Ninja Warriors (SNES)

Pub: Taito | Dev: Natsume | February 1994 | 12 MEGS
Pub: Taito | Dev: Natsume | February 1994 | 12 MEGS

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

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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.

Old school goodness
Old school goodness

FAST FORWARD TO 1994

Always been a huge fan of this slick looking logo
Love the slick logo

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

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MEET THE NINJA WARRIORS AGAIN
[I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE -ED.]

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NEW NINJAS ON THE BLOCK

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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.

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Too close!
Just in the nick of time!

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?

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Plenty of fun stuff to fling at enemies. The containers are the best because they may house energy pods inside.

THE STORY GOES…

Three warriors shall rise...
Three warriors shall rise…

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Banglar seeks to rule the world with an iron fist.

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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.

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Somewhere, a darkened corridor lights up…

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Something awakens!

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UNLEASH THE TERMINATORS!

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Nothing like that classic giant scrolling title screen to get you all pumped up to kick ass.

MISSION ONE

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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!

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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.

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Natsume, I like to think, learned from their mistakes and did it the right way in Power Rangers.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Explosions continue when you defeat this towering terminator.

MISSION TWO

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Kunoichi is the fast but weak fighter of the group (to no one’s surprise).

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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…

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Leatherface would be proud! What an awesome entrance.

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Chainsaw is as big as her! Son of a bitch blocks well, too.

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What’s worse than dealing with a chainsaw wielding homicidal maniac? Contending with soldiers who have plenty of firepower!

MISSION THREE

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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!

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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.

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Banglar flashes intermittently on the multiple screens as the boss fades in and out. Beware of bombs!

MISSION FOUR

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Massive destructive energy beam aside, this boss is a joke.

MISSION FIVE

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Strolling through the city at night is always fun. That is, until you meet a pair of schmucks in slacks!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Speaking of action movies from the ’80s, this boss looks like the big bad from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie!

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Obviously, he’s well versed in black magic…

MISSION SIX

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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.

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Banglar! But he doesn’t stick around long. He tramples off, the bald little bastard. In his place comes two towering titans. Good luck!

MISSION SEVEN

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Bumblebee and friends are tough when they surround you from both sides. Knock them into each other if you can.

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Experiment gone wrong… or right?

MISSION EIGHT

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Banglar is an interesting final boss fight. You face his cronies (and his deadly laser beams) rather than Banglar himself.

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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! :P

THEY RETURN… ONCE AGAIN

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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.

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A proper 2 player mode and gorgeous sprite work? Count me in!

Check out the teaser trailer!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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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, 92 and 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.

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It managed to even impress Super Play -- no small feat!
It managed to impress even Super Play — no small feat!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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.

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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.

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But I’d be lying if I said I completely loved it. After all the hype I’ve heard over the past 25 years, I find it to be slightly disappointing. I would much rather play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time or Return of Double Dragon. Ditto Final Fight 3 and King of Dragons. In my book, Ninja Warriors is an odd case of a game that is somehow both pretty good and disappointing all at once.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7.5
Longevity: 6

AwardOverall: 7.5
Bronze Award

Props for inspiring REC...
Props for inspiring REC
One of the truly scary moments in horror cinema
One of the truly scary moments in horror cinema
OH HELL NO
OH HELL NO

Ardy Lightfoot (SNES)

Pub: Titus | Dev: ASCII | February 1994 | 8 MEGS
Pub: Titus | Dev: ASCII | February 1994 | 8 MEGS

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

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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?

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AND THAT BLUE BLOB?

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AND WHO, PRAY TELL, IS LIGHTFINGER?

No one, really. Pay Super Play no mind...
No one, really. Pay Super Play no mind…
Bunch of wisecracks over there
Bunch of wisecracks over there

WHAT ABOUT ARTY?

Arty Lightfoot... nice one, guys
Arty Lightfoot… nice one, Super NES Buyer’s Guide
Mascot platformers were all the rage in the early '90s
Mascot platformers were all the rage in the ’90s

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?

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THE STORY GOES…

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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!

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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?

PROLOGUE

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Introductory stage takes us through a mysterious mine.

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Indiana Jones and Metroid flashbacks…

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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.

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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!

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Isometric visuals will never get old for me.

SCENE 1: MINING TOWN ABLAZE

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Visconti’s goons are bombing this poor little town. Save the denizens from certain doom! Throw Pec around to clear the bad guys.

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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

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Mysteriously swooping in is Don Jacoby. Is he friend or foe? Make your way to the forest next.

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Flashback of how Catry stole one of the precious Rainbow shards.

SCENE 4: LUMBERJACK FOREST

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There’s no shortage of stars to collect here. Pec gobbles up enemies like Yoshi.

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Special icons transform Pec into an inflated makeshift ride. It doesn’t last long but you’ll be able to grab otherwise unreachable items.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Jumping on the color buttons causes a boxing glove of the matching color to extend out. Be quick on your toes!

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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!!

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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.

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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!

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Apprehend Catry’s Rainbow shard and we’re off to the pyramid.

SCENE 7: ANCIENT PYRAMID

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Difficulty of this game fluctuates like crazy. This is a very annoying stage that requires pinpoint precision from a game lacking such.

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Killing that enemy reduces the light.

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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.

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Thankfully, it doesn’t last too long.

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Falling spikes impale Ardy easily. I like the lighting effect here but damn is it hard to avoid those deadly spikes.

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Pushing gimmick is utilized a bit here but I wish the game used it a little more. That mouse is up to no good.

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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

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Homewrecker mouse nabs the Rainbow shard before you can. Flag it down to end this ridiculously short level.

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Quickly get the hell out before you’re crushed!

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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…

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Beecroft reports Ardy’s adventures back to Visconti. Meanwhile, our furry hero sails out to the high seas.

SCENE 9: GILSON’S PIRATE SHIP

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Somewhere Steven Spielberg is smiling (or not). Gilson is a vicious owl with some serious firepower.

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However, beat Gilson and you’ll earn his respect and another Rainbow shard. Time to sail back.

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Beecroft proves to be a real punk as he runs over an old man and kidnaps helpless Nina.

SCENE 10: ISLAND OF RUINS

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Beware of cannonballs in this gorgeous early evening stage. Hold the block to block incoming arrows.

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Catching a ride on an arrow is quite satisfying. Use the cannonballs to make your way across this spiky pit.

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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

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Nothing like a starry night to hit me in the feels. Watch out for the buzzsaw.

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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.

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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!

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MechaGodzilla flashbacks. This boss has a ton of projectiles but it’s no match for Ardy and his trusty prism!

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Earthquake!! Hey look, Don Jacoby lives! And, he offers a helping hand.

SCENE 12: UNDERGROUND PASSAGE

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Miniature Ardy gives you an extra life. Ardy can hold his breath underwater. But beware of biting fish!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Awww… how cute. Ardy’s posing for his eHarmony profile. More skeletons spring to life but Super Pec sends them packing.

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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.

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Visconti’s castle looms ominously in the background as Ardy makes his way to the stronghold.

SCENE 13: VISCONTI’S CASTLE

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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

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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

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Springboard from one platform to the next and make your way all the way to the top. Thankfully, this one isn’t too bad.

SCENE 16: HALL OF MIRRORS

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Visually, the Hall of Mirrors is a standout. The effect is very reminiscent of that one stage from Battletoads in Battlemaniacs.

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Aquaman would be proud of Ardy here. Things get a bit trickier when a wall obscures part of your view and you must rely on your reflection on the bottom of the screen. Neat stuff!

SCENE 17: ROYAL THRONE ROOM

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Perfect form on Nina’s part! So dramatic and theatrical. Even the tiny sound effect of her arms hitting the floor on that last shot there is flawless.

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Lightning bolts stop Ardy dead in his tracks. Visconti is a nasty final boss. Good luck!

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Destroy Visconti and reunite the Infinity Gems Rainbow shards. Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems would be proud.

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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?

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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!

CHEAT CODES

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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.

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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…

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Now you can play all the levels to your hearts content
Now you can play all the levels to your heart’s content

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Thumbs up or nay? [I C WAT U DID DERE -Ed.]
Thumbs up or nay?
[I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE -Ed.]
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.

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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.

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Super Play got it right when they called the levels short. Not sure what EGM was smoking :P

Super respectable score from Super Play
Super respectable score from Super Play

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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.

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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 slightly off. These factors are enough in my book to bump Ardy Lightfoot from hidden gem contention.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 6.5
Longevity: 5

Overall: 6.5

Happy 25th anniversary, Ardy! May there be an Ardy Lightfoot 2 one day to get it right
Happy 25th anniversary, Ardy!
May there be an Ardy Lightfoot 2 one day to get it right

The Ignition Factor (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Jaleco | January 1995 | 8 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Jaleco | January 1995 | 8 MEGS

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

It's known as Fire Fighting in Japan
It’s known as Fire Fighting in Japan
Not to be confused with Human's Firemen
Not to be confused with Human’s Firemen

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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.

It's no Firemen but it's an adequate alternative
Ignition Factor is no Firemen but it’s an OK alternative
Good stuff
Good stuff

13 YEARS AGO…

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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…

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HELPFUL TIPS

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HELPFUL ITEMS

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Sometimes ya just gotta spray 'em REAL good
Sometimes ya just gotta spray ‘em REAL good

WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE

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Ignition Factor starts off hot with this blazing title screen. Sorry…

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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 :P

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Examine items beforehand and pick the ones you want. You can only equip up to two active items at a time.

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Barrels shoot upward and explode as you race across this platform. A sense of urgency is established right from the start.

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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!

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Remember, you can’t save the people if there’s no you. Don’t rush in or else…

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Somebody wasn’t listening.

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Similar to the barrels from DOOM, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

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Likewise, I would advise against bludgeoning your fellow comrades by way of axe. You’ll need them, especially for those all too important resupplies.

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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.

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ProTip: Blue flames can only be taken out with the electrical extinguisher. For your courageous efforts, the city immortalizes your bravery and tenacity.

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Jaleco, I see you. Trying to be slick over there, aren’t cha?

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Pygamalion Plaza is essentially Mannequins R Us

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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.

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BITCH you cray cray. Ann woulda left your ass ages ago!

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Please, allow me to knock some sense into ya…

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Locked doors can be opened via brute force using the axe. As for Nancy, weeeeell… *nervous chuckle*

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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…

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McGlone Mine is next. That DANGER!! sign is rather… apropos.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Gemini Towers is home to the game’s weirdest WTF moment. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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COMING THROUGH! After saving the good folks trapped at Gemini Towers, it’s off to the Shylock Center.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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UHHHH, me too. How the hell are you still alive?!

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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.

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Another mine stage, we’ve come to the Paris Mine.

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WATCH YO STEP!

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Plastic explosives will break thin walls.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“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…

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Thinking you were safe behind the locked door, the creature gives you something to remember it by!

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Popping up magically out of the floor, no place is safe. They’ll electrocute your ass if you’re not careful.

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Unfortunately, your water spray has zero effect on them.

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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.

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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

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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.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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 :P

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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.

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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.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 6
Longevity: 5

Overall: 6.0

Keeping the peace!
Keeping the peace!

Bonkers (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Capcom | October 1994 | 8 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Capcom | October 1994 | 8 MEGS

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

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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…

One dark stormy night... [Of course, it had to be a dark stormy night -Ed.]
One dark stormy night…
[Of course it had to be a dark stormy night -Ed.]
Behold: Magic Lamp, Sorcerer’s Hat and Mermaid’s Voice!

"HE-HE-HE-HE!"
“HE-HE-HE-HE!”

Never trust a ghost with a mallet my dad always used to say.

DUN DUN DUN! Meanwhile, somewhere in the city...
DUN DUN DUN!

Lightning strikes and thunder rumbles… and of course, the prized treasures go missing! Meanwhile, somewhere in the city…

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"Hey pal, I got way more PURRSONALITY than you!" -Bubsy
“Hey pal, I got way more purrsonality than you!” -Bubsy

THE GAME

I like the Salsa. Makes him dash a bit like Sonic
I like the salsa. Makes him dash a bit like Sonic…
Sonic the Hedgehog this ain't
… but Sonic the Hedgehog this ain’t

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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.

No, not this Collector (hello there Benicio Del Toro)
No, not this Collector (hello there Benicio Del Toro)
This guy
This guy

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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.

Less than half an hour, see?
Less than half an hour, see?

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Shades of Urkel and Carl Winslow
Shades of Urkel and Carl Winslow
Good times on Friday nights in the '90s
Good times on Friday nights in the ’90s
PS- look out for Donald & Mickey
PS- Look out for Donald & Mickey

GAME OVER MAN?!

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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.

It's OK... you certainly weren't alone... *evil grin*
Classic Capcom

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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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.

Definitely Capcom's least memorable Disney effort
Definitely Capcom’s least memorable Disney effort
Still perfectly playable though, if this is your thing
Still perfectly playable though, if this is your thing

CLOSING THOUGHTS

An effort that fell a little... flat
An effort that fell a little… flat

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.

Bonkers: Stuck in neutral
Bonkers is stuck in neutral

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.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 6
Longevity: 5

Overall: 6.0

Wish I coulda said I went bonkers for Bonkers, but alas...
Wish I went bonkers for Bonkers but alas…

CopyCAT [I see what you did there -Ed.]
CopyCAT  [Har har -Ed.]
LTBBIn46

Batman Returns (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Konami | April 1993 | 8 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Konami | April 1993 | 8 MEGS

Based upon the 1992 summer blockbuster of the same name, Batman makes his SNES debut in memorable fashion. Batman was a hot commodity in the early ’90s so it was only a matter of time before the dark knight, under the proud banner of Konami, would soon descend upon the SNES. Konami boasted an impressive track record with smash hits such as Axelay, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Gradius III, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Super Castlevania IV and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. Therefore Batman Returns was in good hands, and poised to be Konami’s next epic SNES classic. Right? But first…

A GLORIOUS RETURN

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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.

Whoa, that's no Mr. Mom...
Whoa, that’s no Mr. Mom

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.

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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.

Even the intro is festive!
Even the intro is festive!
I love the falling snow effect
I love the falling snow effect
Dark is the knight...
Dark is the knight…

THE STORY GOES…

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Horrified by the disfigurement of their son, Oswald Cobblepot’s parents tossed Oswald and his carriage into the Gotham River.

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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…

Jesus Christ...
Jesus Christ…

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The denizens of Gotham City have reported spotting a strange looking man prowling around. Almost more like a creature of the night…

Who is this creepy man?
Who is this creepy man?

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It is, of course, none other than Oswald Cobblepot. Now known as The Penguin, he wishes to rule Gotham’s criminal underworld.

But an avenging angel awaits
But an avenging angel awaits

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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!

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The Penguin has special plans for Gotham City, but Batman has other ideas. Something has to give one way or another…

... oh my! [You been waiting to do that one, huh? -Ed.]
… oh my!  [You been waiting to say that, huh? -Ed.]
Whenever this appears...
Whenever this appears…
HE appears
HE appears

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BatRet8

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THE GAME

Batman comes swooping in
Batman comes swooping in
Here comes the welcoming party
Here comes the welcoming party
Welcome THIS!
Welcome THIS!

The action starts out hot in Gotham Plaza where the Red Triangle Circus Gang launches an unsuspecting attack on the city’s Christmas festival.

Love the scurrying family. Nice touch
Love the scurrying family. Nice
This bat don't play
This bat don’t play

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.

Hey look...
Hey look…
... it's a 2-for-1 special!
… it’s a 2-for-1 special
Combatribes says hi
The Combatribes says hi
Not the brightest dudes around...
Not the brightest dudes around…

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.

Bleak, gloomy and grim.  Captures Gotham perfectly
Bleak, gloomy and grim. Captures Gotham perfectly

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.

"Alright I guess we're doing this the HARD WAY then..."
“Alright I guess we’re doing this the HARD WAY then…”

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Even the cutscenes have this grittiness to them that perfectly replicates the seediness of Gotham City.

"YOU AGAIN?! Lady, go home and stay there!"
“YOU AGAIN?! Lady, go home and stay there!”

Or you don't get no spendin' cash If you don't scrub that kitchen floor You ain't gonna rock and roll no more YAKETY YAK! [Don't talk back -Ed.]
Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash
If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor
You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more
YAKETY YAK!
[Don’t talk back -Ed.]
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!

Ah, the point where the game goes downhill a bit...
Ah, the point where the game goes downhill a bit…

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.

A+++ for presentation though
A+++ for presentation though

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Another tricky platforming bit that isn't super great
Another tricky platforming bit that isn’t super great
Gotham's teeming with creeps and clowns
Gotham’s teeming with creeps and clowns

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!

"C'mon fatty, we all know you can't read anyway!" [Smart, agitate the big strong mad man -Ed.]
“C’mon fatty, we all know you can’t read anyway!”
[Yeah, let’s not try to agitate the big strong freak -Ed.]
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!

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What scenes of spiraling madness await beyond this? Play it and see for yourself…

“I AM BRUCE WAYNE!!”

BMReturnsMK

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 THE Batman. 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.

No youre not. Oh wait, you are?!
No you’re not. Oh wait, you are?!

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.

BruceWaynePrays

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

BatReDuck

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!

The best rated beat 'em up in Super Play lore
The best rated beat ‘em up in Super Play lore

CLOSING THOUGHTS

BatRet35

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.

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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.

BatRetEx2

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

Overall: 7.0

I didn't do cartwheels over this game [Har har -Ed.]
I didn’t do cartwheels over this game…
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…

Clay Fighter (SNES)

Pub: Interplay | Dev: Visual Concepts | November 1993 | 16 MEGS
Pub: Interplay | Dev: Visual Concepts | November 1993 | 16 MEGS

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…

ClayFMag

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.

Classic cheesy stuff
Classic cheesy stuff
Good old VHS days
Good old VHS days
Talk about nostalgia!
Talk about nostalgia!

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).

ClayFMag2

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?

ClayFMag3

The fighters had their own unique charm.

ClayFMag5

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.

ClayFMag4

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!

ClayFAd

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.

They mocked a lot of famous fighting games
They mocked a lot of famous fighting games
Shots fired!
Shots fired!

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.

Huge 2 page blow out ads introduced us to the fighters
Huge 2 page blow out ads introduced us to the fighters

Filled with puns galore, I couldn’t help but love it.

They really made the characters feel special
They really made the characters feel special
Just a sign of the times
I even submitted my own #1 reason why!
They even went after my precious World Heroes
They even went after my precious World Heroes
Nobody was safe!
Nobody was safe
Damn, Tiny even took M. Bison's cap. NO MERCY!
Damn, Tiny even took M. Bison’s cap. NO MERCY!

THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT NEVER WAS

CFSteve

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
~RENTAL REDEMPTION~

ClayFEx15

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.

ClayFEx16

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.

ClayFEx18

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.

ClayFEx17

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.

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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 was convinced Clay Fighter was going to be ace
I was convinced Clay Fighter was going to be ace
Great humor
Stop — HAMMER TIME!
Great humor and creativity
Great humor and creativity

ClayFEx25

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.

The coolest Ryu type clone in fighting game history
The coolest Ryu clone in fighting game history

THE DISAPPOINTMENT

ClayFigEx2

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!

Thank God I bought this instead
Thank God I bought this instead

THE GAME

ClayFEGM10

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.

I love when companies cross over their games. Those little critters come courtesy of Claymates
I love when companies cross over their games!
Those little critters come courtesy of Claymates

ClayFEGM

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.

ClayFEGM3

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.

ClayFEGM7

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.

ClayFEGM2

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.

ClayFEGM4

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.

ClayFEGM8

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.

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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.

ClayFEGM5

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.

Battle N. Boss at the end. Geddit
Battle N. Boss at the end. Geddit
Crappy text endings
Crappy text endings

HOMECOMING

I remember it like it happened yesterday...
I remember it like it happened yesterday…

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.

My childhood Hollywood Video, taken January 2006
My childhood Hollywood Video, taken January 2006

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.

SBSGameCrazy

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.

GCRece

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 :)

GC-Rece1

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.

It was more than just a Super Nintendo comeback...
It was more than just a Super Nintendo comeback…

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.

CFFree6

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.

HomeHorizon

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

ClayEGMTMNT

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, 90 and 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.

Perfect example of GameFan overrating games
Perfect example of GameFan overrating games
Even Super Play gave it a rather glowing review
Even Super Play gave it a rather glowing review
It sold well enough to earn two sequels on the SNES... Well if you count this pseudo sequel Tournament Edition
It sold well enough to earn two sequels on the SNES…
Well, if you count this pseudo sequel Tournament Edition
24 MEGS OF POWER!
24 MEGS OF POWER!

They mocked Capcom with the HYPER tagline and refusal to number up this pseudo sequel. Nice!

ClayFighter2Box

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.

It got rid of Ickybod Clay and Taffy though. BOO!
It got rid of Ickybod Clay and Taffy though. BOO!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

ClayFEx12

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.

ClayFEx13

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!

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 6
Longevity: 6

Overall: 6.0

ClayFEx9

Ranma ½: Hard Battle (SNES)

Pub: DTMC | Dev: Atelier Double | November 1993 | 12 MEGS
Pub: DTMC | Dev: Atelier Double | November 1993 | 12 MEGS

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.

This was originally released in Japan on Christmas of '92
This was originally released in Japan on Christmas 1992
Street Combat, anyone? Yeah I didn't think so
Street Combat, anyone? Yeah I didn’t think so

THE STORY GOES…

Imagine an Asian Kevin James voiceover
Imagine an Asian Kevin James voiceover

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We were excited to play it!
We were excited to play it!
Remember when 12 MEGS was considered pretty big?
Remember when 12 MEGS was considered pretty big?
This was a big deal for us 25 years ago!
This was a big deal for us 25 years ago!

MEET THE FIGHTERS

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REVISITING RANMA

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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.

But of course, right?
But of course, right?

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Each character gets their own plot to explain why they’re fighting.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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It’s pretty plodding and slow, however. But if you can look past its flaws, it’s actually a decent little fighting game.

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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.

ProTip: EGM is way better than GamePro ever was
ProTip: EGM is way better than GamePro ever was

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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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.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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.

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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.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 4
Gameplay: 5
Longevity: 4.5

Overall: 5.0

The Addams Family (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Ocean |March 1992 | 8 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Ocean | March 1992 | 8 MEGS

They’re creepy and they’re kooky.
Mysterious and spooky.
They’re all together ooky.
The Addams Family.
*snap snap*

Released roughly half a year after the Super Nintendo launched in North America, players take control of patriarch Gomez as he madly searches for his missing family members throughout the mansion’s innumerous nooks and crannies. It’s blatantly clear early on that Ocean drew much inspiration from Super Mario World. But hey, if you’re going to copy someone, you might as well copy the best. But that doesn’t automatically equate to a great game. Let’s see if The Addams Family warrants a visit this Halloween.

SAVE YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS

Looking for his brother, Fester
Looking for his brother, Fester
As well as Grave Old Granny
As well as Grave Old Granny
His daughter Wednesday (shout out to Christina Ricci)
His daughter Wednesday (shout out to Christina Ricci)
And of course, among others, his wife Morticia
And of course, among others, his wife Morticia
"Ayyyy... why did I have such a big family??"
“Ayyyy… why did I have such a big family??”

It’s enough to drive Gomez bonkers, the poor sap. Rest In Peace, Raúl Juliá.

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Thankfully, at least you don’t have to find Thing. In fact, Thing even aids you by providing little tips and clues throughout your quest. Talk about giving you a hand… [SMH -Ed.]

CHOOSE YOUR PATH

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A: Game Room
B: Portrait Gallery
C: Kitchen
D: Music Room
E: Old Tree
F: Conservatory
G: Front Door
H: Pugsley’s Den

One of the nice things about this game is that it’s non-linear, unlike many other SNES platformers. Players have the choice of picking their battles by choosing any door at any time. The only initially inaccessible door is the Music Room. That’s where Morticia is held captive and she must be rescued last. Other than that, it’s your choice. Behind each door and world awaits a boss. Defeating a boss either grants you an extra heart or releases a family member. Good luck!

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Beginning the game outside the Addams’ residence, you’re free to either enter inside or patrol these ghastly grounds.

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Yep, The Addams Family is yet another hop ‘n bop on the SNES. Not that that’s a bad thing you see, especially if you enjoy a good old platformer as much as I do.

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Power-ups are scattered about, such as the Fezi-copter. Be sure to grab them as they will aid you in your quest.

Santa Claus had no clue what he was facing here...
Santa Claus had no clue what he was facing here…

It’s a rather difficult game but you’re given plenty of 1UPs.

Ah, that helpful Thing. Pay close attention to the clues
Ah, that helpful Thing. Pay close attention to clues

To say this game has some, ahem, striking similarities to Super Mario World would be quite an understatement.

Part of the fun is finding all the secret hidden rooms
Part of the fun is finding all the secret hidden rooms
Yes, pity the control. But more on that later
Yes, pity the control. But more on that later
No shame in Ocean's game. Oh well, at least it's fun
No shame in Ocean’s game. Oh well, at least it’s fun

Hey, that’s just like the flower power attack in the Mario games…

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I prefer the sword over the golf ball. What it lacks in range the sword makes up for in consistency. The golf ball sometimes doesn’t come out as fast as I would like it to, but the sword always delivers and never misses a beat. Power-ups also allow you to take an extra hit without losing a heart, which can prove to be invaluable.

You looking real classy and stylish there, Gomes
You looking real classy and stylish there, Gomes

Although you can tackle the game in any order, you really ought to clear this stage first.

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DYK: In other versions of this game, the bird will actually try to shit on Gomez. No joke. But of course, Nintendo of America wouldn’t have it so bird pooping was sadly censored. Bummer.

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It’s a HEART BONANZA, but you only get one. What a tease.

Ocean was well aware of this fact, apparently
Ocean was well aware of this fact, apparently
KA-CHING!
KA-CHING

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This is easily one of the most generous early game secrets in gaming history. You know a game’s tough as nails when they supply you with 30 1UPs from jump street.

Gomez not the sharpest knife in the drawer
Gomez isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer
You won't hold on to that sword for very long...
You won’t hold on to that sword for very long…

At the end of this hell hole lies an extra heart. To make sure you don’t get it, this world is filled with insane jumps that require the utmost precision and skill (along with some luck). And should you manage to make it all the way to the end, deadly centipedes await your arrival with bated breath.

Don't like the title of this scene, Money SPIDER...
Don’t like the title of this scene, Money SPIDER
Where have I seen those fire spewing plants before?
Where have I seen those fire spewing plants before?
I wonder if anyone ever got a crazy score like 64,000?
I wonder if anyone ever got a crazy score like 64,000?

And Jim Carrey thought HE had a penguin problem! [What is this, 2011?! -Ed.]
And Jim Carrey thought HE had a penguin problem!
[What is this, 2011?!  Mr. Popper’s Penguins :P -Ed.]
Maybe heading off to the Conservatory so quickly wasn’t the best idea, eh? So let’s try the Kitchen instead. This room is appropriately titled Penguin Problems.

Not exactly Super Mario World, is it? [Touché -Ocean]
Not exactly Super Mario World, is it? [Touché -Gomez]
The controls are a touch slippery enough on their own. Combine that now with ice and well, you know the rest.

Those silly, crazy architects...
Those silly, crazy architects…

This secret room can only be accessed by sliding through. This game encourages you to goof around as you never know where or when you might unlock a hidden room stocked full of goodies.

There are a ton of hidden rooms. Be on the look out
There are a ton of hidden rooms. Be on the look out

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The boss of this stage is the cleverly named Snowman. He may seem hard at first but he’s quite easy after you figure out his pattern. ProTip: you can bounce off the snowballs. Defeating the Snowman will earn you an extra heart.

Standard platforming 101 clichés abound
Standard platforming 101 clichés abound

Now we enter the Portrait Gallery where Uncle Fester is held captive by the evil witch.

Don't you DARE think it! No turning back now [Oh yeah? Just watch me -G]
Don’t you DARE think it! No turning back now
[Oh yeah? Just watch me -G]
Hook is a slow but solid SNES action platformer
Hook is a slow but solid SNES action platformer
Live by the sword, die by the sword...
Live by the sword, die by the sword…

Those knights are tough. They toss their swords around like vicious boomerangs.

Hmmm, what if I jump?
Hmmm, what if I jump here?
Ah yes sir
Ah yes sir!
Hmm, MAYBE family *IS* overrated....
Hmm, MAYBE family *IS* overrated…
Better stock up on those extra lives
Better stock up on those extra lives

This part is pretty brutal. First, you have to rush since the power-up lasts for roughly 15 seconds. On top of that, you must contend with some evil tight spaces. There’s very little room for error here.

Yay!
Yay!

Nothing beats spotting an exit after a particularly hard bit. Whew!

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Look, it’s a bookworm. Geddit? A worm. On a book. Alright, I’ll see myself out.

"Glad I didn't eat that bacon cheeseburger!"
“Glad I didn’t eat that double bacon cheeseburger!”

The train rumbles along as deadly floating spikes force you to either duck or jump.

Clearing it definitely puts a smile on your face
Clearing it definitely puts a smile on your face
Looks like a reject from The Wizard of Oz
Looks like a reject from The Wizard of Oz

This is a unique boss fight in that you must team up with your brother to attack the evil witch. Pretty cool stuff.

Thanks for the password, bro!
These precious passwords are much needed

After rescuing your brother Fester, the old bloke urges you to go rescue your wife. Gee thanks. Didn’t think of that one, buddy!

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Only after rescuing all family members can you then save your wife, Morticia. Other than that, the game allows you to pick whichever path you wish. Find the best one! By the way, couldn’t big Lurch break the wall there instead of playing the piano? C’mon fella!

The Games Room leads you to Pugsley, the fat lad.
The Games Room leads you to Pugsley, the fat lad
At this point can't say I blame you at all, Gomes...
At this point can’t say I blame you at all, Gomes…

PASSWORD GOOF-UP, OOF!

Bloody hell
Bloody hell

CONTROL THAT TEMPER OF YOURS…

Brtual
Brutal

I’ve played some hard games over the decades and I don’t mind a challenge. But it really irks me when a game is overly difficult due to its control, which I feel is sadly the case here. The control could use some work; it’s a bit too loose for my taste. Gomez slips and slides a bit too much which can often lead to cheap hits and early deaths. Some sections require you to jump at the very last second. Failure to do so results in Gomez’s head bumping the platform above him. This could lead to you falling into a pit. Now thankfully falling into a pit doesn’t equal automatic death (it takes off just one energy bar). They had mercy there, but some of those pixel perfect jumps are just flat out annoying.

"How about a little help here, eh?"
“How about a little help here, eh?”

If you really need help, these Game Genie codes are handy.

Invincibility: 3CA7-A467
Infinite lives: DDA1-A4A7

"Maybe I'll just find me a new family instead..."
“Maybe I’ll just find me a new family instead…”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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The Addams Family has a fair smattering of supporters who often cites its non-linear approach and stiff challenge as the game’s highlights. EGM gave it scores of 7, 7, 6 and 5. Super Play rated it 82%. The Addams Family has a pretty good reputation, especially when talking about license video games. Keep in mind that license games were often more miss than hit back in the early ’90s, and this game managed to rise above the muck.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Having read quite a few glowing reports on The Addams Family over the years, I was pretty excited when I booted it up for the first time back in 2011. I was expecting a very competent and well balanced platforming adventure. In the end, it was something of a mixed bag for me. I’m just not that big a fan of games where you have to wrestle with the control almost as much as you do with the enemies themselves. For all the cool little moments the game presents, the sloppy control left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. If only Ocean had tightened up that aspect, The Addams Family could have been a nice little gem. Of course, your mileage may vary. There are many supporters of this game, but I just couldn’t get into it as much as I was hoping to. But it’s very clear Ocean put forth a good effort that just lacked a little polish.

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Yet as much as the control irked me, I enjoyed the rest of the game for the most part. It’s extremely satisfying to knock off the latest boss and earn an extra heart or rescue yet another family member. The last world sports the best graphics in the game. Boss battles are fairly interesting and you could tell Ocean put some thought into this one, rather than it being an afterthought. The final boss is a bit of a joke though, but getting to him is certainly no laughing matter. Thankfully passwords are available along with many lives. One can certainly work through the control issues with a bit of practice and persistence. There is definitely a decent game here, but I’d only recommend it to hardcore platforming fiends. If the idea of lengthy levels, taxing difficulty, freedom to roam around and random secrets galore appeal to you then there’s a solid chance you’ll dig this game. Oh and double everything I said of course if the idea of playing as Gomez gets you all wet with anticipation. Hey, I don’t judge. So yeah, decent game but could have been better. It’s a fun but frustrating Super Mario World clone starring The Addams Family. You could do a whole lot worse than that. Happy Halloween!

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 6.5
Longevity: 6.5

Overall: 6.5

To each his own. Try it out for yourself and see
To each his own indeed
Addams Family Values is flawed but fairly interesting
Addams Family Values is flawed but fairly interesting
Uncle Fester Link to the Past style!
Uncle Fester Link to the Past style!

First Samurai (SNES)

Pub: Kemco | Dev: Vivid Images | July 1993 | 4 MEGS
Pub: Kemco | Dev: Vivid Image | July 1993 | 4 MEGS

When I got back into all things Super Nintendo in early 2006, one of the reasons was the desire to play longstanding childhood curiosities that I never rented. Among those 100+ curiosities was an odd little action title by the name of First Samurai. Coming out in the summer of 1993, it largely flew under the radar. But I’ll never forget seeing it previewed in an EGM issue in early ’93. Its dark and dreary screenshots left a mark on me, and I always wondered if it was as decent as my imagination had made it out to be. First Samurai originated on the Amiga in 1991 and it earned some rave reviews. In fact, Amiga Power rated it 91%. The success of their action platformer inspired little known developer Vivid Image (who also made Street Racer) to convert First Samurai to the 16-bit powerhouse SNES. Kemco picked up its publishing rights and we’re off the races, right? Not quite. The summer of 1993 saw a GLUT of Super Nintendo games being released, and First Samurai didn’t carry with it much press or clout. As such, it quickly faded from memory. But not mine. When I got back into the SNES in early 2006, First Samurai was actually the 7th game I played, and I had a choice of over 50 games to pick from. It was one of those strange childhood games I just had to finally play. So, is it any good, or does it deserve to stay obscured in the shadows? Let us endeavor to find out.

Amiga? No thanks. Oh what, 91%? I'm listening...
Amiga? No thanks. Oh what, 91%? I’m listening…

BUT FIRST, A HISTORY LESSON

One of my favorite EGM issues of all time
One of my favorite EGM issues of all time

EGM issue #43 (February 1993) was one for the ages. It featured a badass 59-page preview of upcoming SNES games, and I devoured every bit of it as a 9 year old kid. Many of the game previews had me intrigued, but one in particular really caught my eye: FIRST SAMURAI. Most SNES games at the time were bright and bold but First Samurai was different. It was dark and foreboding… the kind of game perfect to play leading up to Halloween. Indeed, there’s a reason why I put First Samurai on my list of SNES games to play during Halloween season.

I must have read this 100 times over and then some!
I must have read this 100 times over and then some!

LATE NIGHT WRASSLIN’ AND GAMES

Nothing beats quelling a childhood curiosity at last!
Nothing beats quelling a childhood curiosity at last!

There’s something special, for me at least, about watching a live special wrestling event late in the evening (or early in the morning, depending on your view). These special shows don’t happen often and you can feel the excitement welling up as the show nears. But you’ve got some time to kill leading up to it. And I find a perfect time killer is finally playing a childhood curiosity that I have been wondering about for over 20 years. I have fond memories of playing Harley’s Humongous Adventure for the first time as I was waiting for WWE Beast in the East (emanating from Japan) to come on at 2:30 AM.

Nothing like live wrestling at 3 in the bloody morning!
The Beast in the East special took place on July 4, 2015
BEAST in the EAST, indeed
Nothing like watching wrasslin’ live at 3 in the morning
Fast forward over 3 years to October 6, 2018...
Fast forward over three years to October 6, 2018…

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History has a funny way of repeating itself. This past Saturday morning, I found myself staying up late to catch the first hour of WWE Super Show-Down. Around 1 I decided to revisit First Samurai. Now I had played it briefly back in early 2006, but I never sat down with it thoroughly. With October now here, I wanted to review it as part of my Halloween lineup. It brought back fond memories of Beast in the East and playing Harley’s Humongous Adventure beforehand.

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Just too bad Super Show-Down kind of... sucked :P
Just too bad Super Show-Down kind of… sucked :P

Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all, I suppose. Nonetheless, I still had a good time revisiting First Samurai. It is indeed like a mash-up of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. Now it’s not nearly as awesome as that sounds, but you can see traces of both classic games implemented throughout First Samurai. Not too shabby.

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The exploration aspects of First Samurai help to differentiate it a bit from the packed crowd of action platformers on the SNES. The above shot is a good idea of what a typical level looks like. You’ll run around killing tons of demons and monsters while hunting down key artifacts and Mystic Runes. All under the veil of a quasi-Asian demonic underworld. Come on, how bad can that truly be, eh?

Not as bad as the European ad for First Samurai! Yikes
Not as bad as the European ad for First Samurai! Yikes
Samurai Shodown had a badass samurai, Haohmaru
Samurai Shodown had a badass samurai, Haohmaru
Whereas First Samurai went for a more rugged vet
Whereas First Samurai went for a more rugged look

In a way, you have to admire the interpretation Vivid Image went with. Sure, he’s not nearly as cool as Haohmaru. He’s not as flashy or aesthetically pleasing. Instead, he’s a grizzled vet full of scars. You can tell he’s been through some shit. And I mean homeboy HAS BEEN THROUGH SOME SHIT. Just look at that kisser and try to tell me that’s someone to mess with. He will FUCK YOUR SHIT UP.

THE STORY GOES…

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Immediately, the young Samurai falls to the Demon’s magic.

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Overwhelmed, the Demon King escapes to the future.

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Hellbent on slaying the Demon King, the Samurai, with his Sensei’s magic sword, hunts the Demon King through all of time and space.

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Difficulty-wise, First Samurai can be tricky and tough at times. There are only 5 stages but they fluctuate in difficulty. Passwords are nonexistent but thankfully there is a level select cheat code that allows you to skip previously beaten levels if you wish not to play through the whole thing again.

At the Options screen:

1-2: Hold L + R + X + A and press right
2-1: Hold L + R + X + A and press down
2-2: Hold L + R + X + A and press left
3-1: Hold L + R + X + A and press up

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Witness the slowest stage title crawl in 16-bit history. I could almost make and eat a sandwich in the time it takes for the words “STAGE 1″ to appear.

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Welcome to the ravaged battlefield. The year is 1730 and your hunt for the Demon King begins in a foul land that’s been corrupted by evil and disease. I like how each stage opens with the Wizard Mage floating eerily around the screen (which you can speed up with the press of a button). It’s accompanied fittingly so by a creepy sound effect that haunts my ears to this day. It really sets the somber mood proper, making this an ideal candidate to play during Halloween season. After the samurai finishes meditating, the Sensei’s magic sword comes flying to our hero. I love when games allow you to hop on trees. It’s the small stuff, y’kno?

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Looming over the samurai is a huge dilapidated statue. You feel a chill in the air as you push forward toward the beastly growls. You’ll come across a Warp Lantern (these allow you to warp to different parts of the level provided that you’ve activated one of the magic pots) as well as your very first Mystic Rune. You must collect all 5 Mystic Runes on each stage before you can fight the boss.

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Monsters of various sizes greet you at nearly every step of the way. Looks like someone’s a fan of the Alien films. Early on, the game provides you with helpful messages. But this goes away after the first stage and it all becomes intuition afterwards. Pretty cool.

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Speaking of cool, it’s possible to strike down enemy projectiles with a well-timed swipe of your Sensei’s Katana.

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Whenever you collect treasure or gobble up food, you’ll hear “HALLELUJAH!” Bizarre but so damn satisfying. This game has some crazy sound samples and it’s all part of the cheesy charm.

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Summon the Wizard Mage to help clear the path by collecting Magic Bells. I marked out the first time I saw this. The crack of lightning in the background, along with the whipping rain and thunder sound effects, really makes this super atmospheric. I mean, it’s no Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past rain but gawd damn, seeing this in the dead of the night with all the lights turned off was pretty damn neat.

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Samurai’s ability to scale and climb walls reminds me of Ninja Gaiden II a bit. Grab the Mystic Rune lying there as well as the axe sub-weapon. It lets you attack from a safe distance just like the Castlevania games. First Samurai has some neat tricks up its sleeve!

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Whenever you lose your first life bar, the sword goes away and your force bar regenerates some of your life bar, but your force bar goes to zero. Kill enemies to collect force energy. After your force bar reaches 70%, the sword returns to you. So the only way to die is to lose BOTH your life and force bar. Enemies respawn too, so it gives you a chance at farming. That is, if the respawning enemies don’t outright kill ya!

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Summoning the Wizard Mage reveals the path. But first you must have a Magic Bell. Sometimes they’re hidden in tricky places…

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Nothing’s better than seeing a double whammy. In this case, a Warp Lantern and a Mystic Rune. But beware of the fire breathing dragon statues. First Samurai also features option helpers, similar to Gradius III, in the form of spinning shurikens.

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Where’s the rain, you ask? See, here’s the quirky (and cool) thing about First Samurai. The effects in which the Wizard Mage clears your path is never the same. It’s always fun to see what tricks he will perform next!

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Similar to Castlevania, food can sometimes be tucked away in obscure hidden places. Always experiment! A mutant frog blocks your path. No need to summon the Wizard Mage, it’s time to slice and dice. Hope you like frog legs!

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Scattered throughout the stages are magic pots. They basically serve as save points but you’ll need to first activate them by way of meditation. And in First Samurai, meditating means kneeling for 2 seconds. Activating a magic pot does eat up some of your force bar, so keep that in mind. But should you die, being whisked to the closest point before a boss battle is a lifesaver. I wouldn’t activate every single magic pot on a stage, but definitely do so if you feel death knocking on your door. Trust me, you don’t want to start back at the beginning of a level.

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Remember, you cannot fight the boss until you’ve procured the 5 Mystic Runes AND come to the appropriate boss area. Later stages switch it up where the boss battle isn’t always at the right of the level. This gives the game more of an exploratory feel than most other SNES action platformers.

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Everyone needs a pet for companionship and in the case of the Demon King, assassin-related purposes. Meet Akai-Ryu and Aoyi-Ryu, AKA the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon. The Demon King’s dragon twin pets voraciously defend the Mountain Realm in his absence.

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Beware, the red one spits out 3 slower shots while the blue one emits multiple fireballs at a much faster clip.

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Sometimes, namely whenever you’re out of force energy, you’re… er… forced to fight with just your bare fists and feet! It’s not ideal especially against the bosses but this samurai is one tough son of a bitch that refuses to go down without fighting to the very bitter end. When the dust settles, you’re oddly elongated as you teleport to the next stage.

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Wizard Mage transports you onto the time travel express train. You stand awestruck at the wondrous train and its magical ability to travel through time. Suddenly a warning from the Wizard Mage pierces the samurai’s mind. “I’ve discovered that the Demon King built this device and one other to aid him in his time travels. Seize control of the time train from his minions to help lock the Demon King in his future domain!”

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Chrome Dome has traveled through time apparently to make an unexpected cameo. Hmm, makes you wonder if Hamato Yoshi (Splinter) ever trained with the First Samurai.

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Wizard Mage to the rescue once again. This time you get a gnarly purple effect.

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Somewhere E. Honda is rolling over in his grave. I really like this level. The fast zooming space background lends itself well to the time traveling aspect. There are tons of roofs you can break open to jump down below or out of. Eventually you head to the front of the train but there’s nothing there. Hmm, where could that 5th and final Mystic Rune be? Expect there to be a bit of this when you play First Samurai.

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Wizard Mage’s having way too much fun with his job.

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Originally released in 1991, it seems like this second boss (Obakeh) was inspired, at least in part, by the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day — the legendary summer blockbuster of ’91.

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Finally, after two levels, we officially arrive at Stage 2. There goes that creepy Wizard Mage bastard again. With the destruction of the time train, our hero finds himself in the decaying hulk of a monstrous city. In the year 1999 the Demon King’s hordes descended upon the metropolis, and without the Master Sensei to defend it, the city fell. Now lawless chaos reigns and you must fight again to restore order and free mankind from the Demon King’s evil grasp.

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Welcome to Tokyo in the year 1999. Back in 1993, I’m sure ’99 felt like eons away. Now, as I write this review in the year 2018, 1999 was almost 20 years ago. Yikes. This is another pretty cool stage. I like the aesthetics here with the yellow buildings and breakable windows. Hell, you can even crack open the manholes to enter an underground passage full of deranged demons.

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Question: why does every video game that features Tokyo always depicts Tokyo at night? Answer: no matter what, it always has a great atmosphere.

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Wouldn’t have the same effect if this were held in the daytime instead. But at night? OOOOH, AHHHH.

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Sometimes a demon will try to ambush you following your act of vandalism. Other times, you’ll find food hidden away. It’s fun to shatter the windows and see what you get.

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ProTip: Blast Laura Branigan’s Self Control while playing this stage.

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Heading underground doesn’t prove any less safe as hordes of creatures appear in full force. And, pray tell, why are there floating jellyfish out of water? Who knows, this game is an acid trip!

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Seriously, First Samurai reminds me of one of those trippy horror action Hong Kong flicks that I watched during my childhood in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s just bizarre and nightmarish. Perfect for Halloween, indeed.

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Wizard Mage, did you go on to become Zordon?

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Walking around barefoot with all those shards of glass can’t be good. Love that Japanese Pagoda which lights up intermittently. Lovely stuff.

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Summon the boss Gyakusatsu by offering up the 5 Mystic Runes. Ooze drips from this disgusting, octopus-tentacled creature of the Netherworld. Slightly reminiscent of Medusa from Castlevania, it’s unsettling how it heaves demon heads at you and crawls in and out of the walls. Creepy…

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Remember how the time train was only one of the Demon King’s two devices that can span the eons? This next level, the time elevator, is the second. When your mystic blade disables the central guidance computer, the final battle will be at hand. I like climbing the chains and breaking the boxes open to find goodies.

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Vengeance awaits. You now find yourself in the Demon Palace. The year is 2245. You can almost taste his blood on your blade.

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Breakable nooks and crannies, containing invaluable goodies, are scattered throughout the Demon Palace. It’s really tough sledding here without your sword — his limbs are too damn short!

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Zordon, I mean, Wizard Mage comes through again.

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Twisted and demented, this is the perfect level to play on a cold dark October night.

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Always nice seeing Magic Bells and Mystic Runes for the taking!

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Security is pretty tight in Hell, I see. But nothing will stop me from hearing that glorious “HALLELUJAH!” voice sample.

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Wizard Mage, you never cease to make me smile.

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Graphically, for the most part First Samurai isn’t anything special. But once in a while, whether it’s a pleasant rain effect or this flashing scene, First Samurai surprises you.

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Beware, the Tengu demon is on the loose and very lethal. Try keeping a safe distance and throwing knives at it.

Can you put an end to the vile Demon King?
Can you put an end to the vile Demon King?

With horror, the First Samurai remembers the Demon King’s hideous visage. Now, he must face the evil king alone…

THE FIRST FIRST SAMURAI

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As previously stated, First Samurai originated on the Amiga in 1991.

It earned some good reviews
It earned some good reviews
Including a whopping 91 from Amiga Poweer
Amiga Power rated it a whopping 91%

SECOND SAMURAI

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In 1994, a sequel was released called Second Samurai (naturally). It appeared on the Amiga and Sega Mega Drive (the name of the Sega Genesis in regions outside of North America). I find it interesting that it never came out in North America or on the SNES for that matter. Then again, I always thought it odd that the Genesis never received First Samurai. Perhaps Vivid Image was trying to make up for it with Second Samurai. Whatever the case may be, the sequel is even more obscure than its predecessor.

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Second Samurai incorporates the same time travel theme. This time our hero travels back in time to the prehistoric era. Yup, he’s still on a quest to defeat the Demon King.

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It features a 2 player co-op mode and Sega-16.com writer Sebastian Sponsel rated it a solid 7 out of 10, calling it the best Amiga port he’s ever played on the Genesis.

Can you kill the Demon King once and for all?
Can you kill the Demon King once and for all?

HELPFUL TIPS

Yo Quiero Taco Bell
Yo Quiero Taco Bell

If there is an obstacle you cannot seem to get past, try using a Magic Bell to summon the Wizard Mage. Perhaps he will help you. Keep in mind that you must be in the precise spot to call upon his spirit, or else nothing will happen. Also make sure you have a Magic Bell. If you don’t, better go find one!

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Keep your force meter high at all times by defeating many smaller demons. They respawn so farm if you need to. Remember, you only die if both your life and force meters are fully depleted.

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Sometimes walls, floors and ceilings are weak. Try to break them with fist, foot or steel to open a blocked passage or find a hidden item.

En garde!
En garde!

Once you have collected all 5 Mystic Runes, look for the boss’ lair to summon a Demon Overlord to battle. Their lair is not always located at the far end of a stage, so some exploring may be necessary. Never call to battle the Demon King or any of his Demon Overlords without the great Katana in hand. Whenever you lose your sword, the First Samurai screams out loud, “OH NO, MY SWORD!” It’s rather comical, but charming in its own unique way.

"OH NO, MY SWORD!" makes me think of "My word!" Thanks, Laxia, for demonstrating the usage
“OH NO, MY SWORD!” makes me think of “My word!”
Thanks, Laxia, for demonstrating the usage (Ys VIII)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Super Play, notorious for their harsh grading, was actually pretty impressed by First Samurai. Unfortunately, First Samurai didn’t receive much press in North America. Neither EGM or GameFan reviewed the game and as such, it was doomed to fly under the radar. Super Play rated it a solid 80%.

Pretty impressive for a port of a 1991 Amiga game, eh?
Pretty impressive for a port of a 1991 Amiga game, eh?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I’m not as high on this game as Super Play was. I do like it, and in some ways, I like it a lot. But that’s the sentimental me talking. Technically, it falls a little short. But more on that in a bit. Let’s cover the positives first. There’s no denying that First Samurai is a unique game in the massive SNES catalog. There really aren’t too many games like it. The atmosphere is refreshingly dreary and foreboding as opposed to the majority of SNES games that are “cute” and colorful. First Samurai is particularly fun to play around Halloween season. Its quasi-Asian motif and ghoulish enemies help to make it stand out in a packed crowd, despite the game not being as competent as one might hope.

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The samurai’s ability to climb pillars and such is reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden II. And dueling with dastardly demons hearkens one back to Castlevania. Our hero can also jump very high and control is generally very good. I also like all the little tricks the game presents: Magic Bells to summon sorcery, Warp Lanterns that transport you to a certain section of the level, Mystic Runes that must be collected before fighting the boss, finding the boss lair itself, sub-weapons that allow you to attack from a safer distance and the unique usage of the life and force meter. First Samurai has a slight exploratory feel to it that not every SNES action platformer has. This definitely helps to increase the game’s appeal. Unfortunately, the gameplay has its share of flaws. While he can jump high, jumps are floaty. But the biggest flaw in my opinion is his pathetic sword swipe. It doesn’t nearly cut the swath you would hope or imagine, and this does lead to a lot of unnecessary damage. It’s a similar flaw to Lagoon, but at least in Lagoon there are tricks to work around this flaw. Not really the case in First Samurai. Besides, he’s supposed to be a badass samurai! But maybe because he’s the first of his kind, he’s still learning how to hone and perfect his craft.

Look like a light saber but it sucks
“OH NO, MY SWORD… SUCKS!”

Whatever the case may be, his disappointing sword swiping almost single handedly removes First Samurai from “hidden gem” contention. His upward swipes are fine, and striking at a downward angle isn’t too shabby either. But my God, his normal sword swinging, the one which you’ll do most of, leaves a lot to be desired. Worse yet, it makes the game far more difficult than it should have been if this simple mechanic wasn’t botched in the first place. I will say this, though. I do enjoy how his sword looks more like a light saber. Now if only he swung it like how Luke Skywalker did…

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But there’s enough to like and appreciate about this game. The graphics, while nothing spectacular, remind me fondly of an 8-bit NES game from 1990. Even though the character sprites are a bit squabby and somewhat aesthetically unpleasing, there’s an odd charm to the visuals of the game (even though they’re not great by any stretch of the imagination). Some of the color schemes used stick out in my mind for some reason, like the level that depicts Tokyo in the year 1999. The sound effects are muffled but you gotta love the “HALLELUJAH!” and “OH NO, MY SWORD!” speech samples. Music is pretty decent as well. Just too bad the rest of the sound effects are on the lower end of quality. The game presents a pretty tough challenge but like I said, that’s mainly due to the hero’s lack of attacking range. But First Samurai can be fun despite it all. And it really does personify the very meaning of “guilty pleasure.” So in the end, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or play this, but it’s definitely got a place on my Halloween game list. And because of my history with it, First Samurai will always, oddly, occupy a space within my gaming heart.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 6
Longevity: 6

Overall: 6.0

FirstSamEx

The Incredible Crash Dummies (SNES)

Pub: LJN | Dev: Gray Matter | October 1993 | 9 MEGS
Pub: LJN | Dev: Gray Matter | October 1993 | 8 MEGS

There are a ton of action platformers on the SNES, and there are a lot of licensed games. Some you wholeheartedly expect like Alien³, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. But some licenses were rather unexpected and downright bizarre. Enter The Incredible Crash Dummies. EGM agreed, “awarding” it with the title of “Strangest License” in 1992. But never judge a game by its cover or title, right? After all, some of those games actually turn out to be pretty decent, such as Cool Spot. Do The Incredible Crash Dummies pass the test or do they simply crash and burn?

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Believe it or not, I actually had a vested interest in the Crash Dummies. Not only was I a fan of its action figure lineup, but the game legitimately had me intrigued. I remember seeing it at The Wherehouse 25 years ago. My older brother made all the renting choices back then but I asked him would it be OK if I rented Crash Dummies provided his choice title wasn’t there? Surprisingly, he said yes. As fate would have it, his game of choice was rented out and I brought home The Incredible Crash Dummies that afternoon. It was pretty underwhelming to say the least but I recently fired it up to give it a second chance 25 years later. Was it just as bad as I remember it being? But first…

REMEMBER WHEN?

Creepy bastards eh
Creepy bastards eh

A public service announcement campaign was launched in the mid ’80s to advocate the usage of seat belts to potentially prevent fatalities in car crashes. Using crash test dummies as a model, we were inundated with commercials of said dummies crashing through walls, barriers and objects throughout the mid to late ’80s. In early 1991, the world was introduced to Larry and Vince. They were the OG’s of the Crash Dummies lineup that would soon follow.

A whole new generation was launched
Say hello to the new generation

In late 1991, Larry and Vince were replaced by Slick and Spin. Throughout 1992, we were introduced to a myriad of other friends and foes. A toy lineup was launched by Tyco and its unique novelty found a niche in the toy market.

The OG himself, Larry
The OG himself, Larry
New blood, the aptly named Spare Tire
The aptly named Spare Tire
One of the evil doers
Did you catch the title change above?

Notice that the packaging above went from Vince & Larry to The Incredible. Of course, with a brand new lineup of toys hitting toy shelves in 1992, Tyco had to bring some evil doers to the fold. Because every cartoon series or toy lineup has to have its own version of Shredder, Skeletor or Mumm-Ra.

Not nearly as iconic as Shredder or Skeletor :P
Not nearly as iconic as Shredder or Skeletor :P
No relation to Junk Man from Mega Man 7 1995)
No relation to Junk Man from Mega Man 7 (1995)
I always had a fond spot for Spare Tire, the goofy lad
I always had a fond spot for Spare Tire, the goofy lad

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The quirky gimmick of the Crash Dummies was what drew me in as a kid back in 1992. The figures often had two buttons you could press. The top one sent their arms flying out and the bottom one, their legs. It fit in perfectly with the Crash Dummies PSA campaign and it was just a lot of fun making them implode at will.

No one was immune, not even the little ones
No one was immune, not even the little ones
It came with crash cars and everything
It came with crash cars and everything
The Batmobile has got nothing on this :P
The Batmobile has got nothing on this :P
Shout out to Trj22487 from Nintendo Age!
Shout out to Trj22487 from Nintendo Age!

The Crash Dummies lineup was an oddly memorable relic from days gone by. The packaging made it stand out on the shelf: its snazzy neon colors immediately drew my eyes in each and every single time. God I miss the early ’90s.

Trj22487 has a mighty impressive collection
Trj22487 has a mighty impressive collection

CONFESSIONS OF A DUMMY

Spin stole my heart. In turn, I stole him from the store
Spin stole my heart. In turn, I stole him from the store

We all stole something as kids, right? Be it a Snickers bar, a small action figure or even just some gummy worms from the local grocery store in those clear containers you could open and close at will, I like to think in a weird way it’s almost like some sort of rite of passage. Of course, stealing in any capacity is wrong. But kids mess up and learn from their mistakes. I was no different. For me, it was Crash Dummy Spin. One look at him and I had to have him. Unfortunately for me, my mom wasn’t having it that day… so I took matters into my own hands. Literally.

A relic from a bygone era...
A relic from a bygone era…

Remember Pay Less way back in the ’90s? No, not the shoe store (which still stands today) but rather Pay Less Drug Store. It was similar to CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid. My mom used to take me there all the time. One day in 1992, after my mom refused to buy me Spin because I already had enough toys according to her, I fell victim to the voice of temptation. I ripped the package open and put Spin in my pocket. I remember my heart was racing a mile a minute as my mom and I walked out of Pay Less that fateful day. I kept hearing the alarm ringing in my head and seeing police officers escorting me off to the backseat of a police car. But alas, as I crossed the threshold of death, with my teeth gritted and Spin securely lodged in my pocket, I breathed a sigh of relief when all was calm and quiet. However, my conscience took over when I was suddenly washed with regret and a guilty conscience. I took Spin out of my pocket and showed my mom my sordid act of defiance and delinquency. I’ll never forget the mortified expression she had frozen on her face that day. It was like I had shattered a piece of my innocence. But I also remember her being proud of me because she knew I could have easily gone on lying. Instead, I recognized the errors of my way and quickly corrected it.

Thanks for the memories, Pay Less
Thanks for the memories, Pay Less. R.I.P.

Together, my mom and I trudged back into Pay Less to inform the cashier about what I had done. I remember expecting to be banned from Pay Less for life, but the clerk was amazingly understanding. He was firm about how what I did was very wrong, but he too was proud I did the right thing in the end. My mom apologized profusely and all was forgiven. I did some extra chores at home and about a month later, my mom took me back to Pay Less and this time we paid for Spin. It’s one of those childhood lessons and memories that has always stuck with me.

Dont be a dummy. Stealing is never right
Good times

CONFESSIONS OF A DUMMY PART II

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The Incredible Crash Dummies made their presence known in toy aisles around the nation in 1992. That same year Tyco released Crack Ups — giant 20 inch plush action buddies of Spin and Slick that had detachable limbs held on by Velcro. They sold for $19.99 and I wanted one so bad. My mom eventually caved in, but sadly for me, Spin was sold out. I didn’t want to take my chances that my mom would change her mind, so I ended up settling for Slick.

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It reminded me a lot of Chucky from the Good Guys. Child’s Play is an iconic horror film from the late ’80s, and I remember wanting a Good Guy. The Crack Ups were the closest thing to it.

It was a brilliant idea. And it fitted the Crash Dummies gimmick to a tee. A match made in Heaven, as it were.

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Once Slick got home, my brother and I went to town on the poor thing. We ripped off his head, arms and legs like savages. We performed every conceivable wrestling move in the book on poor old Slick. And each time, we would patch him back up and send him through the ringer again. After the 100th time, you might think we would have grown tired. Nope. We continued bashing the snot out of him until my mom decided to return Slick the following week. She was growing concerned that we were too violent. I’m sure she wasn’t the only mom who returned a Crack Up.

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Fast forward a year. I was at KB Toys on December 23, 1993, when I spotted Spin in the clearance aisle. Marked down to a remarkably low price of just $9.99, I begged my mom to buy it. A year had passed since she witnessed our violent antics on Spin’s pal, Slick. I guess she knew it would make a perfect cheap Christmas gift so she caved in.

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On the ride home I remember clutching that big neon box and just staring at my new buddy, Spin. It was weird but I felt an odd connection to the plush action buddy. Maybe it was my Pay Less trial with Spin a year prior or maybe it was because I sort of saw him as my imaginary fake pet, but once I got home and took Spin out of the box, the last thing I wanted to do was give it Jake the Snake’s DDT. Instead, I sort of adopted it as my own. The thing and I quickly bonded, and miraculously, my older brother was able to respect my wishes not to “hurt it.” Although he did whenever he was pissed off!

I had a little spare bed in my room where Spin slept
I had a little spare bed in my room where Spin “slept”
I even draped a blanket over him. Dont ask
I even draped a blanket over him. Don’t ask
I know it was weird but I didnt care. I liked Spin
I knew it was weird but I didn’t care. I liked Spin
Rarely did I ever "crack him up" like such
Rarely did I ever “crack him up” like such
Though that didnt stop some of my friends...
Though that didn’t stop some of my friends…
One in particular did Jaxs arm ripping Fatality
One in particular did Jax’s arm ripping Fatality

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That same friend also did Jaxs head crushing Fatality
That same friend also did Jax’s head crushing Fatality

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It happened on the one weekend he came over when I forgot to hide Spin. Once he spotted Spin in my room, I knew it was over. My friends took turns abusing Spin while I helplessly watched on. I knew if I asked them to stop that I would reveal myself as a freak. So I stood by wincing as they passed poor Spin around.

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We all have weird childhood stories. Spin was definitely one of mine. I remember thinking how cool it would be if he could walk and talk. Ah, to be an innocent kid again.

And hey, at least Spin wasnt creepy like these two!
Annabelle who?

As you can see, my history with the Crash Dummies goes way back. Because of that, the SNES game by the same name had me intrigued 25 years ago. It turns 25 years old this month, so I figured now is a good time to revisit it and review it. Sadly, not every story has a happy ending…

THE STORY GOES…

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Remember the legendary cutscenes of Ninja Gaiden? Yeah, no one ever credited Crash Dummies for raising the bar. Nevertheless, we find out Junkman must be stopped before he figures out the secret.

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Dummies Slick and Spin try to reassure the good doctor.

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Junkman comes barreling through!

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SPLAT! goes the dummies as Junkman confronts and captures Dr. Zub.

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Expect your fair share of puns and cheesy humor.

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Literally, he needs a hand. Good one.

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Incredible Crash Dummies at least does a good job of explaining why it’s a 1 player game and not 2 players. I guess one has to give it credit for that at least. I always knew Spin was the smarter one of the two. Yeah sure, have fun getting killed, Slick! :P

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Dreaded LJN logo appears. Yikes. LJN was infamous for their “bad” games back in the day. But they only published it. The developer was actually Gray Matter, who made B.O.B. previously. That was a pretty good game. I wish I could say the same for Crash Dummies

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Madness… Mode 7 madness! So this game is pretty tough. These two cheat codes help. Invincibility and infinite ammo: L, R, B, L, R, A, L, R, A at the title screen. Level select: L, R, B, L, R, A, L, R, X.

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Platformers plagued by slippery and loose control is never a good thing.

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Typical scene in Crash Dummies. “Oh, this is an easy jump.” NOT.

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Enemies come flying at you fast. If you do manage to escape the initial onslaught, watch out for the flying debris that can nick you all the same. This is partially what makes this game so damn tough. Each time you’re hit, you lose a limb.

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Losing limbs can lead to hopping around on one foot or even bouncing around on just your torso. This adds a bit of black humor to the game which is amusing at least for the first 10 minutes or so before the novelty wears off.

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Previously, I had reviewed Plok. Plok is another game where you can lose all your limbs and be forced to bounce around on your torso. Plok came out a month before The Incredible Crash Dummies and both games just celebrated 25 years. But it’s amazing to see the difference in quality between the two. Plok is one of the better platformers on the SNES whereas Crash Dummies is rightfully forgotten and relegated to the scrap heap, pieces and all.

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Screwdrivers replace the last limb you lost. Wrenches add three to your wrench count which serves as your projectile weapon. You can also bounce on enemies’ heads to kill them but I wouldn’t trust the game’s hit detection if I were you.

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Beware of cars crashing from high above.

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WHEW!! Cutting it close there, pal. Hit the spring to be taken to the next stage.

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Springs also send Slick flying from Point A to Point B.

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Hazards abound such as electric pits and crashing light bulbs.

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Sliding underneath saves you from losing a limb. Speaking of which, seeing a screwdriver hanging around while you’re on your torso is such a relief.

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Throwing wrenches at enemies is the safest route, although wrenches can grow scarce, so use them wisely. No lawn bowling, eh? More like “GIT OFF MAH LAWN!”

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Edward Scissorhands flashback, anyone? The first boss rides a giant whisk machine. Yeah, it’s about as strange as the license itself.

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Avoiding obstacles by jumping over them is the name of the game here.

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Another “groundbreaking” cinematic cutscene plays out.

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There’s definitely a comical touch of dark humor backing this game. Spin shouts “NO! NO! LOOK BOTH WAYS!” but to no avail.

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D’OH!!! :D

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They’ll never learn, will they?

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Construction site is the, er, site of the next stage. Jump over cement critters.

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Beware of rusty spikes. Whew, a much needed screwdriver!

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Encounter all manner of strange creatures. Later on you’ll be able to inflate yourself into a floating balloon of sorts, but avoid the buzz saws!

DID YOU KNOW?

CrashDJapan

The Super Famicom version, for some reason, was released nearly a year later. While it came out in North America in October of 1993, it didn’t arrive in Japan until September 30, 1994. By then, the Crash Dummies were pretty much dead in terms of toy presence, so it’s a mystery why this came out in Japan so late. But did you know the artist for the Crash Dummies box, Marc Ericksen, had his fingerprints on over 90 video game art covers?

Bad Dudes was one of his notable ones
Bad Dudes was one of his notable illustrations

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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The Incredible Crash Dummies did not fare well with the critics of the time. EGM gave it a 4 and Super Play rated it 41%. They both agreed that there was some potential but the finicky control ruined whatever small chance the game had at being decent.

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The one time anyone ever said anything positive!
The one time anyone ever said anything positive!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I remember being pretty disappointed in Crash Dummies 25 years ago when I rented it in October of 1993. Fast forward 25 years later, I popped the game back in my SNES hoping that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I might be able to appreciate something about it that I couldn’t as a kid back then. Nope. It’s pretty close to being a dud. It’s not unplayable and it’s certainly not one of the worst games on the SNES. But it’s well below par and only a hardcore Crash Dummies fan will find ANY sort of value from this game.

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The graphics are poor and aren’t pleasant to look at. The sound is equally as unpleasing. There are a few moments of gameplay where you start to get in a bit of a rhythm and for a split second you’re able to enjoy yourself a little bit. But then enemies come flying out of nowhere that you can barely avoid. It’s just not fun having to memorize where enemies come zooming in or having to throw your wrench way before they appear on screen. That’s poor design, period. Thankfully, there is a level select code since there is no password option. There’s also an invincibility and infinite ammo code if you just want to dick around and see the game all the way through. These two cheats help to increase the game’s longevity a little bit but really, this game is only for nostalgic hardcore fans of the Crash Dummies franchise. And even then, you’re sure to be disappointed.

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The Incredible Crash Dummies has its fleeting moments, but the novelty quickly wears off, the loose control is too much to overcome and the level design is forgettable. All in all, you have a subpar licensed effort that should be avoided unless you’re a collector.

Graphics: 4
Sound: 4
Gameplay: 4
Longevity: 4

Overall: 4.0

Now you tell me?!
I wish I looked before I rented!
The toys were much better
The toys were so much better