, you can do the same…
Those stampeding bulls don’t discriminate. In the words of Richard Vernon (played by Paul Gleason), “Don’t mess with the bull — you’ll get the horns.”
Wolfgang’s elegance and refined taste is on full display here. This is the only boss stage without a background hazard. It’s actually quite fitting and symbolic. Just like Heisenberg, Wolfgang Krauseris the danger and the one who knocks.
When you finally dethrone the bastard, he goes out in dramatic fashion á la The Nature Boy, Ric Flair!
ADDING INSULT TO INJURY
Besides the boss code, what was a guaranteed staple of fighting games from the early ’90s? If you said the obligatory bonus stage, bingo! Fatal Fury 2 has two. The first appears after Round 4 and the second after Round 8.
GHOST STORIES, DEBAUCHERY AND MORE
I love a good ghost story. When I was a kid my uncle would regale us with his tales of terror and all things that go bump in the night. He spoke in a way that evoked haunting images in my soul, sending a wave of shivers up and down my spine. You’ve probably heard various stories about the Boogeyman or the Wendigo, but have you ever heard the story of The Lady With No Feet?
In Korea there is an infamous legend of a ghost woman and her two young ghost children wandering the streets in desperate search of the woman’s husband. Thousands of eye witnesses over the years have claimed to see them passing by on dark cold nights. The legend goes, the mom has walked so much that her feet fell off!
One anonymous man had this to say, “One night I was walking home per usual. Suddenly I felt a blast of cold air devouring me. I gazed up and there she was. I asked if she needed help but then I looked down and saw she had no feet. Frozen in terror, I watched in horror as she proceeded to float right through me. As she passed by I heard the awful wailing of “WHERE ARE YOU, MY LOVE?” Her two children skipped around me singing a lullaby, emotionless. By the time I turned around they were all gone. Vanished. Without a trace. And ever since that night I have never walked that path again… the Lady With No Feet is still out there… somewhere in the darkness. She’s watching… waiting… right behind you…”
Instead of your standard gaming advertisement to promote Fatal Fury 2, Takara ran a rather clever promo. They offered free miniature one inch Fatal Fury 2 action figures. It was a brilliant piece of business. Or maybe it was just Takara’s little way of saying sorry for the first Fatal Fury port. At any rate, I absolutely ate this up as a 10 year old kid at the time. I waited 2-4 weeks for my random action figure to arrive. In the meantime I was even more hyped for the pending arrival of Fatal Fury 2. So it worked like gangbusters. Genius marketing by Takara!
You didn’t know which of the 12 fighters you were going to get so that added to the excitement. To this day I wonder how many of these little bastards were made and how many are in homes today — relics kept from one’s childhood. I’m curious to see what the rest of the figures look like. From the four I’ve seen, the detail on these small figures were actually quite phenomenal especially considering they were free (more or less, not counting the two 29 cent stamps required).
I wanted Andy Bogard of course. My brother said if I got Terry that it would be his to keep. What a punk. It turned out to be a moot point in the end as a blue Wolfgang Krauser greeted me in my mailbox roughly a month later. I had the little guy for the next 7 years until I traded him away in a package deal along with Golden Axe: The Duel for the rights to Street Fighter Collection (Sega Saturn) via GameTZ on December 31, 2001. Damn, that was eons ago. I kind of wish now that I had kept the little blue guy. Oh well.
GREAT JOB WIL OVERTON!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Fatal Fury 2 did well with the critics. It earned EGM’s Game of the Month honor in issue #58 (May 1994). EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 8 and 8. Super Play rated it a respectable 79%. It was arguably the first Neo Geo port on the SNES that garnered praise and recognition for being a faithful and solid translation.
After seeing Fatal Fury 2 earn EGM Game of the Month honors, my brother gave me the go ahead to rent it as soon as possible. As my brother and I booted it up, I could feel a certain unspoken level of trepidation between the both of us. I think part of us, despite the rave review from EGM, still expected the worst. That’s how bad the first Fatal Fury port was — we were scarred. But I’m very happy to say the sequel passed with flying colors. SNES owners finally had a Fatal Fury worth playing on their Super Nintendo.
25 years ago I viewed Fatal Fury 2 highly. 25 years later I still think it holds its own quite well. Graphically it captured the essence of its arcade brethren. Visuals are lush, vibrant and colorful. Some desperation moves, such as Joe Higashi’s towering tornado which goes from top to bottom, are a sight to behold. Control wise, while it doesn’t have the perfect control of Street Fighter II, it’s fairly precise. Sure, the music and sound could be a bit better but it plays well, thus making combat easy and fun to play. The boss code is the icing on an already well made cake. Adding 4 new fighters to the fray made Fatal Fury 2 a serious contender and one that fighting game fans could truly sink their teeth into.
With 12 fighters to pick from, a unique two plane battle system, memorable backgrounds, and plenty of cool special moves and devastating super specials, Fatal Fury 2 is quite the package. I liked it a lot back then and I still like it now. Although long gone are the days where one had to rely on the Super Nintendo for their Neo Geo fix, it doesn’t change the fact that this was a very competent port for its time. Fatal Fury 2 proved that not all hope was lost when these arcade monsters were ported over to the SNES, and that the possibility of capturing the essence and spirit of the arcade original was feasible.
I still throw Fatal Fury 2 in my SNES for a few rounds every now and again. The SNES controller’s six button layout allows me to experience the game in a way different from the arcade, which earns the SNES port major cookie points with me. You also had some awesome home bonuses like the Elimination Mode, handicap levels and of course the boss code, which made it feel more like Fatal Fury 2½. It’s just a great effort all around, and one that made me forgive TAKARA for the atrocity that was the first Fatal Fury port. And that’s saying a lot!
Over the years you might have noticed that I always list the meg count of every SNES game I review. There’s a good reason for that. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by MEG count. The Neo Geo had some ridiculous 100+ meg games, and as a kid it was always fun to see how big a certain SNES game was. The meg count varied on the Super Nintendo from 2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 24, 32 and 48. For sure, the size of a game does NOT indicate how good it is. Some of the best SNES games are only 4 megs. Some still look great for their lack of megs while others boast a much higher meg count but look far worse. It was just part of the fun back in those days.
20 megs was my favorite of the lot. 20 is a nice round number, and there weren’t many SNES games that were 20 megs. Less than 10. Speaking of 10, 10 MEG games are a close second favorite. There were only a small handful of them. I remember when Final Fight 2 first came out, my friends and I wondered to ourselves, “How many megs? 8 or 16?” Then you read in EGM or GameFan only to find out it was neither. Instead it was 10 MEGS. You couldn’t help but chuckle as 10 was a very uncommon meg count. In homage of those good old days, I make it a point to cite the meg count of each game off the bat! It’s just something I love to do, and I feel it’s all part of preserving the history of the Super Nintendo.
This month Claymates celebrates 25 years. Sadly, it never turned into the big hit that the people behind it a quarter of a century ago were hoping for. And even to this day, for the most part, it flies under the SNES radar. But the question is, does it deserve to? In this gamer’s humble estimation, the answer is a resounding NO. Claymates is quite a fun and unique game that rises above the average SNES platformer. Right off the bat you can’t help but notice its claymation look. But most notable of all is the ability to morph into one of five different animals — all with varying abilities — and levels brilliantly crafted with those creatures in mind. By the way, I interviewed the programmer of Claymates, Brian Greenstone, and that Q&A can be found toward the end of this review. Many thanks, Brian! Happy 25th anniversary
CLAY… HERE TO STAY?
THE STORY GOES…
Mudville, USA. Clayton is zapped into a blue clay ball by the vicious Jobo. The witch doctor then kidnaps Clayton’s father Professor Putty. Clayton’s day just went from bad to worse, and it’s up to him to save his dad, himself and Mudville by gaining back possession of the magical serum.
Citizen Kane this ain’t, but this is a 25 year old Super Nintendo video game we’re talking about here
PLAYING WITH CLAY
Finding yourself in Clayton’s yard, the game thankfully doesn’t look like that for long. It’s more or less an overhead map screen with some puzzles thrown in, but more on that in a bit. By the way, does Clayton live by an amusement park or something? O_o
Starting out as Clayton, your life is brittle and bleak. Your only form of offense is a giant fist. Luckily, there’s a gray ball nearby that turns you into Oozy the frenetic mouse. Leap through random tree holes collecting red gems, complete with a lovely mini explosion of sparks once procured, and jump on bouncers to send our plucky field mouse sky high.
Sandwiched between two bouncers, the poor rodent’s fragile body is deflected back and forth like a scorching pinball. You can almost feel his bones rattling, his tiny teeth chattering as he is flung from one bouncer to the next. When you come across a new animal form, it’s a hint that you should probably take the bait as the next section is sure to have terrain most suitable to your latest transformation.
Muckster climbs trees to reach otherwise unreachable goodies. Later on, you can switch back to the mouse if you wish. His bark is actually stronger than his bite.
Successfully bounce off all the squares one at a time to win. Sounds easy, right? Until you factor in that with each bounce it gets faster and faster.
Following the conclusion of each stage, there’s a brief puzzle that must be solved before you can enter the next level. A pair of mindless robots wander around aimlessly. You’re tasked with manipulating the environment in order to steer them toward the weapons required to clear the path. I have mixed feelings about this gimmick. I liked it initially, but it grew a bit old after a while and I just wanted to jump into the action. Still, I give them credit for trying something slightly different.
Sunday morning strolls are the best… that is until two weasels crash the party.
Smiling clouds abound as though it were a Nintendo game. Throughout the history of civilization, cats and dogs have struggled to get along. Claymates doesn’t attempt to change that.
Continue markers and collapsing bridges… hey, you can’t always be original.
Overhead power lines are a dangerous place for an itty bitty mouse to be. Unless of course, that mouse happens to be Oozy and his powerful bark.
Electrical charges zipping along the exposed wires will keep Muckster on his toes, er, paws. After traveling high above ground, make your way underground.
Muckster’s casual stroll, complete with his head held high, captures your typical feline attitude to a tee. You revert back to Clayton (the blue bouncing ball) if damaged in animal form, where you’re then just one hit away from death. I love the pinball effect that those bouncers induce. So damn satisfying.
Enemies ramp up, so be sure to grab that second Muckster power-up. Since you’re already Muckster, you don’t transform. Instead, you can now throw a clay ball a short distance that boomerangs back. It also gives you an extra hit to play with. Good stuff.
Linger around these shady underground tunnels long enough and you just might run into doppelgängers decked out in red carrying scissors. Shout out to Jordan Peele! Multiple passageways await as you ricochet off the bouncers to make your way back up to the surface.
*shakes fist* “These here tunnels be big enough for only one of US!“ A waterspout sends you to your first boss encounter…
Thankfully you can morph into Globmeister before the battle with Big Ben, a floppy-eared clay hound of hulking proportions! The chipmunk hurls acorns aplenty, making short work of the colossal canine.
Following the victory over Big Ben, Clayton clambers into a cannon and is shot across the globe where he lands in the great Pacific. Hmm, I smell salty water…
Although it looks like you can, Muckster sadly took ducking lessons from Mega Man…
Ricocheting off bouncers like a pinball never gets old. The Pacific introduces us to a new animal friend, Goopy. He spits air bubbles and can stay on dry land for only 10 seconds.
Surrounded by deadly piranhas and razor sharp spikes, you best better catch that ride and catch it fast!
Whew… just made it! Piranhas aren’t shy to jump so keep an eye out. Later on, you find yourself swinging precariously over a bed of spikes.
Clayton is slow moving and offers very little defense in his clay ball form. Find the next animal morph ASAP. Good news: you’ve found Goopy. Bad news: just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…
Claymates has two different bonus stages. This is the second type. Is it just me or does the first shot there remind anyone else of Uniracers? (Although Uniracers came out about six months later). I much prefer the first bonus stage shown earlier. This one can go on for too long, wearing out its welcome, and the physics feel slightly off.
Mallards are cranky and testy. Punch them out of their misery.
Where’s Martin Brody when you need him, eh? Enter those small wooden doors for a nice little surprise.
Leader of the Pacific, Corky the Clam is a tough customer to crack. Keep your distance and shoot from afar whenever possible.
Corky’s giant eyes are taken out one at a time. I’m a huge sucker for video games that feature deterioration damage on its bosses, which not nearly enough games do.
Clayton never once imagined in his wildest dreams that he would ever end up in the Land of the Rising Sun, yet here he is. Adventure beckons!
Samurais litter the Ooze Garden. [I wonder if one of them is Oroku Saki -Ed.]. They’re fast suckers and the katana’s long reach makes them a lethal foe. You can morph into Doh-Doh, a bird that can fly for a brief bit provided you get a running start.
Mighty winds give life to paper lanterns, allowing you just enough time to use them to reach the top. Morph into Mucky and get ready for a ride so wet and wild that even Schlitterbahn would envy.
Muckster shows off his great leaping ability, but haste makes waste. Having the clay ball power-up is huge, especially in areas of play where there’s very little room for error.
Temporary invincibility is always appreciated. A bevy of irascible samurais guard the stage exit. If your clay ball doesn’t get the job done, just keep swiping. It’s a numbers game and sooner or later you’ll get a hit [Are we still talking about Claymates, or online dating here? -Ed.]
Globmeister is the only one who can dig, which allows you to explore new playing areas below the surface.
Platformer Rule #72: The collectibles in your game MUST, at some point, be placed in the form of an arrow. Rule #89: Falling objects must be present. In this case, lanterns filled with explosives apparently, since they explode upon impact.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE! We’ve got fun and games. We got everything you want honey. We know the names! We are the people that can find whatever you may need. If you got the money, honey we got your disease!
Clayton finds himself in Africa. That giant rotating coin there evokes memories of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Things get a lot tougher in Africa. Obstacles and projectiles come flying at you from every which direction.
Globmeister’s life must be flashing before his very eyes. Muckster too, for that matter. Jobo is the boss of Africa, but the game isn’t over after defeating him. There’s one more place you must traverse…
Claymates turns into a horizontal space shooter!
INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN GREENSTONE
The programmer of Claymates, Brian Greenstone, was nice enough to participate in an extensive Q&A. The following interview was conducted on August 4, 2015. Enjoy.
Me: How did Claymates come to be?
BG: This was my very first Super Nintendo game that I was hired to do straight out of college. I had already made a lot of games for the Apple II and Apple IIGS, but this was a whole different ball game for me, so I had a lot to learn from day one. The idea was originally my boss’, and he wanted to do a claymation game. I forget how he got hooked up with this claymation firm, but the people we hired were really good, and they helped a lot in the design.
Me: How long was development?
BG: I believe this was a 9 or 10 month project. That was fairly typical of SNES games at the time.
Me: What were some pros and cons working on a game that relied purely on claymation?
BG: The main issue was memory space and color palettes. Both were very limited on the SNES. The company that did the actual claymation for us supplied us with each frame of animation, and then it was up to our artists to reduce those frames to something usable with the 256 color palette that we had available. One other issue was that if anything went wrong it was very hard to fix, and adding new animations required going back to the claymation company and waiting for them to do it. In a normal game the artist would simply sit down and draw a few new frames of animation by lunchtime, but not so for claymation.
Me: There’s some confusion online about the North American release date. Wikipedia has it listed as April 1993 and some folks swear by that. [Note: As of March 2019, it’s since been changed to April 26, 1994]. Others claim first quarter of 1994. GameFAQs has it as March 1994. Please clear the air: when exactly did Claymates first hit store shelves in the US?
BG: My memory is a little foggy on the exact date, but what happened was that the game was shown at CES and was a big hit. The game was supposed to be released shortly thereafter, but around the same time Visual Concepts began work on Clay Fighter, another claymation game. At the time fighting games were huge, so Interplay, the publisher, wanted to hold off releasing Claymates and wait for Clay Fighter to be completed instead. This took a very long time — in the meantime Claymates sat on the shelf. Additionally, the original name of the game was “Animal Exchange” — at least that was the working title. Interplay wanted to call it Claymates, and we objected strongly. That name was absolutely horrible, so when it finally did get released (probably in 1993) it didn’t do well. Interplay gave all the attention to Clay Fighter even though Animal Exchange had won awards at various trade shows, and the name change to Claymates scared off any self-respecting kid over 8 years old.
Me: How many copies were sold?
BG: I’m not sure. I know the game was a bit of a disappointment due to Interplay’s mismanaging of the marketing.
Me: You mentioned in our Harley’s Humongous Adventure interview that you wanted Claymates to have a different name. What was that name, and was there a reason given about why EA changed it to Claymates? And, how did EA (Electronic Arts) get involved? There is no mention of EA being attached to Claymates anywhere that I know of. Did you mean to say Interplay instead?
BG: For some reason I thought it was EA, but actually the publisher was Interplay. As mentioned above, the game’s working title was Animal Exchange, and we never really thought that would be the shipping title. But then we never thought Claymates would be either. We had a whole bunch of other titles that we suggested to Interplay and they were all better than Claymates, but for some unknown reason Interplay insisted on that name, and it destroyed the game’s chances of success.
Me: The box was incredibly unique. As a kid back in the ’90s it totally stood out in a crowd! How did you feel about the box?
BG: Yeah, the box was really cool! We thought that was going to make up for the horrible title, but it didn’t. It definitely got people’s attention but it was also a very expensive thing to do for the manufacturing. The lenticular lens — the original faux 3D technology — made the box look very neat.
Me: Speaking of the box, it proudly touted BLAZE PROCESSING (obviously inspired by Sega’s Blast Processing campaign years prior). Is there a story behind this?
BG: I vaguely remember that. If I remember correctly it was all marketing BS. It didn’t actually mean anything, and I’m sure it was another Interplay marketing idea since it made no sense [Ouch -Ed.].
Me:Claymates is pretty long by genre standards. Why wasn’t there a password (or save) option? Thankfully, the three warps included throughout the game do help somewhat to mitigate that.
BG: Could you save games on SNES? Wow, it’s been so long I can’t even remember. I guess there were passwords, right? Seems we should have had that.
Me: Do you recall the ads and if so, what’s your opinion of how the game was advertised? I remember they had the fish Goopy doing a Playboy-esque spread! Clever with the “Claymate of the Month” tagline too!
BG: Despite the horrible title, the ads looked pretty good. Very colorful, and well designed. Probably the only bit of marketing that Interplay did correctly with this game.
Me: There are five animals that Clayton can morph into. Which one is your favorite and was there a rhyme or reason for the five that were chosen?
BG: The fish was my favorite simply because the actual clay model for him looked so cool! I don’t remember if there was really much rhyme or reason to the different animals other than we needed variety. The claymation guys did a bunch for us and we picked the ones we liked the most.
Me: After each stage there’s a puzzle to solve before advancing to the next stage. You had to move carts and other objects in order to manipulate the mindless robots to reach the exit. I didn’t really like it personally just because I feel it disrupts the flow of the game. What’s your opinion of those gimmick puzzles?
BG: Yeah, I don’t think I was a fan of those either. They were probably put in there to try and differentiate the game and give it some sort of bonus round type feel. From what I remember we struggled a bit with them because they used up valuable memory space that we needed for the main game.
Me: The Milky Way, the last level of the game, transforms Claymates (I suppose that is rather ironic / poetic if you think about it…) from a platformer to a space shooter. Talk about that.
BG: I think that’s the level that used the infamous “Mode 7″ on the SNES. That was the primitive pseudo-3D mode, and there wasn’t much you could do with it. Making it a space shooter was probably the only thing we could come up with that worked with the very limited resources we had. Plus, we thought it looked cool.
Me: Do you have a favorite stage or world?
BG: I’m sure I did, but after 22 years I couldn’t remember it enough to say. I just know that I enjoyed making that game, and since it was my first “professional” game out of college I was proud of every bit of it.
Me: Was a sequel ever planned?
BG: Oh, yes. We thought the game was going to be a big hit since it played so well at CES, but when Interplay destroyed it with poor marketing decisions, it ruined any chance of that sequel ever happening. They just wanted to do Clay Fighter sequels instead.
Me: It seemed like Visual Concepts and Interplay enjoyed a successful relationship with titles such as Claymates, Clay Fighter and Clay Fighter 2 AKA C2: Judgment Clay. What was working with Interplay like?
BG: It was actually very good other than the fact they ruined the game by holding off on its release, giving it a horrible title, and then completely ignoring it over Clay Fighter. They gave us everything we needed to develop the game, and they were a good company. I later worked with their Mac subsidiary MacPlay on Power Pete.
Me: Looking back on Claymates, what are you most proud of? What disappointed you? If you could magically go back to tweak some aspect of it, what might that be?
BG: Hehe, well, I’d change the horrible title. Other than that, I think for my first console game it was really good, and considering we had 128K of memory to work with we got a lot in there.
Me: In closing, any funny or memorable stories you’d like to share?
BG: I wish I could remember the name of the claymation company that did all that work [instruction manual states A-OK Animation, Angie Glocka and Owen Klatte -Ed.]. They were really great guys to work with, and it sure would be fun to do a claymation game like that nowadays. It would be such a nice break from the CG world we live in now.
Thank you Brian Greenstone for answering my questions and thanks for programming this underrated SNES platformer
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Claymates received solid reviews from the gaming magazines of its day. EGM gave it scores of 6, 7, 7, 7 and 8. EGM’s sister publication, Super NES Buyer’s Guide, rated it 80, 81 and 84%. Super Play, typically more difficult to impress, gave Claymates a very respectable 79%.
Sadly, despite pretty good reviews and a robust advertising campaign full of ’90s charm and cheese, Claymates more or less got lost in the SNES shuffle. Even to this day it doesn’t get as much recognition as it probably deserves. It has way more substance than Clay Fighter, that’s for damn sure!
Claymates, though far from perfect, has quite a bit going for it. The levels are long enough to sink your teeth into and the level design is fairly well crafted. The gimmick of morphing into five different animals all with varying abilities makes it a blast to play, even if the control isn’t super crisp. The claymation look definitely sets it apart from the rest of the pack. Although it may lack intricate details, there is a certain charm to the visuals that can’t be understated. Each animal, including Clayton himself in blue putty ball form, has its own unique attack. It’s just more satisfying to peck critters to death — or viciously hurl acorns at them until they’re vanquished — than the standard hop ‘n bop formula that so many of these games employ. So any slight deviation earns extra points in my book, especially when you essentially have six different playable characters. Variety is the spice of life!
The music in the first world sounds a bit annoying but it gets better as the game progresses. Some of the later melodies are rather catchy; there were times where I found myself humming! There is a lively and whimsical beat to the soundtrack that makes playing Claymates even more enjoyable (once you get past that first world at least). I really dig how the levels are designed around the different animals. When a new color clay ball appears, you can bet that the next stretch of that level will be based around the abilities of the new animal. This helps tremendously to keep the long levels feeling fresh and your gameplay style switches on a dime depending on the animal you are using.
Above all else, Claymates has heart. You can tell that the people involved had a lot of fun making it and weren’t afraid to take risks. Look no further than the last level which all of a sudden boldly morphs into a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up! There’s something charming about Clayton’s adventure — he goes from his small hometown of Mudville, USA, to the Pacific, Africa and even the Land of the Rising Sun. Along with his animal friends, you’ll have to guide him even to the far reaches of outer space to save the world from certain doom. It’s not the best platformer ever made but it’s fun and delightfully eccentric. I recommend Claymates if you’re looking for something quirky and under the radar!
Graphics: 8 Sound: 7 Gameplay: 7.5 Longevity: 6
Overall: 7.5 Bronze Award
SAD BUT TRUE: July 11, 2015. Saturday night. At 6:40 PM I fired up Claymates. When I finally beat the game straight through (due to a sad lack of a password or save option), I looked at the clock and it was 1:40 AM. I sat and played through Claymates for 7 long hours. Wow. That goes down in history as my single longest game playing session, beating my previous high by probably a good 3 hours or so. Insane. Of all games, Claymates! For some wacky reason, on that particular night, I was locked in. I managed to beat it although the last level took me several dozen tries it felt. I’ll probably never do that again but man was it a crazy fun night
I love beat ‘em ups. Always have, always will. From Double Dragon to Final Fight to Streets of Rage, I love me a good old fashioned side scrolling beat ‘em up. One of the most revered brawlers on the SNES is Ninja Warriors. I missed out on it back in the day and despite buying a copy 13 years ago in 2006, I finally got around to playing it earlier this month. There are simply too many good games and not enough time, so forgive me for waiting so long. My backlog is seriously insane, but I digress. Ninja Warriors on the SNES just turned 25 years old so it was the perfect time to see what the hype has been all about. Play as one of 3 robot ninjas and battle an army of villains and evildoers. Surely, it’s a formula for smashing success, no? Let’s take a look…
THE YEAR WAS 1987
Developed by Taito, Ninja Warriors began its life in the arcades in 1987. The cabinet was a massive monstrosity, one I never had the good fortune enough to witness in person. Back in the ’80s, ninjas and cyborgs were running wild. Taito had the brilliant idea of mashing the two together.
FAST FORWARD TO 1994
Some 7 years later, Taito revitalized Ninja Warriors when a remake was issued for the SNES and hit store shelves in February of 1994. It rapidly garnered positive reviews and is often considered as one of the best beat ‘em ups on the SNES.
MEET THE NINJA WARRIORS
MEET THE NINJA WARRIORS AGAIN [I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE -ED.]
NEW NINJAS ON THE BLOCK
One of the cool things about this game is the ability to block enemy attacks. It’s just too bad then that blocking is the same exact button as attacking. Not a dealbreaker by any means but with no option to adjust the buttons, it’s a bit of a bummer. Back on the right side of things, there are plenty of fun items to throw around. In fact, let’s check them out.
What could be more gratifying in a beat ‘em up than seeing that big health refill right as you’re on the verge of dying?
Plenty of fun stuff to fling at enemies. The containers are the best because they may house energy pods inside.
THE STORY GOES…
Banglar seeks to rule the world with an iron fist.
Reminiscent of Contra III: The Alien Wars! On a side note, Natsume developed the SNES remake of Ninja Warriors. That same year they also made Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The two games are eerily similar, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the same Natsume folks worked on both titles.
Somewhere, a darkened corridor lights up…
UNLEASH THE TERMINATORS!
Nothing like that classic giant scrolling title screen to get you all pumped up to kick ass.
Smashing out of a window that takes out the opposition, Ninja Warriors is off to a blazing hot start. Love seeing all those shards of glass flying every which way. The sprites are pretty big and the colors are bright and bold. So far, so good!
There’s a “Blaster” bar at the bottom that automatically charges as long as you’re not hit. Once full you can unleash a super attack that damages any enemy onscreen. I’m not a fan of the weird visual effect it produces, however. It looks like a glitch that managed to slip past the game testers.
Natsume, I like to think, learned from their mistakes and did it the right way in Power Rangers.
Unlike most beat ‘em ups, Ninja Warriors operates on a single plane. Due to this restriction, I had my concerns about crowd control. Thankfully, the protagonists can attack in such a flurry that it provides extensive coverage, taking out bad guys in front of you as well as behind.
Missiles rain down from the sky, damaging anyone caught in its wake (bad guys included). Be careful not to get stuck in the middle where enemies can gang up on you. Better yet, watch out for that missile rapidly approaching your face!
Shoulder tackles are good for clearing crowds. It’s not quite Contra III but seeing this set piece explosion on the first stage sets a good tone.
Explosions continue when you defeat this towering terminator.
Kunoichi is the fast but weak fighter of the group (to no one’s surprise).
Mindless enemies are easily lured to a grisly death (in theory, anyhow). I’m not a big blood guy, but if there was ever a time…
Leatherface would be proud! What an awesome entrance.
Chainsaw is as big as her! Son of a bitch blocks well, too.
What’s worse than dealing with a chainsaw wielding homicidal maniac? Contending with soldiers who have plenty of firepower!
Kamaitachi is my favorite of the ninjas. He’s agile enough while being able to withstand more damage than Kunoichi. Not only that but he has a cool spinning attack as well as a retractable scythe!
Beating up businessmen in suits is extra satisfying. That big fella there is the toughest of the regular enemies. He’s more or less the “Andore” of the game.
Banglar flashes intermittently on the multiple screens as the boss fades in and out. Beware of bombs!
Throwing a searchlight… points for creativity! Also love that atmospheric skyline. Later in this stage a tank comes smashing through the wall. Don’t get caught in the middle if you can help it.
Exercise crowd control by jumping to one side and kicking an enemy to take out their own. This is critical to keeping your head above water.
Insane flexibility on his part to kick that high without splitting his business slacks. A helicopter flies by launching an all-out assault. Stay out of harm’s way; the bullets will blast Banglar’s brigade!
Massive destructive energy beam aside, this boss is a joke.
Strolling through the city at night is always fun. That is, until you meet a pair of schmucks in slacks!
Remember the first boss? He’s back but now he’s a regular enemy. Avoid jumping at him or he’ll uppercut the holy hell outta ya.
Blocking and capitalizing is key to success. I love when levels transit from one scene to another, such as this seamless transition to a dojo. Any backdrop featuring Shoji screen panels is a big win in my book!
There’s something inherently beautiful about beating up thugs in a dojo. Especially when the buildings come into view at night time. Ninja Warriors has an ’80s action movie vibe to it.
Speaking of action movies from the ’80s, this boss looks like the big bad from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie!
Obviously, he’s well versed in black magic…
Destroy Banglar’s exquisite statues by sending his army through it. The key to beating Bumblebee and friends is attacking them from behind; their front defense is very strong.
Banglar! But he doesn’t stick around long. He tramples off, the bald little bastard. In his place comes two towering titans. Good luck!
Snowy levels are always nostalgic for me, as they take me right back to the days of Contra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.
Unlike most other SNES beat ‘em ups that typically max out at 3 enemies onscreen, Ninja Warriors can have up to 4. Throw them into each other to exercise crowd control.
Heaving around gas tanks lead to huge explosions. The red variant is the strongest of the regular enemies. Luckily there should be a health refill in one of those containers…
Bumblebee and friends are tough when they surround you from both sides. Knock them into each other if you can.
Experiment gone wrong… or right?
Banglar is an interesting final boss fight. You face his cronies (and his deadly laser beams) rather than Banglar himself.
Damage is inflicted only by throwing his lackeys back at him. This takes a long time and the enemies get tougher and tougher. Damn you Banglar, you chicken shit coward!
THEY RETURN… ONCE AGAIN
In September of 2018 it was announced that Ninja Warriors would be the latest retro intellectual property to be revitalized. It is set to land on the Nintendo Switch at some point in 2019. I personally cannot wait.
A proper 2 player mode and gorgeous sprite work? Count me in!
Check out the teaser trailer!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Ninja Warriors was met with high praise. EGM gave it scores of 8, 8, 8, 8 and 9. GameFan gave it ratings of 86, 87, 92and 93%. Even Super Play, who were often critical of beat ‘em ups, rated it 84%. SNES fans often cite Ninja Warriors as one of the best beat ‘em ups on the Super Nintendo.
Ninja Warriors has a lot going for it. Straight forward arcade-like action, cool ninjas, killer robots and an atmosphere plucked right out of late 1980s action movie lore. Huge detailed sprites, menacing bosses and all the classic lackey tropes you could want to beat up. Yet, for some reason I’m not over the moon for this one. It plays well and the ability to block adds depth to the core gameplay. But I’m not a huge fan of the action taking place on a single plane. Enemies can quickly crowd you and sometimes cheap hits feel impossible to avoid. Thankfully you can block bullets but I would like this game much more if it were free roaming like most other traditional beat ‘em ups. There’s a flash of utter brilliance here and there, such as giant fans being able to kill enemies or the helicopter that flies by spraying bullets unmercifully. Sadly, that’s pretty much it as far as that goes. In addition, a 2 player mode is sorely lacking.
That said, it’s still pretty good. The colors scream “1994 SNES” as they are bright, bold and easy on the eyes. There are 3 distinctly different characters and I like how the bomb attacks uses a separate meter rather than subtracting from your precious life bar. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with pummeling the various enemies and exploiting their weaknesses. The music gets the job done for the most part although it doesn’t really stand out, either. Ninja Warriors is a very worthy addition to any SNES library.
One of my favorite things about this hobby is the ability to right childhood wrongs by going back to play games that I missed out on. Ardy Lightfoot turns 25 years old this month, and it was one of those games that intrigued me as a kid. It looked like a fun game and a hidden gem. When I got back into the SNES over 13 years ago in January of 2006, Ardy Lightfoot was one of the earliest games I sought out. At that time, I’d been curious about it for 12 years. Sometimes your gut feeling about a game is right and sometimes it’s wrong. Let’s see where Ardy Lightfoot stacks up.
THE YEAR WAS 1994
I was instantly intrigued the first time I laid eyes on Ardy Lightfoot via an EGM preview guide. Sadly, my brother made most of the renting choices back in the day and “ALF” never struck his fancy like it did mine. Thus, Ardy Lightfoot (along with over a hundred other SNES games) became doomed to remain a childhood curiosity… that is, until my SNES resurgence in early 2006.
WHO IS ARDY?
AND THAT BLUE BLOB?
AND WHO, PRAY TELL, IS LIGHTFINGER?
WHAT ABOUT ARTY?
Congrats to Konami for securing the rights to Monsters, which eventually became the cult hit Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Reading tidbits like that is always a blast when revisiting the gaming magazines of yesteryear.
AND THIS GUY?
THE STORY GOES…
That awesome mini-manga was featured in the instruction manual of the Super Famicom version. The English text was translated by Kate (AKA vgperson). Thanks Kate for your awesome contribution!
Coincidentally, Titus published Ardy Lightfoot and Titus’ logo bears more than a passing resemblance to the titular hero. I like how the title screen conveys a sense of wonder and adventure. Even the font and colors are on point and all indicators, thus far, seem to point in the right direction. What could go wrong?
Introductory stage takes us through a mysterious mine.
Indiana Jones and Metroid flashbacks…
Visconti, the big bad of the game, is informed of the latest. Meanwhile, Ardy maneuvers about the cute isometric map. It makes me think of games such as Super Mario RPG, Equinox, Shadowrun and even EarthBound.
Reading the slate aloud, the old man tells us that the rainbow has been divided into seven pieces. Scattered across the land, it’ll grant the owner a wish once all seven pieces have been reunited. But before they can enjoy some tea, the local town is suddenly set ablaze!
Isometric visuals will never get old for me.
SCENE 1: MINING TOWN ABLAZE
Visconti’s goons are bombing this poor little town. Save the denizens from certain doom! Throw Pec around to clear the bad guys.
Eventually, it crashes into a water tower and Ardy goes through the hole as the old man and Nina look on with grave concern.
SCENE 2: GROUNDER’S MINE
Regular jumps won’t suffice here. Call upon Ardy’s tail spring super jump. Jump and then press the jump button again before landing to activate his springy tail. Unfortunately, it’s a bit awkward to implement and never feels as smooth as you would like.
SCENE 3: TUNNEL CHASE
Reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country… but don’t forget that Ardy Lightfoot came out a year prior. The Super Famicom version was released on November 26, 1993 while Donkey Kong Country came out precisely one year later on November 26, 1994. What are the odds?
Donkey Kong Country has it beat though in terms of which mine cart level is more interesting and fun! Some of the stages in Ardy Lightfoot are laughably short and simple — this being one of them.
Beware of falling rocks and spring tail jump him to oblivion. Pec won’t damage him and neither will regular jumps. You secure the first of seven Rainbow shards after beating him.
Mysteriously swooping in is Don Jacoby. Is he friend or foe? Make your way to the forest next.
Flashback of how Catry stole one of the precious Rainbow shards.
SCENE 4: LUMBERJACK FOREST
There’s no shortage of stars to collect here. Pec gobbles up enemies like Yoshi.
Special icons transform Pec into an inflated makeshift ride. It doesn’t last long but you’ll be able to grab otherwise unreachable items.
Platformers typically have some kind of continue marker. Step on her head and she writes furiously to record your journey. I like it a lot; it’s quirky and has that “Nintendo touch” to it. On the flip side, the game’s first truly annoying bit presents itself when you have to jump off those enemy heads in succession to safely reach the other side. They’re a bit far apart and the control is not very precise, making it unnecessarily frustrating.
Paying homage to Sonic the Hedgehog, Ardy comes screaming down the hill with incredible speed. Clear the stage and head to the tree fortress.
SCENE 5: CATRY’S TREE FORTRESS
Platforming rule #72: one must have a vertically scrolling stage. This one is a bit annoying because certain jumps require the awkward spring tail jump and some of the platforms rotate, giving you very little time to react.
Wrestle your way to the top and it’s that blasted Don Jacoby again. You’ll find a 1-UP generously placed in the chest because the upcoming boss fight can be a bit tricky at first.
Jumping on the color buttons causes a boxing glove of the matching color to extend out. Be quick on your toes!
Securing the second Rainbow shard? Not so fast. That cowardly Catry flies off with it but she ends up getting eaten by a giant worm! Crap, you got no other choice but to follow…
SCENE 6: EATEN!!
Following in the tradition of the Bonk games, Congo’s Caper and The Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse, Ardy finds himself navigating through the belly of a beast. I’m always a sucker for such levels.
Climbing and sliding down the slimy strands of this beast is as fun as it is disgusting. Watch out for the acid and sharp teeth!
Apprehend Catry’s Rainbow shard and we’re off to the pyramid.
SCENE 7: ANCIENT PYRAMID
Difficulty of this game fluctuates like crazy. This is a very annoying stage that requires pinpoint precision from a game lacking such.
Killing that enemy reduces the light.
Killing another one reduces it even further. The thing is, you pretty much have to which leaves you no choice but to brave the dark.
Thankfully, it doesn’t last too long.
Falling spikes impale Ardy easily. I like the lighting effect here but damn is it hard to avoid those deadly spikes.
Pushing gimmick is utilized a bit here but I wish the game used it a little more. That mouse is up to no good.
World’s Strongest Genie (eat your heart out Will Smith) flexes like a champ. Get up to the lamp and secure the key.
SCENE 8: MOUSE TRAP
Homewrecker mouse nabs the Rainbow shard before you can. Flag it down to end this ridiculously short level.
Quickly get the hell out before you’re crushed!
JACOBY?!? He appears out of nowhere to save Ardy. You book it and the wall collapses right after you’re out of harm’s way. Does that mean Don Jacoby is…
Beecroft reports Ardy’s adventures back to Visconti. Meanwhile, our furry hero sails out to the high seas.
SCENE 9: GILSON’S PIRATE SHIP
Somewhere Steven Spielberg is smiling (or not). Gilson is a vicious owl with some serious firepower.
However, beat Gilson and you’ll earn his respect and another Rainbow shard. Time to sail back.
Beecroft proves to be a real punk as he runs over an old man and kidnaps helpless Nina.
SCENE 10: ISLAND OF RUINS
Beware of cannonballs in this gorgeous early evening stage. Hold the block to block incoming arrows.
Catching a ride on an arrow is quite satisfying. Use the cannonballs to make your way across this spiky pit.
Always been a sucker for collectable items arranged in a recognizable fashion. A lone skeleton guards the exit. This game suffers a bit from short and sparse levels.
SCENE 11: BEECROFT’S STRONGHOLD
Nothing like a starry night to hit me in the feels. Watch out for the buzzsaw.
Mindless bots will carry that block. Time your spring tail jump perfectly. It can be a bit tricky. You meet up with Beecroft once again but this time, it’s on.
Visually, this is the game’s most impressive moment. It’s such a beautiful sight and makes me wish Ardy Lightfoot had more strong moments like such. Use the prism to deflect the boss’ energy beams. Suck it, Beecroft!
MechaGodzilla flashbacks. This boss has a ton of projectiles but it’s no match for Ardy and his trusty prism!
Earthquake!! Hey look, Don Jacoby lives! And, he offers a helping hand.
SCENE 12: UNDERGROUND PASSAGE
Miniature Ardy gives you an extra life. Ardy can hold his breath underwater. But beware of biting fish!
Yanking and creating a path for yourself is the order of the day here. It’s fun and this is easily the best stage of the game. I just wish the other stages were as well crafted as this.
Another reason I like this stage so much: Pec becomes Super Pec! Sadly, Super Pec exists only in this one level. Pull more switches to solve the puzzle.
Nothing stands in the way of Super Pec! Toss him through barriers and he’ll do the rest. Treasure chests abound but the “trapped” skeletal prisoners burst to life!
Awww… how cute. Ardy’s posing for his eHarmony profile. More skeletons spring to life but Super Pec sends them packing.
Finally, we come to the third and last switch. Yank it to make the water rise which opens up the exit for Ardy. It’s a shame the other levels aren’t as fun or interesting as this one.
Visconti’s castle looms ominously in the background as Ardy makes his way to the stronghold.
SCENE 13: VISCONTI’S CASTLE
Punishing BS here. The game’s uneven difficulty is jarring, to say the least. One level it’s easy and the next it’s murder (literally). Catch a lift on the arrows going up. This requires timing and precision. It wouldn’t be so bad if the control was more responsive and there wasn’t a lava pit below. Hey, at least there’s no timer right?
SCENE 14: THRONE ROOM
Speaking of brutally difficult, stage 14 isn’t any easier. Use Pec to navigate your way through. Unfortunately, Pec can stay inflated for only so long. Thankfully, there are treasure chests scattered throughout for you to return your friend to puffy status. But it’s still a bitch.
SCENE 15: THE TOWER
Springboard from one platform to the next and make your way all the way to the top. Thankfully, this one isn’t too bad.
Having collected all 7 pieces, Ardy is granted one wish. He uses it to revive Nina. What a good guy, that Ardy.
PSST, WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?
Although not a long game by any means, password systems are always a plus. I particularly like the style of this one a lot. Arrange the three blocks in the right spots. These spots include the house, table, stump, balloon and tree. It’s cute and memorable!
There’s a cheat code to play Ardy Lightfoot in either black and white or sepia. Kind of odd but hey, it’s there if you have that urge.
There’s even a code to play as miniature Ardy. It’s basically being able to control the 1-UP icon. At the end of the game, we get a TO BE CONTINUED message. Sadly, this would be Ardy’s one and only adventure to date. On a side note, I think this universe has a ton of potential and could find a great home on the Nintendo Switch…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Ardy Lightfoot did well with the critics. EGM gave it scores of 6, 7, 7, 8 and 8. Super Play rated it 83%. However, opinions vary among SNES fans. Some praise Ardy Lightfoot to the moon, calling it a hidden gem and deeming it as one of the great forgotten SNES games of the ’90s. Other retro gamers don’t hold it in quite the same esteem. If you haven’t played it yet and you have a penchant for mascot platformers from the early-mid ’90s, definitely find a way to play it somehow and see for yourself which camp you belong to.
Sorry EGM but I have to call you out on one thing here. “Huge levels” — really? Really?? The levels are almost embarrassingly short, well, many of them at least.
Super Play got it right when they called the levels short. Not sure what EGM was smoking
When I first booted up Ardy Lightfoot back in early 2006, it had been a 12 year curiosity. I remember seeing the previews in EGM and wanting to play it so badly. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I thought to myself that surely it had to be a hidden gem. The visuals have that classic SNES look — they’re bright and bold and look a bit like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. Ardy had the potential to be a great protagonist, and his trusty sidekick Pec adds to the overall appeal of the package. Heck, there’s even a cool isometric map that makes the game look like an RPG even though it’s strictly a platformer.
I think you know where this is going, though. So what went wrong? To be certain, Ardy Lightfoot is by no means a bad game. It’s quite playable and even enjoyable. But for my money, it comes nowhere close to fulfilling its potential. A platformer is only as good as its control. You look at a masterpiece like Super Mario World with its impeccable control and stunning level design and it’s easy to see why it stands the test of time. Ardy Lightfoot, unfortunately, is let down by less than stellar control. It isn’t ultra responsive, and the tail spring jump mechanism is a bit awkward to use. And you use it quite a bit. It’s also annoying how simply pressing either left or right sends Ardy sprinting not long after. In general, something about the control is slightlyoff. These factors are enough in my book to bump Ardy Lightfoot from hidden gem contention.
Some of the 17 levels are quite fun to navigate, with interesting gimmicks that reel you in. Unfortunately, the majority of the levels leave something to be desired in terms of both design and length. I never really felt like I was able to truly sink my teeth into this game. For every semi-brilliant level, there are 4 or 5 very plain ones that struggle to leave an imprint. Enemies are also very sparse, leaving the game to feel a little devoid of action. Speaking of missed opportunities, they could have done a lot more with Pec. Yeah you can toss him at enemies and he has two different forms he can turn into, but his different forms only occur in a paltry 3 of the 17 stages. This game would be so much better if only the developers incorporated Pec more to further differentiate it from the pack of “me too” platformers that proliferated the SNES throughout the ’90s.
These blemishes make playing Ardy Lightfoot a bit of an uneven experience. One level you’re cruising through and the next you’re utterly decimated. The difficulty fluctuates and the less than stellar control doesn’t help when the difficulty randomly spikes. But if you’re the persistent type and can overlook the game’s notable flaws, then there’s enough merit backing Ardy Lightfoot to make it worth seeking out.
It’s just a shame it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Not all childhood curiosities have a happy ending. But at least it didn’t flop. There’s definitely a decent game here, but hidden gem? Not in my book. Ardy Lightfoot to me is a slight disappointment, bordering on moderate. I was hoping to love it and sing its praises. A little tweaking here and there and some polish could have made this one special. Instead, it is what it is. Ardy Lightfoot is merely a footnote in the annals of SNES lore.
Many action games call the Super Nintendo home. But only one (that I can think of off the top of my head) contains no actual enemies. The Ignition Factor puts you into the shoes of a firefighter, fending off flames and rescuing helpless citizens. Your only enemy is fire (and breakaway pits). It’s also a bit of a thinking man’s game, with enough strategic elements to keep players constantly on their toes as they roam about the burning buildings, museums, mines and more.
SIMILAR BUT NOT THE SAME
The Firemen is considered to be something of a semi-cult hit in retro gaming circles. It used to be a lot more obscure but has since pick up a lot of steam in the past decade or so thanks to word of mouth. For the record, I consider Firemen to be the best fire fighting game on the SNES, but Ignition Factor is definitely the second best. Yes, I know there are really only two fire fighting games on the SNES but in all seriousness, Ignition Factor is definitely a decent little game.
13 YEARS AGO…
As readers of RVGFanatic may recall, I went through a Super Nintendo resurgence when I bought the system on January 17, 2006. On that same day I bought four games: Power Moves, Prehistorik Man, Ignition Factor and Fatal Fury Special. The Ignition Factor was my 3rd overall SNES game purchase, and earlier this month I finally got around to playing it. It only took me 13 years but it was nice to finally play it after all these years, especially on the 13 year anniversary itself.
THE STORY GOES…
WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE
Ignition Factor starts off hot with this blazing title screen. Sorry…
Bradshaw Steel Mill or Pygamalion Plaza — the choice is yours to make. It’s nice that Jaleco gave us some options, similar to the Mega Man games. After selecting your stage, place your firetruck at any one of four starting points. Naturally, this alters where you open up a given level. BTW, love that stylish 1994 computer
Examine items beforehand and pick the ones you want. You can only equip up to two active items at a time.
Barrels shoot upward and explode as you race across this platform. A sense of urgency is established right from the start.
Jumping in a top-down action game? Yes please! I’m always a sucker for that. Speaking of being a sucker, watch out for falling platforms over a scorching pit!
Remember, you can’t save the people if there’s no you. Don’t rush in or else…
Somebody wasn’t listening.
Similar to the barrels from DOOM, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
Likewise, I would advise against bludgeoning your fellow comrades by way of axe. You’ll need them, especially for those all too important resupplies.
Certain items lay hidden on the floor. This was a bit annoying since there’s no indicator that an item is there ripe for the picking. A small visual marker, even if it was a flickering light, would have been appreciated.
ProTip: Blue flames can only be taken out with the electrical extinguisher. For your courageous efforts, the city immortalizes your bravery and tenacity.
Jaleco, I see you. Trying to be slick over there, aren’t cha?
Pygamalion Plaza is essentially Mannequins R Us…
Damn… now I know how Michael Myers must have felt at the end of Halloween (2018). Um, are you POSITIVE that’s a mannequin? Looks more like a man who needs saving to me.
BITCH you cray cray. Ann woulda left your ass ages ago!
Please, allow me to knock some sense into ya…
Locked doors can be opened via brute force using the axe. As for Nancy, weeeeell… *nervous chuckle*
Avatars add a nice little touch to the game. There are a few puzzles scattered throughout the game, such as seen here. Hmm, how to save Old Man Jenkins there…
McGlone Mine is next. That DANGER!! sign is rather… apropos.
There’s a really cool swirly visual effect in the mine that ups the sense of urgency and angst. Watch out for weak patches of ground that break.
Beware of poisonous gas clouds that randomly pop up. Lean up against the wall if that helps ya! Also keep an eye on your oxygen supply. Better find one of your fire fighting friends fast for a fill-up.
Jurassic Park probably inspired the Dino Park. Sure there may be some gnarly exhibits here, but time is of the utmost essence! No time to stop and meander around.
Random small details are the best. Take, f’rinstance, this guy here flapping his jacket away in hopes of subduing the fire. Gotta give him props for trying. After Dino Park it’s off to Whitney Appliances, where the only dancing you’ll be doing is not with your old flame but a whole lotta flames!
Natural selection on full display here, folks. Instead of waiting to be saved, that fool’s crazy ass decides to walk straight into the fire. But it’s weird shit like this that kind of makes the game oddly endearing.
Gemini Towers is home to the game’s weirdest WTFmoment. You’ll find a random dude near the telescope. Talk to him and he’ll urge you to look through it. No big deal, right? WRONG.
WHOA what the hell?! Out of nowhere the dude wallops you with a haymaker! It is so random and bizarre that I actually laughed out loud the first time I saw it. I love it when game developers include random weird stuff into their games.
Remorseful, he at least goes over to apologize after giving you a concussion. That’s nice of him. If you refuse to look through the telescope, he confesses that he started the fire. Hey Billy Joel, guess you were wrong after all. There’s our culprit!
We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning Since the world’s been turning. We didn’t start the fire. No we didn’t light it. But we tried to fight it.
Ignition Factor even breaks the 4th wall at one point! Video Games Magazine? Psh. That was an alright magazine, but gimme EGM or GameFan any day!
Gemini Towers has some cool bits where the screen becomes much smaller once you enter certain rooms. I’ve always enjoyed when games do this. EarthBound is a prime example of that technique.
COMING THROUGH! After saving the good folks trapped at Gemini Towers, it’s off to the Shylock Center.
Holding the shoulder button allows you to strafe. It also doubles as a lifesaving tactic where it allows you to see flames in other rooms even before entering.
Sometimes you just want to hide in your cubicle. But then you work up the courage to socialize a bit with your coworkers. And that’s when you find Frank and Ann getting it on down the hallway.
Appalled, you spray ‘em in a futile attempt to stop. When that doesn’t work, you decide to bust out the almighty axe. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. HR is gonna have fun with this one!
UHHHH, me too. How the hell are you still alive?!
There’s a cool Mega Man 2-like effect to this game where you can jump from room to room and the screen switches like such. It’s oddly satisfying.
Another mine stage, we’ve come to the Paris Mine.
WATCH YO STEP!
Plastic explosives will break thin walls.
There’s a password system thankfully. Although the game isn’t long, the levels can be tough to beat so it’s nice not having to repeat them. However, similar to B.O.B., you don’t get a password for every cleared stage. Instead, you get one every few levels. Still better than nothing, though. But the really cool thing is the secret pass code that unlocks the DM Headquarters. You might remember this level from Jaleco’s Peace Keepers. What a nice nod!
Before you get TOO excited [we wouldn’t want you to soil your undies -Ed.], this is the hardest stage by far. This is due to there being no comrades hanging around to restock your inventory. Once you’re out, you’re out. And that means a long road ahead. It’s a neat bonus but I definitely wish they made it a little easier.
Awesome Easter eggs abound when you come to a skirmish between Flynn and Lago from Peace Keepers! Jaleco with the unexpected fan service. I love when games cross over from the same development firm.
“YEAH KICK HIS ASS, FLYNN!” Another cool bit comes when one of the mutant enemies from Peace Keepers shows up. You just knew those broken glass containers was a bad sign…
Thinking you were safe behind the locked door, the creature gives you something to remember it by!
Popping up magically out of the floor, no place is safe. They’ll electrocute your ass if you’re not careful.
Unfortunately, your water spray has zero effect on them.
Typically, an axe should suffice. But it doesn’t harm them in the least! Why, Jaleco, why? That makes no sense especially since you can easily beat them up with your bare hands in Peace Keepers. Although a neat bonus for sure, I can’t help but feel this was a bit of a wasted opportunity.
Ignition Factor can be a fun but frustrating experience. It’s definitely geared toward more “hardcore” players as the brutal time limit leaves little room for exploring and certainly less room for error. Sure you can run but once you start carrying a certain amount of items, you can’t. Even if you can run, it’s dangerous since flames are all over the place. It’s one of those games that require repeated play and precision. Not the kind of relaxing game you’ll throw in when you just want something quick and easy. I wish there was an option to increase the time limit. Different difficulty levels would have made this game far more accessible.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
The Ignition Factor won EGM’s Game of the Month award in issue #68 (March 1995). It garnered scores of 7, 8, 9 and 9. Despite that, it remains kind of obscure even in today’s retro gaming circles. When people talk about SNES fire fighting games, you usually hear about Firemen rather than Ignition Factor. It also came out during a bit of a funky time — the SNES began to lose some star power in early 1995 as the focus was shifting ever so slightly to the 32-bit war machines. The game was also never advertised to the moon so it’s no surprise it’s kind of been forgotten over the decades. When people do talk about it, it seems to elicit mixed reactions. Some consider it a hidden gem while others think of it as merely being decent. Others don’t like it at all and will tell you to stick to HUMAN’s Firemen. Personally, I think there’s definitely room for both titles in one’s collection.
13 years ago I got back into the SNES and on that same night, there was a seller on eBay auctioning off Ignition Factor. I had just bought Power Moves and Prehistorik Man from this seller, and I was ready to break the chain of “PM” games. I faintly remembered seeing Ignition Factor in rental stores back in the mid ’90s but it never quite resonated with me. I had less than a minute to decide as the auction was rapidly coming to a close so I quickly looked up pictures and it looked interesting enough, especially since the idea of fire fighting in video games has always intrigued me a bit. It arrived in the mail back in January 2006 and I remember thinking “I’ll get around to playing it soon enough.” Fast forward 13 years to January 2019 and well, it took me exactly that long to play it. But hey, mission accomplished
It’s got a unique concept and the visuals are different from most other SNES games. They have sort of a European feel to them. Unfortunately, some stages look a bit bland and uninspired. There isn’t much music here; Jaleco opted for a more ambient soundtrack where the focus is on the backdrafts. Occasionally, a quick frenetic jingle plays with a voiceover that makes for a pretty cool effect, but it’s nothing special overall. I enjoyed the more strategic approach to the gameplay as you would have to switch from certain extinguishers to eliminate different flames. There are also a slew of items you can toggle between to aid you in your quest. The problem is it could easily have been handled better. To toggle items, you have to go to the menu and then make the appropriate switches. Dedicating a button to switch items would have made for a more seamless and enjoyable experience. That one change would have made a world’s difference.
And as stated earlier, the timer is a bug up your ass. It would be fine if there were an option to adjust difficulty levels and thus time limits, but sadly there isn’t. Ignition Factor isn’t unbeatable, but it should have been made a little more accessible. There’s a bit to like here such as the strategic elements, the choice of levels and odd random quirky moments spread throughout, but there’s a noticeable lack of polish. Still, there’s a decent game lying underneath the rubble if you’re dedicated and patient enough to tackle it head on.
If asked to name a Super Nintendo game starring an anthropomorphic bobcat, chances are that most retro gamers would cite Bubsy. Well, Bubsy ain’t the only bobcat in town! Bonkers D. Bobcat is his name and preventing crime (in his own bumbling way) is his game. Developed by the almighty Capcom, who had an impressive track record with Disney licenses, surely we were in good hands. Surely, right? Right…
THE DISNEY AFTERNOON
Growing up in the early to mid ’90s was awesome. The Disney Afternoon ruled the airwaves on weekdays from 3 to 5 PM. With classic shows such as Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles, Aladdin and Goof Troop just to name a small handful, the Disney Afternoon was a huge part of many childhoods. Bonkers was one of the lesser known entries; the Disney Afternoon was clearly on the decline by the time Bonkers made its debut. 61 episodes ran from February 28, 1993 to February 23, 1994.
THE STORY GOES…
Behold: Magic Lamp, Sorcerer’s Hat and Mermaid’s Voice!
Never trust a ghost with a mallet my dad always used to say.
Lightning strikes and thunder rumbles… and of course, the prized treasures go missing! Meanwhile, somewhere in the city…
Pretty standard platforming 101 stuff here. You start out in the mansion and then have a choice between the studio, downtown and ocean liner stages. I recommend that order because the ocean liner level is the hardest. My favorite is the downtown one because there’s a lot to do there, such as dashing through glass barriers. After beating all 4 levels, it’s off to fight the Collector.
After beating the Collector, you face off with the final boss. Pops Clock, like the rest of the game, is easy and it’s over in less than half an hour. Yeah, one can beat Bonkers in less than 30 minutes. This game is crazy short.
GAME OVER MAN?!
Capcom has created some of the most memorable continue screens in gaming history. Who could ever forget Final Fight with the dynamite? Bonkers has a good one, too. Laugh at his jokes and continue. But don’t laugh and suffer the dire consequences. It’s a small touch but a nice one nonetheless.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Bonkers received fairly solid reviews in the press back in the fall of 1994. EGM gave it ratings of 7, 7, 7, 7 and 6. Super Play rated it 74%. However, many who have played it tend to agree that it’s easily Capcom’s weakest effort on the Super Nintendo. Not that it’s a bad game mind you. Just that nothing about it stands out in particular. A perfectly decent and serviceable platformer, then, but nothing more.
I never rented Bonkers back in the day but do recall seeing previews in EGM and GameFan. It wasn’t one of those SNES games I was clamoring to play, but a small part of me was naturally curious about it. Although I wasn’t a fan of the cartoon show, I am a big fan of platformers (even the simple ones). So when I finally played Bonkers more than 15 years after it was released, I was hoping to perhaps find an underrated, overlooked hidden gem. You don’t hear much about Bonkers in the SNES community. It rarely gets brought up in the discussion of good games, bad games or even games you might have missed. It’s just sort of… forgotten, a little bit. So I was somewhat excited to fire this game up for the first time back in 2011. Besides, coming from the almighty Capcom during their heyday, I expected at the very least a very solid platformer. Unfortunately, maybe Capcom’s C-staff was left in charge; Bonkers just feels a bit half-arsed. Graphics are decent enough, though not up to Capcom standards. The same can be said for the sound and gameplay. I expect more coming from Capcom, and I expect more from a Super Nintendo game that came out in late 1994.
But to the game’s credit, it’s not like it disgraces Capcom or the SNES in the least. Details like slipping deeper into a Jell-O dessert the longer you stand on it show a flash of charm and that classic Capcom know how. But then the negatives come into play and overpower the few moments of quasi-brilliance. Such minuses include a dash feature which is a bit cumbersome to use, the game’s difficulty being laughably easy and the game being far too short. Not to mention there are dozens of SNES action games that does what Bonkers tried to do a whole lot better. After going through this game, I see why it rarely gets mentioned. It’s not good enough to be lumped into the overlooked, underrated or hidden gem category, yet it’s nowhere bad enough to be in the same group as say, an Ultraman or Pit Fighter. So its fate, then, is somewhere roughly right in the middle of the pack. Along with arguably about 100 other SNES games that are largely playable and even decent, but are ultimately forgettable.
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns was made on a budget of 80 million and grossed a whopping 267 million worldwide. It garnered the 3rd highest gross for movies in North America in 1992 at 162.8 million. #2 was Home Alone 2: Lost in New York at 173.5 million and the kingpin that year was Aladdin, which grossed a staggering 217.3 million. In terms of worldwide dominance, Batman Returns ranked 6th overall in 1992.
Being a proven property and coming off a massive hit, it was inevitable that video game adaptations would soon follow. Back in 1992, two mega titans were battling it out for 16-bit supremacy: the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. Malibu developed the Genesis game while Konami handled the Super Nintendo end. Both games were quite different, and consensus says that SNES owners won out with the (far) superior version. But of course, your mileage may vary.
It’s fitting that I’m writing this late on Christmas evening. I just spent the bulk of the day hanging out with family and playing games on the Switch with my cousin, David. We enjoyed bouts of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Shock Troopers. Anyway, I say fitting because Batman Returns has a very festive atmosphere. Well, at least as festive as Gotham City can get. The SNES game follows suit and is quite faithful to its source material. Playing Batman Returns this time of the year is very fitting, indeed. What a shame, then, that it’s only 1-player. But I suppose it wouldn’t make sense to throw Robin in there since he wasn’t in the 1992 film.
THE STORY GOES…
Horrified by the disfigurement of their son, Oswald Cobblepot’s parents tossed Oswald and his carriage into the Gotham River.
The carriage floated down the storm drain and ended up in Arctic World, part of the old Gotham Zoo. There he was rescued by four Emperor penguins, and they quickly forged a bond…
The denizens of Gotham City have reported spotting a strange looking man prowling around. Almost more like a creature of the night…
It is, of course, none other than Oswald Cobblepot. Now known as The Penguin, he wishes to rule Gotham’s criminal underworld.
Selina Kyle was once a quiet secretary working under the thumb of Max Shreck, a very powerful businessman. That was before she transformed into the Catwoman!
The Penguin has special plans for Gotham City, but Batman has other ideas. Something has to give one way or another…
The action starts out hot in Gotham Plaza where the Red Triangle Circus Gang launches an unsuspecting attack on the city’s Christmas festival.
Batman’s brutality knows no bounds. You can slam bad guys against the wall or even through glass windows! You can even throw a bad guy into his buddy, taking out both at once.
There’s a small variety of different clowns to beat up. One of them is the bazooka clown, whose missiles can actually harm their own. I love it when video games allow bad guys to accidentally hurt each other. It makes it feel a little more realistic and definitely a lot more enjoyable.
The game does a good job of matching the gritty feel and somber mood of the movie. Back in the early ’90s, more often than not it seemed, movie-to-game adaptations didn’t have the best track record. But Batman Returns on the SNES did not fall victim to that.
Even the cutscenes have this grittiness to them that perfectly replicates the seediness of Gotham City.
The visuals were striking, especially for April 1993. Sprites are huge and clutter the screen. I love the little touches sprinkled in here and there as well, like those giant statues for instance. Just like the ones from the film!
Batman Returns has certain sections that force you into a single plane. These segments limit your ability to move around and avoid enemy attacks. It is a bit infuriating and certainly not as fun as the free roaming sections of the game. In this scene, you’ll have to attack with your trusty Batarang projectiles. These sections feel a bit stiff, sluggish and stilted.
Thankfully, we soon get back to the regular beat ‘em up bits. This is one of my favorite parts of the game. Snow litters the street as innocent chubby children scurry away to safety. Crazy clowns abound. Dark alleys around. Good stuff!
At the end of this level you come to a towering bloke reading the paper. Every evil operation needs some muscle. Welcome to the muscle. It won’t be long before he rips the paper to shreds and then rips your own damn head right off!
What scenes of spiraling madness await beyond this? Play it and see for yourself…
“I AM BRUCE WAYNE!!”
Back in the summer of 2011, I organized a volunteering event with some friends of mine. We were going to feed the homeless and wash their feet. It was a humbling experience that I’ll never forget. The first man whose feet I washed told me right off the bat, pardon the pun, that his name is Bruce Wayne. Furthermore, he claimed to be THEBatman. Naturally, I thought he was joking, possibly even crazy. As I washed his feet, “Bruce” shared childhood stories of his father with me. He worked 29 years in the truck driving business and spoke fondly of his dreams growing up. Didn’t take long for me to realize that he was actually quite normal but had a few bad breaks in life. At the end he thanked me for the foot washing and started to leave.
Suddenly he stopped and turned back to me. He reached in his pocket, fishing for something. Then he showed me his identification card. SON OF A BITCH. Sure enough, there it was, clear as day. Name: BRUCE WAYNE. He wasn’t lying, he really was Bruce Wayne. He flashed me a little grin and I returned the gesture as we nodded before he walked out. Later I spoke with the coordinator and she explained to me that Bruce is a regular and how his Batman persona is his own personal way of coping with being homeless. Wow. It’s deeper than just “Oh, this dude’s a crazy homeless guy.” The experience reminded me not to judge a book by its cover and to walk a mile in someone’s shoes — or wash their feet — before you decide what their story is.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Batman Returns fared well with the critics. EGM’s Martin Alessi rated it 85% while Howard Grossman scored it at 86%. GameFan gave it ratings of 84, 85, 92 and a whopping 97%. Super Play, notorious for giving beat ‘em ups a hard time, rated it 87%. Batman Returns owns the distinct honor of being the highest rated SNES beat ‘em up in Super Play history. The SNES version of Batman Returns has a favorable reception with fans as gamers often rave about Batman Returns as being one of the better beat ‘em ups in the SNES library. By most accounts it was yet another Konami smash hit. Talk about having the Midas touch!
I have to be honest, I’m not too crazy about Batman Returns. I know most people rave about it like it’s something epic but I just didn’t quite click with this one as I was hoping to. I think it’s a good game but not a great one, which most people seem to think it is. By no means am I saying my opinion is right and theirs is wrong. That would be silly. I’m simply saying that for me, Batman Returns is a case of diminishing returns. It starts off with a bang. You’re in the seedy streets of Gotham, kicking clown butt at every turn and throwing them through windows, even bashing their heads together. It’s all very satisfying indeed.
But then come the single plane sections which are a lot more restrictive and I feel are just not very fun. I even detected a slight bit of input lag, but maybe that’s just me. The platforming felt a bit clunky, too. The Mode-7 Batmobile stage, although it looks great in a still screenshot, is more of a chore to play than it is a good time. Some of the boss battles, especially Catwoman and The Penguin, felt very unfair. I took a lot of seemingly mandatory hits I just couldn’t avoid (particularly with The Penguin in his Mary Poppins form). I don’t mind a hard challenge but unavoidable hits is just plain annoying and spoils the overall experience a bit.
I wanted to like Batman Returns so much, and in certain parts I really do. Namely any part that was free roaming and allowed me to just beat up clowns in the good old fashioned beat ‘em up way. Not a fan of the cheap boss fights, Batmobile, platforming or single plane sections as they really detracted from the overall package for me. I can see why many rave about this game — it packs a punch visually, sounds great and is very faithful to its source material. But I just can’t give it an enthusiastic thumbs up; it contains a few too many warts and niggles for me to overlook. At the end of the day it’s still a quality Konami product and a solid example of a movie-to-game adaptation done right. But there’s a reason why — although many do like it a lot — Batman Returns isn’t quite in the same pantheon as some of Konami’s previous SNES classics.
Graphics: 9 Sound: 9 Gameplay: 7 Longevity: 6
Batman: I’m tired of clowning around!
Clown: Really, you? You’re one to talk, Mister! Look, if you returned in 1992, then how, pray tell, OH HOW did you begin in 2005?! What are you, some sort of magician?! Penn and Teller? David Copperfield? Can’t make up your bloody mind, can ya! You’re the one who needs to stop clownin’ round! Just WHO ARE YOU EH!?!
Batman: You need serious help. Here, let me give you a hand…
Many fond memories come to mind when I think of Christmas. So much so that I even wrote a special article dedicated to just that. There are certain things that I’ll always associate Christmas with, for better or for worse. For me, Clay Fighter will always be linked with Christmas. Released 25 years ago (damn where does the time go), this Street Fighter II parody is but a minuscule footnote in the annals of SNES lore. But to me, Clay Fighter represents something beyond that, even if the final product isn’t all that good. It represents a time of true innocence, a time of allegiances and a time of change. Not to mention learning how to navigate expectations and disappointments even in the smallest of ways. Indeed, Clay Fighter was one of my childhood games. As such, I’ll never forget it. Especially whenever Christmas comes rolling around…
ONCE UPON A TIME…
It was the summer of 1993. 2D fighting games were all the rage, and seemingly everyone and their brother were getting in on it. From Kaneko to Konami, everyone wanted a piece of the pie. It was the fighting game era, and 1-on-1 brawlers was a booming business. One idyllic summer day in ’93, my mom took me to the local grocery store. As per usual, I browsed the VHS rental section while my mom bought food. I remember seeing cheesy horror movies like Leprechaun (oh Jennifer Anniston…) and Critters 4 (oh Angela Bassett) before making my way to the magazine section. It was there that I picked up a GamePro issue and first laid eyes on Clay Fighter. It was love at first sight.
There was just something special about growing up in the late ’80s to early-mid ’90s. From cheesy horror movies (with badass memorable box art) to hundreds of fun 8 and 16-bit video games, it was the perfect time to be a gamer who loved horror movies to boot. I miss those halcyon days where my mom would drop me off at a store and I would just spend a good 30 to 45 minutes browsing the various boxes and back covers of horror movies and the latest video games. Truly a special time in our lives (for those lucky enough to have lived it).
But I digress. As the months went on, the Clay Fighter hype train gained more steam. Gaming magazines previewed the hell out of it, and the comedic aspects of the game really appealed to a 10 year old kid. It promised to be WACKY!, WEIRD!and WILD!I mean, what more could you want?
The fighters had their own unique charm.
Not only was it a parody of Street Fighter II but it was also a parody of many other things such as Elvis, The Blob and The Headless Horseman among others. Clay Fighter was Parody City.
The unique claymation graphics made it stand out in a crowded genre. I couldn’t help but be drawn to its unique look, even if the aesthetics were a bit sloppy. Hey, it was 1993 and I was 10. Clay Fighter looked super cool in my book back then!
And then came the ads. And boy, were there a TON of ads. Clay Fighter had one of the most robust and memorable ad campaigns in 16-bit history.
One of my fondest memories came in the Fall of 1993 when I stayed home from school due to being sick. I remember just hanging out in my room, playing a demo song on a Casio keyboard a relative recently gifted me and gawking at that Clay Fighter ad above and flipping through the preview. There’s nothing like looking at a few blurry screenshots and letting your imagination run wild. The possibilities were endless and more often than not, your imagination made the game way better than the actual end product. Still, it was all part of the fun of gaming back in those days.
Filled with puns galore, I couldn’t help but love it.
THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT NEVER WAS
December 1993. One fateful evening my cousin called me asking what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t hesitate to tell her all about Clay Fighter. By the end of the phone call I was assured that Clay Fighter would be mine come Christmas morning. Alas, for whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be. My cousin got me something else (I can’t even recall what she got me). My Clay Fighter dream went up in smoke. POOF.
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 1993
Noting my abundantly obvious disappointment the night prior, my old man decided to take me to The Wherehouse to rent Clay Fighter as a consolation prize. I wanted to buy it instead, but I happily settled on renting it. I remember running to the game section, seeing the box on the shelf and taking it down from its resting place nestled up top. I admired the front cover and couldn’t get enough of how cool I thought it looked. Bad Mr. Frosty coming right at ‘chu as Tiny stretches poor Taffy (oh the irony). It fit in perfectly with the times we were living in… that whole attitude era of the early-mid ’90s.
I then flipped it over where I must have stood there for 5 minutes reading over the back cover and being completely convinced that Clay Fighter would only be a tier below Street Fighter II, in terms of gameplay.
I love how 16 MEGS was considered a big deal back in 1993. I miss when meg count was a thing and people got hyped partially because a game contained a certain amount of megs. There was something charming to that. Even though we knew game quality wasn’t based on a game’s given meg count, it always served as fun playground chatter with your friends. It brings back memories of the Neo Geo and their fighting games containing 100+ MEGS, as well as the 16-bit console war. Wait, Super Street Fighter II on the SNES only has 32 MEGS while the Genesis copy boasts 40 MEGS?! Good times.
I got a kick too out of the humongous 1 OR 2 PLAYERS graphic. It just added a certain pizzazz to the back of the box and it’s been burned into my memory bank. I can still see that giant logo in my mind to this day. The whole package just hit all the right notes. I handed the game off to my dad who then walked to the counter to make the magic happen. I was only a 5 minute car ride away from finally experiencing Clay Fighter.
On the ride home I admired the beautiful color instruction manual. The artwork was pretty banging, and I studied that little booklet for all it was worth. That was part of the fun of renting video games back in the ’90s: combing over the instruction manual on the way home.
I remember being a little worried when I got to the character bios. They looked great and I loved the detailed description of their special moves but one thing greatly bothered me. At a glance, it seemed as though you had to press all three punch buttons to do projectile-based attacks. I thought to myself “Please don’t let this be” and “Damn what a terrible decision if so.” Thankfully, it turned out not to be the case. The colored buttons there simply depict either of those buttons would suffice.
After popping the game in for the very first time, it took me less than 5 minutes to realize Clay Fighter was a bit of a dud. A dud in the sense that it came nowhere NEAR my level of expectation. It wasn’t unplayable, but it wasn’t very good. I remember thinking thank God I didn’t waste one of my few precious video game buys on this. Thankfully I rented it instead and picked out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters to buy the following week. COWABUNGA!
The lit bomb acting as a timer was creative. I liked that it wasn’t just another typical countdown from 99 seconds as was the case for most fighting games back then.
Once a mild mannered snowman, this devious spawn of winter lives for the icy cold of the far north. The good manners of snowmen no longer mean anything to Bad Mr. Frosty. He believes in the cold of winter and little else. He lives to see an eternal winter, where the snow never melts; and enjoys sharing his keen weather sense with all those around him.
This malleable clay fighter really goes for the clay. Once a simple glob of salt water taffy, he has been transformed into a mean spirited ball of solid sugar. Emerging from the sugary goo which spawned him, Taffy took an oath, “The Circus will be mine, and every clay fighter will require new fillings when I get there.” Taffy’s stretchable body allows him to make long range attacks. These moves can surprise opponents who believe they are out of his reach.
The buffest of the clay fighters, Tiny works out whenever he isn’t pounding the clay out of the other players. A member of the WCWA (World Clay Wrestling Association), he truly loves to wrestle and fight. He is not very bright, so he relies on his massive strength to win. He is proud of his physique and will smash anyone who laughs at him.
Once the meteor was done mutating the clay fighters into their present forms, there were bucket fulls of radioactive clay left over. Not wanting to be thrown away like common garbage, the clay rolled itself into one elastic mass. The ball of clay developed intelligence quite quickly and named itself Blob. Studying goojitsu, Blob has become a force to be reckoned with among the clay fighters.
The radioactive clay meteor has given this middle aged circus freak delusions of grandeur. Once a respected member of the circus, his great arrogance has turned the rest of the world against him. Believing that he is the king of rock and roll, he croons to the masses from his porcelain throne; sickening many and scarring the rest. Taking time off from his busy movie career, he has joined in the fight to control the circus. When not doing battle he focuses much of his time on his hair. To him there is nothing cooler than his groovy doo.
Every circus has its share of ghost stories; the lion handler who didn’t train his cats enough, or the clown who never came out of the little car. The coming of the clay meteor brought one of these haunts back from the ethereal plane and gave him substance. The circus ghost, Ickybod Clay, has come to rule the circus for those who are halfway between our world and the next. While existing in our world, Ickybod Clay is able to tap the ethereal plane for power.
From the far north, this Viking woman has earned the title of Valkyrie from her people. She is looking for another arena in which to compete and is planning to take control of the circus. With her Viking heritage has come special powers from the gods. Thor and Odin have granted her abilities no other clay fighter could even hope of mastering. Many of these abilities are to offset her one vice; eating. She lives to eat, and often has a hard time breaking away from a clay salad sandwich.
A previous employee of the circus, Bonker was caught sleeping under the Big Top when the meteor landed. Once a friendly clown, Bonker has become as hard as clay. His other motto is to keep them laughing as he pounds them into the ground. This has turned many of his old clown tricks into dangerous attacks. What may have been hilarious to a 4 year old now brings other clay fighters to their knees.
January 26, 2006. I just recently got back into all things Super Nintendo. On that fateful Thursday night I decided to revisit the town I grew up in. It marked 10 years since I moved from my childhood home. 10 years. I wanted to swing by the old crib and also check out the Game Crazy hub inside my childhood Hollywood Video, which still stood at the time. Being less than two weeks into my SNES resurrection and having a wish list of over 200 games meant there was a good chance I was going to find at least one game to add to my ever growing collection.
Early 2006 was a good time to get back into the SNES scene. Prices had yet to explode and real life stores like Game Crazy (a chain tucked inside Hollywood Video locations) actually carried a decent selection of SNES games. So many times as a kid my dad took me to this very Hollywood Video location and I would spend hours browsing the SNES and horror section. There was nothing like admiring the art work on the front covers and reading the description on the back of the boxes. It’s a shame that kids of today will never know what that feeling is like.
That evening I bought Art of Fighting, Mortal Kombat II, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 and got Clay Fighter for free. These games represent the crux of my SNES comeback to a tee; two games I liked playing as a kid and two I always wanted to play but never did. But now I could. Such is the beauty of the hobby. In a lot of ways, retro gaming is the closest thing to a time machine.
Clay Fighter came free because Game Crazy used to run a Buy 2 Get 1 Free promotion for retro games. Early 2006 was a glorious time to be buying SNES games. I beat the nostalgic train by several years and was able to scoop up all these old titles for bargain basement prices. Great times they were
How fitting it was to get Clay Fighter free on the day of my 10 year anniversary since I moved from my childhood home. With another bag full of old childhood favorites and curiosities, I made a beeline toward my old house. There was no way I was ending this 10 year reunion trip without seeing my old house live in the flesh.
Exiting the premises of Hollywood Video around 6:30, my hometown had been devoured by darkness. As I drove back to my old neighborhood where I grew up, I took full inventory of all the sights, sounds and smells that assaulted my senses. I remember those roads. That old street corner. The little hill where my brother, our friends and I used to play tag and flag football. The smell of the crisp cool night air. The soothing sounds of the grass and leaves swaying gently in the calm of a quiet January evening. It was a little slice of paradise.
At last I spotted my house. Memories came flooding back like a tidal wave crashing over me. It was an ordinary house, like any other house in America, in a suburban neighborhood just like any other. But it was home. My home. Or at least, it once was, anyhow. Somewhere in the depths of my heart though, it will always be to some degree. I turned off the engine and radio. I sat there for a quiet minute, admiring my house from across the street in the dead still of the night. Has it really been 10 bloody years?! Gawd DAMN.
I ended up going inside and talking with the lady who now lives there. Crazy shit. It was one of those serendipitous moments. After 10 minutes of being back in my childhood home, I slipped back in my car. I took a quick glance at my new SNES games resting on the passenger seat, turned down the windows, cranked up the radio and put the pedal to the metal. It was one of the best drives of my life.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Clay Fighter earned good to great reviews. It’s one of those weird games that got rated really high at its time of release but such glowing praises have since been rescinded over time. EGM scored it 8, 8, 7 and 7. GameFan gave it ratings of 97, 92, 90and 90%. Super Play rated it 85% (very high by their strict standards). The reviews at the time cemented in my mind even more that Clay Fighter must have been can’t miss. Sadly, if only that were the case.
They mocked Capcom with the HYPER tagline and refusal to number up this pseudo sequel. Nice!
Clay Fighter 2 however was a legitimate sequel featuring a slew of brand new characters (although sadly they did away with many of the original fighters). I like how it played off the title T2: Judgment Day. Even though C2: Judgment Clay was several years late to truly capitalize on this marketing ploy, you gotta give them credit for creativity.
Can’t believe it’s been 25 years since I was obsessed with Clay Fighter. From studying the magazine previews to asking my cousin to buy it for me, I certainly have quite the storied history with this game. There’s a ton of nostalgia but when it comes down to it, it’s all about how well a game plays. And I’m sad to say Clay Fighter does not play very well. The characters are way too big for their own good, the physics feel off and the characters have a strange weight to them. It’s kind of hard to explain but it’s one of those things that you immediately recognize the second you play it. In a nutshell, Clay Fighter tries to get by on flash and style, but underneath the fancy coats of paint, there just isn’t much substance. It’s very much a product of its time. There are so many better fighting games you can play on the SNES instead. This one is strictly for collectors and those with nostalgic memories.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unplayable. Some enjoyment can be had but it’s very lightweight and even if you approach it with the proper mindset, its novelty act grows old fast and you’re left with a mediocre fighting game, at best. Clay Fighter just doesn’t scratch my fighting game itch. Play one of the Street Fighter games or SNK brawlers instead. That said, there will always be a place in my gaming heart for Clay Fighter. It just takes me back to a place and space where a one page colorful ad with a few rinky dink screenshots could blow your mind. Where seeds of hope are harvested and then later realized, or crushed, by reality through renting, borrowing or blind buying. It was all part of the magic back then. So here’s a toast to Clay Fighter, who did more with its 15 minutes of fame than most other average games. Happy Taffy 25 years!
Street Fighter II, with its revolutionary gameplay and intense competitiveness, launched the fighting game boom of the early 1990s. It was to no one’s surprise, then, that this movement would follow suit on the SNES with everyone and their dog cranking out fighting games left and right. Enter Ranma ½: Hard Battle, which was released in North America on the Super Nintendo 25 years ago this month. Unlike many other SNES fighters, Ranma ½ wasn’t based off an arcade game. Based off a famous anime and manga series, I remember Ranma ½ being something of a big deal in my gaming group 25 years ago. It was the first “really Japanese” SNES game I can recall that made it stateside mostly unaltered. That alone blew our minds back in November 1993 — an era that saw many Japanese games westernized for the worse. But that alone doesn’t guarantee a quality product if the gameplay is less than solid. It does, however, at the very least make for a memorable effort.
THE STORY GOES…
MEET THE FIGHTERS
I have some fond memories of playing this game with my gaming crew back in the day. Therefore, I was super excited to revisit it 10 years ago in 2008. It had been a good 15 years since I last played this game. I forgot a lot of things about it during that time. For example, jump is set to the button X by default rather than simply pressing up (as it is in most fighting games). Thankfully, you can change the buttons in the option menu to make jump the up button. Secondly, the controls are a bit awkward. In order to perform special moves, one must hold down a button and then press the d-pad in the proper motion. That just feels clunky and unnatural. And it certainly makes for a bit of an unpleasant fighting game experience. The fighters are also a strange bunch and may not be very appealing unless you’re a huge fan of the property.
Each character gets their own plot to explain why they’re fighting.
It’s neat how the game is offbeat by virtue of the source material itself being quirky. For example, some of the fighters couldn’t care less about being the best in the world. They just want to wiggle out of taking their exams!
For its time, Ranma ½: Hard Battle sports some bright and colorful graphics. It looks best in screenshots. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere as impressive in motion as the animation is a little on the lacking side.
My gaming crew and I liked this game quite a bit when we rented it 25 years ago in the fall of 1993. We played the hell out of it that weekend. I remember thinking that it was a fun silly little fighting game that didn’t take itself seriously (at all).
We sure did. It featured some pretty cool looking special moves for its time and was a nice break from Street Fighter II, or so we thought as kids.
Unfortunately, I realized after revisiting the game that it was better off left in the past. It’s significantly hampered by an awkward control scheme (holding attack buttons and then pressing the D-Pad is no way for a fighting game to be), and a lack of real intricate strategy (only two attack buttons and a lack of special moves are on hand). I was majorly disappointed after revisiting it years later as an adult. I guess some fond childhood memories are merely a product of the time coupled with the innocence of being a kid who doesn’t know any better!
The best Ranma fighting game on SNES is the Super Famicom exclusive, Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen. It is way better than the previous two editions, with a fun combo system, super special moves and even a tag team mode.
It’s pretty plodding and slow, however. But if you can look past its flaws, it’s actually a decent little fighting game.
But for those playing this game here’s a big tip to maximize your pleasure. Change the shoulder buttons to be a power attack. That way you can strike with one special move (i.e. Y + B) while unleashing R + Back then Forward. It’s making the best of a flawed control scheme. Also, if you want to battle the computer in 2 player or Team mode, simply hold R + L and select with Y. This slightly increases replay value as the 2 player mode allows you to use different characters and pick different backgrounds as you wish. Team mode is 5 vs. 5, non-elimination style.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
EGM gave it very respectable scores of 7, 7, 8, 8 and 8. GameFan gave the import version ratings of 84, 84, 84 and 89% in their February 1993 issue. GameFan later scored the North American version in their December 1993 issue with marks of 65, 75, 78 and 80%. Super Play rated it 71%. I think many SNES owners got some enjoyment out of this title 25 years ago, but it has aged rather poorly ever since.
One of the great things about video games is the ability to revisit old childhood favorites. Sometimes they play just as well as you remember them. Other times, you wonder what in the blue hell you were thinking as a kid. Before I revisited this game, I recalled to myself how much fun my gaming group and I had with it back in 1993. The bright, colorful graphics. The unique character roster. The groovy special moves. But after revisiting the game I was left wondering what we were smoking as kids. I guess part of the charm of being a kid is sometimes you just don’t know any better. And that you were resourceful enough to fill in the gaps where needed and make the most out of any situation.
It’s a shame any time your memories of a game doesn’t live up to the actual quality of the game. I’m not trying to insinuate that Ranma ½: Hard Battle is a stinker. More like strictly average. And, with so many good games available on the SNES, it’s not worth your while to play Ranma ½: Hard Battle. Awkward control scheme and a lack of special moves makes it a cumbersome fighting game that, license aside, is better left in the past. The character balance is very poor; some fighters are at a major handicap. I can’t recommend this game, not even for huge fans of the manga or anime. Again, if it’s a Ranma ½ fighting game you want on your SNES then make sure it’s Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen. Ranma ½: Hard Battle is ho-hum and ultimately forgettable. It’s a shame but that’s the thing about revisiting old childhood favorites. Some hold up remarkably well while others simply sink. Ranma ½: Hard Battle is not a stinker, just a sinker. Sometimes, it really is best to leave the memories alone.